***/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A+
starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Richard Harris
screenplay by David Franzoni and John Logan and William Nicholson
directed by Ridley Scott
by Bill Chambers
"Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?"
-Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves), Airplane!
Ridley Scott's Gladiator is good now. I suppose it was always good, if money and Oscars are indicators of quality, but for me, it was a late bloomer whose virtues have seemingly become more visible since the tide of its success receded. I remember Roger Ebert's review of the film, which he called "Rocky on downers," as one I felt a kinship with. In print and on television, he was especially dismayed by the "shabby" computer-generated Colosseum. The year before, George Lucas had set The Phantom Menace against digital cityscapes, but Gladiator marked one of the first times CGI was used extensively in a non-fantastical setting. (Harping on the Colosseum is a compliment, really, as in all likelihood it means the other products of the mainframe--the flaming arrows, the crowds, the patchwork performance of Oliver Reed--didn't draw attention to themselves.) In a currently-offline article published in 2001, I wrote that "Gladiator provokes meatier discussion as the computer age's first fully dehumanized non-sci-fi film: the late Oliver Reed became a mere mediator for his technologically aided performance, the stony streets of Rome bear an anachronistic (and soulless) patina, and Maximus is the most passive bloodlust-er Hollywood has ever seen, a video game hero on the fritz." Some context: that was me trying to hex Gladiator's chances at the Academy Awards. Needless to say, it didn't work.