At four hours, this Italian-American coproduction about Michelangelo and the Italian Renaissance is The Agony, the Ecstasy, and the Absurdly Excessive — it’s too long and it’s shamelessly florid, but A Season of Giants is also well acted, often amusing, and occasionally moving.
The miniseries stars Mark Frankel (Young Catherine), who, early on, stares at a gigantic slab of marble and murmurs, ”There’s a figure in there, imprisoned in the block…. Only a great sculptor will be able to find it, to set it free. When I’ve freed it, it will be the pride of Florence.” That figure will prove to be one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, David, and that’s one long murmur.
But then everything about A Season of Giants is that way — long scenes of Michelangelo chipping away at blocks of stone; long scenes of F. Murray Abraham as a huffy, imperious Pope Julius II commanding Michelangelo to build him a massive, grandiose tomb; and long, wonderful scenes in which John Glover, fresh from his triumph as the campy villain in ABC’s remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, plays an even campier Leonardo da Vinci. Glover’s Leonardo is a gleefully eccentric genius who, after a long day of painting, likes nothing better than to let off steam by pulling on a pair of paper wings and flapping around an empty field, testing theories of flight while having a darn good time. This Leonardo is grandly overstated (”Why do you always want to be different?” someone asks. ”My entire life is a heroic struggle to enlarge the human horizon,” Glover sniffs — and what’s it to ya, bub?), and he adds immensely to the liveliness of A Season of Giants.