Gladiator: Extended Edition Review
It feels like a director's cut, not only in terms of this being a three-disc set, which is accompanied by suitably impressive packaging, but also due to the involvement with director Ridley Scott. Scott is, after all, the man who made both the director's cut popular but also gave it a reason and he did both with Blade Runner. His director's cut of the 1982 film completely changed the nature of the piece, which made the idea of a director going back to revisit his work credible. There are other fine examples of director's cuts, of course, but I would argue that none has had the impact of the re-release of Blade Runner.
Interesting, then, that following the selection of the Extended Edition from the top menu on Disc One of this three-disc set, an interview with Scott is the first thing that we see in which he denies that this Extended Edition is a director's cut. Instead, he makes clear that the original Theatrical Cut is his preferred version and that this extended cut only, "...has a lot of scenes in it that were removed during editing and might be worth seeing." Might be worth seeing? That hardly sounds like a recommendation for watching what is sure to be picked up as the definitive version of the film. From Scott's own words, we can assume that he remains less interested in the Extended Edition than his own take on the film. From the man who arguably created the cult of the director's cut comes word that this need for extended cuts might be unnecessary. I can only conclude that Scott is grateful for the Theatrical Cut having also been included on this DVD of Gladiator.
The film stars Russell Crowe as Maximus, one of the Roman army's most gifted soldiers and general of the armies in the most northerly parts of the Roman empire. Having proved his abilities on the fields of war, Maximus has the ear of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) and, having impressed the emperor with his routing of the armies of Germania, is considered by Marcus to follow him onto the seat of the emperor in preference to his son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Marcus dies both before making this known and before returning to Rome, allowing Commodus to gather his troops, assume the role of emperor and have his men execute not only Maximus in an isolated forest in Germania but also the deposed general's wife and son. Maximus escapes, however, and travels back to his home, where he finds the bodies of his wife, son and the servants on his estate. He is subsequently captured by slave traders and is sold to Proximo (Oliver Reed), who trains gladiators on the edges of the Roman empire. Fighting alongside Maximus are Juba (Djimon Hounsou) and Hagen (Ralph Moeller) who eventually overcome all their competition, leaving them no choice but to travel to Rome to fight as gladiators in the Colosseum. For Maximus, this journey is not so much a homecoming but a change to avenge the death of his wife and son as well as Marcus Aurelius, which will lead him towards a battle against Commodus, now crowned emperor.
I am aware of all the things that one is supposed to say about Gladiator - that it revived not only the sword and sandals epics of Hollywood past but also the career of Ridley Scott, who had been lost in the likes of White Squall and GI Jane since the highs of Alien and Blade Runner. As Gladiator led to Scott making Black Hawk Down and Kingdom Of Heaven, so it also led to Troy and Alexander. Much has also been said about its seamless integration of CGI effects into a historical epic and out of the cul-de-sac of expensive sci-fi. It would also be the last film to feature Oliver Reed, a British actor of some stature who would end a glorious, if occasionally and literally stumbling, career complaining about queer goats in Morocco. Finally, Gladiator ushered Crowe into one the few places reserved for A-list stars following a series of interesting but commercially limited roles - Gladiator led him to opening films, a guarantee of a recording contract for 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts and the requisite moral ambivalence that it takes to freely assault television producers and hotel employees.
None of which, I confess, to finding very interesting. I can understand its appeal in fashioning a modern battlefield, inspired by Saving Private Ryan, around a story of ancient Rome, which, in turn, recalled Spartacus, The Robe and Ben Hur but I find that it doesn't compare well to any of those films with the exception of Spielberg's dreary WWII tale. Principally, the major fault in the film is that no one in the film has much to believe in other than vengeance. Commodus avenges his displacement by Maximus by sending a group of men to execute him, whilst Maximus, in turn, seeks out Commodus to take his life in return for his soldiers taking those of his wife and son.
