Gladiator appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This new DVD took an already very good picture and made it even better.
Sharpness looked crisp and detailed at all times. I saw no discernible instances of softness or fuzziness, and the picture maintained solid and accurate focus. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and I no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed almost wholly absent. I noticed a couple of very insubstantial specks, but otherwise this was a clean presentation.
Colors appeared nicely accurate. The film went for a quiet palette and the DVD replicated it neatly, with hues that looked solidly-saturated and rich. Occasionally the flick went with stylized tones – such as during the cold blue tint of the opening battle – but usually it stayed with reasonably natural colors that the disc presented well. Black levels were properly deep and dark, while shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Overall, Gladiator presented a picture that consistently excelled.
I also felt impressed by the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Gladiator. For most of Gladiator, the soundfield seemed very involving and active. All five 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; 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.
As a whole, the audio quality was good but slightly erratic. Dialogue usually appeared distinct and natural, but some lines seemed somewhat muddled and flat; a surprising amount of speech was stiff and dull, though intelligibility was never an issue. Music sounded clear and bright and displayed adequate range. Effects were clean and accurate, while low-end boomed nicely. This was a very good mix that supported the material well.
How did picture and sound compare to the 2000 DVD? As I alluded earlier, the 2005 release provided slightly superior visuals. The main improvement related to print flaws, as the 2005 transfer lacked the mild defects of the original disc. Otherwise I thought the pair were very similar, and this DVD’s Dolby Digital 5.1 track appeared identical to the one on the old version. Unfortunately, space considerations caused the omission of the 2000 set’s DTS mix; it was a little better than the Dolby one, so the original disc gets the nod for its superior sound.
While the original two-disc set included quite a few good extras, the 2005 package improves upon it. I’ll look at what the new release presents and then discuss changes from the prior version.
DVD One 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.
A prime lure for fans to buy the new set, we find an audio 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. It 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, he proves very 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 original DVD’s commentary, though he branches into footage restored for the extended cut 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.
To finish DVD One, we get a trivia track. Called “Are You Not Entertained?”, this subtitle commentary serves four functions. A useful one comes from the way it helps us discern what scenes appear only in the extended version of the film. If you watch it with “Entertained” activated, the text box turns red whenever exclusive footage comes onscreen. This is a subtle and useful way to mark the new material.
The information presented in “Entertained” covers three general areas. We get many biographical notes about cast and crew, and we also learn a lot of production issues like sets, locations, costumes, effects, stunts, script, and other usual suspects. Finally, the track often discusses historical topics. We find out a great deal about Rome in the era depicted during Gladiator as well as other subjects connected to that. Consistently informative and engaging, this subtitle track is one of the best I’ve seen.
In an unusual move, the trivia track actually defends this “double-dip” and the absence of the original DVD’s DTS mix. I don’t recall ever seeing another DVD that tries to preempt complaints from fans, but this one touches on the reasoning behind various decision. Look for this information during the end credits.
When we move to DVD Two, we find one major extra: a 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. It 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, 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. You’d expect correctly. This documentary digs into the topics with depth and gives us a full look at them. It combines insightful comments with great footage from the set and offers a truly rich experience. This is a terrific program.
With that we head to DVD Three and its elements. These split into two areas. Image and Design comes first, and it opens with two “Production Design” components. Production Design Primer: Arthur Max presents a nine-minute and 33-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 a Production Design Gallery. This splits into 10 small sections, or you can examine all 169 images together via the “View All” option. We get some concept art here but mostly see close-ups of the various sets.
Under “Storyboarding” we locate three components. Storyboarding Demonstration: Sylvain Despretz presents a 13-minute and 35-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. A Photo Gallery breaks into 11 domains with a total of 364 shots. These focus on the set, though some promo pictures also appear.
Next we head to the Supplemental Archives. This section starts with Abandoned Sequences and Deleted Scenes. “Alternate Title Design” gives us both the “Alternate Titles” themselves (one minute, 53 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, 14 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” (4:13) also presents optional commentary, though it features Sylvain Despretz. He talks over more storyboards and some CG test footage of a rhino Lastly, “Choose Your Weapon” shows a brief 48-second clip in which Max and Juba prepare for battle.
Visual Effects Explorations: Germania and Rome takes us to a 23-minute and 48-second documentary. 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.
DVD Three ends with a collection of Trailers and TV Spots. We find the movie’s teaser and theatrical trailers along with 20 TV ads. It also presents “DreamWorks Presents”, a section with promos for The Ring Two and Saving Private Ryan.
Finally, the package ends with a 12-page booklet. It depicts movie photos along with a little text from Ridley Scott. He doesn’t tell us anything we don’t learn elsewhere, but this booklet adds a classy touch to the set.
Note that virtually none of the extras from the original DVD appear here. That seems to have been a conscious decision ala the Lord of the Rings films. The DVD’s producers appear to regard this package as a complement to the old one, so very little repetition occurs. Of course, some of the two-disc set’s deleted scenes got put into the Extended Cut, and a few other repeats occur. We get the same two trailers and a few of the same TV spots, though this package includes many more of the latter than did the 2000 release. The same is true for the storyboards and still gallery on the prior set; the new one repeats them with more materials.
I don’t find it to be too much of a disappointment that the new release doesn’t include much from the old one, especially since some of the stuff would’ve become redundant; clearly the documentaries on both packages would overlap in many ways. However, I wish the 2005 disc retained the original’s audio commentary. It was a good chat, and since this release also presents the theatrical cut, it definitely could've appeared.
Five years after its initial release and four 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 framework would support a strong story but this one’s characters and non-action situations lack much life. At least the extended cut of the film brings a little more depth to those circumstances; it can’t redeem the rest of it, but it serves to create the superior version of the film.
As was the case with the original release, the DVD presented a very good picture and sound plus some excellent extras. Under normal circumstances, I’d recommend this set despite my lukewarm attitude toward the movie itself; there’s enough quality on display to make it worth a look.
And that recommendation stands for fans who don’t own the prior release. If you want just one Gladiator, I think this is the superior one. It lacks the earlier set’s DTS soundtrack, but it presents better picture and stronger supplements along with the best cut of the flick.
Does that make the Extended Gladiator worth a double-dip for those who have the old set? Yes, but only if they really dig the movie. Those fans will definitely want to check out everything on display here.
To rate this film, visit the original review of GLADIATOR