Gladiator is Hollywood’s first major “epic” since Spartacus and Ben Hur 40 years ago. It reflects the search for a fresh genre and uses Ancient Rome to develop cinema’s classic theme of good versus evil and Hollywood’s love of democracy versus tyranny. The film’s appearance has been heralded as a return to the production of historical epics to develop traditional moral and political messages.
The director Ridley Scott said: “Our story suggests that, should a hero arise out of the carnage of the arena, his popularity would give him the tremendous power he might threaten an absolute tyrant.” This concept, as well as the strong theme pursuing the afterlife, no doubt reflects the background of the screenwriters and producers. Apart from being written by John Logan, David Franzoni (Amistad) and William Nicholson (Shadowlands), the presence of Branko Lustig as co-producer was also influential in the film’s message.
Though typical of many blockbusters in terms of its budget (over $100m), violence (at times graphic) and length (150 minutes), Gladiator’s core values run against the norm. The emphasis on the family and the spiritual realm is persistent and bears out coproducer’s comment that “Maximus is the very soul of the movie”. Here is a hero who has direction and motivation, as well as a clear purpose to his life. As Maximus says: “When the face of death smiles at you, all you can do is smile back.”
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