Saturday, November 30, 2013

'Gladiator' movie review

'Gladiator' (2000 film) [Wikipedia]

Gladiator is a 2000 British–American epic historical drama film directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Ralf Möller, Oliver Reed (in his final film role), Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, John Shrapnel, and Richard Harris. Crowe portrays the fictional character, loyal Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, who is betrayed when the emperor's ambitious son, Commodus, murders his father and seizes the throne. Reduced to slavery, Maximus rises through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena to avenge the murder of his family and his emperor.

Released in the United States on May 5, 2000, Gladiator was a box office success, receiving positive reviews, and was credited with rekindling interest in the historical epic. The film was nominated for and won multiple awards, notably five Academy Awards in the 73rd Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Crowe.

This is a movie that has been reviewed so many times that I think that I will go a little further along the lines of looking at it from a Cisalpine perspective. Just from the get-go, this was a great movie. Great plot, great flow, great scenes, great performances, and great cinematography. Along with 'Braveheart', this was probably the greatest movie of it's type in the last three decades or more. Of particular interest was the computer-generated imagery.. in this, the digital era of film making.

Unlike 'Braveheart', which presented itself from the opposite perspective of the larger domineering military superpower, 'Gladiator' firmly took the stance that "glorious Rome" had a right to forcefully promote it's benevolent "idea" upon other cultures. Maximus described Rome as "the light" in a cruel dark world; while Senator Falco said in reference to the resisting Germanic tribes: "A people should know when they're conquered." The film seems to have been loosely based upon Julius Caesar and the Roman conquest of Gaul, as well as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Only--in this case--with the Romans winning in Germania.

Set in 180 AD, the protagonist--Maximus--is referred to throughout the film as "the Spaniard." This would mean that he was a Romanized Celtiberian from the Roman province of Hispaniola (Spain), who rose through the military ranks to become a general. In the first scene, the Roman-German battle, the fearsome Roman weapons of war were put on display. Large fireballs were launched from huge catapults, hitting the battlefield like a modern air bombing. Large arrows were cranked up and fired from steel-plated cannons with devastating results. This army would frighten most modern armies in the world.

Leading up to the battle, General Maximus gave one of the great quotes from the movie. This movie was full of them.

[addressing his troops] Maximus: Fratres!
[cavalry addresses Maximus]

Maximus: Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!
[cavalry laughs]

Maximus: Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.

The last line could just stand on it's own as a quote. I thought the earlier part was interesting in that "Elysium" would have apparently been the Roman equivalent of the Odinic "Valhalla." Also, the motivational speech was the 'Gladiator' equivalent to the speech in 'Braveheart'. The one difference being that the Romans were powerful and self-confident; while the Scots in 'Braveheart' needed to gather themselves to fight a larger powerful army... therefore, the more emotional speech.

Another quote which I thought was interesting was a line that Marcus Aurelius said to his daughter Lucilla: "If only you had been born a man, what a Caesar you would have made." It was an indirect reference to his son Commodus not being a viable choice as a successor; and really, for me at least, more of a reflection on the strong and noble character of Lucilla. That's the type of woman that you would want to govern!

In case you didn't know, the acronym "SPQR" is the Roman equivalent of "USA." Senātus Populusque Rōmānus ("The Senate and People of Rome").

Watching the movie, you can't help but notice the similarity between the "bloodsport" of the Roman Colosseum and the very rough modern sporting contests (soccer, rugby, American football, hockey, boxing, UFC, etc.). The first fight scene in the Colosseum reminded me of a football game! The deadly collisions were like big football hits. Even when a sword was tossed up to Maximus on a horse, it was like a quarterback pitching the football to a halfback.

In an earlier bloodsport scene, Maximus--after defeating his opponents in a life-and-death struggle--throws his sword into the columned box where the dignitaries sat (sort've like a press box?), and yelled out with outstretched arms "Are you not entertained! ...... Are you not entertained!!" in what seemed to be a mocking gesture.

Late in yesterday's 49ers-Seahawks game, a 49er defensive back named Eric Wright was kneed in the head and had to leave the game. Since it was a big game, he later returned, and ended up intercepting a pass to secure a victory. He returned from injury to "win" and "entertain" for the crowd. The Maximus line would have been very apt.

I should add that the digital imagery of what the Colosseum really looked like was very interesting, as-well-as much of the background scenery. This is one of those movies that a film buff would have a field day researching and collecting. I can't really do it justice. The acting performances were particularly good.