Gladiator (2000)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou, Richard Harris
Extras: Commentary Track, Various Featurettes, ’Gladiator Games’ Documentary, Deleted Scenes, Journal, Trailers and TV Spots, Production Notes and much more

Clearly one of the best movies of the year, Ridley Scott’s "Gladiator" is a cinematic masterpiece the like you don’t get to see all too often any more these days. Shot in the epic tradition of monumental films of the 50s, "Gladiator" features lavish sets, thousands of extras and beautiful panoramic shots. Since much of this epic imagery has been created with the help of computers, the film also showcases how modern day technologies can bring the past to life in the hands of a true master. Now, Dreamworks Home Video has prepared a 2-disc Special Edition DVD for this movie highlight, and even reading the list of supplements on the back of the packaging will get fans of the movie excited.

"Gladiator" tells the story of Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe), a general in the Roman army. Maximus is successfully expanding the Roman Empire for Caesar Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), who has a lot of respect for the young man and treats him almost like a son. But Marcus Aurelius is old and the rightful heir to all his powers would be his own son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who prefers the spoils of war over the actual act of waging it. A coward and calculating conspirator, Commodus is shocked when his father informs him that he plans to make Maximus his successor, and the son kills the aging emperor before word can get out.

But it is too late, Marcus has already told Maximus who now challenges Commodus for the power. In yet another desperate move, Commodus frames Maximus and commands him executed. But Maximus escapes and returns home where he finds his wife and child killed by Commodus. Completely exhausted, devastated and overwhelmed Maximus passes out and awakes a slave. In his sleep he has been captured by slave traders and is eventually sold to Proximo (Oliver Reed) who sees a lot of potential in the strong man. He makes him a Gladiator and teaches Maximus to fight for his dear life in arenae across the country. All the while, Maximus is fueled by only his wish for revenge. His only hope is that one day he will be able to fight in the Roman Colisseum, in front of the Emperor of Rome – Commodus. That will be the day he will pay back the man who betrayed Rome and killed his family!

"Gladiator" is epic in scope and emotions. Throughout the film we fever with Maximus, hoping his plans will come to fruition. Although we know all along that Maximus will have his revenge, the means by which he gets there, and by which it is finally executed, as well as the political intrigue that become part of it, make "Gladiator" a riveting adventure that is exciting and extremely entertaining. The film boasts an incredible cast that nicely mixes movie legends like Richard Harris, Derek Jacobi, and the late Oliver Reed – who passed away during the production of this movie – with relatively new faces, such as Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen and of course Russell Crowe, who is largely responsible for the incredible emotional power of the film. It is easy to see that "Gladiator" will be the defining film in Crowe’s career and it will hopefully enable him to step up to the big league of Hollywood actors.

With powerful pictures and stunning vistas, "Gladiator" also conjures up an image of Rome that is alive and reeking with decadence. Although making heavy use of digital image works, the film never feels artificial and always maintains a very natural look and feel that helps root the story. Not since "Quo Vadis" have we seen a gladiatorial spectacle like this, and "Gladiator" easily places itself in the same league as this classic Roman epic.

Over the past years we have come to expect nothing but the best from Hollywood’s fledgling studio Dreamworks, and once again their home video division has made sure that DVD owners will not disappointed. Presented in its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, the <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer is wondrous to behold. Without the slightest flaw, the film has been transferred to this DVD with all its subtleties fully intact. No distracting dust marks or other blemishes can be found in this clean transfer, and the level of detail is simply breathtaking. Colors are beautifully restored, which is especially important as director Ridley Scott deliberately uses special color palettes to emphasize scenes and to create mood. See how all scenes involving the Romans are bathed in cold, desaturated blue tinges, while the Gladiatorial scenes are made up of mostly warm, earthen tones. Furthermore, watch what happens when Commodus finally decides to face Maximus. With these subtle color cues implemented throughout the film, faithful color reproduction is of the essence for this release and Dreamworks Home Video has done a great job bringing all these tinges and hues to vibrant life on DVD. Blacks are deep and solid, maintaining very good shadow detail throughout, giving the image very good visual depth and dimensionality. Without noticeable signs of edge-enhancement, or any compression artifacts, this is a picture-perfect DVD transfer without flaws.

"Gladiator" features a similarly impressive audio presentation. Containing a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 EX audio track, as well as a discrete 6.1 channel <$DTS,DTS> track, either one of these audio presentations will blow you away. With a wide spatial integration, the audio is extremely immersive and creates a breathing, living ambiance for this epic story. Whether it is the opening battlefield – with phenomenal directional effects that also make the best of the added rear center channel – or the gladiatorial scenes in the various arenas, the soundfield is always highly dynamic and directional. The front sound stage is very wide, yet tight in quality, and balanced, firmly rooting the film. The surrounds are very active throughout furthering the experience to the nth degree. With a great bass extension, the audio also makes good use of the LFE channel to help boost a large number of sound effects. Natural sounding and free of distortion, the dialogues are very clear and have been integrated to be always understandable.

