MOTW: Sic Semper Illuminatus: Five Fun Facts about "Gladiator"

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Maximus is a powerful Roman general, loved by the people and the aging Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Before his death, the Emperor chooses Maximus to be his heir over his own son, Commodus, and a power struggle leaves Maximus and his family condemned to death. The powerful general is unable to save his family, and his loss of will allows him to get captured and put into the Gladiator games until he dies. The only desire that fuels him now is the chance to rise to the top so that he will be able to look into the eyes of the man who will feel his revenge.
Photo Credit: DreamWorks Distribution
February 26th, 2013

Sic Semper Illuminatus: Five Fun Facts about "Gladiator"

"Gladiator," which was released in 2000, is director Ridley Scott's epic blockbuster set in the Roman Empire. While the film lays claim to being based on a true story, it would perhaps be fairer to say that it is inspired by events and characters who do an even better job of keeping an audience entertained when they've been heavily rewritten.

"Gladiator" won over the critics and earned several awards. Audiences reacted well to the film, and it did very well at the box office. Russell Crowe was vaulted firmly into Hollywood's A-list on the strength of his success with "Gladiator," and the movie has enjoyed respectable DVD and other home viewing sales ever since its release.

The release of "Gladiator" led to a resurgent interest in all things Roman and in the genre of historical fiction. The film made quite an impact on the American public, and it remains a perennial favorite worldwide. Here are five facts about the film that should be fun to keep in mind through repeated viewings:

1. Senator Gracchus, the prominent Roman senator who conspires with Maximus against the evil emperor Commodus, was played by veteran actor Derek Jacobi. Jacobi was no stranger to the toga, having previously delivered an outstanding performance as Claudius in the television epic "I, Claudius."

2. At one point during the movie, Commodus sends a legion to burn Maximus' villa and slay his entire household. During the scene in which Maximus' villa is shown being burned to the ground, a little boy, observing the action, points in the direction of the soldiers and loudly exclaims: "Mama! I soldati!" He's a cute kid, and he delivers his one line with a great deal of intensity, but the line is in his native Italian, not the Latin his character would have spoken. 

3. At the climax of the film, Maximus finally slakes his thirst for revenge by facing down the emperor himself in the arena. Effect after effect piles up, and the audience is left gasping for breath. Crowe himself was left gasping for breath during the scene, as at the end of the final fight, while his character Maximus lies dying in the dirt, the armor he was wearing bent Crowe's body around so that his head was held up at an unnatural angle. This strained his neck so badly that he couldn't go on until the crew had piled at least three inches of sand under his head as a brace.

4. Every one of the movie's sets, props, and costumes had to be manufactured by hand by crew members. The unreasonably high cost of these props, combined with their general unavailability on the market, made building from scratch over a period of six weeks a more economical solution. During preproduction, these hardworking artisans crafted over 100 suits of steel armor and at least 550 suits made from polyurethane. The work was done by Armordillo, a specialty company run by Rod Vass. The sprayed-polyurethane method for producing items of this kind was developed by Armordillo especially for "Gladiator." Over the course of an additional three-month period, no fewer than 27,500 component pieces of armor were crafted by hand.

5. One of the most heart-stopping action sequences in "Gladiator" is the one in which Maximus enters the arena to face the legendary fighter Tigris. The fight is long and brutal, and it ends with the fabled thumbs-down gesture-which historians of Rome say was never actually used-indicating that Tigris must die. During this arresting scene, a careful look at the audience is in order. There, in the first row, one of the spectators looks to be a young woman with her hair tied up in a long ponytail. Unfortunately, she is wearing a scrunchie in her hair, a watch on her wrist and a cutoff white t-shirt that thankfully doesn't display the logos of any modern corporations on it.

"Gladiator" is a lot of fun to watch. As with any film so widely enjoyed, it can be even more fun to dig in behind the scenes to get a look at what was going on in the background. Every movie has little secrets of its own, and this is never truer than in the case of a major blockbuster such as "Gladiator." Peeling back the curtain to see these details doesn't rob a movie of its magic; on the contrary, a richer depth of understanding of a film can make it all the more rewarding to watch it again and again over the years.

 
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