PictureFirst off, this is the same anamorphic 2.35:1 image that graced Gladiator's earlier incarnation and, as such, it is faultless. I've got the Superbit Edition, as well, and to be honest - you'd only see a difference on much larger screens and, even then, it is minimal. The image here is spectacular and richly rewarding. Handling the huge contrast changes from wintry wastes of Germania - lit with an awesome cold blue palette that literally shimmers - to the burnished gold and bronze of the Moroccan deserts, the disc copes brilliantly. Fine detail is marvellously well-etched. Pick any moment, any frame - the intricate furnishings and tapestries within Marcus Aurelius's tent, the dirt, blood and mud flying about during the opening battle, the glint of the weaponry throughout - and a pixel perfect display will be offered up. The sharp stones beneath Maximus's head as he floats along, the obvious use of fake poppies for the petal fluttering finale, the gleaming sweat on any and all gladiators - nothing is smudged, smeared or blurred. Backgrounds are never skimped on with every majestic vista painstakingly rendered and the chaotic melees are wonderfully captured with reliable stability and crystal clear definition.
Black levels are equally impressive with a depth that lends so much to the atmosphere within the temples of Rome, the massive rooms beneath the Colosseum and the dismal front in Germania. With absolutely zero print damage and no evidence of digital gremlins such as artefacts, pixilation or blocking, Gladiator's DVD translation is never anything short of splendid.
SoundWhy no DTS-ES? What's the story here, then? The DTS-ES track on the prior release was simply magnificent - a totally immersive sound-design that pummelled the senses with roaring power, intricate steerage and an all-enveloping field that placed you exactly at the centre of the action. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track was none-too shabby, either, but it lacked the ferocious strength, crisp clarity and extended sound field of the DTS. And this release has the same DD track.
This is obviously the only point at which I'm going to complain about this, otherwise superlative, package. The DD5.1 is wonderful - the opening battle is full of vigour and bombast with those ballista shaking the foundations, arrows streaking over your head and explosions thundering around the room - but it does sound better with DTS. The multiple clashing of swords and the throaty impact of heavy blows still thud, thump and clang realistically all about you, but not as heart-stopping or ear-convincingly as they would in DTS. The Battle of Carthage sequence still sends tremors under your feet, debris whistling past your head and fills your living room with the tumultuous roar of the crowd - but it still did it better in DTS. The point is - this track is certainly aggressive, tremendously well-steered and a vibrant, swirling delight to be sure, but it loses marks simply because we've heard it sound better, louder, clearer and more realistic than this.
At some point, we will almost certainly get an Extended Cut with DTS - in fact, there is reputed to be a Scandinavian release with all the same extras as this package and a DTS track! But, until then, this will just have to suffice. I mean, in all honesty, despite all the above moaning, this is still a jaw-dropping sonic experience that will leave you, and your neighbours, in no doubt that you've just battled your way through the brutal ancient world. Plus, Zimmer's score always sounds fantastic and Lisa Gerrard's haunting vocals really find that place at the base of your spine. Dialogue is crisp, clear and always impeccably delivered. This is still the only department I could mark this release down, though - denying Gladiator that perfect score.
ExtrasWell, if you thought the film was epic. Cop a load of what's on offer here.
Disc 1 contains the extended cut of the movie with a 3-minute introduction from Ridley Scott (which can be viewed separately, as well), the Commentary Track with Scott and Russell Crowe, which is worth its weight in gold, and a quite gimmicky, but informative, Trivia Track entitled Are You Not Entertained? The Commentary is fast, fun and ribald, neither holding back with their language or choice of anecdote. But, as entertaining as it is, the track is also immensely infuriating. For me, this was a chance for Crowe, the man, to somehow redeem himself with regards to his attitude - but he still comes across as overly arrogant and big-headed. He even finds the time to tell a story of witnessing a drunken Oliver Reed punching everybody within reach on the streets of Malta. “So sad,” he intones. That's rich, coming from the world's most notable celebrity-thug! There is much talk of the filmmaking “Process” and the “Journey” of the character, which is nice, but it is dealt with in stuttering, only half-completed movie-speak, never quite revealing enough, or reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Still, it is wonderful to have the pair give some insight into the movie and the character of Maximus. The Commentary, itself, is subtitled in English, too. Sadly though, this track is the limit of the more recent involvement in the Special 3-Discer from Russell Crowe.