Maximus and Commodus, around whom the entire film revolves, have little that drives them other than death of the other. Whilst there does exist some notion of the protection of Rome, most notably in Marcus Aurelius' speech to Maximus following the opening battle in Germania, the efforts of Gracchus (Derek Jacobi) in the Senate and in Maximus' final speech to Quintus (Tomas Arana), Scott has cast Rome as a victim of the wills of Maximus and Commodus. It is assumed that the city will either rise or fall depending not on the million or so citizens of the empire who live there nor on events in the Senate, which seems largely opposed to Commodus, but on who falls last as the credits roll.
Unlike films that one might compare Gladiator with, there is no belief other than in Rome, which history tells us is doomed regardless, that urges Maximus on. Certainly, there is nothing her to compare to the fervent Christianity of The Robe and Ben Hur or the emerging Judaism of The Ten Commandments. Similarly, by casting Maximus as a single-minded and honourable crusader against the corruption of Commodus, there is never the feeling of a rebellion taking place, unlike Spartacus leading the slaves into victories against the empire. Scott does, however, play with this following Maximus' revealing of himself to Commodus in the Colosseum, after which the crowds chant his name but either such feelings evaporated under the swift boot of the Praetorian guard or Maximus quashed them to remain alone. As Maximus and Commodus retreat into the shadows following that first meeting in Rome, all that exists between to two is death and on the commentary that accompanies the Extended Cut of the film, Ridley Scott admits as much.
If there is little resemblance to Spartacus, Ben Hur and the like, then it's not that Gladiator has come from an entirely original text either. The film that it bears closest comparison with is Anthony Mann's The Fall of the Roman Empire, which cast Alec Guinness as Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Christopher Plummer as the insane Commodus and Stephen Boyd as Livius, the upstanding soldier who Marcus Aurelius was intending to have succeed him before Commodus. Both films disregard history by having Marcus Aurelius murdered and Commodus die in battle - one died of plague whilst the latter was strangled in the bath by Narcissus, a wrestler - and both downplayed the depths to which Commodus plunged the Roman empire. Similarly, both films fail to view early Christianity in Rome as a greater threat to the empire than their own infighting and both ignore the Marcus Aurelius' persecution of Christians. But where the Anthony Mann and Ridley Scott films undoubtedly succeed is in their visual splendour.
Having already claimed a lack of interest in all of the things about Gladiator that one is meant to find interesting, it is, unquestionably, a wonderfully designed film and a number of the set pieces stand out. The opening battle in Germania is an astonishingly assured piece of filmmaking from Scott who had spent the years between the dreadful GI Jane and this in television as executive producer on The Last Debate and RKO 281. King Arthur may have cast an eye on Scott's work here but its jumbling of pagan and Arthurian legends are no match for the simple brutality shown here. The first gladiatorial contest is almost as good with Scott showing the fear in the eyes of the gladiators as a swinging mace casts a shadow over them. Scott can also take credit for avoiding his Rome being a series of palaces in which chairs ached under overweight senators being fanned and fed grapes. Whilst not as individual a vision of Rome as that of Bob Guccione, it ushered back in a sense of exquisite design in a time when most people's thoughts of Rome would have been the rickety sets of Up Pompeii! The similarities between Scott's Rome and Albert Speer's visions for Berlin are obvious but Scott has never denied the source of his inspiration. Such a connection ties in to Speer's desire for the architecture of the Third Reich to have ruin value, such that future generations would marvel at the power of the Nazi Germany through the ruins that would exist after thousands of years had passed, as people today do with the Roman and Greek civilisations.
