Copyright 1991
Saturday, March 16, 1991

Spaghetti ‘Amadeus’ a laborious effort

Maybe the idea behind “A Season of Giants” was to make a spaghetti “Amadeus” that celebrates the time when young Turk Michelangelo was challenging the reputation of Leonardo da Vinci. The Giants of the title are artistic gladiators, battling for supremacy in the world of beauty and patronage.

“A Season of Giants” is on Michelangelo’s side. He labors and agonizes, and takes long scenes of applause, for his statue of David, while da Vinci pretty much dashes off the “Mona Lisa” without pain, but keeps retouching and revising it, always seeing one more little thing he can do.

Despite an occasional quotation from Dante, the script by Julian Bond and Vincenzo Labella is generally uninspired, rarely finds a way to turn the essentially undramatic into drama, and carries a huge weight of explanation.

Instead of relationships and tension, we get brief scenes followed by longer scenes of people running through the streets and burning up art work that doesn’t fit their sense of the theological correctness-early bonfires of the vanities, someone says.

Even with the explanations, it helps to know something of the history of Florence and the Italian states, the ins and outs of 15th century papal power, and at least a bit of Dante to even follow what is going on most of the time.

These are the days when people had fistfights and wars over theology, and when popes, rather than issuing weekly calls for peace, raised armies and mounted wars. The church had real wealth and power, and was at the center of politics. Part 1 of the two-part miniseries, which begins at 7 p.m. Sunday on TNT, is more difficult to make some kind of sense out of: the second part is a bit more linear. The miniseries is a co-production with RAI-1, and while Italian television seems to enjoy spectacle and costuming, not much of what gets seen in the country passes for great drama. And the international cast rarely interacts as if they were real people. At least on the rough cut preview tapes, some accents were so strong it was impossible to understand what people were saying. That may well be corrected by the time the show gets on the air.

Mark Frankel makes an appealing if temperamental Michelangelo who identifies with the under-equipped David going up against Goliath, while poor John Glover, an actor who rarely fails to make a good impression, has a tough time pretending to paint, dealing with his robes and beards and trying to act the part of a genius as da Vinci.

F. Murray Abraham is Pope Julius II, determined to restore Rome to its glory, no matter how long Michelangelo must work on Sistine Chapel, and no matter how miffed Michelangelo is that the pope’s architect and decorator favors his nephew, Raphael.

As usual, TNT makes it easy to catch its major productions. It runs at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Parts 1 and 2 run together beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday, and again at 11 a.m. next Sunday.