Let’s go back in time to the year 2001. You’re way over the Y2K scare of last year, and now that you know terminators are not coming to hunt you down and cut off your very human head, you’re sitting down at home, relaxing. You sit down and look at the Oscar nominees, and three of them are in Pay-Per-View, or maybe you go and rent them all from Blockbuster. You watch them all back to back and make your predictions. (Before you move on, give a few seconds of nostalgia to pay-per-view and blockbuster.)
One of my friends on Facebook recently noted how upset she was about Ridley Scott’s Gladiator winning Best Picture over Ang Lee’s beautiful masterpiece, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and another over Steven Soderbergh’s highly emotional drug war drama, Traffic. I went on the internet and asked around at work. I found out a lot of fans feel the same way and not just about it’s Best Picture win. So by request, I’m here to explain why Gladiator won not just Best Picture, but each Technical Oscar it won (Technical meaning not Best Actor. I’ll explain why not in a bit.)
I will not be arguing why CTHD didn’t win best picture, because it deserved it just as much as Gladiator did. I’ll just be arguing why Gladiator deserved the win it got as well in context of the year.
The Winning Nominations: By order of controversy
4. Best Visual Effects
3. Best Sound
2. Best Costume Design
1. Best Picture
“We’re finally going where we belong, Maximus. The Colosseum. Wait until you see it.”
The visual effects of Gladiator now are no big deal, but back in 2000 they were all the rage. Why? because this is the first film that showed us Rome’s Colosseum in all it’s grandeur. This had never been shown, looking as real as it did before this film. Not only that, but the city landscape shots you see in the film are entirely created with hard days of labor from the visual effects department. Although about half of the Colosseum was actually built, the visuals added and the landscape and outside were so revolutionary that after this, some films used green screen entirely to rebuild historical structures in film instead of building sets afterwards. This, however, is Gladiators least controversial Oscar win.
Best Sound Mixing/ Editing
“The Silence before you strike, and the noise after. It rises like a storm, as if you were the thunder god himself!”
Back in 2001, there was only one “Best Sound” nomination. now there is two. Mixing and Editing. While mixing is the manipulation of the overall sound of a film, editing is the making of new sounds. This is a more controversial nomination win for Gladiator because the sounds of metal hitting metal, screaming, skin splitting apart and bones cracking can also all be heard in Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Not to mention the sound of wind, snow, trees falling, and nature, with equal effect if not better. So what makes Gladiator better in this category? The sound of the crowd. This is something that made the film (I imagine.) extremely hard to mix. There are certain scenes in which characters are talking, and the crowd can be heard roaring in the background. It must have been a challenge knowing when it was crucial to hear that clashing metal and the silence of the crowd, and when to drown it out with the sound of the crowd, just as the line implies. And this was done masterfully.
Best Costume Design
“Slave, you will remove your helmet, and tell me your name!”
This category is more controversial still, due to the beauty of the costumes in CTHD. The colors and designs alone create beautiful shots. So why did Gladiator win best Costume design? It’s not because its costumes where better, but much more because of what they did. Specially to film historians. This has a lot to do with why it won best picture, so I will go into it in the next section. But why did it win? specially because up until this point, all costumes in films about ancient Rome and Gladiators looked more or less like this:
These are Spartacus and Ben-Hur, two classic films set in Ancient Rome. I couldn’t find much better.
Which leads me to:
Most people looking at Gladiator as “overrated” tend to not know what this film did. Ancient Rome flicks used to be so epic and huge in budget due to large sets and costumes, they were highly regarded as giants in the film industry. Gladiator revived an old film style, modernized it, and made it feel completely new again. This is hard for a film to do, specially in the 2000’s. Gladiator didn’t just captivate film buffs with it’s poetic and tragic plot, or the justice and revenge aspect of it. An epic story set in Ancient Rome had not been seen in film for arguably 30 years before that. It captured film viewers because they got to see Ancient Rome again, but they got to see it like never before and in a more realistic, grander way then ever before.
Films about ancient Rome were so set in their ways when it came to costume design, that the films gained the nickname of “Sword and Sandal films” and they still have that name until this day. However, Gladiator broke the regular way to show it. Adding different types of armor, leather, capes, furs, and colors to the mix it became apparent that this film was going for something different. Most characters are shown from the waist up and a lot more attention is paid to their armor and the furs and colors they wear in their scenes. This puts more focus on individual characters and personality which wasn’t the case before. Even when they are completely shown, they are shown in a more realistic and in better fashion. This takes a lot of attention from what people usually paid attention to had it been any other ancient Rome film. Skirts and Sandals.
The Lines Delivered:
Although the film did not win for best original screenplay, the way the characters spoke, were written, and what they spoke about was extremely new in this type of film. It showed characters as flawed and more realistic then what they had previously been. Take Maximus, for example. It is shown in the film that he often thinks of home and is eager to go back to it. He is tired of war but is an expert at it. He also might have had an affair with the emperors daughter, and for all we know, could have fathered the new emperor in line without knowing it (Or maybe he does.) although this is never literally expressed nor built upon in the film, through the dialogue, one can pick it up. If you watch the best films set in Ancient Rome, you can look for small subplots and hints like this. You will rarely find anything that’s not spoon fed to the audience. And this doesn’t just apply to Maximus, but to even smaller characters. Members of the Senate and Soldiers for example, speak politics and religion, different languages, and gossip. This shows how big Rome really is. Speaking of how big Rome really is:
In ancient Rome films, we are often told how big the Empire is as it extends countries, almost the size of a continent. We are rarely shown this grand empire as a whole. However, watching Gladiator again, when witnessing Maximus’ journey, look at the background and his surroundings. At the beginning of the film, we see Maximus in a field of battle. A frozen forest where the snow falls is called “The edge of Rome” We see him escape his captors, go home, through mountains and green fields when he falls unconscious. When he wakes up and is trained we see him being taken through the desert where he fights on dry lands. And finally, he is taken to the city of Rome which is shown in all it’s immensity. The size and ambition of the Roman Empire is shown in this film like in no other, as we’re taken from one place to the next and are shown 4 seasons. This is yet another thing that makes the film unique.
The final conclusion:
The reason this film was most definitely a strong contender for Best Picture was because it did something that hadn’t been done since the 60’s films like Ben-Hur, 10 Commandments and Spartacus. It made Ancient Rome films epic again. Because of this film, Ancient Rome and Greece finally started appearing in film again more often and it was thought of as another mainstream subject. This gave way for producers to give the green light to films that were thought of as “risky” like Troy, 300, Alexander, The Eagle, Centurion, among others. Not to mention TV shows like HBO’s Rome and Starz’ TV rendering of Spartacus.
Regardless of all this, the other nominees that year where all incredible films, Specially for me Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Erin Brockovich. However, I wouldn’t rely on the Oscars to tell me what films to watch, because they get way too political with what films they choose, and even more so with which films win. I’ll go into this more Wednesday. But tell me, so far….
Are you not entertained?
And remember, if you have any other films that you think are overrated, request an article on here, facebook, instagram, or the comments section. If I can’t explain it in one long sentence, You might have just given me some new material. Thanks for reading.