Monday, May 08, 2006

Gladiator (Scott, 2000)

In Gladiator, there is a conflict between a man who was never loved, and a man who loved and lost. One is a psychosexually confused emperor, the other a general-turned-gladiator. This little slave who could wins the hearts of the people and single handedly saves Rome, ensuring that it would never fall... well, not really.

On a whole, the film is a poorly directed epic with all the epic-ness vacuumed out of it. Scott's direction is remarkable only for its ability to wholly deflate a sequence. This is most painfully apparent in early scenes, especially conversational ones. Scott has not realized that the relationship between character and location, especially in a period piece, is as important as any other aspect of character, and so we get medium-to-close talking heads, boringly composed and intercut to show the speaker, because we love to see lips move. My distaste for this pedestrian style of subjectivity-seeking automaton filmmaking knows no bounds, and unfortunately it's a very common occurrence of which Scott is not the only culprit.

The action sequences (this meaning any passage of visual storytelling, not necessarily battles) are similarly cramped. There is no majesty, no scope, to Ridley's frame; when watching I feel as if the camera is tethered by its limited range of movement, probably because the filmmakers were too busy with overblown and unnoticed details to accomodate for good filmmaking. The editing lacks any remarkable structure. The aesthetic on a whole ranges from mediocre to poor, the latter especially apparent in the "Russell Crowe faints (drops acid?) in the desert and is kidnapped" sequence, and the "heaven is a blue-tinted grassland" sequence near the end of the film.

The battles fail to either repulse (whether at the violence itself or an objectivity-born non reaction to violence) or to be exciting to the point that the audience of the film is charged with the same bloodthirst as the audience of the collosseum. Speaking of which, the collosseum is full of very blatant phallic symbols. Once a reading of this nature takes hold, everything becomes a phallus. In the first battle, women (their femininity accentuated by their breastplates) ride into the circle of penes and fire arrows (phalluses) into men. Then, the emperor (who at any given moment can't seem to decide whether he wants to strangle or fuck the person he's interacting with) comes in and points his little prick of a thumb up in the air, letting Maximus live. The battle apparently is supposed to have some sort of coital connotation, and interestingly Maximus is essentially neutered by the death of his wife. This of course is consistent with his non-compliance, but this sexual reading doesn't really enhance what still remains a slight tale of rising above the odds spattered with paper-thin romantic concepts of life, death, and love. The film never hesitates to make explicit its themes, usually in single lines or exchanges, many of which could be cited. The film is by no means a challenge, which likely explains its popularity and Academy wins.

Gladiator is not a film without any redeeming values, but it's not a film that flirts with greatness either. It's just kind of there, blandly and obviously. Commodus has the makings of an interesting character creation, but he's not developed enough or important enough to be any major saving grace.

Verdict: meh.

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