Gladiator – 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

Gladiator Theatrical Poster

Historical epics have been a staple in Hollywood since the very beginning. Within the last 30 years, there’s been a resurgence of this genre thanks to the Holy Trinity of epics: Braveheart, Gladiator, and The Last Samurai. But Gladiator is the one film that people either hate or love—despite winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Although the haters have some valid points, Gladiator is still a classic.

Primarily because David Franzoni’s tale of revenge is an impressive piece of character development. Maximus’ journey is compelling from its thrilling beginning to its bittersweet end. If you really think about it, a character that is broken down to his lowest point only to rise up and defy tyranny is a beautiful story. It’s the kind of story that’ll inspire others to do the same—no matter what social class you’re in. But as haters point out, the story is somewhat similar to its “cousin,” Spartacus. While that may be true in some aspect, the story is its own thing.

But the real reason why people love Gladiator so much is that of its grand visuals, charismatic characters, gladiatorial action. From the costume design to the Roman scenery, everything just feels like the spectacles of old. It truly feels like you’re in this world and immersed in all of its splendor. Not to mention, the characters the fill up this world. Each character has a lot of layers to them. Yes, even the bratty Commodus has a lot of layers to him.

Although Commodus is the main reason why haters dislike the film, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s still a complex character. There’s a valid reason that he’s a brat. He’s such a good manipulator that he always gets his way. Thus, if he doesn’t get his way, he acts like a brat. Yet this is why he’s such a great villain. He’s the type of villain that you just love to hate.

Much of this is due to the talent of Joaquin Phoenix. His bratty facial expressions and juvenile petulance are because of his acting ability. There are little nuances to his portrayal if you look closer at his performance. Not to mention, there’s also a confidence in his performance that you can see as well. Joaquin Phoenix isn’t the only bright spot in the film because the entire cast of Gladiator is truly amazing. Chief among them is Russell Crowe, who astonishes as Maximus. In his breakout role, Crowe has the gravitas to command the screen. Yet he’s broken down enough so you can see a tender side to his character too. He isn’t like your stereotypical hard-nosed soldier. It’s because of his vulnerability that you attach yourself to him.

Djimon Hounsou also brings it as Maximus’ close friend, Juba. His friendly demeanor and attitude is the main reason as to why we love his character so much. He’s a friendly face in a vicious and violent world. Connie Nielsen also brings the strong woman aspect to the film as well. Much like her character in Wonder Woman, she is a strong royal presence in the film. Much like Crowe, she’s unafraid of showing a tender side to her as well. After all, Commodus continually frightens her with his incestual advances.

Overall, Gladiator is one of Ridley Scott’s best films. It’s a beautiful film about one man’s ascension from the proverbial ashes. As Drake once famously said, “started from the bottom, now we here.” There’s no better description than that when it comes to Maximus. It truly is a classic that deserves to be a part of the “Holy Trinity” of historical epics.

Movie Rating: 5/5 atoms

Gladiator - Russell Crowe

Gladiator hits 4K Ultra HD with a Dolby Vision/HDR10 4K transfer and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For a film that’s 18 years old, it looks phenomenal in Ultra HD. Considering the much of the source material is in 4K, this isn’t that surprising. There is some noticeable grain in parts but it adds to the grittiness of certain scenes. But the biggest surprise is how clear the 4K transfer is. It’s as if you’re watching the film for the first time. Every single detail is crisp and clear. Unfortunately, the downside is that the CGI is now more apparent than ever. Certain CG scenes have not aged very well.

Also, keep in mind that the HDR won’t dramatically change the look of the film. The film’s color palette is very limited with only a splash of vibrant colors here and there. However, the colors that do show up pop from the screen. In addition, the black levels are inky without a hint of crush in the shadow detail. Scenes involving a torch lighting a dark scene, the illumination from the torch is nice and bright. Needless to say, the brightness also pops from the screen as well. Overall, for an 18-year-old film, the video looks like a different beast altogether. It’s quite impressive what Paramount has done to improve the quality of its classic films.