Disc 2 houses the epic making-of documentary Strength and Honour: Creating the World of Gladiator. Running for a staggering three hours and sixteen minutes (you can choose to watch individual chapters) this is the kind of thorough, in-depth and fully comprehensive appreciation that you wish all your favourite movies could have. Folks, this stuff is simply mesmerising in its wealth of detail and information. A veritable treasure-trove of story development, raw footage, interviews, behind-the-scenes gubbins and tremendous retrospect from an army of participants. Literally leaving no stone unturned, we are introduced to the producers, the writers, the historians, the fight co-ordinators, the actors and the director, himself, who all help to steer this monolithic chronicle across the sea of time. Some of the clips are like extended or alternate versions of information and interviews we've seen already on the previous DVD - but, don't feel short changed - this is the real deal, warts and all! Full of anecdote, frank and honest, the documentary hides nothing - from the actor/director spats and script turmoil of committee writing to the construction of weapons, costumes and visual effects - and conclusively proves that Rome wasn't built in a day. If I even began to divulge some of the meaty stuff examined and revealed herein, I'd possibly never stop. So, take my word for it, this is excellent. My one slight gripe is that Russell Crowe only appears in the interviews taken from the film's production whilst everybody else, except the big three thesps that are sadly no longer with us - Reed, Harris and the wonderfully eyebrow-tweaking David Hemmings - all appear keen to reminisce. What's especially nice to see is the aftermath of the film's global success and the multiple award-winning that it achieved and the effect all this adulation had upon the cast and crew - particularly costume designer Janty Yates, who still looks over-awed by it all. Top class. Well done to all involved.
It's worth noting that an Easter Egg on this disc - I've only found the one, so far - details very tantalisingly the prospect of Gladiator 2: The Blood Of The Empire. Don't laugh or dismiss it - all the key players are involved in this and scripts do exist. But bizarrely, no-one is ruling out some kind of return for Maximus. God, I hope not. Despite my unadulterated admiration for the character and the story, I just don't think his coming back would ever work, apart from in a prequel - Maximus: Rise To Glory! And the makers dutifully dismiss that option. Besides, I don't think I could go through this entire obsession again. Not to mention the wife wouldn't be too happy, either.
Disc 3 contains hundreds of images, stills and conceptual work for the film. Every single element from costume to weapons, furnishings to the Colosseum is detailed in close scrutiny - we meet the principal movers and shakers and are treated to lavish galleries of their work. Production Designer Arthur Max talks about scale, the differing locations - England, Malta, Morocco - and the pure logistics of it all. The original paintings, such as the pivotal Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome that kick-started the whole project, receive the respect they are due for their themes, imagery and use of lighting - all so integral to the look and style of the finished movie.
Storyboarding is covered with Conceptual Artist Sylvain Despretz and alongside his gallery we get multi-angle comparisons of storyboard-to-film, Ridley Scott's own doodlings and an in-depth section dedicated to Janty Yates' celebrated costume illustrations. Some of the promotional portraits are a hoot - check out some of Russell Crowe's naff heroic poses.
The Supplemental Archive offers up the Abandoned Sequences and Deleted Scenes. We get the Alternate Title Design with a featurette all about this beautiful, striking but ultimately too long and elaborate take on the opening credits. Blood Vision which, with a mixture of storyboard and outtake (with optional commentary from Scott) details Maximus' vision of the murder of his wife and child. I love this scene - it originally played in the Treasure Chest montage of unused footage from the previous disc. The infamous Rhino Fight is covered with storyboard and CGI test footage and carries an optional commentary from Sylvain Despretz. This would have been immensely cool to have seen, but would have the dragged the movie into marathon running time. Next up is a newly-discovered Deleted Scene called Choose Your Weapon which run for 49 seconds and, in all honesty, adds absolutely nothing, being merely a few inserts between Maximus and Juba during the pre-chain-fight sequence.
And there's more. VFX Explorations: Germania and Rome is a nuts and bolts breakdown of the CG work pioneered to create the vast armies and the seamless reality of the Colosseum from quietly-spoken computer-boffins. Running for 23.48 mins, it is surprising just how easy it all looks!
And finally, we get the incredible Trailers - the Theatrical Teaser cut to Basil Poledouris' awesome score for Conan The Barbarian is by far the best - and a whopping 20 (yes 20!) TV Spots that have individual titles and themes. I still love that Coming 2000 AD slogan.
Folk, this set of bonuses reveals a passion and a dedication that it is only paralleled by The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy of extended editions. It is remarkable, vital and all-engrossing. No matter what your feelings towards double, or triple-dipping, this package is absolutely essential. Oh, and the menus are exquisite too.
VerdictA resounding thumbs up all round. The lack of the DTS-ES track is perplexing and infuriating, but look at what we gain. The longer cut feels richer and more involving; it actually adds texture, clears up a few plot holes and strings the narrative along a little more coherently. The extra features are fascinating, comprehensive and staggering in their depth. Apart from Peter Jackson's Rings Extended Editions, I've not seen this much love and attention lavished on a movie. Thank the gods that it was my favourite movie, as well. Phenomenal. An absolute classic with a tremendous, no-filler package. I know that I'm biased, but how can you possibly refuse something this irresistible? The price-tag is a steal, the box-set looks amazing - the spiked helmet image far more striking than the R1 version (I've got both) - and best film ever made just got better.
The story that became a film. The film that became a great DVD. The great DVD that became an AWESOME DVD. And if you're not tempted by all this, then do not be troubled, for you are in Elysium ... and you're already dead!
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