Maximus is a powerful Roman general, loved by the people and the aging Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Before his death, the Emperor chooses Maximus to be his heir over his own son, Commodus, and a power struggle leaves Maximus and his family condemned to death. The powerful general is unable to save his family, and his loss of will allows him to get captured and put into the Gladiator games until he dies. The only desire that fuels him now is the chance to rise to the top so that he will be able to look into the eyes of the man who will feel his revenge. Written by
Chris "Morphy" Terry
Germania, 150 AD, the setting of Gladiator's opening scene. Far from the blazing sun and dazzlingly beauty of ancient Rome, Ridley Scott shoots the opening sequence in a subdued light. The Roman legions are nonetheless impeccably turned out as they face the comparatively disorganised rabble that inhabits this miserable environment. Caesar's soldiers seem somewhat misplaced here. However, Russell Crowe is at home in this environment of knee-deep mud and merciless snow. He commands the screen with all the virtues of his motto: Strength and Honour.'
The plot, with its hero-to-zero-to-hero nature, runs through Gladiator's every vein. As General Maximus, Russell Crowe is welcomed by Marcus Aurelius Caesar (Richard Harris) to take the Roman throne as Emperor of a new Republic. All does not run smoothly however as mislead heir to the throne Commodus (Phoenix) takes over Rome with ill-gotten domination, having dispatched his own Father. Maximus is cast out to find his family murdered and his Spanish farm burnt to the ground. Taken in as a slave by Proximo (Reed), Maximus becomes a Gladiator and starts his journey to the Coliseum and revenge against Commodus.
Scott's cast is powerful and he is not left wanting as powerful performances are delivered by all. Due to his untimely mid-production death, Oliver Reed is created in some scenes by the grace of computer graphics, which are as convincing as they come; sometimes making it difficult to differentiate between Reed himself and his computerised counterpart.
It is, however, the supporting actors who create many of Gladiator's best dialogue-based scenes. In an accomplished demonstration of her acting ability as Lucilla, Connie Nielsen saves the occasional scene as Joaquim Phoenix shows us that he can do evil', but is less convincing when it comes to the more emotional qualities of his role.
As a vehicle for the plot, Scott's beautifully created and highly symbolic (there is an image of fire in nearly every shot of the film) dialogue scenes are of a certain merit with digitally created backgrounds that encompass the meticulous nature of the Roman Empire. However, dialogue alone does not an epic movie make, and it is in the film's spectacular action sequences that Gladiator come into its own. Shot on location in Malta, Scott's first arena was built by an army of locals and commanded some 5000 extras (a large majority of whom were of a cardboard variety). All of this pales in comparison as we arrive in a digitally created Rome which makes some scenes in Ben Hur some somewhat small scale. The Coliseum is immense, both inside and out, and the computerised provides the electric atmosphere in which Crowe and his feline companions (four sizeable, and real, Bengal tigers) perform.
The battle sequences are perfectly choreographed and shot as iconic masks and typically Roman chariots are abundant in their power and imagery. As swords clash and heads roll, Ridley Scott is triumphant in the application of special effects technology and his directorial prowess.
Always one to embrace technology, Scott's views over Rome's landscape are reminiscent of the beautifully created cityscape of Blade Runner. This is a film that fears so little and boasts so much, even a lady archer being sliced clean in half by a spiked chariot wheel!
All those involved with Gladiator should be delighted and confident with their creation, for indeed this is a convincing and enthralling display with epic proportions to take the wind from James Cameron's titanic sails.
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