2000 • Gladiator

GladiatorAs you can tell, Lauren and I have been on a pretty good run of watching the Best Picture movies since the Twins season ended. We finished out the 80s, then blew through the 90s in three weeks, and have moved on to the 2000s in the past month, on top of all the other non-Best Picture movies I watched during my wisdom teeth 4-day weekend!

Wednesday night, we took on 2000’s epic Gladiator, which is one of the oldest time-period movies of the project so far, based in the year 140. This was not the first time I saw Gladiator. In fact, I saw it when it came out in the theater. I was a junior in high school and a group of us went to the movies one Friday night and the two movies playing were Gladiator and Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas. I used to absolutely despise historical war type movies like this, and when no one would speak up and make a decision for the group, I actually picked the Flintstone movie instead. We all sat in the theater for about five minutes before I realized how stupid of a movie it was, and we moved over to see Gladiator instead, even after missing the first few minutes. Afterwards I remember saying how I hated the movie; it just wasn’t my idea of entertainment.

However, it is only fair to revisit each movie and give them a second chance. This time would be a bit different as I went in open-minded. Directed by Ridley Scott of Blade Runner fame, Gladiator stars Russell Crowe in his first of two consecutive Best Picture starring roles. Crowe portrays Maximus Decimus Meridius, a heroic Roman General who is scheduled to be appointed Emperor once the current Emperor Marcus Aurelius dies, bypassing Marcus’ own son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Commodus kills his father before he can tell anyone of his plans, thereby giving Commodus the throne. Through a series of events, Maximus is taken in as a slave and sold to a man who sends him to fight for his life in arena tournaments. He becomes legendary, never losing, and is soon known as Gladiator. But will it be enough to rise all the way back up to the top of the Roman Empire?

As expected, this time around I enjoyed Gladiator much more than I originally did. Aside from a few clunkers like Chariots of Fire, there just aren’t any truly unenjoyable movies in the later decades of this project. With all the millions of dollars being poured into giant productions like Gladiator ($103M), the end results are almost always outstanding, especially those that go on to win Best Picture. That said, Gladiator will probably prove to be one of my least memorable movies of the last three decades. We had just seen an ancient epic in Braveheart, which I felt had a stronger storyline. And let’s face it, I’m a sucker for the romantic subplots which Braveheart did so well. Gladiator played with a romantic subplot between Maximus and Lucilla (the sister of Emperor Commodus), but not to much of an extent.

Again, all of this is not to say I didn’t find Gladiator enjoyable, because I found myself in a few rare moments recently where the story became so intense I was afraid to watch. I’m talking about the scenes where Maximus is fighting Tigris, the all-time undefeated champion, and he uncovers several hidden tiger pits in the arena ring! The cinematographer did a great job capturing the scenes with Maximus barely avoiding the tigers, as well as the moments while the fighters were waiting in the tunnel with the doors about to open, many of them knowing they would soon be killed, seeing who their next opponent would be, with the crowd thunderously chanting. Those scenes were outstanding.

I ranked Gladiator at #48 on my list, of the 70 movies we’ve seen so far. Next up is Russell Crowe: Take 2 in A Beautiful Mind, one of my favorites from the 2000s decade.

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