Masada (miniseries)

Masada dvd cover.jpg
DVD cover
GenreHistorical drama
Written byErnest Gann (novel)
Joel Oliansky
Directed byBoris Sagal
StarringPeter O'Toole
Peter Strauss
Barbara Carrera
Anthony Quayle
Paul L. Smith
David Warner
Narrated byRichard Basehart
Composer(s)Jerry Goldsmith (episodes 1 and 2, 1981), Morton Stevens (episodes 3 and 4, 1981)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes4
Executive producer(s)George Eckstein
Jennings Lang
Producer(s)Richard Irving
Production location(s)Masada, Israel
CinematographyPaul Lohmann
Editor(s)Edwin F. England
Robert L. Kimble
Peter Kirby
Running time394 minutes
Production company(s)Universal Television
Original networkABC
Picture formatFilm
Audio formatMonaural
Original release5 April – 8 April 1981

Masada is an American television miniseries that aired on ABC in April 1981. Advertised by the network as an "ABC Novel for Television," it was a fictionalized account of the historical siege of the Masada citadel in Israel by legions of the Roman Empire in AD 73. The TV series' script is based on the novel The Antagonists by Ernest Gann, with a screenplay written by Joel Oliansky. The siege ended when the Roman armies entered the fortress, only to discover the mass suicide by the Jewish defenders when defeat became imminent.

Masada was one of several historical miniseries produced in the early 1980s following the success of the miniseries Roots that aired on the ABC Network in 1977 and Shogun which aired on NBC in 1980.

The miniseries starred Peter O'Toole as Roman legion commander Lucius Flavius Silva, Peter Strauss as the Jewish commander Eleazar ben Ya'ir, and Barbara Carrera as Silva's Jewish mistress. It was O'Toole's first appearance in an American miniseries.

The music for Parts I and II were composed by Jerry Goldsmith. Because of myriad production delays, Goldsmith was forced to move on to other previously contracted scoring commitments. Parts III and IV were composed by Morton Stevens, based on the themes and motifs Goldsmith had written.

Masada was filmed on location at the site of the ancient fortress, in the Judean Desert, Israel. Remains of a ramp, created during the filming to simulate the ramp built by the Romans to take the fortress, can still be seen at the site. ABC, concerned that the audience would be unfamiliar with the historical background of the story, commissioned a 30-minute documentary, Back To Masada. Starring Peter O'Toole, it recounts the history of the Jewish revolt against Rome. The network gave the documentary to its affiliates to run in the weeks before the premiere of the miniseries.

The miniseries was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series and Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film. Peter O'Toole and Peter Strauss were both nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Special and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture made for Television. David Warner, as Pomponius Falco, received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special. Joel Oliansky was awarded the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Long Form – Multi-part and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special. Jerry Goldsmith won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Limited Series or a Special for his score to Part II, with Morton Stevens nominated for his score to Part IV. The series, cast, and crew garnered nominations for eight additional Emmys.

As was the case with Shogun, an edited, feature film-length version of the miniseries was made for theatrical release in other countries under the title The Antagonists. This was the version that became available on home video. The complete Masada miniseries first made it to the video market on four VHS tapes in 2001. A two-disc DVD release titled Masada — The Complete Epic Mini-Series was released on September 11, 2007. A Region 2 UK, two-disc DVD was released on 19 January 2009.

In 1981 MCA Records released on vinyl and cassette a re-recording of selections of Goldsmith's music performed by the UK's National Philharmonic Orchestra under the composer's baton; Intrada Records issued a 2-CD set of the original recording of the complete score in 2011.


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