Miriam puts a premium on DVD

Weinsteins create new label for remastered classics

Bob and Harvey Weinstein already have made their mark on Hollywood. Now they are bent on leaving their imprint on the DVD business as well with a premium label they hope will be put in the same category by movie buffs as the prestigious Criterion Collection or Warner Home Video's extravagant collector's editions of such marquee films as "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Ben-Hur."

The Miriam Collection, named after the brothers' mother, launched in late January with the release of one of the last great epics not previously available on DVD, Anthony Mann's "El Cid."

The second release is another Mann film, "The Fall of the Roman Empire," a lavish 1961 production starring Alec Guinness, Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif. The film earned its place in the record books for the largest outdoor set in Hollywood history: more than 55 acres, with a reconstructed Roman Forum that measured 1,312 feet by 754 feet.

The film comes to DVD on April 29 from Genius Products, the independent DVD distribution company majority-owned by the Weinsteins.

"The Miriam Collection is a very personal selection of films," Harvey Weinstein said. "The brand is not only about remastering films for the best picture and sound but also to showcase the backstory of each film and develop compelling features that complement the title."

Weinstein said he and his brother plan on picking 12-15 films for branded release each year, ranging from such big productions as "El Cid," "Roman Empire," "Circus World" and "55 Days at Peking" to such critically acclaimed niche films as the documentary "Joy Division," the award-winning punk band biopic "Control" and the Oscar-nominated "The Deal," Stephen Frears' follow-up to "The Queen."

Weinstein clearly relishes being able to play kingmaker and give deserving films the true DVD VIP treatment a la the fabled Criterion Collection.

" 'The Fall of the Roman Empire,' for example, is fully loaded," Weinstein said. "It looks and sounds astonishing, and the bonus materials fully explore the sheer magnitude and grandeur of making a film of this scale in a time long before the advent of CGI."

Indeed, the Weinsteins' DVD version of "Roman Empire" will come in an elegantly packaged three-disc limited collector's edition that features a host of extras, both on the discs and in the package. The picture and sound have been digitally remastered. Extras include a commentary by Bill Bronston, son of producer Samuel Bronston, and film expert Mel Martin; a reproduction of the original 1964 souvenir program; a behind-the-scenes look at the fall of the real Roman Empire; a detailed "making of" docu; five Encyclopedia Britannica featurettes on the Roman Empire; and a set of six color production stills.

"Roman Empire" was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe for best original music score.

The film was written by then-blacklisted writer Ben Barzman, who also wrote "El Cid."