Gladiator - 4K Ultra HD Blu-rayOverview -
Ridley Scott's sword-n-sandal revenge epic returns to home video with a new 4K scan of the film, Dolby Vision & HDR10 high dynamic range, a thundering DTS:X hemispherical surround mix, and all the bonus features from the previous Blu-ray. The all-star cast led by Russel Crowe, the striking visuals, and Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard's iconic music have never looked or sounded better. Sure, we have a few nitpicks about the video and audio presentations, objectively speaking, but anyone who owns a large 4K TV and loves Gladiator should definitely pick this up. Highly Recommended.
Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) takes power and strips rank from Maximus (Russell Crowe), one of the favored generals of his predecessor and father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the great stoical philosopher. Maximus is then relegated to fighting to the death in the gladiator arenas.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
A General who became a Slave.
A Slave who became a Gladiator.
A Gladiator who defied an Empire.
Russel Crowe stars in Gladiator as Roman General, Maximus Decimus Meridius, a brave and valiant man who leads his armies to defeat the savage Germanic tribes of 180 A.D. With this victory in hand, the war is over. Rome has conquered the world and Maximus can go home to his wife and son, but Emperor Marcus Aurelius needs Maximus for one more mission:
Run Rome as (temporary) Emperor when Marcus Aurelius dies and transfer the power back to the people.
Maximus declines, which is exactly why Marcus Aurelius wants Maximus to lead. Before Maximus can change his mind, the Emperor's cowardly, narcissistic son, Commodus, murders his father in a jealous rage and assumes the throne. And, when Maximus suspects foul play and refuses to pledge allegiance to the new Emperor, Commodus sentences Maximus to death.
Maximus escapes his execution, but is unable to save his wife and son. Exhausted, broken-hearted, and delirious from an infected wound, Maximus soon finds himself as a slave who must fight for each day of his life in rural gladiator games. He seems ready to give up. Ready to die. Until he learns that the most popular and successful gladiators will get a chance to meet the Emperor himself.
My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius,
Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions,
loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius.
Father to a murdered son.
Husband to a murdered wife.
And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.
Written by David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson, and directed by Ridley Scott, Gladiator is a touchstone movie for me. I was still in college during its theatrical release and, that year, my theater and cinema studies took me from Allentown to Los Angeles and London. In each city, over three semesters, Gladiator was with me, unspooling on screens large and small.
At the time, my professors hated the movie for its box office and award season successes, but for me, it was a genuinely emotional experience and an eye-opening gateway into the historical epic film genre. From Gladiator, I sought out Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur and Spartacus and The Ten Commandments and Patton and anything else I could see in large formats like 70mm and VistaVision and Cinemascope. It was a revelation about the power of cinema and visual storytelling in their purest, grandest forms, especially when experienced on a proper screen.
Like the best entries of the genre, Gladiator manages to tell an intimate, personal, character-driven journey on the largest canvas possible. Lesser examples, many of those greenlit in the wake of Gladiator, make the mistake of focusing primarily on visuals and battles, where the only emotional stakes are hordes of CGI extras. Gladiator opens with its grandest set-piece and slowly whittles its way down until we are left only with a hero and villain fighting for their lives with one small blade. The story is simple, yet relatable; we've all had a Commodus in our life -- the school bully, the vindictive boss, the corrupt politician -- so we can't wait to see him get what's coming to him. And, alongside revenge fantasy catharsis, we joyfully dine on lavish production designs, glorious desert vistas, thrilling set-pieces, and an international cast of impeccably drawn side characters. Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, Tommy Flanagan, and Richard Harris -- are you kidding me? It's classic Hollywood filmmaking in all the best ways.
In revisiting the film for this review, I was also struck by how grounded the film's production seems compared to current blockbuster filmmaking. Epics like Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge on the River Kwai are all the more thrilling because they use practical sets and special effects. Gladiator certainly utilizes visual effects to expand its universe, but compared to 2018 studio films, Gladiator feels more tangible and tactile save for wider establishing shots and moments where it was unsafe to pair actors and animals. This, in and of itself, is fascinating because these computer-generated images and composites were produced long before anything could be rendered in 4K resolution.
Personal, riveting, and thrilling, I love Gladiator for its characters and production design and, of course, the expertly executed action sequences that drop modern pacing and sound design into one of cinema's oldest genres. If Stephen Spielberg and team redefined the war picture in 1998 with Saving Private Ryan, Ridley Scott and team certainly performed similar magic for historical epics.
For another look at Gladiator as a film, be sure to revisit David Krauss' lovely review of the original Blu-ray HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Gladiator escapes onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as part of a three-disc combo pack that includes one Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, two Blu-ray discs, and instructions to redeem the film's digital copy via UltraViolet OR iTunes. As we write this review, Gladiator does not appear to be available to stream in 4K, but this may change after the release date. The Blu-rays appear to be identical pressings of the previous (corrected) Sapphire Series release.
5/15/18: UPDATE: As of release date, the code unlocks a 4K digital copy. Vudu is offering the movie in HDR10 while iTunes boasts Dolby Vision HDR grading; neither service includes Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, which is a shame.
