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Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) is old and frail, close to death. His son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) is a disappointment to him and not a worthy successor, although his ambition is endless. Marcus asks his victorious General Maximus (Russell Crowe) to take over the reins as Protector of Rome and return power to the people, but before this wish can become reality, Commodus senses something amiss and intervenes, triggering a chain of events that changes the future of the Roman Empire. Maximus has to survive Commodus' jealous fury, the assassination of his own family and the ignominy of being a slave. But it is as a slave-gladiator that Maximus finds the way to serve Rome once again, and help deliver on his promise to the late Emperor Marcus.

Transferred beautifully to DVD in widescreen (and a choice of Dolby or DTS surround sound) with 17 language options for subtitles, the film retains its power, its entertainment value and its spectacle. Hans Zimmerman’s score, extended by Lisa Gerrard’s mystic vocalisations, flows through the speakers, his "humble theme turned into a thousand different emotions," as he himself says in the special feature devoted to the music on Disc 2.

I find Zimmerman endlessly interesting as he explains his art and craft, confessing his fears as well as taking pride in his achievements. It was instructive, too, to discover how Lisa Gerrard got to be involved. Apparently someone was playing Dead Can Dance CDs a lot in the early stages of preparation, and Zimmerman liked what he heard of Gerrard’s wordless vocals, saying "we should have something like that…" Of course, nothing better than EXACTLY that, so Gerrard went over for a few days – and stayed five months. (Dead Can Dance is an extraordinary group of musicians who have made a number of CDs [I have six of them] that all defy categorisation. Gerrard lives in Melbourne.)

The Making Of feature shows some of the scenes in comparative mode, before and after CGI, which is fascinating. Also has a well edited mix of interview grabs on location with principal cast and heads of departments, Russell Crowe standing out as the most entertaining.

The deleted scenes – many of which are cut simply for time reasons – offer additional insights into the film’s essence, especially when watched with Ridley Scott’ comments.

Scott’s commentary over the film (on Disc 1) is a little frustrating at times, though, gliding over the physical detail of making such an elaborate and complex drama. He and his DoP and editor talk about camera apertures over the opening battle scenes, when we are anxious to hear how they staged the battle. But the commentary does make clear how much detail is included and how much preparation was needed. And on the issue of historic accuracy, Scott is very blunt: he says the filmmakers wanted to be as accurate as possible, but since nobody today was actually there, some it is conjecture. For example, someone admonished him about some of the women’s costumes, saying ‘Roman women only ever wore white.’ Scott’s response is something like ‘How do you know? Is it written somewhere?’

The longest feature on Disc 2 is the US tv doco on Gladiators, the Romans’ Bloodsport. This repackages some of the footage from Gladiator as additional material to other footage and various interviews as it is in fact about Gladiators in general, and their 400 year history. An interesting adjunct to the film. Didn’t know Gladiators were like today’s sports superstars – and Romans even sold action figurines of the most famous. They were lusted after by women, but as a group, they were socially down market!

Spencer Treat Clark’s diary of experiences while working on the film (he plays the grandson of Marcus Aurelius) are a nice extra, and it’s worth taking the trouble to read them. Very detailed and illustrated with happy snaps on the set, they make amusing and informative reading on a personal level.

This is an appropriately extensive DVD package, its depth of material warranted by the film."
Andrew L. Urban

Published: December 14, 2000

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CAST: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou and Richard Harris

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

RUNNING TIME: 149 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: December 6, 2000

Disc 1
Widescreen presentation of the film
Audio Commentary (Director & DoP & Editor)

Disc 2
25 minute making of feature

11 deleted scenes with/without commentary

25 min feature on the music, with Hans Zimmer

50 min documentary on Gladiator Games: The Roman Bloodsport

Spencer Treat Clark’s personal diary
Photo Gallery
Production Notes
Talent Profiles
Movie Trailers

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