Russell Crowe gave an outstanding performance in Curtis Hanson's "LA Confidential", it was apparent that it was only a matter of time before the actor would appear again in an even more impressive performance, and that time was last Summer, in Ridley Scott's "Gladiator".
From the exciting opening battle onwards throughout the film, this is really an example of fantastic filmmaking. The film is paced like lightning, and the two and a half hour running time goes by very quickly. The story revolves around Maximus(Crowe), a general in the Roman army who has just returned from battle to find the Emperor dying and soon dead, and his son Commodius(Joaquin Phoenix) sending Maximus to be executed after he decides not to join him. Maximus escapes, but goes home to find his family killed and home destroyed. Captured, he finds himself as one of the Gladiators, and begins to seek his revenge.
The film provides one stunning visual after another, working with the largest, most elegant sets and costumes. Visually, yes, it is pretty gory and violent at times, but I think these moments are handled fairly well and quickly, not taking the audience out of the situation at hand in the film. The screenplay is smart, well-written and paired with outstanding performances, it's hard to take your eyes off the film. Performers absolutely become their roles - from the tremendously strong performance by Crowe to a very impressive performance from Phoenix.
The intensity to Scott's picture grabs the viewer from the begining and pulls you in. "Gladiator" is a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat picture for the majority of the running time. Although there are moments during the nearly three-hour picture that are a tiny bit slow, these are few and far between as enough exciting moments of action or drama are offered often enough.
All considered, I find it very hard to find fault with "Gladiator". It offers us fully realized and well-written characters, interesting and engaging dialogue and situations, and sets and costumes that have to be seen to be believed. The performances are excellent across the board, and many included are most certainly deserving of Oscar recognition. "Gladiator" is one of the most impressive and entertaining pictures I've seen in quite a long time.
VIDEO: Dreamworks has done just about their best work in transfering the complex and often breathtaking visuals of "Gladiator" to the small screen. The cinematography of the film is phenomenal, providing the look of the cold, crisp, outdoor scenes in the early shots to the golden light of some of the interiors to the bold look of the coliseums. Sharpness is perfect throughout the film, with the entire presentation looking well rendered with excellent detail and clarity even in some of the dimly lit or dark sequences.
Colors are natural to the intent of the film from some early scenes that look darker to the later scenes which offer richer, brighter colors. Throughout, colors look accurate and without fault, and often they are breathtaking. There are very few minor flaws with the image. I didn't notice any instances of pixelation throughout the feature, but there is a slight shimmering that does appear a couple of times throughout the movie that is noticable, but extremely brief and not distracting.
This is a presentation from Dreamworks that holds up throughout, doing full justice to the beauty of "Gladiator"'s imagry, as well as the elements that make the film's images so impressive; there is a great detail to the costumes, sets and surroundings that puts their marvelous look on full display. Fantasic work.
SOUND: Dreamworks offers "Gladiator" in both Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES audio versions. The film's audio in general is an immensely pleasing and well-done presentation that, while having some quiet moments that offer beautiful and detailed ambient sounds, also has moments of unbelievable intensity that are more than up to the task of bringing the viewer into the environment of that particular scene.
The opening battle is certainly an example of that as arrows seem to fly throughout the room and fires explode throughout the front of the with great intensity and detail. Every sound effect, down to the the raw clank of swords, is rendered clearly and naturally to give the audience the full impact of the scenes. The cheering of the crowds in the fight sequences is so clear and bold that it really heightens the excitement. The crowd noise fills the room remarkably well, putting the viewer in the middle of it all. Bass, during the more intense sequences, is often powerful.
Even during the less intense scenes, I was impressed with the level of subtle details, especially in the outdoor scenes, where the soft touch of wind is so crisp the viewer can almost feel the cold air. Bird and other nature sounds also are used well to give a convincing sense of space.
Also paired with the film is an outstanding score from Hans Zimmer, whose score is wonderfully emotional and appropriate, adding greatly to scenes both subtle and powerful. The score sounds fantastic on this DVD release; powerful, filling the room with intense notes or small details. The score sweeps over the viewer and through the room, almost taking on a life of its own.
Both audio versions of the film are enjoyable, but the DTS version provides noticably improved clarity, detail and strength. Overall though, "Gladiator" provides sound that is appropriate, intense, exciting and sometimes breathtaking.
MENUS:: Animated menus for the disc are given, but the way that the menus are done is appropriate and not overdone, with images from the film used very well.