If it lacks any depth outside of its obviously stunning design, Gladiator is still entertaining. Whilst no more than a revenge actioner, it dresses up well, not only in a toga but in appearing to be much more than it actually is. Unlike other successes at the Oscars - Chicago, Driving Miss Daisy and A Beautiful Mind - I certainly don't begrudge Gladiator its success but there is little, very little, to go back to other than to admire its brutal beauty. This Extended Edition adds less than I had hoped for and with the DTS track from the original two-disc version having been excluded for reasons of space, I would, were I pushed, choose the Theatrical Cut. This version only adds a little scene-setting in Morocco and Rome and, yes, gives more of a voice to Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) but none of it feels as though Scott's original cut was less of a film by not including these scenes. It would appear, then, that Scott was right in his introduction - you might find this new footage worth seeing. It need not be said but, as Scott suggests with his phrasing, you, more than likely, might not.
I have included screenshots to compare this R1 Extended Edition release with the original two-disc R2 release of the Theatrical Cut:
Original R2 Release
This R1 Extended Edition
Original R2 Release
This R1 Extended Edition
As you can see, there really is very little difference between them. On the original bitmap screenshots, the R1 was a little sharper but, as might be evident, the colour was slightly richer on the R2. Either on a typical widescreen television or on a much bigger screen, the picture quality is excellent with the compression noise becoming evident whilst looking at the image very closely.
Unfortunately, the DTS track that was on the original R2 release has not been carried over for reasons of space. According to the Trivia track that accompanies the film, the inclusion of a DTS track would have reduced the average bitrate for this version of the film from 4.58Mbit/s to 3.83Mbit/s, which the makers deemed unacceptable. Whether or not that is strictly true, I don't know but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is included certainly isn't bad.
With three discs in this set, there is an astonishing amount of material, including almost all that you could possibly want on the film.
Commentary: Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe reconvene for a feature-length commentary that reveals not only much about the film, including Scott explaining which scenes have been cut back into this version of the film, but the relationship between the two men. With very, very few silences, Scott and Crowe reveal the obvious difference in their personalities, with the former coming across as serious about his abilities but never dry. Crowe, on the other hand, is less interested in technique than he is in discussing the time he wasted off set, what inspired his hairstyle, how he avoided Oliver Reed during nights on Malta and the flaws in the film, which doesn't appear to go down well with Scott. It's an easy listen and the two men do seem to enjoy one another's company, despite Scott sounding a little tired during Crowe's many interruptions but there's never the sense that much is being revealed.
Where most DVD's fail to subtitle their commentaries, this is subtitled in English, Spanish and French, just like the main feature.
History & Trivia Track: Learn about Roman history and the making of Gladiator in a trivia track that jumps between both. This can be selected either from the main menu or as a subtitle and whilst there is the occasional fact that is interesting, which tends to be more about the Romans than Gladiator, there's not enough to sustain this beyond anything more than a cursory glance. This subtitle track is available on both the Theatrical Cut and Extended Edition of the film with new scenes being identified in the latter with a red box whilst those in existing scenes are teal.
Deleted Scenes: By choosing to watch the Theatrical Cut of the film, the viewer has the option of watching all of the deleted scenes, which have been inserted into the Extended Edition, from this extra. There are thirteen in total, very few of which add anything to the film and none of them extend to more than a few minutes in length. To the credit of the producers of this DVD, all of the deleted scenes are completed unlike those than turn up on other DVD releases.
Disc Two - Strength And Honour Documentary
Tales Of The Scribes (34m00s): Famously, Gladiator was brought to Scott by producers Walter Parkes and Douglas Wick in the form of the painting Thumbs Down (Pollice Verso) by Jean-Leon Gerome. The idea had, however, been in place for some time in the hands of writer David Franzoni who had begun thinking about Gladiator in the seventies following his reading of Those Who Are About To Die by Daniel Mannix and who had already discussed the film with Steven Spielberg, which led to the association with Dreamworks SKG. This documentary simply recalls the time before production began during which Franzoni and co-writer William Nicholson are interviewed separately on their completion of a script as well as hearing from Kathleen Coleman (Harvard University), Andrew Wallace (British School of Rome) and Nancy DeConcilles (Archeology Scholar) on the reality of gladiatorial life and entertainment in Rome.
