Gladiator appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. This became an excellent presentation.
Sharpness looked crisp and detailed at all times. I saw no problematic instances of softness or fuzziness, as the picture maintained solid and accurate focus. The only slightly “soft” shots connected to the original photography and usually related to process or effects elements.
Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and I no signs of edge enhancement. In terms of print flaws, a couple of tiny “blink and you’ll miss them” specks appeared, but nothing more than that.
In terms of palette, Gladiator went for a definite teal and orange orientation. Other hues popped up – such as some prominent reds – but orange/teal dominated. Within those constraints, the colors seemed well-rendered, and the 4K’s HDR capabilities gave the tones extra pop.
Black levels were properly deep and dark, while shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. I thought the image looked terrific.
Downconverted to DTS-HD MA 7.1, the film’s DTS X soundtrack seemed involving and active. All the channels received a good workout as they displayed a great deal of discrete sound throughout the film.
While the action scenes offered the showiest moments, I generally preferred some of the quieter scenes, for Gladiator did a very nice job with segments that featured gentle ambiance as these bits came across in a natural and convincing manner. In general, the atmosphere found during the movie seemed excellent.
Audio quality was good. Dialogue appeared distinct and natural, without edginess or other issues.
Music sounded clear and bright and displayed fine range. Effects were clean and accurate, while low-end boomed nicely. This was a very good mix that supported the material well.
How did 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray version? The DTS X boasted a bit more involvement, while visuals offered superior definition and color vivacity.
While the Blu-ray worked very well, the 4K seemed stronger – more than I expected, honestly. I felt impressed by the BD when I watched it only a few months before the arrival of the 4K, but when I switched between them, I found the 4K to offer clearly superior definition and color reproduction, both of which seemed slightly mushy on the BD by comparison.
The 4K UHD features the film in both its theatrical and extended cuts. I already discussed the additions to the latter in the body of my review, but I wanted to mention this again since I regard the extended version as a supplement.
Prior to the Extended Edition, we can view an optional Introduction by Director Ridley Scott. In this 31-second clip, Scott tells us the theatrical release was his “Director’s Cut” and not much more. It’s painless but not informative.
Each cut gets its own audio commentary, and for the theatrical version, we hear from director Ridley Scott, director of photographer John Mathieson and editor Pietro Scalia, all of whom sit together for a running, screen-specific chat.
Not surprisingly, Scott dominates the track. The other two chime in their remarks and impressions from time to time, but the director presents the majority of the information.
All in all, the commentary offers a nicely broad and engaging discussion of the film. A wide variety of topics receive mention, from casting issues to sets and locations to story and themes to the use of special effects to historical accuracy.
Scott seems frank with his opinions and distributes them freely. At times he gets bogged down in too much information about which scenes feature what kinds of effects, but most of the time the commentary nicely complemented the movie.
Alongside the Extended Edition, we find a commentary with director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe. The pair sit together for a running, screen-specific track.
First the negative: dead air and happy talk. Quite a lot of praise shows up through the discussion, and more than a few empty spots make it run slowly at times. I suppose both are to be expected given the length of the film, but they still cause problems.
Otherwise, this is a decent commentary, though one that suffers from the burden of high expectations, as clearly fans will be eager to hear a chat between Scott and Crowe. They can’t live up to what we anticipate, though Crowe does his best to compensate.
Despite his image as surly and gruff, Crowe proves animated and engaging here. Crowe gets into many anecdotes from the set as he chats about his character, shooting various scenes, and his costars.
The best parts of the commentary occur when Crowe gives us his impressions of Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Djimon Hounsou, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris and others. He tells fun stories and seems honest about these folks. No, he doesn’t slam anyone, but he doesn’t pull punches and simply kiss butt either.
Scott interacts well with Crowe, though I must admit I don’t recall his contributions nearly as well. Perhaps that’s because the director reiterates a fair amount of material he covered in the theatrical cut’s commentary, though he branches into footage restored for the extended edition and also talks about issues on the set. Perhaps inspired by Crowe, Scott gets into more stories than straight data.
The pair perk up during some of the battle scenes – the mid-film gladiator contests provide the liveliest moments – but they also drag during the last act. The track has some good spots, though not enough to make it great. It varies from so-so to pretty good; it merits a listen, but don’t expect anything terrific.
That’s it for extras on the 4K, but the included Blu-ray copy includes all the prior release’s extras. On the movie disc, The Scrolls of Knowledge offers a branching option that gives us “streaming trivia and links to additional special content”.
This means that “Scrolls” mixes a text commentary with video components. In terms of presentation, the screen splits into three parts. On the left side, “History” offers links to the video clips, while “Production” uses the right to display subjects that can be saved and viewed on Disc Two.
