Overview

Gladiator is a 2000 epic historical drama film directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Ralf Möller, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, John Shrapnel and Richard Harris.

Storyline

Maximus is a powerful Roman general, loved by the people and the aging Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Before his death, the Emperor chooses Maximus to be his heir over his own son, Commodus, and a power struggle leaves Maximus and his family condemned to death. The powerful general is unable to save his family, and his loss of will allows him to get captured and put into the Gladiator games until he dies. The only desire that fuels him now is the chance to rise to the top so that he will be able to look into the eyes of the man who will feel his revenge. Written by Chris “Morphy” Terry

Interesting facts

  • Like modern day athletes, ancient Roman gladiators did product endorsements. The producers considered including this in the script but discarded the idea as unbelievable.
  • Russell Crowe began shooting for Gladiator a few months after The Insider wrapped. He had gained upwards of 40 pounds for his Oscar-nominated role in The Insider and yet lost it all before Gladiator began. He claims he did nothing special other than normal work on his farm in Australia.
  • Lou Ferrigno was originally cast as Tigris of Gaul, but was replaced during production by Sven-Ole Thorsen who had been lobbying hard for the part.
  • Oliver Reed suffered a fatal heart attack during principal photography. Some of his sequences had to be re-edited and a double, photographed in the shadows and with a 3D CGI mask of Reed’s face, was used as a stand-in. The film is dedicated to his memory.
  • Connie Nielsen found the 2000-year-old signet ring which she wears in the movie, in an antique store.
  • In the Colosseum scenes, only the bottom two decks are actually filled with people. The other thousands of people are computer-animated.
  • In the Spanish dubbed version Maximus says he is from Emerita Augusta (now called Merida). The Spanish dubbers claimed that, “Trujillo doesn’t combine the ‘qualities’ to be cradle of the gladiator.”
  • The wounds on Russell Crowe’s face after the opening battle scene are real, caused when his horse startled and backed him into tree branches. The stitches in his cheek are clearly visible when he is telling Commodus he intends to return home.
  • Maximus’ (Russell Crowe) description of his home (specifically how the kitchen is arranged and smells in the morning and at night) was ad-libbed – it’s a description of Crowe’s own home in Australia.
  • Character actor Sven-Ole Thorsen not only played Tigris the Gaul but doubled as one of the spectators during that same battle.
  • During filming, director Ridley Scott wore the red cap worn by Gene Hackman in the movie Crimson Tide, which was directed by Ridley’s brother, Tony Scott.
  • Richard Harris, who plays Marcus Aurelius, was originally set to play Commodus in The Fall of the Roman Empire (but left the film due to artistic differences with director Anthony Mann and was replaced by Christopher Plummer).
  • Mel Gibson was offered the lead role, but turned it down because at 43 he felt he was too old to play Maximus.
  • Contrary to rumor, Enya didn’t record any music for the soundtrack of this film. The song simply sounds like something she would have recorded. The song, and in fact much of the soundtrack, was composed and sung by Lisa Gerrard.
  • Writer David Franzoni started developing the story in the 1970s when he read “Those Who Are About To Die”, a history of the Roman games by Daniel P. Mannix; Franzoni later discussed the idea with Steven Spielberg during their work on Amistad, saying that he envisioned Commodus as being something like Ted Turner in the way he combined politics and entertainment to establish a base of influence.
  • Ridley Scott was persuaded to do the film when DreamWorks head Walter F. Parkes and producer Douglas Wick presented him with a reproduction of the 1872 painting “Pollice Verso” (“Thumbs Down”) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, in which a gladiator stands over the opponent he has beaten.
  • On visiting the real Colosseum, Ridley Scott remarked to production designer Arthur Max that it was “too small,” so they designed an outsized “Rome of the imagination” which was inspired by English and French romantic painters, as well as Nazi architect Albert Speer.
  • Writer William Nicholson added the aspects of the film in which Maximus discusses the afterlife, seeking to make the character more accessible to audiences.
  • Over the course of the gladiatorial scenes, Russell Crowe broke bones in his foot and his hip, and injured both bicep tendons.
  • Editor Pietro Scalia added the shot of Maximus moving through a wheat field to the beginning of the film; it had been filmed for the ending.
  • Some shots of Oliver Reed had to be faked with CGI after his death, at an estimated cost of $3 million.