Video Rating: 5/5 atoms

Gladiator - Connie Nielsen and Joaquin Phoenix

Gladiator hits 4K Ultra HD with a DTS:X and a core 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The review will reflect Gladiator‘s core 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. For over a decade, I have used Gladiator as a reference disc for my surround system. Still, to this day, I use the Germania scene as a reference for my sound system. I’m happy to report that this won’t change with the new 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Thankfully, this new mix keeps the aggressiveness of the original mix intact. The level of immersion is unlike no other. The speaker pans from all over during various key scenes. Even the whiffs of weapon swings will pan across the soundstage.

Not to mention, Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard’s legendary score envelopes the soundstage perfectly. Thus, you can hear the bombastic sound effects alongside the score in perfect harmony. Now, there were times where these immersive scenes can drown out the dialogue from the center speaker. Thankfully, none of the dialogue is of great importance to the overall storyline. Needless to say, the subwoofer will also get tons of work as well. Unlike other mixes where the subwoofer makes its presence known, the LFE track complements the soundtrack. Thus, giving more heft to the overall presentation. Overall, this is (still) a fun and exciting audio presentation that deserves to be played really loud.

Audio Rating: 5/5 atoms

Special Features
Gladiator - Russell Crowe

Gladiator‘s 4K Ultra HD disc has two audio commentaries from the DVD release. In addition, you can find the following legacy special features on the release:

  • The Scrolls of Knowledge
  • Visions from Elysium: Topic Portal
  • Strength and Honor: Creating the World of Gladiator
  • Image and Design
    • Production Design Primer: Arthur Max
    • Storyboarding
    • Storyboard Archive
    • Costume Design Gallery
    • Photo Galleries
    • Weapons Primer: Simon Atherton
  • Abandoned Sequences and Deleted Scenes
  • The Aurelian Archives
    • The Making of Gladiator
    • Gladiator Games: The Roman Bloodsport
    • Hans Zimmer: Scoring Gladiator
    • An Evening with Russell Crowe
    • Maximus Uncut: Between Takes with Russell Crowe
    • My Gladiator Journal by Spencer Treat Clark
    • VFX Explorations: Germania and Rome
    • Trailers
    • TV Spots

As it was with Paramount’s other Ultra HD classic releases, the special features primarily come from the film’s DVD release. Thus, most of these special features are in still in standard definition instead of high definition. Regardless, there is a substantial amount of special features to go through. If you’re the type of person who wants to know the entire story about the making of a film then “Strength and Honor” is definitely for you. The series is a massively in-depth look into the making of the film from beginning to end. Not to mention, it covers a lot of different subjects coming from the mouths of those who were a part of the film.

The Aurelian Archives is another series of featurettes that is very dated. Each featurette is put together not as elegantly as “Strength and Honor” was. It clearly is a product of its time. The abandoned sequences and deleted scenes section aren’t what you might expect either. Two of the alternate sequences wasn’t shot at all. Instead what you get is a series of storyboard images set to the Hans Zimmer’s score. Another is a montage of scenes from the film set to Hans Zimmer’s score. Finally, there’s only one deleted scene in this mix. Image and design are nice if you’re okay with viewing a lot of image galleries. Though, some of the pieces in this section are just repeated from “Strength and Honor.”

Easily the best special feature is the “Scrolls of Knowledge” interactive option. This was the best feature on the Blu-ray and it’s still the best one here. When you select this, you’ll be able to see three on-screen windows as you watch the film. One has a series of video “pods” or featurettes that you can choose to watch at any time. There are a good forty or fifty of them in all, each offering additional behind-the-scenes footage and information. The second window gives onscreen text with background information and other trivia. The third window leads you to the other major interactive option here, the “Visions of Elysium: Topic Portal.”

As you watch the film, a list of topics will appear in the third window. Each topic you select will be put in a buildable list that your player will remember. Then when you put Disc Two into your player, that list will come up again. In this portal, you’ll be able to select a “Play All” option for the custom documentary full of topics that you selected.

Special Features Rating: 3/5 atoms

Overall, Gladiator is a historical epic that has amazing visuals and action. But what makes the film so special is all of the relatable characters that we’ve come to know and love. It’s definitely a modern day classic. The video and audio presentation are both excellent with the audio being reference quality. The special features are all dated but there is a lot of in-depth stuff to go through if you’ve never seen any of the featurettes.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

This Blu-ray was reviewed using a retail/advance copy/unit provided by Paramount Home Entertainment.

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