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Watkins' Gladiators a.k.a. Gladiatorena a.k.a. The Peace Game (1969) is
a very interesting film that features a unique concept.The movie takes
place in a alternate reality where warfare has been abolished.
Countries that want to settle their disputes handle them inside a high
tech arena. Each country sends in a crack squad of highly trained
commandos. While inside, they play a game that's similar to "capture
the flag". The supercomputer controlled arena is operated by
technicians from neutral countries. The computer randomly puts up
obstacles in the way of the commandos (adding a bit of intrigue to the
game). The generals from the opposing forces (along with their allies)
play a game of chess with their commandos, watching the proceedings
from the safety of a control room (TV screens and computer monitors
follow the action). Around the world, the game is televised (except in
Russia, China and The United States). The TV programmers even have a
say in the action (they have to satisfy the TV viewers).
Once again, Watkins uses his faux documentary style to capture it all on film. This movie's truly ahead of it's time. A concept like this one would make a great reality T.V. show. Unfortunately, like most of Peter Watkins work it's a hard movie to find. But if you ever get a chance to watch it, I recommend that you do.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
GLADIATORS has a gloriously B-movie concept, in which the great nations of the Cold War send small groups to compete in a televised battle against each other rather than fight major wars. The film switches between the combatants fighting and the generals watching them do so (in safety). Director Peter Watkins was a great docu- drama film- maker whose grim realism and (left-wing) political instinct helped him make several great films. This one though comes from the point in his career when his films became increasingly didactic and unrealistic. The message of the film is clear: the elites are bad and the people good, on both sides of the Cold War. The generals all get on well together, even as they order their teams to fight and die against the other. Meanwhile the development of a relationship between a British squaddie and a Chinese (female) soldier turns all of the generals against them. If only the people on both sides could connect with each other then the wars would end, is the simplistic conclusion. The problem is that the characters are dull, the action tepid and the politics naive.
Peter Watkins most famous for directing films like Culloden (1964), The
War Game (1965), Privilege (1967) etc went to Sweden to direct this
sharp, satirical, surreal anti war film.
To my knowledge, this film has never been broadcast on Swedish TV nor does any of Peter Watkins other productions seem to have been broadcast recently on Swedish TV.
For example 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of writer August Strindbergs death but as I understand, Watkins made a biopic/documentary about Strindberg but has not been showned on TV....at least not yet.
Does Watkins have a lot of enemies or is it that he is a controversial filmmaker that makes him and his films less appealing? Who knows...but an enormous silence surrounding his films and the fact that is very hard to see his films makes one wonder.
Gladiatorerna/ Peace Game(1969)takes place in nearfuture where conventional warfare no longer exist. Instead, countries(regardless of political colour) all over the world gather at a special traininground/maze with their soldiers who are then divided into teams.
Teams go trough this maze filled with boobytraps (some are these are females using the same kind of "sex-up" techniques popular at Guantanamo Bay)controlled by a computer.
The teams try kill each other in the best way possible. Points are given at each kill etc.
But is the system perfect? Can something go wrong? Perhaps, because this surreal, dark, nihilistic scifi film discusses political systems in way few films have done before.
Peter Watkins was ahead of his time in this film, criticizing not just the establishment, but also the growing student uprising(remember this film was made in 1969) and the counter culture.
Biggest flaw for this film is the didactic almost preaching tone that film has sometimes but it is an important message that Watkins wants to give us.
Watkins is very brave for doing so and this film should be seen by more people but alas perhaps this will never happen, mainly because Watkins films are never shown on TV, his films receives little or no attention and hardly any DVD releases.
Why haven't Criterion released his films as of yet on DVD, Blu Ray? It should be done, because he is an important filmmaker.
This film is perhaps not as good as Privilege (1967) a film more accurate today then when it was made but is well worth a look.
Gladiatorerna/Peace Game (1969)is together with Skammen/Shame (1968) and Äkta människor/Real Humans (2012 )three very good scifi productions made in Sweden and that is one of many reasons why people should see this rare film.
I saw this movie in Stockholm the year it came out. I haven't seen it since, but I can remember many scenes vividly: that is a memorable movie. In addition to an ahead-of-his- time visual sense, the director added a feature, multiple subtitles, that I have never seen in a subsequent movie. Not just one or two languages, but every language spoken by the characters in the movie. That means Swedish, English, French, Spanish, Chinese... All appear stacked at the bottom of the screen (yet, amazingly, you can still see the action), minus whatever language is on the sound track at that moment; thus, the list shifts constantly as different actors speak. A little disconcerting at first, but it adds so much to the multicultural impact of the film. I hope someone brings it out on DVD.
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