The Tools Of War (12m55s): Simon Atherton, the supervising armourer on Gladiator, is the principal interviewee on this bonus feature. Standing in what one assumes to be his workshop, Atherton discusses his work on the work, the specifics of designing sidearms and other weaponry and the source texts that gave him inspiration. Later, John Eagle, the technical advisor, describes the tactics that the Roman generals used in battle before both he and Atherton reveal the workings of gladiatorial fighting for the screen.
Attire Of The Realm (19m38s): If the armourers are gruff, middle-aged men, the costume designers are rather less sturdily-mannered women and this feature interviews Janty Yates who laughingly jokes about coming close to breaking down during the making of this film. As she seems to realise, things improved dramatically when the production moved from the fields of Germania to the amphitheatres of Rome and all the participants seem happier when discussing dressing Connie Nielsen, who is also interviewed. The kindest words from Janty Yates are reserved for the late Oliver Reed who, as she admits, was great fun to design for, admitting that he had more of a swagger when dressed in his armour than most on the film.
The Heat Of Battle (1m05m49s): Almost everything, including that which is unflattering to the participants, that you might want to know about the principal photography of Gladiator is included here. Unsurprisingly, Ridley Scott is the star of the piece and makes for a frank and clearly unspun interviewee but, surprisingly, Joaquin Phoenix is almost as entertaining. Whilst much of the documentary is focused on the actual shooting, there is also a great deal of time given over to a behind-the-scenes conflict between Ridley Scott and Walter Parkes that was conducted by fax.
Shadows And Dust (24m30s): Oliver Reed died during filming before all of his scenes were shot but, famously, through the use of a body double and the digital manipulation of existing footage, his final scenes were completed. This feature pays homage to Reed by including behind-the-scenes and interview footage of the actor before discussing the fallout of Reed's death on the production and how it was resolved by editor Pietro Scalia and visual effects supervisor John Nelson, who are on hand to explain how the issue of how these final scenes was resolved.
The Glory Of Rome (20m10s): As I make clear in the main text of this review, Gladiator is a stunning looking film, which is due not only to set design but also to the use of CGI to create an image of ancient Rome. This documentary is concerned with the use of visual effects on the film and, unsurprisingly, Ridley Scott and John Nelson are the main contributors. Taking us from the opening battle within the forest to, eventually, the streets of Rome, this is an informative but not overlong feature that covers all that it should without outstaying its welcome.
Echoes In Eternity (19m27s): Given how many recent films have their DVD release rushed upon them, few films with the possible exception of those by Lucasfilm, look back at the release of the film and its success or failure. With five years having passed between the release of Gladiator in the cinemas and this release of the Extended Edition, the producers of this DVD are able to cast their eyes back at the completion, release and the success of this film, including the many awards that it picked up across the world, including the BAFTA's and Oscars.
Credits (1m02s): As these documentaries can also be viewed as a single feature lasting 3hrs17m, which concludes with the credits, listed here.
All of these features have an English language surround soundtrack but come with English, Spanish and French subtitles.
Disc Three - Supplement
Production Design: Divided into a Primer with Arthur Max (9m33s) and a Gallery, this is a short look at the design of Gladiator from the very first phone call to Max through to their standing on set in the two-storey amphitheatre that they had built. The Gallery includes many, although clearly not all, of the sketches used during production.
Storyboarding: Sylvain Despretz is the host for a Demonstration (9m33s) into how storyboarding is used in the production of a film. Sitting around a desk sketching storyboards, Despretz doesn't make for the most interesting of interviewees for the handful of people who dream of a career in storyboarding, this will doubtless be of enormous interest. Unfortunately, I didn't progress in art beyond the most rudimentary of figures so this held little interest to me. Despretz follows this with three multi-angle Storyboard To Film comparisons - Germania (5m58s), the Chain Fight (2m06s) and The Battle Of Carthage (6m50s), all of which come with an optional commentary - before ending with an Archive of storyboards. Whilst Despretz's storyboards are clearly professional, there's a clarity even to the Ridleygrams despite their scribbly nature.
