Review of Gladiator
Gladiator needs no introduction. Ridley`s Scotts epic tale of General Maximus` struggle to avenge the murder of his leader, wife and child was surprisingly successful at the box office earlier this year and has won praise from many quarters.
At the time of writing this review, 1 week after the worldwide DVD release, 3.6 million copies of the Region 1 DVD have been sold, with DreamWorks having to urgently order a re-pressing to keep copies on the shelves. The British Region 2 version of the film outsold every CD single in the first week of release, every CD album except the Beatles "1" and all other videos/DVDs. Gladiator has replaced The Matrix as the biggest selling DVD of all time.
The cinematic success of Gladiator and the resulting hype guaranteed that this DVD would be a success, especially with the extras on offer, but now that the marketing mist has cleared and the DVD is on the shelves how does it stand up to the other blockbuster releases we`ve had this year?
The video is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As a major film from one of the top studios, you would expect a flawless transfer and you will not be disappointed, with no visual problems evident anywhere in the film.
One of the main draws of Gladiator is the spectacle. The opening battle sequence in Germania is one of the most breathtaking scenes you`ll see in a movie - from the initial launch of thousands of flaming arrows to the charge of infantry and cavalry, this looks fantastic. What looked impressive on the big screen looks just as good in your living room.
Other than the battle, the special effects really centre on the recreation of Rome. The city was recreated with a mixture of live action and computer modelling, and is very well done - the longer shots are good, but it the shots of the Coliseum that are the most impressive. According to the liner notes, only a small part one tier was actually built, the rest was added by computer - and you won`t be able to tell which is which!
Audio comes in either Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Surround 2.0, or DTS ES 6.1. My system is DTS compliant, although alas only 5.1 channel, so I obviously chose DTS sound whilst watching the film.
Like the video, I expected the sound in Gladiator to be of a high standard, and it was clear right from the start that it was going to be rather special.
The opening battle is of reference quality, with a combination of Hans Zimmer`s powerful score, fighting, arrows and spears flying overhead, fire, explosions, horses - all making full use of all channels and the range available to DTS.
The standard is just as high throughout the rest of the film, from the scenes set just to the excellent music, to the battles in the arenas. Excellent use is made of all channels - there re plenty of stand-out scenes, but one where a Gladiator is swinging a mace around above his head is particularly impressive as the swooping sound moves around the soundstage.
Despite all the music and effects, the dialogue is always clear.
The features occupy a second disk and the list is impressive: Commentary from Director Ridley Scott; Deleted Scenes (wth Director`s Commentary); Treasure Chest - A Unique Montage Of Additional Footage Cut To The Powerful Score; Interview composer Hans Zimmer; 2 behind-the-scenes featurettes; production diary; slide show featuring concept art and storyboards; photo gallery, theatrical trailers and TV spots and in-depth production notes and detailed cast and filmmaker biographies.
Gladiator is housed in an Amaray Case with two internal trays to hold both disks. The liner notes contain interesting background information about the making of the film along with detailing the chapter points.
There`s also one "Easter Egg" that`s come to light so far - from the main menu of the extra features disc, go to the second page of extras, then select "Trailers and TV Spots", then press the left arrow key on your remote control to light up Richard Harris` amulet. Press enter to get a teaser trailer for "Chicken Run" to the Gladiator score!
All of this is wrapped up in well-presented menus set to the film`s score.
First of all, I`ll get rid of the formalities. The picture and sound are excellent - the sound in particular is amongst the best. The feature count is also very impressive and of high quality - I`ve scored it 9/10 only because some films have more - Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition being one example.
As for the film itself, I watched if at the cinema earlier this year and thought it was one of the best films I`d seen for some time. Watching it again on DVD this week dulls that opinion slightly. The first time you watch Gladiator, the scale and spectacle are extremely impressive - from the opening battle, which is one of the most intense viewing experiences available to the beautiful recreation of Rome and the thrilling and brutal gladiatorial contests.
Having watched the film for a second time, the imagery is still as strong, and the action sequences just as impressive, but there are several sections in between that border on tedium - there was definetly scope for a slight trimming of the running time. Having said that, the strength of the cast helps, with Russell Crowe perfect for the role of Maximus - the ability to act well and also be excellent in action scenes is a rare talent. The supporting cast is also first rate - from Richard Harris who isn`t around for long, to the late Oliver Reed and Connie Nielsen - all of whom play their parts very well. Joaquin Phoenix also plays Commodus very well, but the character is a little too sly and scheming for my liking.
Despite reservations about the length of the movie, it was still thoroughly entertaining, and the strength of the acting alongside the quality of the soundtrack and excellent visuals make watching Gladiator a very rewarding experience. The addition of a second disc full of extras also makes it particularly good value and it is therefore highly recommended.
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