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This review is from: Gladiator (3 Disc Extended Special Edition) [DVD] (DVD)
Gladiator is of course a tremendous film. The multiple Oscar recognitions at the time and the subsequent historical epics that have filled the big screen in the decade since are a good indication that Gladiator is something special. With an emotionally-charged main storyline revolving around Russell Crowe's Maximus, there is enough action for the men to enjoy and enough pathos for those of a more sensitive disposition. Gladiator is not the best of the historical epics that came out in the first decade of the 21st century but it is top notch and it paved the way for what came later.
The 3-disc version of the film does have some additional worth. The elongation of the Germania scenes are a treat for those of us who like to watch pitched battle even if this not the most sophisticated of sword combat sequences. The clash between the Romans and the Germans has enough authenticity in part thanks to the excellent one line of old German called out by the Germanic leader as a call to arms. The additional scenes scattered in throughout the film are ones that it seems strange to have left out originally. At the time of Gladiator there remained a clear desire to keep films under the 150 minute mark but with Lord of the Rings and others showing that this is not necessary, those extra scenes of intrigue involving Lucilla and the Senators and Commodus attacking the statue of Marcus Aurelius are extremely valuable to understanding the characters of both.
What Gladiator is at the core is a character piece. It is a decent enough recreation of Roman times but clearly not a history film. This is a film designed around Russell Crowe and he is magnificent. The strong and heroic leader who loves his family above all else is an archetype for women to bask in but Crowe embues Maximus with enough wit and subtlety that the character grows throughout the film to the heroic ending. Some could label it overly sentimental but it is a terrific example of a character who changes and reacts to the environment he finds himself in. Many other films could do with learning from this example.
The secondary characters are better in the extended version than the original. The desire of Marcus Aurelius to restore a republic and abandon his warlike ways seems a very odd interpretation of that particular historical figure who did more than any other to bring Pax Romana at the point of the gladius. Still, Joaquin Phoenix is remarkable as the hugely flawed Commodus and making such a character understandable to a modern audience is a marvellous treat. Phoenix puts in a performance of majesty in playing a ruler so tormented that he is unable to put his own failings behind him in a search for the love that an absent father would never have provided.
While Derek Jaboby as a senator is underused, the same cannot be true for fellow English thesp Oliver Reed. Reed of course died during the course of filming but it his powerful Proximo is a great last memory.
The film does not have a love interest which is a bold decision. Connie Nielsen did not exactly break through with a fairly stilted performance and her character's son played by Spencer Treat Clark looks too much like an American brat though as he makes the critical error in the hero's plan perhaps this is deliberate.
The action scenes through the film are good if not great while the scenery is believable especially in the province. The costumes and music are sumptuous and these are often what differentiate the suspension of disbelief. The score for Gladiator is excellent.
The extras on the 3 disc version are close to riotous. The first bonus disc is almost exclusively a description of the enormous script difficulties the film faced. None of the behind the camera speakers are critical of others particularly but this was clearly a very troubled film that somehow came together despite numerous last minute rewrites and disagreements. It is a very good thing that Ridley Scott was overruled on the rhino scene. The second bonus disc is almost content-less and does feature an alternative opening credit that after hyping itself does not seem very good so was a decent call to go another route.
Gladiator is a film that should be seen. It is great characters if not a particularly complex plot. Films generally are about the people in them and where Gladiator stands out is that those characters evolve and react as their circumstances change. This is a good one.