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DreamWorks presents
Gladiator (2000)

"If you find yourself alone, riding through green fields with the sun on your face, do not betroubled, for you are in Elysium and are already dead!"
- Maximus Meridius (Russell Crowe)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: November 19, 2000

Stars: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nelson
Other Stars: Djimon Hounsou, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris
Director: Ridley Scott

MPAA Rating: R for (for intense, graphic combat)
Run Time: 02h:34m:48s
Release Date: November 21, 2000
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A-A+A+ A+

DVD Review

For some time now, the big screen has been missing the great "sword and sandal" epics so popular in the late 50s and early 60s (and even long before that). So, when I heard about Gladiator as an ambitious project in the same genre, I was worried that it might be taken to ridiculous extremes just to assimilate the faceless summer blockbuster crowd. Thankfully, I was proven very wrong. Gladiator would best be described as a mixture of many themes from several classic films about the Roman Empire: if you took part of Ben-Hur, then added some Spartacus and a dash of The Fall of the Roman Empire, you'd wind up with Gladiator. That's not really a negative comment, but rather a healthy summary of the film.

Rooted somewhat in actual history, the story begins with Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) mounting his final battle against the Germanic tribes. His lead general, Maximus Meridius (Russell Crowe) manages to conquer the final Germanic forces with bravado and flair, proving himself to be an honorable soldier. With his death looming on the horizon, Aurelius has the foresight to see that his real son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) would make a terrible, immoral emperor; instead, he chooses to pass his powers down to Maximus, even though Maximus is unwilling to accept the responsibility. Commodus, a scheming and cowardly example of Roman royalty, refuses to accept this situation and murders his father. Afterwards, he pretends that the powers of Emperor have passed to him. Maximus realizes that Marcus Aurelius was murdered, and prepares to reveal the truth to the Senate of Rome, but he is headed off by Commodus who has betrayed him and ordered the death of Maximus and his family. Maximus eludes death, but his family does not. Devastated and suffering from serious injuries, he is sold into slavery where he becomes a gladiator. His eventual goal? Revenge, of course, which he'll get by working his way to the Roman Colosseum.

Nothing here is terribly new or creative, which is evident from the previous films I mentioned; what makes Gladiator an experience to add to those grand classics is its sense of intensity, heavy-handed drama, and absolutely jaw-dropping action sequences that rival even the classic battles of similar epics. If there's one thing that drives the film, it is the insistence on putting the audience right inside the battles Maximus must face in the ring, using intense, unabashedly gory combat, and the incredible audio that puts every clang of a sword or roar of a tiger right inside the base of your skull. However, this new hi-tech sheen on an old concept isn't left to fend for itself.

Strong performances (including the final role of Oliver Reed as Proximo, Maximus' owner and trainer) pepper the film with a sense of deep drama. Joaquin Phoenix's role as Commodus is a little overdone and a tad bit on the melodramatic side, but overall characters and story help support the need for the occasional battle and combat sequence. Russell Crowe proves he's an impressive action hero who can even intimidate an audience with his cold stares and dry phrases, but at the same time provide a dramatic lead. Some smaller performances are filled with unexpected flair, like the appearances of Derek Jacobi and David Hemmings, who himself has not starred in a major motion picture for many years. Definitely worthy of mention is the rousing and brilliant musical score by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard. As a long time Dead Can Dance fan, it's nice to see Lisa Gerrard settling into some great score work after the break-up of DCD. The score really manages to capture a distinct essence to the themes and historical tones of the film; truly one of the finest in film history.

Despite the grand experience, all is not perfect. In general, the plot is a little weak. It's a rudimentary Ben-Hur-esque revenge plot that isn't really very elaborate. Commodus and Maximus meet each other as enemies far too early in the film, making the build up to their confrontation a bit awkward. As a result, it feels like it's rushing to meet a conclusion once you reach about the 2-hour mark. While the film has some other flaws in its general presentation, they honestly don't amount to much when one digests Gladiator as an old fashioned adventure yarn. Scott's direction of the film takes it on a path that completely defies everything Hollywood throws at us: there are no clichés around every corner; the script and action are based firmly in the setting and time, and don't jump out for the sake of humor or clever dialogue.

