Copyright 1991
Sunday, March 17, 1991


Great effort goes for little in “Giants”
Sharon Johnson
Patriot News

Tune in to TNT tonight to see the future of expensive television programming. If you’ve had enough in an hour-it could take less!-shift to CBS for old-fashioned entertainment.

“A Season of Giants,” the miniseries which TNT will air tonight and tomorrow, one of those international ventures that are glorious when they work, disastrous when they don’t. This one doesn’t.

It takes us on a brief tour of Renaissance Italy, concentrating on Florence in one of the city-state’s proudest moments.

We first meet young Michelangelo when he’s chipping away at some sculpture for Lorenzo di Medici (Ian Holm, one of the few British actors in the production to make any attempt at an Italian accent).

The young sculptor is regarded as a hired hand, not a genius, by his fellow Florentines, so he’s not terribly successful at convincing anyone that sculpture is the greatest art.

“They do tell me that Leonardo da Vinci is doing wonderful things in Milan,” his patron tells him.

Yes, it’s one of those artificial “life among the artists” biographies. (See Michelangelo release his masterpiece David from a block of marble! See Leonardo paint the Mona Lisa!) The sculptor and da Vinci, who believes painting is the perfect art, are rivals for commissions. They’re also unappreciated by those around them.

“You shame me by becoming a common stonecutter. Here I am struggling to maintain some kind of standards,” Michelangelo’s father (who does not, of course, understand him) tells his son.

Later, ladies’ man Raphael shows up to complete the trio of old masters. (Young masters, as they were at the time.) If Michelangelo and da Vinci are artistic rivals, our hero and Raphael are rivals in matters of the heart.

Also rivals in uninteresting performances. The minor saving grace in “A Season of Giants” is John Glover as the spaced out Leonardo.

Other actors turn in performances ranging from uncommonly dull (Mark Frankel and Andrea Prodan as the other two artists) to frighteningly frantic (Steven Berkoff as the Friar Savonarola.) The range of accents (Italian, British, American and occasionally downright incomprehensible) makes you wonder how this international group ever ended up as friends and neighbors.

The miniseries is visually beautiful. The production design is a work of art.

The drama will make you appreciate the fast forward function on your remote control. Tape the series if you must and zip through the dull parts. That should permit you to get through the four-hour film in about 45 minutes.