In addition, the bottom of the screen offers a text commentary. It offers a mix of production insights and works well, as I believe it replicates the excellent text commentary from the 2005 DVD.
Unfortunately, the presentation makes it tough to enjoy the movie with all this activated. I could view the film with just the text commentary, but the “History” and “Production” boxes take up so much real estate that they make it impossible to watch the flick efficiently.
That’s too bad, as I like the text commentary. Perhaps there’s a method to turn off the two side boxes, but this option exists, the Blu-ray doesn’t make it clear.
Rather than view the “History” segments during the film, I chose to check them out via the disc’s “Topic Index”. This places all 43 “Historical Pods” in one place and they fill one hour, 19 minutes, four seconds through the helpful “View All” option.
Across these, we hear from technical advisor John Eagle and historians Nancy DeConciliis, Kathleen Coleman, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and David Potter. They give us notes about topics touched on in the film, with an emphasis on gladiators and their lives. These snippets offer good info and move well.
When we move to Disc Two, we start with seven-part documentary entitled Strength and Honor: Creating the World of Gladiator. If you view the seven chapters all together, this program runs a massive three hours, 16 minutes and 30 seconds.
“Honor” includes remarks from Scott, Crowe, writer/producer David Franzoni, producer Douglas Wick, the British School of Rome’s Andrew Wallace, executive producer Walter F. Parkes, Harvard University’s Kathleen Coleman, production designer Arthur Max, archeology scholar Nancy DeConcilles, writer William Nicholson, supervising armorer Simon Atherton, technical advisor John Eagle, costume designer Janty Yates, costume supervisor Rosemary Burrows, second assistant director Adam Somner, key makeup artist Paul Engelen, fight master Nicholas Powell, editor Pietro Scalia, producer Branko Lustig, animal wrangler Paul “Sled” Reynolds, visual effects supervisor John Nelson, visual effects producer Nikki Penny, and actors Tomas Arana, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Ralf Moeller, Djimon Hounsou, David Hemmings and Richard Harris.
The program covers most topics connected to Gladiator. We learn about the origins of the project and historical/realism reflections, the script and pitching the flick, finding a director and how Scott came onto the project, research, honing the screenplay and abandoned concepts, the design and creation of armor and various weapons.
We also hear about costumes, creating the Germania battle, behind the scenes conflicts among Scott, the producers and writers, locations and sets, shooting gladiator battles, creating Rome, continue script changes and rewrites, stunts, choreography and animals, issues related to Reed’s death and techniques used to finish his scenes, visual effects, editing and cut sequences, and the movie’s success.
With such a long running time, you’d anticipate that “Honor” goes over all its areas in detail – and you’d expect correctly. This documentary digs into the topics with depth and gives us a full look at them.
“Honor” combines insightful comments with great footage from the set and offers a truly rich experience. This is a terrific program.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray, we can watch “Honor” in an Enhanced Viewing Mode. This branches out to added footage, all of which can also be viewed through an index of the “Production Pods”.
We find 64 of these with a total running time of one hour, 58 minutes, 36 seconds. Across the “Pods”, we hear from Phoenix, Moeller, Arana, Scott, Nielsen, Max, Hounsou, Lustig, Crowe, Reed, Harris, Wick, Zimmer, Powell, Reynolds, costume designer Anabel Campbell, compositors Simon Stanley-Clamp and Hani Alyousif, visual effects supervisor Tim Burke, digital matte painter Dave Early, lead CG artists Ivor Middleton and Tim Zaccheo, CG supervisor Laurent Huguenolt, and actors Sven-Ole Thorsen and Derek Jacobi.
Essentially the pods focus on the same topics as the documentary but they expand on those areas. That means these almost feel like footnotes, as they add a little more depth to our pre-existing knowledge. They make an already-great documentary even better.
Image and Design comes next, and it opens with three “Production Design” components. Production Design Primer: Arthur Max presents a nine-minute, 34-second featurette.
Unsurprisingly, it gives us comments from Max as he discusses research and visual inspirations, concepts and challenges, and notes about building the Colosseum. I’m not sure why this material wasn’t simply folded into the longer documentary, but it offers a reasonably concise overview of Max’s job.
We also get two Production Design Galleries. “Gallery I” offers 120 images, while “Gallery II” throws in another 50 elements. We get some concept art here but mostly see close-ups of the various sets. I like all the stills and find these “Galleries” to add value.
Under “Storyboarding” we locate three components. Storyboarding Demonstration: Sylvain Despretz presents a 13-minute, 37-second featurette in which the artist shows us his craft. He creates some storyboards and talks about his methods and tools as he does so. This offers a pretty nice glimpse at this technique.