Despite the minor problems with "tunnel vision" towards the end (some of the epic story is compromised to move wrapping up the movie in 2-1/2 hours), anyone who enjoys good, epic adventure stories should feast on the glory of Gladiator and its major positive points. The film's insistence on a surprising amount of historical accuracy concerning gladiatorial combat and its careful balance of action and drama without positive OR negative commentary on Rome's brutality are extra points of goodness in an already wonderful blend. See Gladiator and basically just get comfortable and expect to receive something akin to those 60s Roman epics—and you'll probably love it.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic, widescreen transfer here is simply amazing. It has a depth and clarity that is sure to impress. While the anamorphic enhancement has caused some aliasing distortion in the 4:3 downconversion, this disc is otherwise pristine. The muted color schemes come across sharply, the smoky visuals are artifact free, and the subtle details in the image are clearly visible. This really is one of the most impressive transfers of a major studio movie I've seen in a long time and I guess it helps that those involved with the movie actually helped supervise the remaster to DVD. Even at full zoom-in, there are no signs of any pixelization, edge enhancement, or any kind of compression errors. There is no movement in the background, even during the many scenes with muddy colors. The whole thing runs at a high bit-rate and the source print has no defects at all. An all around superb job here.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The disc features 3 primary audio tracks: a DTS 6.0 ES mix, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (which is actually 6.1 EX enhanced with a matrixed rear channel), and a Dolby 2.0 Surround mix. The 5.1 track will simply melt your ears and maybe even your sound system. Not only is the track amazingly clear and vivid, but it simply leaps off the screen during the action sequences. Every clang of a sword or impact of a punch can be truly felt with this dynamic, directionality-filled, killer soundtrack. Neither the front channels or the surround channels really ever take superiority. The whole thing is well balanced with dialogue coming across very smoothly and even from the center channel; it never sounds louder or more exaggerated than the other front channels. Almost every scene manages to fill every channel with small details, really enveloping you in a true sound field. This is 5.1 surround sound at its finest, without question. The DTS ES track (which I am unable to review) should be just that much better, and according to most pre-release press, it is. While I admire the inclusion of the Dolby 2.0 Surround track, it cannot hold a candle to the power and strength of the 5.1 mix. Even people without full 5.1 setups can still appreciate the clarity of the higher bit-rate and improved sound quality. The 2.0 simply lacks the dimension and impact, but it will certainly do if you really want to use a Pro-Logic style mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
12 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Ridley Scott, John Mathieson, Pietro Scalia
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Gladiator Games (historical documentary)
  2. Interview with Hans Zimmer
  3. Production Diary by Spencer Treat Clark
  4. Still Gallery
Extras Review: Gladiator is a two-disc set, the first is the movie-only and a commentary track, while the second features all of the supplements.

The commentary features director Ridley Scott, cinematographer John Mathieson, and editor Pietro Scalia. The track is live and features all of them talking at once. For the most part, the commentary is overtaken by Ridley Scott who spends a great deal of time discussing the details behind each scene as well as where the ideas for historical accuracy came from. John and Pietro contribute a good deal as well, mostly talking about all sorts of subjects rather than just their specific field of expertise. Ridley Scott makes good commentaries, mainly because he is so film literate and sees all sorts of inspirations and details in everything. Perhaps the most revealing thing in this lengthy commentary is Scott revealing what is and isn't CG. The trio also discuss controversies about historical facts and how not everything in the film came straight from known history. Scott admits that they made up a lot of their own things based on gut-feelings about how Roman life would have been conducted in certain ways. For a 2-and-a-half hour film, the commentary is amazingly busy. My only complaint is that, in the few sections where the three stop talking, the soundtrack is suddenly blasted up to full-volume. The commentary is indexed by chapters that reference what is being discussed, a feature I haven't seen anywhere except on Criterion discs.

The second disc's supplemental material starts off with a lengthy reel of deleted footage. I won't go into details, so as not to spoil the movie for those who haven't seen it, but it's too bad that time constraints forced the footage to be cut as much of it is VERY good. Each scene has an optional audio track with commentary by Ridley Scott.

The 25 minute making-of documentary is the First Look special that initially aired on HBO prior to the theatrical release. It's a decent documentary, though a little on the promotional side of things. Be warned, however, NOT to watch this before watching the movie as there are many spoilers inside. While something slightly longer and more fleshed-out would have been nice, the commentary makes up for this.

One of the best and most appropriate supplements is the 50-minute Gladiator Games special, which originally aired on TV (the Learning Channel, if I recall correctly). This is a historical, educational piece about the reality of the games and how they evolved. I wish more DVDs would include stuff like this; educational programs that relate to the material in the movie are always interesting. In any case, this is a must-watch simply because it will help viewers determine what is fact, fiction, and just plain made up in the actual movie.
A 20-minute feature entitled Composing Gladiator is basically a lengthy discussion with composer Hans Zimmer about his score for the film. He also discusses his collaboration with Lisa Gerrard who provided the vocals and additional material.

A unique feature is the My Gladiator Diary written by Spencer Treat Clark, the young boy who portrays Commodus' son in the film. It's essentially a production diary/making-of text feature as seen from the eyes of this boy and his experiences working on the set. Some photographs are featured and, for his age, Clark is a remarkably good writer.

The whole disc is rounded off by a collection of expected features, such as trailers, production notes, cast/crew bios, and even a series of photo stills that are categorized by what is contained within them. Everything is presented very well with good menu design that's artistic, but doesn't interfere with moving around the features.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

Gladiator arrives on DVD with a roar; easily one of the most impressive examples of the medium. This lively and stylish epic is not only well worth the purchase, but provides plenty of supplements to beef up the package. Ridley Scott has managed to put together an adventure story that functions on many levels, without coming across as cheap or simplistic. Highly Recommended.

 


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