  • Maximus’ Spanish heritage meshes interestingly with his choice of arms – as a General riding with the cavalry of the Felix Legion, (in the opening battle) he wields a sword known as a “Spatha”, popular among the continental tribes especially in Spain and southern Gaul. As a Gladiator, he uses a sword similar to the spatha in appearance but shorter and broader. This weapon is known as the “Gladius Hispaniensis”, and was adopted by the Roman infantry after Scipio’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the II century B.C., after the end of the 2nd Punic War. Roman infantry wore the gladius on the right side – this, facilitated by the short blade length, allowed the legionary to draw his weapon on the same side as his sword arm; cross-drawing would be hindered by the scutum (the large rectangular shield) while in formation.
  • The short sword used by the Roman army, the Gladius Hispaniensis, is seen being used by many gladiators in the film. The version used in the arena in the film is accurate as depicted; it was often shorter than the military version. The use of the gladius is actually the source of the word “gladiator”.
  • Various historians have tried to find proof that the awning in the Coliseum really was used as a cooling system.
  • As Oliver Reed died with three weeks of principal photography remaining and as he was considered a key character, a clause in the insurance coverage on the movie would have allowed the film-makers to shoot all of Reed’s scenes with another actor, with the insurers footing the cost (estimated at $25million). However, most of the actors and crew were exhausted from the punishing schedule and Ridley Scott did not want to lose Reed from the movie, so the script was rewritten and CGI used to give Reed’s character a plausible resolution.
  • This is Russell Crowe’s favorite of the American films that he has done. He also cites Maximus as his favorite character that he’s played so far.
  • Jennifer Lopez auditioned for the role of Lucilla.
  • Maximus’s tattoo “SPQR” stands for “Senatus Populusque Romanus,” which translates to “the Roman senate and people.” This was one of the main slogans of Rome throughout its history (as well as today, e.g. manhole covers etc.).
  • The blur effect that appears halfway through the war scene between Maximus’ army and the Germanic tribes was not originally intended. The scene was shot in the early evening, but continued too long and the light was drastically diminished. In order to keep the continuity of the scene’s lighting and avoid shooting another day on the location, the DP chose instead to shoot the scenes with a very low frame rate. To compensate for the loss of frames, the frames that were shot were duplicated several times in post, and edited into the film in a way that made the switch look natural.
  • The script had called for a battle scene between Maximus and a rhinoceros. Since it was too difficult to train and CGI could not make it realistic enough, the rhinoceros was omitted.
  • When Commodus goes with Lucius to meet Maximus at the Colosseum, he tells Maximus that Lucius insists Maximus is Hector reborn. Then Commodus asks Lucius, “Or was it Hercules?” The real emperor Commodus believed *he* was Hercules reborn.
  • Maximus refers to the two horses on his breastplate when talking to Lucius as being called “Scarto” and “Argento” – translated from the Latin they are “Trigger” and “Silver” (Scarto directly translates as “lever” – but we get the idea!).
  • Antonio Banderas was also considered for the role of Maximus.
  • David Franzoni was given a three-picture deal with DreamWorks as writer and co-producer on the strength of his work on Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. One of his initial pitches was for “Gladiator”.
  • With 2 weeks to go before filming, the actors were still complaining of problems with the script. William Nicholson was brought to Shepperton Studios to make Maximus a more sensitive character, reworking his friendship with Juba and developing the afterlife thread. Nicholson went back to David Franzoni’s original script and reinstated a lot of the scenes that John Logan had taken out.
  • Russell Crowe was continually unhappy with the screenplay, rewriting much of it to suit his own ends. He would frequently walk off the set if he didn’t get his way. The famous line “In this life or the next, I will have my vengeance” he initially refused to say, telling writer William Nicholson “Your lines are garbage but I’m the greatest actor in the world and I can make even garbage sound good”.
  • A replica of about one third of Rome’s Collosseum was built in Malta to a height of 52 feet, mostly from plaster and plywood. The remainder of the building was added in digitally. It took several months to build at a reputed cost of $1 million.
  • British post-production house “The Mill” was responsible for most of the CGI effects in the film. Among their responsibilities were to composite real tigers filmed on blue screen into the fight sequences, and adding smoke trails and extending the flight paths of the opening battle’s flaming arrows. They also used 2000 live actors to create a CGI crowd of about 35,000 people. One of their major hurdles was to create a digital body double for the recently deceased Oliver Reed.
  • The film had surpassed its $103,000,000 budget within 2 weeks of release.
