‘Gladiator’ DVD a real killer
It is fascinating, five years later, to see how well Ridley Scott’s Gladiator stands up as it matures: It is a masterwork, a thrilling if brutally violent entertainment with a rich storyline and deep character development. And despite the ancient setting in the Roman Empire of 180 A.D., the film’s contemporary themes of power abuse and military recklessness ripen in the light of current affairs.
As a result, the new three-disc DVD set, Gladiator: Extended Edition, is important because it reinforces the historical significance of the film. Tomorrow’s release, in a gorgeous new enhanced widescreen transfer, boasts an expanded set of extras, including a new documentary that runs longer than the film itself.
There is controversy, however. The film has been extended by 15 minutes and 56 seconds (not the full 17 minutes promised). Is this just a blatant cash grab, a push to sell more DVDs of a movie already well served in the digital format?
In an intro, Scott seems to distance himself: “This is not the director’s cut,” he says, adding that the true director’s cut is the theatrical version (also presented in the new set as an alternative). “This has a lot of scenes in it that were removed during the editing process and might be worth seeing.”
Some of the 13 new scenes are worth seeing, especially when best actor winner Russell Crowe, as Maximus, visits the field hospital to survey the carnage in the aftermath of the victory over Germania. Serving “the glory of Rome” exacts a toll. There are other more subtle yet key additions, such as showing Joaquin Phoenix, as Commodus, attack the bust of his murdered father with a sword, or letting Tomas Arana, as Quintus, explain to Maximus why he obeyed bad orders as a soldier. The scenes enrich the meaning of later events.
Also new is a commentary that teams Scott with Crowe. The two feed off each other beautifully, giving Crowe the platform for intelligent insight into the acting and filmmaking process and into the layers of meaning in the film.
Crowe, that rapscallion, also makes mischief, revealing that the hapless goof caught wearing jeans on screen in the Germania battle scene was the second assistant director Adam Somner. “You little bastard,” Crowe says with a laugh, “I’d recognize that squatty walk anywhere.”
Even better is his anecdote about how he conspired with Scott to pump up Phoenix’s shattered confidence when the actor wanted to quit in his first days on set. The therapy included verbal shock therapy, at the victim’s request: “Why don’t you just try acting, you little maggot,” Crowe says he told Phoenix from off-camera just before Phoenix was to perform. Meanwhile, Richard Harris plied Phoenix with drinks. It worked. The reluctant co-star became an Oscar nominee.
The documentary, Strength And Honour: Creating The World Of Gladiator, is a major addition, too. The piece is authoritive and thorough and not just self-promotion.
On the third disc, there is a collection of more conventional extras, most of them already familiar. Put it all together and fans of Gladiator are caught in a dilemma. You may own the earlier DVD — but this new one is significantly better.
‘Gladiator’ DVD a real killer