Sometimes, I Feel Like Watching Gladiator Three Times In A Week…
Seriously, Gladiator is one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s easily in my top 10 all time. (A list I’m currently trying to figure out with little progress) I love every frame of Ridley Scott’s brilliant work and as an aspiring screenwriter and storyteller, Gladiator is inspiring. How did this random rant come about? It all starts with a train.
Every day, I take a train to and from work for a little less than an hour each way. I spend a lot of that time writing blog posts and developing screenplays but the majority is spent watching various things. On average, I can usually get through a movie in three trips. It’s also nice to be able to crush an episode of television per trip. I can get through a 10 episode season in a week. This new commute started in October of 2015 and, as you can imagine, I’ve caught up on a TON of films and TV shows.
Unfortunately, I’m currently in a bit of a rut. A lull. A valley if you will. There is an infinite amount of content to consume out there but nothing I’m aching to see. So for the last few weeks, I went back to the well. First I blasted through every Quentin Tarantino movie, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix trilogy, Signs, Independence Day, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as well as Inception and Interstellar.
Then… Gladiator… I’m almost embarrassed it wasn’t the first film I loaded onto my iPad when Operation: Rerun began.
“What we do in life…
Echoes in eternity…”
That one quote began a journey that lasted nearly two weeks and included three viewings of one of my favorite movies of all time. I watched Gladiator on every train ride for 8 shifts and I’ve never appreciated the film more than I do right now.
I’m still blown away by Russell Crowe’s incredible performance as Maximus. He’s one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history. The villainous Commodus is just as brilliant with Joaquin Phoenix delivering something truly special.
When I finished my first viewing, I couldn’t help myself. I watched it again without skipping a moment because every scene features unforgettable moments. Gladiator is an amazing story. That first battle is absolutely gorgeous and establishes so many little details that carry through the film. The dirt between a General’s fingers. The wheat field. The idea of what awaits the characters in the afterlife.
These images and themes are all repeated throughout the film yet each moment feels new and unique. It’s a testament to Ridley Scott’s incredible eye as a director. I loved watching Gladiator as an exercise in restrained storytelling. You don’t need Maximus to say he wants revenge for the death of his wife and son. The imagery and the devastated look in his heart broken eyes convey that message. It sounds simple but those moments are not easily found when you are writing your own script. Recognizing when to step back and let an actor tell the story without saying a word is a skill. From that point, the journey is beautifully laid out:
The general who became a slave.
The slave who became a Gladiator.
The Gladiator who defied an emperor.
At its core this is a simple journey but its soul is infinitely complex. What I love is how well those complexities are conveyed. This film could have slowed down considerably in the second act if they felt compelled to truly delve deep into Roman politics. We are given just enough to understand what the mob is and what the sand in the coliseum represents.
Then Maximus comes to Rome. If I were to rank my favorite movie moments taking every film I’ve ever seen into account, My Name Is Maximus is easily top 5. If I ever make that list, it could very well be number one. It’s a perfect scene that follows up an equally flawless battle sequence.
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to murdered son, husband to a murdered wife and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
I’m not about to state that I can write a giant Hollywood blockbuster worthy of Academy Awards. If I could I would strive to be compared to David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson and their work here. THAT is phenomenal writing. If it wasn’t for the brilliant setup this could have come across as ‘on the nose’ or ‘too exposition-y’ (that’s a word now) but instead it sums up and elevates the story. It showcases the true power of a few well written sentences. It’s a statement, a threat and a proclamation all at once wonderfully encapsulated in the eyes of Commodus. A perfect cinematic moment. But that’s ONE moment. There are so many more.
Shadows and dust...
I finished my second viewing and smiled to myself on the crowded train home. I had to watch it again. I couldn’t help it. At that point, I was prepared to never watch another movie again!
Obviously that’s not true but that’s where my mindset was. It had been years since I last experienced all that Gladiator had to offer and I NEEDED to watch it again.
Every frame contains so much story and Scott delivers such a rich and wonderfully realized world. Gladiator is a beautiful movie to say the least with a unique look that can never be matched let alone surpassed.
As a professional editor by day, I’m in awe of the film’s perfect pacing. The way every scene builds to key moments mirroring the slow build of the entire tale. I could spend hours talking about the action sequences alone but it’s the subtlety character moments that make Gladiator unforgettable. I love the way Scott balances those two elements and that’s what makes Gladiator such an entertaining movie. Yes there is tremendous action but when things slow down you are captivated by the people who populate this world.
As it turns out, three viewings was enough to confidently move on to other films but my week with Gladiator was very special to me. I’m currently in the process of writing a new drama and this couldn’t have happened at a better time. Watching Gladiator gave me a greater sense of storytelling clarity in my own work. I felt inspired as the credits rolled a third time.
That’s what makes Gladiator one of my favorite movies of all time. My experience transcends the brilliant story and the incredible talent behind the camera. Gladiator is a reminder of why I love telling stories as a writer and an editor. It makes me want to be better at both. It gives me the courage to challenge myself. To learn. To improve. For that, I will forever be indebted to the people responsible for bringing this amazing film to life. I love Gladiator. I wish I could email Ridley Scott and apologize for waiting so long between viewings. Someday soon, the time will be right to immerse myself in this world and feel inspired all over again. I’m not sure when that will happen but I promise you this…
I will see you again Gladiator…
But not yet… Not yet…
Just kidding! Soon… Soon…