the net guide for creative
New Century of Cinema
DOWSE Guide to the
by Tony Lee editor of
Director: Ridley Scott
149 minutes (15) widescreen 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 2 retail
review by Steven Hampton
If you've seen the ad campaign you know the basic story. Russell Crowe portrays a Roman
general sold into slavery and reduced to the violent struggles of life as a gladiator
in the Colosseum, where he defies the emperor of Rome. Can he survive the various deadly
games intended to kill him? Will he get the opportunity to take revenge on his betrayers,
and the murderers of his family?
This is a Ridley Scott film so, naturally, the city and landscapes are well
worth seeing in themselves, never mind the spectacle of the opening battle sequence, or
frequent bouts of action in the magnificently recreated Flavian amphitheatre. The blood
'n' thunder doesn't get in the way of the story, though, and the exceptional supporting
cast (including Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, David Hemmings, Derek Jacobi) all do well
here, giving fine performances. The top villain is new Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix),
while leading lady Connie Nielsen plays his sister and the object of incestuous desire.
Both acquit themselves with composed styles in keeping with the film's extravagant
depiction of drama, intrigue, passion and a sense of history in the making... instead of
dwelling on hedonistic pleasures, as in Spartacus, the upfront religiosity of
Ben-Hur, or the sheer depravity of Caligula.
As the earnest new boy in cinema's class of noble warrior stars: think
Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas (and even Arnold Schwarzenegger if we count in Conan
The Barbarian!) Crowe manages to represent and preserve attributes of decency and
honour amidst the barbarity and carnage of this feed-Christians-to-the-lions environment,
and his considerable feat in Gladiator, playing a credible one-man slaughterhouse,
has clearly endeared him as an admirable hero figure to a mixed gender audience. So,
whatever else this powerhouse adventure has accomplished, it's certainly revealed
immense depths in Crowe's brand of forceful valour. That aside, Scott's usually acute
sense of pace seems to have deserted him on occasion, here, as scenes with the actors
drag a little and his direction becomes ponderous, at the expense of action that's
keenly trimmed to acquire the film's certificate. I'm not saying all of the cut
'hospital' gore should be reinstated, just that the running time feels too short for
its subject matter and not quite violent enough for today's moviegoers. So, has Scott
compromised his artistic vision for purely commercial, box-office concerns?
One thing Gladiator does bring to this fascinating, often-filmed
period is the technical proficiency of CG visuals. There's one stunning view of a
crowded Rome (as if seen from a blimp's sky-camera at the Superbowl stadium) and the
shot sets a new standard for big scale panoramic showstoppers. Yet here it's wisely
used as a mere introduction to the ensuing action - not as a gratuitous display at a
digital-artists' trade fair. For the most part, huge spectacular vistas like the clash
against hordes of thuggish Germans are done life-size and for real, and these are every
bit as impressively staged as the more closely personal, and character-focused, axe-
and sword fights with Crowe, and a legion of stuntmen, bodybuilders and extras, playing
soldiers, charioteers and enslaved combatants.
We get to see many of the clichéd details, like the tyrannical Emperor's
thumb signals, and the Roman army's innovative war machinery (of giant catapults, and
walls of shields and spears), that we were all told of at school. But director Scott's
expansive recreation of time and place ignores some obvious and overly familiar facts
and legends that we all know, and this production attempts to show us the Roman Empire
as it's never been seen before.
DVD extras: two-disc set. 25-minute making-of documentary, a dozen deleted
scenes with optional director's commentary, educational documentary on Roman blood
sports, profile of composer Hans Zimmer, Spencer Treat Clark's production journal, cast
and crew biographies, extensive storyboards and photo galleries, two trailers and TV
spots, text production notes, scene finder (28 chapters), animated menus.
to Movies on Dowse index.
dowse your start page
- Search the
- Get your free