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Gladiator (SE)
DVD disk
08.29.2005 By: Scott Weinberg
Gladiator (SE) order
Director:
Ridley Scott

Actors:
Russell Crowe
Joaquin Phoenix
Oliver Reed

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
It's about the general who became a slave; the slave who became a gladiator; the gladiator who defied an empire! (OK, I got that from the trailer, but it's a pretty accurate synopsis anyway.) He's father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and he's a noble sweaty dude who will have his vengeance ... in the most violently Roman way possible.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Yeah, I've got a huge soft spot for Gladiator; I loved it from the very first moment I got done cheering through Ridley Scott's handsomely slick throwback to the old-school "swords & sandals" epics. Nominated for 12 Oscars (and winner of 5), Gladiator made huge money all over the world and skyrocketed Russell Crowe into the realm of superstardom.

Five years later, though, it seems there's a general malaise (or an outright backlash) towards Gladiator. "Overrated!" cry many, while even those who enjoy the flick believe the Best Picture Oscar should have gone to Traffic or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

But not me. Much like Mel Gibson's Braveheart, Gladiator is the rousing sort of historical epic that turns little movie-watchers into teenage movie geeks. And that's exactly the sort of movie I (usually) adore. Gladiator is like a big fat Hungry Man meal of steak, potatoes, corn on the cob, whips, chains, spikes, swords, and a few really pissed-off tigers.

It's a meal garnished with a phenomenal musical score, a deft directorial touch, a keen eye for dazzling detail, and just enough "plot" stuff to keep the story afloat. Toss in a ton of great action scenes and just a hint of bittersweet romance stuff to keep the ladies happy, and you're looking at a big-budget crowdpleaser of the highest order.

So clearly I was a fan long before I rapidly unwrapped the cellophane from my brand new Gladiator: Extended Edition three-disc mega-treat. Digging through these platters was an absolute joy, starting off with the new cut of the film; 17 minutes longer than the theatrical version, the extended cut includes a lot more backdoor wheeling & dealing between the Roman senators, some rather unsettling post-battle material, a few more visits with Oliver Reed's slave-trading Proximo, and a lot more evildoing by the consistentely hate-worthy Commodus, as played by Joaquin Phoenix.

Sometimes the "new stuff" does nothing for a movie, but I now consider the Extended Cut my preferred version of Gladiator. Granted, most of the added footage is of the chit-chat variety, but it's material that actually adds some new backstory and compelling character developments. (More on the new material will follow in the "extras" section.)

THE EXTRAS
Wowwee.

See, the first Gladiator DVD was one of the very first 2-discers I ever owned. I remember being blown away by the commentary, the featurettes, and the various goodies.

Well, this release makes the first one look like a bare-bones rush-job. (No, not really; I'm just overselling it to make a point.)

Let's start on Disc 1. Pop it in and you're offered the choice between the Theatrical and the Extended versions. If you'd like to see only the "new stuff" by itself, then pick the Theatrical option and watch the clips as deleted scenes. I recommend you bypass this option and just watch the Extended Cut first, and then pick through the new material just to get caught up.

Available only with the Extended Cut is a drop-dead fantastic audio commentary with Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott. The guys are loose, informed, honest, and occasionally jovial about the film, and their conversations make for one helluva solid yak-track.

Offered on either version is the Are You Not Entertained? Historical & Production Trivia Track, which delivers a non-stop deluge of trivial, textual tidbits as the movie plays. And get this: When you're watching one of the "newly added" scenes, the text is set against a red background -- so you can spot the new footage that much easier. Pretty swanky.

Moving over to Disc 2 you'll find only one extra feature. Yep, on the whole entire disc, there's just one supplemental item. Can you believe that? Well, you'd believe it if I said that Strength and Honor: Creating the World of Gladiator is one of the very best "making-of" documentaries that I've ever seen. (And yes, I own all three of the LOTR EEs.)

Directed by Charles de Lauzirika (a.k.a. the Steven Spielberg of Special Edition DVDs), "Strength and Honor" runs over three hours and fifteen minutes long, and delivers the goods on just about every aspect of Gladiator imaginable. Boasting interviews from about a dozen cast & crew members, this astonishingly cool behemoth is broken up into 7 chapters:

Chapter 1: Tale of the Scribes - Story Development
Chapter 2: The Tools of War - Weapons
Chapter 3: Attire of the Realm - Costume Design
Chapter 4: The Heat of Battle - Production Journals
Chapter 5: Shadows and Dust - Resurrecting Proximo
Chapter 6: The Glory of Rome - Visual Effects
Chapter 7: Echoes in Eternity - Release and Impact

No lie, DVD geeks, if you're even the smallest Gladiator guy (or gal), then you're in for a serious treat. This expansive look at Gladiator is probably worth the double-dip all by itself. It's just fantastic.

Still not satisfied with the extended cut, the 3-hour commentary, and the stellar documentary? Well, good. There's also a Disc 3 that offers a healthy handful of Gladiator goodies. And now might be a good time to mention that there's next to no "spillover" from the first Gladiator DVD, which means that if you're willing to drop the 25 bucks for this new package, well, I think you're definitely getting your money's worth.

Anyway, here's how Disc 3 breaks down:

1. Image and Design

Production Design
-Production Design Primer: Arthur Max - The clearly-very-talented production designer discusses his work in the Roman era. (9:31)
-Production Design Gallery - Germania, Zucchabar, Rome (Production Illustrations, Imperial Palace and Surroundings, Proximo's Gladiatorial Compound, Streets and Exteriors, Dwellings and Interiors), Colosseum (Conceptual Art, Exterior, Interior)

Storyboarding
-Storyboard Demonstrations: Sylvain Despretz - Here's a great little lesson on how to draw a storyboard ... and why they're so damn important when making a movie of this scale. (13:32)
-Multi-Angle Storyboard Comparisons (with optional commentary) of Germania Battlefront (5:53), Chain Fight (2:04), and The Battle of Carthage (6:46) -Storyboard Archive

Costume Design Gallery - Maximus, Commodus, Lucilla, Proximo, Gladiators, Marcus Aurelius, Senators and Citizens

Photo Galleries - Germania (United Kingdom), Zucchabar (Morocco), and Rome (Malta), Colosseum, The Battle of Carthage, Tiger Fight, Underground and Final Battle, Special Shoot: Promotional Portraits

2. Supplemental Archive

Abandoned Sequences & Deleted Scenes -Alternate Title Design - A 10-minute featurette explaining how Nick Livesey's amazing credit sequence ... was snipped entirely from the flick.
-Blood Vision storyboard sequence (with optional Ridley Scott commentary) (2:00)
-Rhino Fight storyboard sequence (with optional Sylvain Despretz commentary) (3:58)
-Choose Your Weapons deleted scene (0:41)

VFX Explorations: Germania & Rome - A 24-minute peek over the shoulder of some of the CGI wizards who brought Gladiator's grandeur to the screen, from the obvious stuff to some of the subtler additions.

Trailers & TV Spots - The Original Theatrical Teaser, Original Theatrical Trailer, 20 TV Spots, and two DreamWorks previews for The Ring Two and the Saving Private Ryan D-Day 60th Anniversary Commemorative Edition.

Whew!

FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Call it an unnecessary double-dip if you like, but I spend my days surrounded by "unnecessary double-dip releases," so take my word for it, Gladiator fans, when I tell you that this Extended Edition is one of the best DVD releases of the year. Period.
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