Gladiator: Extended Edition
February 1, 2006
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, David Schofield, John Shrapnel, Tomas Arana, David Hemmings, Ralph Moeller, ,
We all know the story. In 1999, Ridley Scott hadn’t made anything decent since Thelma and Louise eight years previously, Russell Crowe was just starting to get noticed after The Insider and as for Joaquin Phoenix, who the hell is he? Cut to 2005 and it’s hard to imagine Gladiator not being included in just about every pop culture referenced movie/TV show since. How many times have we heard the “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius” speech spoofed, or how many films have we suffered as Hollywood tried to recreate Gladiator’s glory with Troy or Alexander? A special edition has been long overdue so now’s a good a time as any for a re-evaluation.
Crowe was born to play Maximus, a gruff but caring General who carved his foes in two as often as he joshed with his soldiers over a brew. When we first meet him he’s thinking about his family back home at the farm and immediately we know he’ll never see any such thing if the screenwriters have anything to do with it. Things are going swimmingly until the kind Emperor (Harris) and father-figure to Maximus is snuffed out by upstart son Commodus (Phoenix), who openly admits to aspiring to everything his father taught against. And let’s not mention the iffy relationship between Lucius and his sister Lucilla (Nielsen).
The story really begins when Maximus is sent off by Commodus to be killed so nobody can stand in his way ruling Rome. The assassination is botched and Maximus is sold into slavery where he must fight his way to Rome. It’s the classic revenge story, the little man fighting the system, although “underdog” isn’t really the word we would use when we’re talking about a man who could kill you with an unfriendly look. And any hero has a mentor so enter Oliver Reed in his final and perhaps best role as ex-gladiator-turned entertainer Proximo, all burning eyes and blustering speeches.
Ridley Scott is often labeled as visual director, and there’s no doubt he makes a pretty picture but apart from Blade Runner is there a film of his you would know was a Scott film without being told first time around? His real skill is with his actors – how else would a modern audience connect so completely with a gladiator in 180 A.D? The performances are so grounded that it’s easy to overlook the quiet dignity of Lucilla or the tortured soul of Commodus; an evil villain, yes, but his father openly admits that Commodus’s moral failings are his fault by always off fighting wars in distant lands instead of being a good dad. The more Commodus tries to please everyone the more they seem to dislike him. Witness the look of betrayal on his face when young Lucius lets slip what Lucilla has planned, or when his father bluntly turns away in favour of Maximus in the opening battle.
Gladiator is a film that should fall on its face at every step (previous incarnation The Fall of the Roman Empire did just that) but Scott set out to avoid the “grape-eating” Rome in favour of a more grounded, brutal reality and it shows in every frame. With Russell Crowe he creates something the movies have been missing for many years – a hero worthy of legends.
Starting things off there’s a brief intro by Ridley Scott which basically says this is an extended edition, not a director’s cut. Contrary to what you might have heard, the commentary with Scott and Russell Crowe is a rather jovial discussion full of anecdotes such as Joaquin Phoenix trying to get out of playing Commodus (but not really) and the day to day challenges faced on a big budget movie (the rose petals in the arena are actually plastic poppy heads). There’s also an interesting trivia track which focuses more on the historical guff.
On disc two there’s an extensive documentary featuring loads of on-set footage and interviews. It can be viewed as a whole or in pieces. These cover: Story Development, Weapons, Costume Design, Production Journals, Visual Effects, Resurrecting Proximo and Release and Impact. It’s a shame the abandoned Rhino fight didn’t make it in to the final film as the tests look so promising.
Disc three focuses on Storyboards/Production Design/Photo Galleries. There’s also a small deleted scene that isn’t really anything to shout home about, trailers and special effects explorations of Rome and Germania. The bonus features here are exhaustive and tell you pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about the film. A big thumbs up.