Gladiator (2 Disc Set)

Gladiator is a contender for
the title of best modern epic

When I was a kid first getting into movies, one of the best types of film to see was the sweeping epic. El-Cid, Ben Hur and films of this nature were huge. They had a cast of thousands, action and drama. These films were magnificent in their scope and production. Because of the expense of these films the studios have, for the large part, moved away from them. Braveheart signaled the successful return this type of film making but now there is a contender for the title of best modern epic, Gladiator.

From the start Gladiator delivers the goods. While many film critics panned this movie as having a rather weak plot I think they were judging by the wrong standards. This is an action epic. The plot holds together far better than some give it credit. Maximus (Russell Crow) is the greatest general of Rome. After a brutal defeat of the Germanic tribes Caesar Marcus Aelius (Richard Harris) meets him. Marcus plans to leave the throne to Maximus instead of his ill-tempered son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Commodus is not only power mad but is in love with his own sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen). After murdering his father, Commodus sentences Maximus to death. After killing all five of the Praetorian guards sent to execute him, Maximus escapes and returns home to find the new Caesar had his wife and young son murdered. Passing out from his battle wounds and the long journey Maximus is taken by slave traders and sold to an ex gladiator Proximo (Oliver Reed in his last performance). Proximo sees something special in this new gladiator, his ticket back to Rome. His takes Maximus, now called the Spaniard under his wing and they eventually go to fight in the newly restored games in Rome. Maximus wants nothing more than to kill Commodus and avenge his family. His sole purpose for winning is for that moment.

What takes Gladiator above the typical sword and sandal epic is the acting. Crowe is as perfect here as a man seeking to avenge his family as he was as the former tobacco scientist in the Insider. He is also extremely buffed up for this role, shedding the added forty pounds he carried for the Insider. Even though the dialogue is simple Crowe presents Maximus as a multi-dimensional person. A farmer that found success as a solider and as a general. He is as loving to the memory of his family as he is brutal to those that oppose him. In the first fight in the Coliseum his group of gladiators are on foot against several well-armed chariots. By using his skill as a tactician. Phoenix is perfetly cast as the mad young emperor. This actor slips into different roles like most men put on a different suit of clothes. I have never seen him in any two similar roles and yet he never fails to give it all he has. Djimon Hounsou plays another gladiator that befriends Maximus. Best know for his incredible performance in Amistad, Hounsou shows he has great potential in film.

What can be said about Riddley Scott except the man knows how to direct. True, not all of his films are blockbuster hits, take G.I. Jane for example, but when it hits the mark it is dead center. Scott recreates Rome to the finest detail. Most shots are a combination of full scale sets, miniatures and CGI but you will not see a seam anywhere in the film. Scott has crafted a full environmental experience for the audience. The video is perfectly framed in ever scene. The cinematography is stunning and the audio will sweep you away, back two thousand years ago. Scott is the type of director that fully involves himself in a project. His control and eye for the slightest detail is incredible. There are a few slips, a mention of hell in the beginning of the movie although that concept was not around as such in 180 BCE. Still, the studio wanted an epic true to the great films of our youth and they got it.

The Gladiator two-disc set is extremely well done. For once a double disc set that fits in the space usually taken by a single case. It makes storage just a little bit easier for some of us that are running out of shelf space. The audio is either Dolby 5.1 or DTS 6.1 ES. It is loud. Do not try to watch this movie late at night unless you invite all your neighbors. Every speaker comes alive, is full of clear detail and is flawless in reproduction. I can’t wait to get a 6.1 set up to hear it all. The video is crystal clear. No defect, no flaws nothing but calibration grade picture. The set includes a commentary by Scott and deleted scenes also with commentary. Additional footage, two behind the scenes features and a production diary round out the offering. Get it, crank up the sound, turn off the lights and go back to ancient Rome.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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