We hear more from Despretz in the Multi-Angle Comparisons. These allow us to see storyboards on their own or a storyboard/final film comparison for three scenes: “Germania Battlefront”, “Chain Fight” and “Battle of Carthage”. We get watch these with movie audio or commentary from Despretz, an element that makes them more interesting and valuable than usual.
Finally, we get a Storyboard Gallery. It breaks into 10 areas and presents a whopping 857 images. We see some cut sequences like the rhino fight as well as a lot more violence than the final film depicts.
A Costume Design Gallery includes 192 stills across six domains. Mostly we see drawings of outfits, but we also get some photos of the actors in the garb.
Two Photo Gallery breaks into 11 domains with a total of 364 shots. These focus on the set, though some promo pictures also appear.
Finally, “Image and Design” ends with Weapons Primer. In this five-minute, three-second piece, Simon Atherton discusses the prop weapons. He makes this a short but informative featurette.
Next we head to Abandoned Sequences and Deleted Scenes. “Alternate Title Design” gives us both the “Alternate Titles” themselves (one minute, 52 seconds) as well as a featurette (7:23) about them. Designer Nick Livesey discusses his work on the titles and lets us know why they didn’t make the final film.
“Blood Vision” goes for two minutes, 16 seconds and can be viewed with or without commentary from Ridley Scott. We see storyboards and outtakes for this scene as Scott discusses it.
“Rhino Fight” (4:14) also presents optional commentary, though it features Sylvain Despretz. He talks over more storyboards and some CG test footage of a rhino. “Choose Your Weapon” shows a brief 48-second clip in which Max and Juba prepare for battle.
“Abandoned Sequences” also gives us “Treasure Chest”, a seven-minute, 12-second reel. It offers a montage of little trims that aren’t substantial enough to be true deleted scenes in their own right. Honestly, it’s a pretty boring compilation.
Under “The Aurelian Archives”, we get more materials, most of which appeared on the original Gladiator DVD. The Making of Gladiator runs 25 minutes, three seconds and includes Scott, Crowe, Max, Wick, Phoenix, Harris, Lustig, Reynolds, Hounsou, Nielsen, Nelson, Burrows, Atherton, Reed, Moeller, and Zimmer.
“Making” offers a general overview of the production, with quick notes on a variety of subjects. Given how much we’ve already seen to this point, the show feels promotional and not especially valuable. Still, I’m glad it’s here for archival reasons.
Called Gladiator Games: The Roman Blood Sport, I expected this 50-minute, four-second program to give us another semi-promotional look at the movie, but I received a surprise. Instead, it mainly focuses on the historical facts behind the story.
We find a mix of interviews with historians and images that re-enact the events to a mild degree; mostly the latter provide a general sense of the era and not of the specific violent acts. A little of the piece discusses Gladiator itself, but not much, so only about six minutes of it are devoted to this subject. It’s a good view of the facts behind the movie.
Hans Zimmer: Composing Gladiator takes 20 minutes, 42 seconds to concentrate on Zimmer’s work for the movie. Happily, this show sticks with lots of content and little fluff, as most of it features interviews of Zimmer as he discusses his music and relates the specific concepts he attempted to communicate in the movie. It’s a solid little show that nicely illuminates Zimmer’s work.
Next comes the 27-minute, 15-second An Evening with Russell Crowe. It presents an audience chat with the actor in which he discusses a mix of topics. It’s a loose affair that shows Crowe in fine spirits, a factor that makes it entertaining.
We get more from the actor during the eight-minute Maximus Uncut. This gives us outtakes of Crowe on the set, mainly as he acts goofy and jokes. It largely acts as a form of blooper reel, but it’s more amusing than most.
Another piece of “inside” information comes from My Gladiator Journal, a text written by Spencer Treat Clark, the actor who played young Lucius in the film. It’s a surprisingly long segment that relates Clark’s experiences on the movie in a fairly detailed manner. Of course, a lot of it consists of “this is soooo cool!” talk, but it’s still a fun little addition to the disc.
Visual Effects Explorations: Germania and Rome takes us to a 23-minute, 50-second piece. In it we hear from a number of unnamed CG artists as they chat about work they did on the film and demonstrate the techniques. This becomes somewhat dry but it still offers a good perspective on their creations.
Blu-ray Two ends with a collection of Trailers and TV Spots. We find the movie’s teaser and theatrical trailers along with 20 TV ads.
17 years after its initial release and many viewings down the road, I still find myself only moderately entertained by Gladiator. The terrific battle scenes keep me going, but far too much of the film plods along and provides little of interest. The 4K UHD offers excellent picture and audio along with an exhaustive roster of supplements. While the movie still leaves me a bit cold, this turns into a simply stellar release.
To rate this film, visit the original review of GLADIATOR