The third disc format may be the charm for Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, finally looking and sounding better than ever with minimal digital manipulation on 4K UHD Blu-ray.
The Production: 4/5
Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Russell Crowe), Ridley Scott’s Gladiator tells the epic story of a Roman General Maximus, who has been chosen by Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), after a triumphant battle finally defeating Germania, to take the throne over the rightful heir Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) for the betterment of the Empire. Marcus knows that his son is not fit to rule, but Commodus expects to be named the successor, and in a fit of jealousy and rage, kills his father and frames Maximus, sentenced for execution along with his family. Maximus escapes badly wounded, unable to reach his family in time to save them, and is sold into slavery to become a Gladiator for Proximo (Oliver Reed). In an attempt to be embraced by the public, Commodus reopens the Coliseum to Gladiatorial battles to the death in honor of his late father, even though it was Marcus who outlawed the games and freed many of the Gladiators, including Proximo. When Proximo learns of the new games as a way to become more profitable from his slave warriors, he brings them to Rome, not knowing (until much later) that Maximus was a former General ordered for execution by the new Emperor. Much to everyone’s surprise, Maximus becomes something of a hero to the crowds, proving more popular than Commodus, which does not go over well with the Emperor. While Commodus plots to have Maximus die in the ring, Maximus plots his escape with Senator Gracchus (Derek Jacobi) and Commodus’ sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), whom he had an earlier love affair with, and eventually overthrow Commodus and return Rome to the public.
Ridley Scott has directed many epic historical dramas, getting his start with 1977’s The Duelists, continuing with 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, and Exodus: Gods and Kings, his most successful (both critically and commercially) being Gladiator. Russell Crowe quite deservedly won Best Actor for his portrayal as Maximus, a man stripped of everything but still manages to come out on top, victorious even in death. Oliver Reed gives perhaps his best (and final) performance as Proximo, a conflicted man profiting from the very same exploitation that held him back as a much younger man. The action sequences are quite brutal (even more so in the Extended version), but what really dates the film technologically are the now antiquated digital mattes that are now even more evident in this higher resolution transfer.
3D Rating: NA
The previous Paramount Sapphire Series Blu-ray release (included in this set) had some major issues with edge enhancement and DNR, a highly digitally manipulated transfer that looked more like video than film. I’m happy to report that this new 4K 2160p transfer, which includes both Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range, is very film-like in its appearance. At first glance, one may think the UHD version’s colors are muted when compared to the previous Blu-ray, and technically that is true, but I firmly believe that the Blu-ray’s colors are artificially heightened while the UHD is closer to the original 35mm film prints. Fine detail is vastly improved, with more noticeable textures in fabrics, stone floors and walls, and facial expressions and features. Contrast is a major leap above the Blu-ray too, with deeper blacks retaining shadow details (that were often lost in the previous transfer) and bright whites that never bloom. The cuts between the Extended and Theatrical versions are also now fairly seamless. The only unfortunate thing about this new transfer is, because of the added clarity and higher resolution, many of the now-dated CGI effects are much more obvious, due more to the source material than the transfer itself.
Gladiator receives an upgraded DTS: X track that is much more expansive than the DTS-HD Master Audio track found on the Blu-ray. Many may forget, but the original DVD release of the film included an exceptional DTS: ES 6.1 surround track, so it is nice the see this upgrade that includes not only additional rear surround channels, but heights as well. I’m not going to say there are any discrete and obvious uses of the height speakers, but objects are more precisely placed within the environment and the track provides a much more immersive experience with improved LFE as well, while dialogue remains clear throughout. Also included is an immersive DTS Headphone: X stereo track that provides a fairly good simulated surround presence when using a quality pair of headphones.
Special Features: 4.5/5
The UHD disc contains both the Theatrical and Extended cuts of the film, plus audio commentaries and Ridley Scott’s introduction. All of the other special features (which are quite exhaustive) can be found on the Blu-ray discs.
Audio Commentary with director Ridley Scott, editor Pietro Scalia, and cinematographer John Matthieson: This is the commentary track featured on the original DVD release from 2000, and can be selected from the Audio Settings menu on the UHD disc after selecting the Theatrical Edition of the film.
Audio Commentary with director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe: This is the commentary track that appeared on the 3-disc DVD re-release in 2005, and can be selected from the Audio Settings menu on the UHD disc after selecting the Extended Edition of the film.
Introduction to the Extended Edition by Ridley Scott (upscaled 2160p; 0:31): Scott gives a half-hearted intro to the extended edition, with scenes “that might be worth seeing.”
The Scrolls of Knowledge: A subtitle and PIP trivia track available on both versions of the film on Blu-ray Disc One.
Visions from Elysium: Topic Portal (480i): Eleven pages of brief video clips covering the entire spectrum of the movie Gladiator. Some of this is duplicated in the featurettes and categories listed below.
Strength and Honor: Creating the World of Gladiator (480i; 3:16:50): Charles de Lauzirika’s documentary on the making of the film.
Image and Design: A look at the Production Design, Storyboarding, Costume Design, and Weapons Primer thru the use of still galleries and interviews.
Abandoned Sequences and Deleted Scenes (480i): Alternate Title Design, Blood Vision, Rhino Fight, Choose Your Weapon, and Treasure Chest.
The Aurelian Archives: Many of the Extras ported from the original 2000 DVD release. The Making of Gladiator (480i; 25:03), Gladiator Games: The Roman Bloodsport (480i; 50:04); Hans Zimmer: Scoring Gladiator (480i; 20:42), An Evening with Russell Crowe (480i; 27:15), Maximus Uncut: Between Takes with Russell Crowe (480i; 8:00), My Gladiator Journal by Spencer Treat Clark text slide show (1080p), VFX Explorations: Germania & Rome (480i; 23:50), Theatrical Teaser (1080p; 1:15), Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 1:35), and TV Spots (480i; 8:55).
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem digital copies thru UltraViolet and iTunes.
Gladiator finally arrives on home video looking and sounding better than ever, porting over all of the special features from previous releases.