The music score that accompanies the film further adds to the experience. Hans Zimmer contributed the score and for the first time – at least in my book – he delivers a score that convinces on all fronts. Epic, masterful, sensitive, emotional, bleak, aggressive, dominant and heroic are all adjectives that can be used to describe the score at any one time, and Zimmer always manages to find the right tone for any given scene without giving away clues and developments – a problem some of his previous scores often had. Nicely presented in an engaging mix that makes full use of the multi-channel presentation, the score is enveloping and adds immensely to the film.

Differences between the Dolby Digital track and the DTS presentation are fairly obvious at times. Although the Dolby Digital presentation is very clear, the DTS track manages to reproduce a few more subtleties and directionalities in the mix, giving it an even more dynamic and expansive feel.

On the first disc of "Gladiator" you also find an audio <$commentary,commentary track> featuring director Ridley Scott, director of photography John Mathison, and editor Pietro Scalia. The <$commentary,commentary track> is indexed by topics, pretty much like the film itself is indexed by chapter stops. The <$commentary,commentary track> is engaging and offers a wealth of information on the production of the film. In the best tradition of offering a "filmschool" of DVD, this commentary becomes a little dry and technical at times, but at the same time, the level of information and detail that is conveyed will be absolutely mesmerizing for fans of the movie. It explores many areas that are not obvious by simply observing the film, revealing thoughts, subtext, as well as technical issues that lead to certain creative decisions.

On the second disc of this 2-disc set, you will find a wealth of other supplements that once again show, how seriously Dreamworks takes the creation and presentation of bonus materials. Nothing on this disc is superficial or superfluous and all of it is closely tied into the production of the film, making sure viewers will have a much better understanding and deeper appreciation for the movie itself.

11 deleted scenes open the disc, with optional director’s commentary. Sadly they are presented in standard <$PS,widescreen> and are not <$16x9,anamorphic>, but still they are a collection of great snippets that could just as well have made it into the film. At the end you can see a collage of unused shots and sequences that have been assembled specially for this DVD. Running for 7 minutes, accompanied by music, this "Treasure Chest" is what the name suggests. A treasure trove of great shots in an atmospheric presentation.

The disc also features a 25-minute "Making Of" Documentary that is very well produced. Although using some footage and narration form the film itself for introductory purposes, this documentary offers a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage as well as candid on-set interviews with cast and crew. The documentary manages to convey quite some of the awe for this monumental production as well as for its innate logistic problems, and instead of taking away form the magic of the movie itself, it adds a new layer of appreciation.

Most interesting I found, "Gladiator Games," a 50-minute documentary that focuses on the real gladiatorial games in the Roman Empire. Being a Latin scholar myself, I have always been fascinated by the Roman culture and their lust for excessive violence. This documentary is thorough and shows the history behind what you see in the movie and will leave you speechless.

Another feature on the disc is a segment on Hans Zimmer, discussing how he composed the music for "Gladiator." It is a 20-minute featurette that offers a rare glimpse in how a composer approaches a film project of this scope to capture and revive the past in tones and notes.

"My Gladiator Journal" by actor Spencer Treat Clark is another great addition to the release. It is a text supplement written by the young actor while he was working on the set of "Gladiator." Through his eyes we manage to get a glimpse at the production of the film in a very unique way and although not as witty and outrageous as Jennifer Tilly’s diary from the "Bride Of Chucky" production – found in excerpts on the Universal DVD – this is a very compelling and personal feature that makes quite an impression.

The disc also houses a huge image gallery of story boards and production design sketches, including story boards from a number of scenes that were never shot, as well as boards for some alternate endings. This gallery is complemented by a photo gallery of still images from the movie as well as behind-the-scenes photos from the set.

Running almost 3 hours, "Gladiator" gives you without a doubt, the shortest 3 hours you have experienced in your life. Even after its considerable running length I wanted more, and the film almost felt too short. This is a very rare commodity in a time where many epic films feel overly lengthy and poorly paced. Ridley Scott proves with "Gladiator" that Hollywood is still capable of producing classy entertainment on an epic scale and furthermore that there is interest in these sorts of monumental spectacles. With this DVD release, Dreamworks got everything right. A perfect movie, a perfect presentation and an assembly of the perfect supplements. Movies and DVDs just don’t get any better than this!