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Monday, 8 May, 2000, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Gladiator conquers Hollywood
Russell Crowe fights in the arena
Crowe carries Hollywood's brave return to a classic genre
By BBC News Online's Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Big budget movie Gladiator, which has won the Oscar for best picture, marks a bold effort to revive the long dormant Roman epic.

The film's 36-year-old star Russell Crowe has declared his praise for British director Ridley Scott, who went to great lengths to recreate the time period of 180 AD including the splendour of imperial Rome.

Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix
Crowe plays the army general enslaved by the cruel emperor
"It's a spectacular film," said an enthusiastic Crowe.

"You are not just witnessing incredible fight sequences and a complete world that Ridley's created, but you have also got a very basic emotional connection to it," he added.

Crowe wanted audiences to identify with the plight of his character, General Maximus , who is enslaved under the cruel and evil Roman emperor Commodus.

Maximus trains to become a gladiator and seeks revenge against the twisted Commodus who has murdered his wife and child.


This epic, with a budget estimated to be in excess of $100m, recalls the great Roman spectacles of the past - films like Ben Hur, Spartacus and The Fall of The Roman Empire - which have been absent from the big screen for more than 35 years.

In many ways Gladiator is a very traditional film, but Ridley Scott deployed his cinematic skills to tell this classic story using state-of-the-art technology to create a slicker and more sophisticated product.

Russell Crowe in the Coliseum
Modern day technology comes into its own in recreating the Coliseum
Computer-generated images enable some violent and bloody, but undeniably impressive, fight scenes to take place in an extremely realistic looking Coliseum packed with a screaming mob.

Crowe acknowledged that Gladiator was cinema that draws from both old and new. He said the film represented "a marriage of both things, traditional film-making techniques and cutting edge computer technology".

The visual effects are quite varied - there are several scenes when Maximus is imagining his wife and child in the hereafter that have a heavily tinted, almost bleached-out look.

Calculated gamble

Even before Gladiator's release in the US, it was being predicted that this was a picture that would transform Crowe from a widely respected character actor into a major A-list Hollywood star.

Oliver Reed died before finishing the movie
Crowe without doubt carries this film. He has the physical presence to make the action scenes convincing, and the requisite acting skills to convey his character's inner emotional life.

"I just thought Russell was fresh, a new generation, he's a man definitely on his way up," said Ridley Scott, who sees Crowe as "very much an actor who likes to change his face and looks for different, very different roles".

Some US observers have seen the film as an allegory where ancient Rome represents contemporary America, and an imperial power about to implode.

Joaquin Phoenix and Richard Harris
Strong performances come from new star Phoenix and screen legend Harris
Others see Gladiator as a conservative film with a good male hero firmly committed to family values fighting his way to glory.

But the basic verdict is that Ridley Scott defied the odds and delivered a Roman epic that actually works. The outcome could have been different, reviving an old-fashioned genre was an endeavour fraught with peril that could have looked silly.

Much credit has to go to the strong cast. Joaquin Phoenix is remarkable as Commodus, Connie Nielsen will definitely make a name for herself as Lucilla.

The performances of two screen veterans, Richard Harris as Emperor Aurelius, and the late Oliver Reed, in his final role as Proximo, are both memorable.



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18 Jul 02 | Entertainment
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