Quo Vadis | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Four different assertions of company ownership ran continuously over the preview tape of this $18 million blockbuster--reportedly the most expensive movie ever made in Poland--so after the first hour I kept reaching for the fast-forward button. Still, I could see that this Roman spectacular with 1,700 extras will look great on a full-size movie screen when the corporate dross isn't blocking everything. The film premiered at the Vatican in late August for 6,000 spectators, including Pope John Paul II, even though it's much racier and gorier than anything Cecil B. De Mille did in the 50s, with bare-breasted dancers, severed body parts when the Christians are thrown to the lions (occasioning some lively editing), and plenty more. The fifth or sixth adaptation of Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel--the first was in 1902--it's not the longest, despite a running time of 170 minutes. It stacks up pretty well alongside the MGM version directed by Mervyn LeRoy in 1951, though Peter Ustinov's Nero beats Michal Bajor's. (Many reviewers who lamented Hollywood's abandonment of the genre, including me, overrated Gladiator.) The director, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, is one of the most prestigious in Polish cinema, best known for such 60s features as Mother Joan of the Angels and Pharaoh. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence, Saturday, November 24, 7:00, and Sunday, November 25, 3:00 and 7:00, 773-777-9438.

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