One of my biggest regrets is missing this film at the cinema when it was released. It was not untill Nov 2000 when the dvd was released that I watched it for the first time and have seen it countless times since.
Gladiator is a historical action drama, directed by Ridley Scott. It features an excellent cast who's performances are unmatched in the roles they play. Russel Crowe portrays the General Maximus who is to be left in trust of Rome when the Emperor Marcus Aurelius dies (played by Richard Harris). Before his wish for Rome to become a Republican govenment is made public, the Emperor is murdered by his sociopathic son, Commodus who seizes the throne, excellently played by Joaquin Phoenix. After being given a death sentence by Commodus, Maximus escapes but is captured by slave traders and forced to live life as a gladiator. He rises through the ranks of the arena to avenge the death of his family. Ultimately, Commodus challenges Maximus to a duel in front of a roaring crowd in the Colosseum, which is finished with the dying wish of Marcus Aurelius being fulfilled.
David Franzoni wrote all of the early drafts for Gladiator after being inspired by reading Daniel P. Mannix's 1958 novel Those About to Die. He decided to base his script on Commodus after reading the Augustan History. Initially, Maximus was to be called Narcissus, the man who strangled Emperor Commodus to death, but was renamed after the scripts were redrafted to be more heroic and powerful. He is also credited with writing Amistad and Kingdom of Heaven.
The plot is influenced by two 1960s films; The Fall of The Roman Empire and Spartacus, drawing the films gladiatorial qualities from spartacus and similarities in the story and politics from The Fall of The Roman Empire. Ridley Scott was approached by producers David Wick and Walter Parkes who showed him a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme called Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down). This poignant image inspired Scott to take on the project, which he incorporates into the film's fight scenes creating tension and emotion.
While researching the famous quote from the film, 'what we do in life, echoes in eternity' for a previous project, I found that it was adapted from Stoic ideas written in Marcus Aurelius Meditations. After reading these volumes, I found that other quotes were used from them in the film's script or adapted from them, such as when Maximus says to Commodus, 'nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear'. Amoungst other references, these strenghten the Stoic philosophy throughout the film, believed by Romans at the time. It was a satisfying feeling that I had found a book that had been used as a source of ideas by the script writers.
Ridley Scott has created a powerful and psychological film that breathes new life into a reclining genre, seeing the release of King Arthur, Kingdom of Heaven and Troy in the following years. Asside from its spectacular effects, Gladiator benefits from a talented cast who add depth and dimension to the characters. The cinematography is laden with artistic touches that could impress even the most hardened critic and adds an aesthetic quality throughout the film. The opening battle scene and numerous fight sequences throughout the film are visually electrifying and show the savage side to a supposedly civilised society.
The attention to detail is outstanding from the costumes to the set. Benefiting from a huge budget, a replica of the Colosseum was built at 1/3 its actual size, one tier high with the remainder digitally imposed. With similar skill, post-production company, The Mill, had to create a digital body double for Proximo, following the death of Oliver Reed after a heart attack during filming. A 3D CGI mask of Reed's face was mapped onto the remaining scenes at an estimated cost of $3.2 million. It is hard not to admire the skill and expertise of the people that help create such spectacular effects.
More subtle notions are hinted by the imagery and dialogue in between the action scenes such as the afterlife, adding more depth to the plot and increasing the motivation of the key characters. The scenes where maximus brushes through a golden wheat field while softly touching the tips of the wheat become almost iconic, creating a subtle link between life and death which is reinforced throughout the film.
Gladiator has qualities to suit every taste including a powerful and fast moving script, amazing special effects and a beautiful, artistic aesthetic, strengthened by the quality of the acting. If by some chance this film has managed to avoid your attention, I would strongly recommend seeing it.