Costume Design Gallery: With a mix of sketches and the occasional photograph of an actor wearing a completed costume, this is an exhaustive trawl what feels like everything that was accomplished by the costume design team on Gladiator. The Gallery is subdivided by character - Maximus, Commodus, Lucilla and Proximo - as well as by Gladiators and Marcus Aurelius, Senators and Citizens.
Photo Galleries: Again, this contains a great many images from behind-the-scenes and you could spend a good deal of time viewing them all. Broken down by location - Germania (England), Zucchabar (Morocco) and Rome (Malta) - in Photo Galley I, a second gallery is subdivided scene-by-scene - Colosseum, The Battle Of Carthage, Tiger Fight and Underground/Final Battle - before one of Promotional Portraits completes this extra.
Abandoned Sequences - Alternate Title Design: Containing both a Featurette (7m23s) with designer Nick Livesey as well as the Completed Titles (1m53s), this explains why the longer preamble was cut in favour of a shorter sequence when, during editing, it was found that every second counted. Whilst more interesting from a design point of view, the alternate titles would have dated the film quicker than the more simplified version that made the final cut.
Abandoned Sequences - Blood Vision (2m14s): Available either with a commentary from Ridley Scott or with the original sound, this mix of storyboards and Super 35mm footage is of what followed Maximus' escape from the Praetorians in Germania in which he had a vision of blood on his hand signifying the death of his wife and son.
Abandoned Sequences - Rhino Fight (4m14s): A number of abandoned scenes are more famous than others, often spoken about in hushed tones by fans whose sense of curiosity spreads organically until they become as well-known as that which made the final cut. I wonder, though, if this Rhino Fight has been actively promoted by the makers of this film as a way to show that their ambition was greater than what they could possibly achieve. Either way, this comes with a commentary by Sylvain Despretz and is a mix of his storyboards and CGI footage from Phil Tippett's studio.
Abandoned Sequences - Choose Your Weapon (48s): A little of this sequence was on the two-disc release but has been included here and shows Maximus advising Juba on his choice of weapon before the chain fight sequence.
Visual Effects - Germania & Rome (23m49s): Hosted by a series of identified British visual effects designers, whose enthusiastic showing of this to their mothers will be tempered by it not revealing their names, this examines a number of scenes in the film and reveals what computer trickery was used to cover for the shortfall in people, catapults and levels in the Colosseum.
Trailers & TV Spots: One would have thought that there would have been more to include than this but the makers of this DVD set have included only a Theatrical Teaser (1m15s), a Theatrical Trailer (1m35s) and ten TV Spots (8x 30s, 2x 15s). Finally, there are two teasers for other Dreamworks releases - The Ring Two (49s) and Saving Private Ryan (24s).
As with the second disc, all of this, even down to the teasers for Saving Private Ryan, is subtitled in French, Spanish and English, including the commentaries on the abandoned sequences.
On the trivia track that accompanies the film, should you select it, the makers of this DVD justify its production by stating that by no means should this be considered a 'double dip', rather that it should be look at as the last three discs needed to complete a five-disc ultimate edition of Gladiator. Whilst I doubt there's ever a need to know that much about the film, some thanks is in order given that Dreamworks have, at least, avoided duplicating content.
I don't think, though, that it's quite the film that Dreamworks so clearly do, feeling that it won't compare particularly well to Spartacus or Ben Hur as the decades pass. That said, it's a much better film than Troy, King Arthur or Alexander but, really, that's no praise at all. It is, though, a fine film that entertains, impresses and tells a decent, if long-winded, story and, personally, I have no issue with it giving Ridley Scott's career a second wind. For that, I'm inclined to praise Gladiator but, in doing so, will continue to say that the Theatrical Cut of the film is the better and unless you have a need for the remarkable quantity of material that is only available on this release, the two-disc version is more than enough.