Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’ was released in 2000 and won five Oscars (Academy Awards); including “Best Film,” “Best Visual Effects” and “Best Director.” Scott cast some well known actors such as Russel Crowe and Richard Harris. Some reports suggest it cost an amazing ï¿½145 million.
The casting of Crowe as Maximus was significant because he is able to portray a very well built, physically strong, battle-hardened leader. The character of Maximus contrasts with the casting of Harris as the ageing Emperor with his gaunt and tired looking features.
From the very outset of the film, the director employs a sepia effect coupled with a dark, overcast almost monochrome effect. These combine to give the impression of imminent tragedy as well as conveying that the events are set in the distant past. The director has even asked the production companies ‘Universal’ and ‘DreamWorks’ to make their logos’ sepia to show continuity.
The historical information provided helps the audience to place the film in a historical context. The use of old Roman font for the text further reinforces the context and genre. The information is factual, gives names and information of real people. It is clear that this is going a historical, action film but with a central theme about power, control and one man’s fight for his freedom from the killing and slaughter.
The first shot is an extreme close up, when you would normally expect an extreme long shot to see the scene. The extreme close up is focusing on the actor’s hand floating through the grass. The slow quiet music helps to make the shot dreamlike. The main character seems calm because he is stroking the grass and he is wearing a wedding ring to show he is a family man.
After the slow close up shot the director shows the character alone on the battlefield which makes the previous scene a definite dream. To establish that it was a dream the director jumps from a slow calm shot to a medium close up on the character in a more dark and gloomy shot. The character’s armour and wolf-skin shows that he is an important man. The cut to a robin (a bird usually seen in winter) with a dark background tells the audience that it is winter. After seeing the robin a small smile fights its way on to his face, which shows he is not just a gory, ruthless fighter and that he does have a gentle side.
The extreme long shot is good to set the scene of the battlefield, which is a dark and gloomy forest. The name of the location ‘Germania’ is Roman for Germany, by using the Roman language it helps to establish the fact that it is an old, Roman film. This shot is more dramatic because it contrasts heavily with the previous dreamlike shot of the hand floating through a calm cornfield.
The slow music (adagio) starts off the extreme long shot making the atmosphere calm and gentle, it also makes it ominous because the adagio music is playing in the battlefield shot. When the shot begins to zoom in the music becomes more lively and action packed just as the army starts coming into view so you know that they are going to war. The music includes trumpets and a few drums which makes the shot more martial. The sudden change in atmosphere and music starts to build up the tension and expectation that a great deal of action is imminent.
As the shot moves to Marcus Aurelius, the audience can see that he is an important character. He is wearing gold along with a purple cape. The purple cape shows he is royalty because to make the colour purple a tiny sea creature called a Murex Mollusc was required. This creature was very rare and large quantities were required to make a small amount of dye. Therefore, purple garments were highly prized status symbols. Whilst zooming inward the camera shot used is a low angle which makes Marcus Aurelius seem very high on his horse. He is also just watching the war not doing anything and he has got a stern looking bodyguard.
The director emphasises General Maximus’ authority by using a medium close up as he walks along all of his troops. Everyone is focused on him; they move out of the way, bow down and are always calling him sir to show complete respect. The costume he wears defines his authority, he wears more armour than the rest of his army and he is also wearing wolf-skin.
The director stresses Maximus’ authority and respect by making his word final, the director shows this in the following quote, “The range is good” this is the sentence where Maximus cuts off the other soldier, also “…is acceptable”, then, “agreed”, Maximus speaks in a very low, quiet, considered tone of voice but the soldiers still listen with no question which shows their respect for him.
In the pre-battle motivational speech to his men, Maximus uses the type of language that his men can understand to encourage and motivate them. “Three weeks from now I will be harvesting my crops. Think were you want to be and it will be so.” Here he is making them think positive about the future and set a goal for themselves. He then jokes that if they find themselves all alone they are already in Elysium (Roman afterlife). But then he uses a phrase that seems quite out of character for a tough, brutal general of an aggressive, imperial Roman army, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” This line instantly marks out Maximus as having a spiritual and sentimental aspect to his character.
There are many differences between the Romans and the German Tribesmen, for instance when Maximus is giving his speech all of his troops are in formation quietly listening and fully concentrating, by contrast the German Tribesmen are shouting and not giving any attention. The fighting style of the Romans is orderly, synchronised and they are in a perfect battle formation, the Tribesmen are in disorganised running around like a rabble. The Romans are equipped with matching armour and similar weapons whilst the Tribesmen have animal skins and rough individual weapons. The Romans appear to have a complete strategy and are disciplined, the Tribesmen just rely on their brute strength, and even their appearance is barbaric. The director helps to establish the difference between the two sides by taking the shots of each side one after the other.
Toward the end of the battle the director employs a technique that seems completely unexpected. As the battle is raging, there is loud martial music with lots of trumpets, drums and war cries. However as the battle is coming to a conclusion and the Roman army is on the verge of victory, the director switches to slow motion shots and an adagio score. Instead of seeing triumphant Romans celebrating their victory and listening to triumphant music, the audience is left in a slightly confused state.
It is almost as if the director is trying to communicate the futility of the death and destruction. As the last of the Germans are being slaughtered and fires are raging in the background the only human sound is the sound of heavy tired exhalation of breath, Even blood splattered, exhausted Maximus’ triumphant cry, “Roma Victor!” and his soldiers’ cheers are almost lost in the adagio. Then in a scene that seals the futility of war, the camera focuses a tired, old, weary Emperor as he takes a deep breath and closes his eyes in an expression that reveals his sad resignation that another battle has been won.
At first glance, I just thought “Gladiator” was simply going to be a “blood and guts film,” But having watched it with greater attention, I believe it is a truly great film. Ridley Scott has carefully constructed an opening scene that brings out the futility of war and one mans struggle to be free. Scott had used many different effects such as; slow motion photography, quick change in atmosphere and an almost monochrome set with the orange of burning fires and sepia tones. The musical score has switched between triumphant martial music and a slow adagio hinting of imminent tragedy and sadness. Even the minimal dialogue between the characters complements the director’s intended effect. Overall this is a magnificent opening scene.
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