Ossus Library Index Fantasy Movie Index


Directed by Ridley Scott (2000, Dreamworks)
Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielson, and Oliver Reed

A former General in the Roman Army finds himself fighting for his life as a gladiator in the new emperor's arena.

View count: Twice



2+ stars+

August 14th, 2000 on TV  

My second time watching this movie found me wondering when we were going to get to the good parts. I found it so slow and plodding, especially the beginning.

There isn't really much character work here, either. Not remembering much of the movie (how great could it have been if I had trouble recalling the most basic parts?), I fully expected to watch Maximus become a great fighter. He tells his owner that he will give the spectators a show they will never forget. I thought we would get more gladiator scenes outside Rome, showing his progress. Instead, he becomes a true crowd pleaser in one fight. Admittedly, the gladiator scenes we got in the Coliseum were well-choreographed and fun to watch, especially when Maximus takes over. I loved Commodus' line "I may not be fully up to date on my history, but weren't the armies supposed to crush the savages?"

Commodus was a very strange character, and nowhere near a worthy opponent for Maxumus. I think the story could have benefited from a better adversary. Instead, everybody plots against him, but nobody does anything. They were afraid the secret police would take over? They didn't even come to his aid in the final duel. The guy was completely deranged, which the story tells us in no uncertain terms by his incestuous behavior toward his sister.

I suppose there was enough to like about this movie, but I can't believe it was picked as an Oscar winner. I don't recall the competition, but it must have been really lousy that year, because this movie doesn't have enough character or story to justify it.




August 21st, 2000 in the Theatre  

I was stuck on the edge of a slightly better rating.  The action was really cool, the story was about revenge and staying alive, but something in the execution left me a little cold.   

It seems that opening scene battle sequences are the way to impress an audience these days.  When it happened in The Empire Strikes Back, it was completely new -the climactic scene at the beginning.  But now it is more normal.  And there is no better way to draw an audience into an action story like this one. 

We get to see how good a fighter Maximus actually is.  He, his men, and his tactics defeat the Germanic army easily, and the land is annexed to Rome.  The directing here was strange, and was almost the opposite of Mission Impossible 2.  Here a lot of it seemed to be in fast-motion, which was a little disconcerting.  But I guess that was one way to reduce the reality of all that gore and blood. 

We also get to learn that Maximus was a simple farmer when he was brought into the Roman army temporarily.  Now that the last enemy of Rome has been defeated, he can go home.  But the Roman Caesar wants him to do one more thing, and that is to teach the Senate how to rule, then pass the power of the Caesar to the people.  Turn Rome into a democracy.  Unfortunately, the Emperor's son is told about this, and murders his father silently.  He then takes the throne, and has Maximus killed. 

What he doesn't know is that his men lied to him when they told him that Maximus was dead.  He actually managed to kill all (or almost all) of his executors, and escape.  He runs a horse into the ground, then almost runs himself into the ground, just to get to his farm, and wife and son before the Roman army can.  But he is too late.  He finds them crucified on his front porch. 

Maximus buries them, and falls asleep at their graves.  He is then picked up by a band of travelers, who sells Maximus and another man to an entertainer.  This man entertains in the ring, after he trains them as gladiators. 

Maximus is reluctant to fight, but develops a will to stay alive.  I'm not sure how this came about, because he could not possibly hope to get a chance at revenge, as a slave like he is now.  I was under the impression that he wanted to join his family in the afterlife. 

He is in luck, though, when the new Emperor tries to win the people to his heart by giving them six months of game-style entertainment.  Most of this is in the form of gladiator fights.  Maximus hides his face behind a helmet, and wins unprecedented victories.  His nemesis takes notice, orders him to remove his mask, and is horrified when he does.  Maximus is the only person who could possibly get away with turning his back on the Emperor. 

Every fight from then on is an uphill battle, as Commodus tries to have him killed without making him a martyr.  For Maximus is now more popular than the Emperor!  There was a really neat scene with four tigers and a very large opponent fighting Maximus.  It seems impossible to win, and yet he does.  It is a terrific battle.  The only thing that mars it is when we see the scene from different cuts, the tigers are sitting still, only coming alive when they are needed. 

The Emperor is clearly unstable.  He has a strange passion for his sister, who is a much stronger ruler than he would ever be.  She sees him for who he really is, and as a great threat to her son, in line for the throne.  So she plots against him.  She still loves Maximus, for she was like a sister to him, too.  She conspires to get Maximus out of the city, to his old squadron of men, so that he could run a coup. 

Unfortunately, Commodus gets wind of this, and threatens her with her son's life.  She spills it all, so Maximus is ambushed when he leaves the city walls.  He is brought to a holding cell, and the next morning, the Emperor challenges him to a dual in the Coliseum, in front of the crowd.  Before they get to the surface, though, he stabs Maximus in the back.  As the dual proceeds, Maximus is still the better fighter, as Commodus is really a coward.  When Commodus loses his sword, the army soldiers refuse to give him another, probably because of what they saw him do just before the fight.  And so Maximus gets his revenge. 

As a result, he fulfills his promise, freeing the imprisoned senator and freeing all the slaves.  I do wonder how he will pay for that.  The owners of those slaves will certainly want compensation.

After having been to Rome, I must say that although the sets looked like the models that they were in the far shots, they had a wonderful model of the city.  It was wonderful to see the Coliseum in its full splendor, from the smooth outside walls to the slats raising out of the floor, and the pens for the slaves underneath. 

The battle scenes were well staged, to the point where it seemed that they were all around us.  The acting was terrific, except from Commodus, but I suspect that comes from the character, not the actor.  He was probably supposed to be unhinged -and to look it.  The music was also great, from the opening pre-battle, which brought the tension up, to the final duel.  Only the direction seemed to be off, and it was such that it was noticeable.  The fast-motion scenes were really only the beginning.  It seemed that a lot of stuff was being filmed from poor angles, or -I don't quite know what was wrong with the directing, but it was missing something. 

But the weak direction was more than made up for by the lead character's acting (and his slave friends, as well as his former assistant), and by the music.  I would watch this movie again on video, preferably on a very large screen.


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