  • Due to Academy regulations, co-composer Lisa Gerrard was denied an Oscar nomination while Hans Zimmer received one.
  • Writer David Franzoni modeled Proximo very consciously on a Hollywood film agent.
  • Oliver Reed’s main motivation for taking the part of Proximo was because he fancied a “free trip to London to see a couple of shows”.
  • Richard Harris would frequently ignore any newly rewritten scenes as he couldn’t be bothered to relearn his lines.
  • On the Special Edition DVD, the making-of documentary, Strength and Honor: Creating the World of ‘Gladiator’, at nearly 3 and a half hours, is an hour longer than the film itself.
  • This was DreamWorks’ first double-disc DVD.
  • One of the very first DVDs to be released in the UK to come with DTS sound.
  • In reality, Aurelius died of the plague and Commodus ascended to the throne. He was a much loved emperor by the army and the lower classes.
  • After finishing his college education, David Franzoni spent a year traveling around the world. During his adventures he would run into networks of international travelers who would get together and trade books that they had read on the road. This is how he came across the book “Those Who Are About to Die” by Daniel P. Mannix.
  • Only the second DVD to sport a 6.1 DTS sound mix.
  • Oliver Reed insisted to director Ridley Scott that his life was his own after 5 o’clock. Scott readily agreed to that.
  • David Hemmings’ pointed eyebrows were his own.
  • Temperatures in the gladiator arena would frequently top 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The production company offered the Roman sets to the Maltese authorities as the basis of a theme park but the authorities dithered in their reply so most of the set was struck.
  • That’s not Russell Crowe’s hand you see in the iconic shot of Maximus’s hand brushing the stalks of wheat, but that of Crowe’s double, Stuart Clark (credited as Stuart Clarke).
  • Maximus’s companion is his pet wolf, played in the film by a German Shepherd. The production was unable to use real wolves because England’s strict anti-rabies laws prevented them from importing any of the animals.
  • The opening battle scene was filmed in Bourne Woods, in the English county of Surrey. The Royal Forestry Commission had originally slated the area for deforestation so Ridley Scott eagerly offered them his facilities to burn the woods to the ground. The Commission happily accepted.
  • The Germania battle sequence took 20 days to complete.
  • From the outset, Ridley Scott made it quite clear that this “sword and sandals” movie would not feature any of the genre’s clichés of people lounging around eating grapes and drinking from goblets. He intended to create a more realistic vision of ancient Rome.
  • Costume designer Janty Yates and her team created more than 10,000 costumes for the cast and extras.
  • Many of the animals featured were loaned to the production from the zoo in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco, as a way of getting round the country’s strict animal importation rules.
  • 24 chariots were built for the film although 6 only appear on screen.
  • For the crowd scenes in the Colosseum, in addition to the real life extras and the digital ones, 400 cardboard cut-outs of spectators were also used.
  • 5 tigers were brought in for the sequence in the arena where Maximus fights Tigris the Gaul. A veterinarian armed with tranquilizer darts was in attendance for the entire length of shooting. For safety’s sake, Russell Crowe was never allowed to be any less than 15 feet away from the tigers.
  • During filming Russell Crowe became friends with Richard Harris. However, it was the opposite with Oliver Reed who took an instant dislike to Crowe and at one point challenged him to a fight.
  • Ricardo Cruz, horse stunt specialist, took the white horse Montero that Russell Crowe rode to The Texas Hollywood Studios, Tabanas, Almeria, Spain to be used as Captain Grisham’s horse in the TV series Queen of Swords for which he was the series horse stunt coordinator.
  • Though dozens of versions of the script were written, the original 130 page draft, dated October 1997 by David Franzoni, is “… different in almost every detail from the finished movie.” (As quoted by ‘David S. Cohen’ in his book ‘Screen Plays’.)
  • In an example of “translation convention” all characters in the movie speak modern languages: English for the most part but also Italian (Maximus’ son), German (the Barbarian chief before the battle) and even Zulu (the ancient Germanic war chant). Russell Crowe even wanted to go a step further and speak his lines imitating Antonio Banderas’ accent in order to show Maximus’ non-Italic origins, but Ridley Scott disapproved the idea.
  • The real Lucius Verus, who is portrayed as a young kid in the movie, was Marcus Aurelius’ adopted brother and died 8 years into his reign. Commodus’ selection as Caesar was made when he was 5 years old and coins were made with his likeness on it.
  • A small section of the background noise (about 5 seconds) just before the battle in Germania was taken from the movie Zulu. Heard was part of the Zulu warrior’s taunting chant also used just before battle.

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