Gladiator fights its way onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a splendid, filmmic 2160p HEVC encode that's framed in the film's original 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio and is presented with Dolby Vision and HDR10 High Dynamic Range. Created from a new 4K scan of the film (Paramount was unclear about which specific elements), Gladiator has never looked better, but we do have a few nitpicks that are mostly due to the film's source materials. Still, our issues are minor so fans and 4K enthusiasts should be delighted.
Gladiator has always been a visual stunner, but many may recall that Paramount botched its first Blu-ray release, which was recalled and replaced. I'm happy to report this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray suffers from no obvious digital tinkering like noise reduction or edge enhancement. The image itself is quite filmmic, with each scene and location rendering an appreciable amount of natural film grain. The grittier opening sequences and night-set scenes are the grainiest, of course, but the film looks as close to the original theatrical run as I can recall. Detail takes a noticeable step upwards compared to previous home video releases, especially during close-ups of the actors, weapons, and costumes. These are details we haven't seen in almost 20 years.
While the application of HDR hasn't changed the look of things dramatically, there are a few improvements in terms of shadow and highlight details as well as boosted colors in any sequences that feature primary colors. Deeper crimson colors of blood and costumes pop alongside blue skies and green fields. Effectively, where DVD and Blu-ray limited dynamic range, and color gamut, this 4K Ultra HD presentation brings us closer to the original photochemical experience. On the downside, while less glaring than say the computer-generated guitar-flames in Mad Max Fury Road, this new scan and HDR application do make it easier to see the outlines of specific VFX composites. However, this is no different than, say, The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray revealing on-set wires and painted soundstage backdrops. In other words, it's kinda charming.
Speaking of nitpicks, they are all minor, but worth mentioning as High-Def Digest seeks to judge this portion of our reviews as objectively as humanly possible. If you study the film's black levels, they fall just shy of super inky, especially during night sequences. That said, they do look filmmic and natural. Next, I noted a few instances of dirt and debris sprinkled throughout the film's runtime; thankfully, it's a blink-and-you-miss-it issue that shouldn't really bother folks. There are also a few soft shots, most likely due to the original photography. And, lastly, the source materials don't always display an appreciable amount of dynamic range. Specifically, during interior shots lit by flames, the flames themselves are often overexposed. (For context, with newer digital cameras and HDR applied, you could actually shoot the same scene and see both the actors and more flame detail. Of course, I would also argue that film does other things digital sensors cannot, but that's a much longer discussion.)
Despite a few flaws, Gladiator looks sharper and more colorful and more film-like than it has since the start of this century. I offer a hearty well done to all involved.
From cinemas to DVD to Blu-ray, Gladiator has always been a 5.1 auditory delight. Remixed by the original sound designers, this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray boasts a new DTS:X hemispherical surround mix that elevates, both figuratively and literally, the film's impact and immersion.
To be clear, it doesn't quite have the articulation of the very best DTS:X and Dolby Atmos mixes -- I would have liked a touch more overhead object placement and definition -- but other than comparing it to the best-of-the-best, this is a bombastic mix that deserves to be enjoyed as loud as you can.
The Gladiator sound team perfectly balances dialog, effects, and Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard's heavenly score elements. You can always hear every line of dialog, clashing sword, or musical flourish no matter how intimate or epic the setting. It's also one of the first sword-n-sandal genre movies to have gotten a full, modern (for the time) surround mix, which makes the opening battle sequence and multiple arena fights sound more like Saving Private Ryan than the historical dramas of yesteryear. There is a very clear reason why Gladiator won Best Sound Mixing at the Academy Awards.
It's an evocative, aural fever dream and one of my favorites of the surround era, and now it sounds even better!
Taking everything we loved about the 5.1 track, the DTS:X mix (which will play in DTS-HD MA for those lacking X capabilities) quite literally elevates everything. As I said above, it doesn't quite have the overhead articulation of a DTS:X mix like a Crimson Peak, so it doesn't provide a perfect audio-dome sensation, but the whole mix sounds TALLER. To put it another way, if you have satellite or bookshelf speakers at your ear levels, this mix sounds more like you're sitting in a room of giant towers. Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard music rises and envelopes. Rooms echo more convincingly. And flying weaponry and pans from side-to-side, forward-to-back, and all around us. It's a revision that honors its original, aggressive mix, while lifting it into a more modern era.
Much like the video team, everyone involved deserves a pat on the back.
After a Paramount logo, the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray opens on a Menu where you select between the Theatrical and Extended Editions of the movie. The Theatrical Edition includes and optional Commentary by director Ridley Scott, editor Pietro Scalia and cinematographer John Mathieson. The Extended Edition gives viewers access to a DVD-era introduction from Ridley Scott as well as a Commentary by Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe.
All other Bonus Features can be found on the two standard Blu-rays and were reviewed HERE.
Gladiator remains an exhilarating example of epic storytelling grounded in a very personal narrative. Touching on themes of revenge and loss and friendship and political corruption, the movie is as captivating to me as it was in May of 2000.
Though its Blu-ray release history proved controversial, I'm elated to say Gladiator has never looked or sounded better. This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray boasts the film's defining home video presentation, thanks to a 4K scan of the original materials and Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range. It's not perfect, but it's one of the best catalog titles the format has ever seen. Plus, you get a roaring DTS:X sound mix that demands to be played as loud as you can manage.
If you're a 4K enthusiast with DTS:X capabilities AND a Gladiator fan, RUN-don't-walk to snag this one. Highly Recommended.
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