Contributor: Rick McGimpsey
The film Gladiator is one of those movies that while being very good it’s not quite as good as everyone says. Its praise overlooked serious flaws and its accolades were mostly undeserved.
Does that mean I disliked the film. Not at all. I liked it very much. The story was compelling and Ridley Scott’s use of atmosphere and mood was effective.
But what was missing was a sense of humanity and originality in character development. The emotions that the characters showed seemed real enough when actually portrayed, but they were portrayed infrequently. Most of the time Maximus and Commodus came across as card-board cut-outs of the Tragic Hero and Immoral Villain.
I felt that Ridley Scott tried too much to give us atmosphere and neglected the most important element, his characters. All emotion and feeling is displayed through Ridley Scott’s admittedly brilliant use of colour, visual tone, and music. Unfortunately, the colour, visual tone, and music seems to serve as a replacement for the actors need to emote and convince the audience that they are human beings who actually give a damn about their predicaments.
Perhaps I am missing something. It is possible that Scott was intentionally trying to alienate his characters’ from emotinal connections. Perhaps in a way similar to the heroes and villains in the classic epics like Iliad, Odyssey, or Aeneid where figures were portrayed as bigger than life and made more speeches and less emotional connections. However, I am sceptical that this is what was Scott intended since he often did try to make his heroes and villains emote and connect in key scenes where it is asked for. But most of the time it’s missing and I felt that Maximus and Commodus served just as archetypes with no human connection at all.
That being said, the film has merits. Lots of them in fact. For as I pointed out earlier, Ridley Scott’s ability to evoke mood and atmosphere through his visual style is spot on. I liked the overall story as well. I know historically the film made many liberties with the actual events surrounding Commodus reign and eventual death, but as a work of art the film was effective and beautiful. And the film’s score by Hans Zimmer was beautiful and emotional.
So overall I call Gladiator a great film but lacking in emotional depth at moments where it was needed. Definitely a masterpiece, but probably not deserving of its Best Picture Oscar.