“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” Gladiator is one of the greatest historical epics of modern times, as it has everything a cinematic spectacle requires… and more!
General-turned-gladiator Russell Crowe’s powerfully operatic speech pretty much encapsulates the tangible intensity of the film and is what makes it perhaps the most accomplished historical epic of the century so far. An ode to the sword-and-sandal epics of the 1960s, Gladiator carried cinema into a new century but for its audience transported them back to one long ended.
Dealing with an array of aspects of Roman history, this entertaining exploration of the misdemeanours of unbefitting supremacy and its effect on one man makes for an all-consuming motion picture. Who better to helm a film of such profound proportions than the man from Newcastle, Ridley Scott. His filmography includes Alien and Blade Runner, so to direct Gladiator could be considered easy work, but by no means is it a simple film.
It’s a film of epic proportions, transporting us through a barrage of emotional distress, physical endeavours and educational theatre. The two protagonists deliver performances of such a magnitude that the film transcends its level of plausibility and becomes a colossal spectacle.
Russell Crowe portrays the protagonist Maximus, the Roman general betrayed by the emperor’s ambitious son who reduces him to a life of slavery after the cold-blooded murder of his family. Legions away from his enemy and wallowing in grief, he gets a chance to rise through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena and gain revenge. Crowe truly places his soul into such a powerfully defeated man where what goes on inside his character is more fathomable than what his exterior tells us. Around this time, Crowe was an actor in-demand and his performance as the gladiator exemplifies why.
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the antagonist Commodus provides an equally, if not more, effective character. Phoenix’s Commodus is pure evil as he goes to extreme lengths to become the paramount emperor Rome has ever had, even murdering his own father to seize his throne. His malevolent ways heighten as the film progresses: from murder, to attempted incest and incessant treason. Phoenix makes us physically hate not only his character but also, unfortunately, everything the actor embodies.
Visually, Gladiator’s recreation of the heart of the ancient city of Rome, using extensive CGI to complete shots, shows the city as magnificent as it would have been when erected. The beautiful recreation of Rome’s main attraction, the Colosseum, to a fully established theatre in all its glory is undoubtedly the closest sight you will ever have of the realest thing. The accuracy of the visuals is unquestionable, but film generally isn’t the best educational tool to use, as some stories are changed to suit cinematic intent.
Nevertheless, the fact this film generated what is known as ‘The Gladiator Effect’ demonstrates its effectiveness at generating interest in authentic Roman history. Gladiator engendered in the audience an increased fascination of Roman history and, to be honest, it still does.
The score of Gladiator is perhaps one of the greatest ever recorded, not only for its seamless blending into the atmosphere of the film but also because it has endured in the hearts of the audience. The ethereal score’s high demand in the film-music world is particularly indebted to singer Lisa Gerrard’s vocals, most prominently in the song ‘Now We Are Free.’ The heavenly voice provides a sense of meaning in the imposingly majestic instrumentals.
At the 73rd Academy Awards, Gladiator was nominated twelve times, winning five. It’s regarded as the best film of that year and became the first film to win the Best Picture academy award this century. It also won Best Actor for Crowe, Visual Effects, Costume Design and Sound Mixing, demonstrating the efficiency across the board. It took the 21st century less than six months to provide the world with a true cinematic classic.