Ridley Scott's glossy historical epic Gladiator
revitalised the classic sword 'n' sandal genre
, bringing both a modern pop-culture sensibility and state-of-the-art computer-generated special effects to what had seemed like a worn-out formula. Essentially a remake of Anthony Mann's stodgy 1964 Fall of the Roman Empire
also borrows heavily from Saving Private Ryan
in its stunning opening sequence, and employs Ridley's brother Tony Scott's rapid-fire editing style for the remarkably staged Colosseum fights. The overall effect is a hugely impressive but emotionally empty spectacle complemented by Hans Zimmer
's bestselling but derivative score.
Russell Crowe cements his star status with a brooding, muscular performance helped along by lots of pithily quotable mock-Shakespearean dialogue. But Crowe's Maximus, along with everyone else in the film, is a disappointing two-dimensional stereotype: there's also the ridiculously melodramatic villain (Joaquin Phoenix), the old flame who's still in love with her hero (Connie Nielsen) and the trusty companion (Djimon Hounsou--who seems stuck in these roles). Richard Harris lacks the gravitas to convince as the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, and only Oliver Reed, in his very last film, brings some depth to his world-weary ex-gladiator. Still, if Scott's film lacks the profundity of Ben-Hur, Spartacus or even Cleopatra, it remains a kinetic, exciting thrill ride that gives us some sense of what it must have been like to fight and die with a gladius in hand.
On the DVD: Gladiator's two-disc set quickly became a must-have on its first release and remains one of the absolute essential DVD purchases. It set the standard both for picture and sound quality (Dolby 5.1 or DTS) as well as providing a second disc fully loaded with excellent special features. Scott's audio commentary is on the first disc, and the second has documentaries about both the history and the film, deleted scenes, storyboards, hidden "Easter Eggs" and more. --Mark Walker