Friday, February 8, 2008

I Just Watched the World's Most Expensive Sword and Sandal Epic

So sometimes I fall behind in watching new movies. I run from hype like its a rabid dog. I've skipped through most of the films of the 80's & 90's and I'm sure I haven't missed much. Yesterday we decided to watch Ridley Scott's Gladiator ,
eight years after its release. My closest friends told me at the time of its epic scope and incredible fight sequences and they certainly built it up for me but I guess I had no interest then (what the hell was I watching then?). To me Ridley Scott's films have to be big and disastrous; actors should walk off the set, sets should catch on fire (as in Legend), the studio should take it away from him and recut it. As far as I know the filming of Gladiator went smoothly. Maybe that's why I didn't see it the first time.
I was excited to finally get around to watching it and was surprised halfway through it when I realized, this was just an adventure film all dolled up like a Cecil B. DeMille epic! But that was okay. That meant there would be nothing too deep or distracting from the swordplay. This was a big blockbuster film, after all, aimed at the masses that ate up shit like Braveheart and The Patriot. Although I have not sat all the way through Braveheart I was going to sit through this one if just for the fact that Ridley Scott directed. I wear my director biases like a T-shirt. But alas there was some drama and tragedy but overall it was a long but adventurous sword and sandal film. Possibly the best one ever made since, oh, I don't know...Ben Hur?
Best of all, I got to watch Olive Reed in his last role, hamming it up one last time, but hamming it up with great dignity. According to legend, once the film shooting wrapped up he went drinking with the crew, outdrank everyone and died after having won an arm wrestling match. What a way to go! Brilliant.
Also in the film, for a brief moment, was David Hemmings. For one moment these two film greats share the screen and it made me wonder why they'd never been in a film together before (though they may have been in a film together before this, but I am not aware of it).
So eight years after the fact, here I am giving my brief impression. This was the 155min. version of Gladiator that I saw, not the "extended" 177min. one. Gulp. That seems a bit long. I thought 155min. was sufficient. Not too much, but just enough.
I would say that the first sword and sandal film I ever saw was The Ten Commandments. This played in a theater in 1976 in Puerto Rico where I was living and watched it with my parents and grandmother. I was all of four years old, but very impressed. Alas, I fell asleep after Moses turned his staff into a snake.
  • Not swords or spears through the anus. After all, this was NOT Caligula. Pity.
  • Impressive violence: the catapult scene at the beginning was tops. The action could have been a little tighter. But it was better than the average floppy-sword fight scene of past movies. More blood was needed. Fuck it, go for NC-17 rating.
  • The score was at times reminiscent of Holst's "Mars". Still being plundered since 1916!
  • The fire in the forest and ashes which fell like snow was impressive. Dramatic for its own sake, but impressive.
  • Could Monty Python have bettered this? Yes.
  • Accents? Everybody was white. I was hard pressed to believe there were real Romans in this picture with the exception of Joaquin Phoenix, who can pretty much cast type for about five or six ethnicities. That's hard to do.
  • Ridley Scott's films should be controversial as stated above. But then again perhaps that's best left to Terry Gilliam.
So, there it is. My review of Gladiator. Maybe when I'm all caught up on films I have not seen I will get around writing more impressions.

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