"Gladiator" revived the long-dead, epic sword-and-sandal movie in 2000 and was rewarded with a Best Picture Oscar, an award that "Saving Private Ryan" had been denied just two years before. The movie has just been reissued in a new 4K HDR remaster and the results are spectacular.
Russell Crowe won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Maximus midway through an incredible seven-year run that saw him starring in 5 movies nominated for Best Picture between 1997-2003: "L.A. Confidential," "The Insider," "Gladiator," "A Beautiful Mind" and "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." He was also nominated for his performances in "The Insider" and "A Beautiful Mind," a movie that won Best Picture the year after "Gladiator."
In the movie's highly fictionalized version of history, Maximus is a Roman general loyal to Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), who wants to return Rome to its people upon his death and shares his wishes with Maximus. His weak and conniving son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) murders his father to take the throne and demands that Maximus be executed when the general refuses to pledge loyalty.
The great warrior doesn't get killed but, after his escape, Maximus becomes a slave forced to fight as a gladiator. He's so good he returns to Rome where he eventually confronts the emperor and inspires a rebellion.
"Gladiator" gets into all kinds of complicated issues for ethical warriors. Does a soldier serve his leader or the principles of the state? What happens when a leader undermines the people? When and how can an officer ignore orders?
Director Ridley Scott has a complicated history with studios releasing theatrical versions that are different from director's cuts: "Blade Runner," "Kingdom of Heaven" and "The Counselor" are all far superior movies in his final versions. There's an extended cut of "Gladiator" on this disc and Scott goes out of his way to insist that the theatrical version of the movie is actually his preferred cut in an introduction to the alternate version. And yet, the extra fifteen minutes (once again) makes the movie better, adding depth and context to the characters' motivations. Watch this version if you've never seen it.
In addition to the extended cut intro by Ridley Scott, both the 4K and Blu-ray versions come with two commentaries, one by director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe on the extended edition and another by Scott, editor Pietro Scalia and cinematographer John Mathieson on the theatrical edition.
There's a second Blu-ray disk with a wealth of features, including:
- The Scrolls of Knowledge
- Deleted Scenes Index with Optional Commentary by Ridley Scott
- Visions from Elysium: Topic Portal
- Strength and Honor: Creating the World of Gladiator
- Image & Design: Storyboard Demonstration, Storyboard Archive, Costume Design Gallery, Photo Galleries
- Abandoned Sequences & Deleted Scenes
- The Aurelian Archives – My Gladiator Journal by Spencer Treat Clark
"Gladiator" holds up incredibly well and stands as the last great military-themed movie made before 9/11. Its questions about honor and loyalty are timeless.