June 15, 2020

GLADIATOR (4K SteelBook): Why, Yes, We Are Entertained

GLADIATOR: 20th Anniversary Edition (4K/Blu-ray Review)
Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, Richard Harris. Directed by Ridley Scott. (2000/155 min - Theatrical cut / 170 min - Extended Cut)

Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

This isn't the first time Gladiator has been released on 4K, nor is it the first SteelBook edition. This is, however, the first time it's available as a 4K SteelBook. And although it comes with more bonus content dedicated to a single movie than any disc I've ever reviewed, none of it is new.

But it did nab a batch of Oscars and is generally considered a modern classic. Surely some kind of commemoration is in order for its 20th Anniversary and this version is more aesthetically pleasing than the previous SteelBook, which had the same ol' cover art as every other Blu-ray and DVD release. As far as the bonus content and technical aspects go, there was really no room left for improvement and any new bonus features would probably be an exercise in redundancy (what's already here flirts with that, anyway).

Though I personally think Gladiator is a tad overpraised, it's the kind of big, bold historical epic only Mel Gibson was making at the time and certainly one of Ridley Scott's best looking films since Thelma & Louise, particularly the first half. I especially love the opposing color palates of the Germanic battle sequence and the grungy arenas where Maximus (Russell Crowe) fights for his life. Scott even appears to have taken a few cues from younger brother Tony for the hyperkinetic – and bloody - action scenes.

"Joey...do you like movies about gladiators?"
But once the story settles in Rome, the use of CGI is increasingly apparent, giving an air of artifice to the setting. The overall narrative also becomes a little  meandering, though Joaquin Phoenix livens things up considerably. He's a real hoot as Commodus, Rome's narcissistic, incestuous Emperor. His performance reminds me of Peter Ustinov's wonderfully manic turn as Nero in Quo Vadis, not to mention a certain current world leader who shall remain nameless.

Like previous editions, this set features both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film. Personally speaking once again, I don't think the 15 additional minutes of the extended cut enhance the story in any meaningful way, but at least they're here for those those who can't get enough, as well as superlative technical specs and an exhausting amount of bonus goodies. If you've never added Gladiator to your shelf, the 20th Anniversary Edition is a good as it gets. But if you already have it on 4K, time to decide if the new packaging is worth double-dipping for.

"THE SCROLLS OF KNOWLEDGE” - Watching the film with this option lets you jump to brief informational featurettes related to that particular scene. You can also view them separately.
"VISIONS OF ELYSIUM” - A massive collection of brief featurettes – running anywhere from 1-10 minutes – covering virtually every aspect of the film. I didn't bother to count, but there must a couple hundred of them. And if that isn't enough...
"STRENGTH AND HONOR: CREATING THE WOLRD OF GLADIATOR” - ...this is 3-hour, seven-chapter documentary. And if that isn't enough...
"IMAGE AND DESIGN” - ...this five-part feature detailing things like storyboards, costumes & production design, weapons. A combination of interviews and photo galleries. Many of these are also offered in “Visions of Elysium.”
"THE AURELLIAN ARCHIVES” - Even more making-of featurettes, trailers & TV spots, interviews, “My Gladiator Journal” by Spencer Treat Clark (who plays Lucius); “An Evening with Russell Crowe” (a pretty funny audience Q&A). Segments of some featurettes are also offered in “Visions of Elysium.”
AUDIO COMMENTARIES – By director Ridley Scott & Russell Crowe (Extended cut); By director Ridley Scott, editor Pietro Scalia & cinematographer John Mathieson (Theatrical cut).
RIDLEY SCOTT INTRODUCTION – Optional introduction to the extended cut by the director.


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