EXTRAS: Dreamworks provides some excellent supplemental features for "Gladiator". Aside from the commentary track, of course , all of the extra features are located on the second disc.
Commentary: This is a commentary track from director Ridley Scott, cinematographer John Mathieson and editor Pietro Scalia. A pleasing addition is a commentary "index", where chapters are listed with the subject of the discussion at that point. The commentary as a whole is a fantastic one which offers an immense amount of detail and analysis of the film and the production. We hear about all of the obstacles that the filmmakers faced, from their attempts to be as close to accurate to history as possible, to building the battles and more. While watching the movie, you get a sense of the massive amount of detail and work that went into the production, but the commentary really reveals the layers and steps that went into the final film.
When the commentary does not discuss the immense amount of work that the filmmakers faced, the three shift their focus from the technical details to the story details, as Scott discusses how characters were developed and how he wanted to keep the story going. Scott gives us a fantastic idea of the way he works and his way of telling the story, and Scalia and Mathieson also provide additional details on how the look of the film was achieved. There are very few pauses throughout the length of the film and the majority of the discussion is really fascinating to listen to. The three really provide one of the most informative and insightful commentaries I've had the pleasure of listening to in quite a while.
From The Cutting Room Floor: Included in this section are twelve sequences that were deleted from the film, with optional commentary from director Ridley Scott. Even though these scenes are rightly cut out as an issue of pace and running time, some still prove to be interesting and worth watching. Some of the scenes, such as one involving Lions, are a bit gory. I liked the menu for this section, which brings up a picture and text explanation for the scene before you choose to play with or without commentary. The final scene in this area is not really a deleted "scene", but a 7 minute or so montage of deleted footage that was put together by the editor and paired with Hans Zimmer's music. This provides some cool footage and is definitely worth a look.
Making Of "Gladiator": An excellent 25 minute or-so documentary that takes a look at nearly every aspect of the production, with plenty of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage that takes us into the middle of the movie. The sheer size of the sets and the scope of the film in general was something that I mentioned being amazed with in the film review, and again, you hear and see more here about how the filmmakers were able to handle and organize all of these elements. Some moments of the documentary are a bit "promotional" in nature, but not nearly as much as many documentaries that are included on the DVD. And the interviews offer people who are extremely passionate about taking the possibilities of filmmaking to the limits.
Gladiator Games: Roman Blood Sport: This is a 50 minute documentary that takes a look at the history behind the gladiator games that we see in the film. The documentary combines this with information about the making of the film, and experts on history provide the reality behind what it was actually like to be one of these "gladiators". It's amazing to hear further details about the rules and real issues that happened during these times and the way these gladiators were looked at by the society of the time and the kind of money that the most successful gladiators would get for their appearances.
Hans Zimmer: Composing Gladiator: Hans Zimmer, who remains my favorite composer, talks about his experiences with the production of "Gladiator" in this 20-minute documentary. He goes into great detail about how he works to create the music for a movie, and the way he worked with the director to create a score that was appropriate for "Gladiator". An extremely interesting documentary that takes us into this process very well, and fans of the composer will certainly find this interview very enjoyable.
My Gladiator Journal: Bravo to Dreamworks for providing such an interesting extra feature on this DVD. Young actor Spencer Treat Clark wrote about his experiences of spending time on the set of "Gladiator". In this very lengthy journal, he goes into fascinating detail on his experiences working on the film. There's even quite a few pictures throughout the section. His journal entries are extremely well-written and provide a very interesting read. I almost wish that the studio had printed a book that would be included with the disc so that I wouldn't have to read on the television, but I'm just happy that it was included.
Storyboards: There are storyboards included for these sequences; "Germaina Battle", "Maximus Execution", "Flight From Germainia", "Zucchabar", "Arena Fight" and "Battle of Cartage".
Stills Gallery: 6 still photo galleries: "Portraits", "Germainia", "Zucchabar", "Rome", "Colosseum" and "Behind The Scenes".
Trailers/Ads: The theatrical teaser and trailer (Dolby Digital 5.1) and 4 TV Spots.
Also: Production Notes and Cast/Crew Bios.
Final Thoughts: Dreamworks has done a phenomenal job bringing this epic to DVD. Audio and video quality are absolutely first-rate, and supplements are of very high quality, providing insight and information about the making of this excellent picture. "Gladiator" is simply a must-see DVD.