The movie I have chosen for this assignment is Gladiator. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film follows the story and trials of Maximus, a former Roman general who is betrayed by the son of the dead emperor. Although loyal to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Maximus posed a threat to the emperor’s son, Commodus, as the emperor selects Maximus to be his successor rather than his own son. Maximus lead the armies of Rome to victory, and was looking forward to retiring to the country with his wife and his son. However, Marcus Aurelius informs him of his intent to name him as the successor until a republic could be formed. This news did not sit well with Commodus, who tried to kill Maximus and had his wife and child murdered. Maximus was sold into slavery, and forced to fight as a gladiator. Maximus makes it his purpose to win his freedom, and to avenge the wrongful death of his family. The only way he is able to gain his freedom is by becoming a successful gladiator. By doing this he also would end up in Rome, where Commodus had claimed the title of emperor after murdering his father, Marcus Aurelius. As this story unfolds, we are occasionally given glimpses of the past through flashbacks, although the overall narrative is a parallel style, as throughout the film, we see short segments of Maximus passing through a wheat field, including both the opening and the final scenes. This style moves the movie towards the climactic scene, in which Maximus is able to kill Commodus in a one on one fight. Maximus, through the entire film, is able to harness the anger he feels at the injustices he has suffered, and use it to motivate his successes in gladiator matches. His determination enables him to fight through obstacles, for example defeating warriors who are bigger and stronger than he is. His past gives the other gladiators something to rally behind, and he manages to organize them to help with his plan. Although the wounds sustained in combat with Commodus are grave, he triumphs in the end, as he defeats the man who took from him all he held dear and can now join his family in the afterlife.
The cinematographic elements of Gladiator make it a captivating movie to watch. Because the movie incorporates both action and fighting with deeper scenes of character development and dialogue, there are a wide variety of effects and techniques that come into play in the course of the film. In the battles and gladiator fights, the camera is very active, gathering a variety of angles and perspectives of what is going on. As a viewer, these scenes grab hold and refuse to let go. The camera work throughout the rest of the movie is more static, giving the viewer the opportunity to really pay attention to the conversations occurring and the development of the characters, in particular Maximus. There are many close up headshots of Maximus in the movie, almost placing the viewer in his head and feeling his thoughts. The soundtrack of the film compliments these cinematographic elements well, making the audience feel every emotion seen in Maximus’ eyes. The lighting in the movie gave it an additional brilliance on top of that from the music and camera work. Scenes such as Commodus’ return to Rome as emperor use low-key lighting to give an added sense of the magnitude of the event. In other scenes, such as the final battle between Commodus and Maximus, a combination of low-key and high-key lighting highlights the events as they unfold. The lighting patterns allow the audience to experience what it might have been like to live in ancient Rome, and also helps to elicit the desired emotional response to the events as they take place.
One scene that contains examples of all the elements mentioned above is the scene in which Commodus attempts to have Maximus killed in the ring by forcing him into combat with a much bigger gladiator, and using tigers to prevent Maximus from being able to maneuver. The first shot of the sequence is of the tunnel opening and Maximus entering the arena. The camera zooms to follow Maximus. This is followed by a brief close up of Maximus, and then a shot of the area and Maximus marching toward the center. Shots of spectators, senators, and finally Commodus and his sister follow, and in a short conversation, Commodus reveals that he has rigged the event so that Maximus should die. At this point in the scene, there is no overlayed music, which makes the viewer more fully connect with the spectators and tune into the crowd noise. Maximus refuses to face Commodus and salute him prior to the fight beginning. There is a close up shot of the ground as he thrusts his sword into the gravel and wipes his hands in it. As Maximus faces his opponent, we see the gates open and several groups of men come running out. Each group pulls a chain, opening a cage in the ground and releasing a tiger. Each tiger is restrained by the effort of the three men pulling the chain. Maximus’ opponent kicks sand in his face and engages him, trying to force him into danger from the cats. The camera work is rapid, switching from one combatant to the other, and to the cats. Occasionally we see Commodus or a spectator. One tiger manages to find some slack in his chain and pounces upon Maximus, who kills the tiger before again engaging the other gladiator. Maximus quickly gains an advantage over the older fighter, and brings him to his knees. The camera pans across the arena, as all spectators chant for Maximus to kill the other man. Commodus indicates that he also wishes for the man to die, but Maximus instead tosses his weapon to the ground. The emperor comes down to the arena floor to speak with Maximus. The camera cuts between the two of them, heightening the anticipation. Music also begins to play in the background. Commodus attempts to bait Maximus into attacking him so that his guards may kill Maximus, but Maximus keeps a level head and marches away. The lighting throughout this scene is high key. This elements in this scene establish Maximus’ complete dominance over his emotions, and his ability to remain rational under great pressure. His superior self-command to Commodus is clearly illustrated. It also shows his tactical skills and dominant fighting abilities. This scene does a good job of capturing the struggle of Maximus throughout the film, and also reveals a great deal about both his character and that of Commodus.