Film Review: Gladiator is One of those Historical, Epic Films that you Never Forget
The Gladiator movie is a historical movie about the ancient Roman Gladiator games. The movie received good reviews from consumers and movie review companies but just how accurate was it to the actual Gladiator games? A few things that are talked about are Marcus Aralias, how gladiators became gladiators, how fighters intimidated each other, the weapons used, the audience’s participation in the games, how gladiators became powerful, how Maximus isn’t real, and how Commodus went crazy.
To start, one thing the movie got right about the history of Rome is how Marcus Aurelius dies and his son, Commodus, takes over. However, one thing that was added to the movie that didn’t happen in real life was that Commodus did not kill Marcus Aralias (his father). Another thing that Hollywood got right is how most of the gladiators became gladiators, and that’s by being criminals or slaves. If you were an especially violent criminal such as Maximus you would become a gladiator. Also, slaves that were tougher and more violence could also be gladiators. Another way to become a gladiator was to lose a battle to Rome. Some of the gladiators in the movie were just residents of countries or civilizations that were overthrown by Rome. However, in Literature and Culture by Patricia San Jose Rico and Leonor Perez Ruiz, the authors state that some of the gladiators were free men that volunteered to fight in the games. In the movie, only slaves and criminals fought in the games.
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Another thing that the movie got right is how gladiators would be known by a way they intimidated their opponent. In Gladiator: The Roman’s Fighting Manual by Phillip Matyszak, the author says, “Some people just have to be top dog, and this is how every good gladiator see them self.” You could tell this is how the retired gladiator that Maximus has to go against sees himself. The retired gladiator says, “Thee who is about to die, we salute you,” which shows that he is very confident in himself.
Yet again, another right thing that the movie got right compared to real life is the weapons they used in battle. In Gladiator: The Roman’s Fighting Manuel, Matyszak says, “If you don’t remember to use your shield as an offensive weapon, you won’t make it to retirement.” This proves that they utilized their shields the best they could like in The Gladiator. The way Maximus defeated (or technically, knocked down) the retired gladiator was by reaching for his shield, which was knocked out of his hand, and lunging it towards his throat. Also, a lot of times during the fight scenes in the movie the first blow in fights was from a shield being used offensively. In some of the war scenes of the movie bow and arrows were also used. This is historically accurate because in The Hoard of Roman Republican Weapons from Grad near Smihel by Jana Horvat there is pictures of arrowheads found in Rome. Also, this source tells about the build of the arrows and the movie has a very close to the accurate representation of the arrows. The source describes the build of the arrow as, “A narrow stick-like weapon, called a pilum, with a sharp metal leaf-shaped head.” The swords are another thing that the movie got right as well. In the movie, they were long sharp metal swords and they look a lot like the ones from the source.
Another thing that the movie got right is how the audience got to choose whether the opponent that a gladiator was fighting was finished off. In Literature and Culture, it says, “Gladiators would begin the fight and continue until one was near death. If one gladiator had control over another one, the crowd was given the opportunity to express their feelings as to whether he should be finished off. If the audience turned their thumbs up, the gladiator’s life could be forgiven.” One small thing the movie changed is instead of the audience pointing towards their chest to signify death to the opponent, they used a thumbs down.
Another thing that the movie got right was what would happen if the gladiators won. In the movie, every time Maximus won he became more popular and more powerful. Maximus got so powerful to the point where Commodus didn’t know what to do with him anymore. If he would kill Maximus, everyone would hate him but if he kept him alive, he would get more powerful. Since Commodus didn’t kill him he kept winning and eventually almost won his freedom which happened to only the greatest gladiators. In Literature and Culture, it says, “The gladiator’s awards were to continue living, and improvement in their economic situation and, finally, the so wanted freedom together with the respect and admiration of people.”
The movie also got the part right about how Commodus used to be a gladiator. In Commodus: An Emperor at the Crossroads by Olivier Hekster, it talks about how Commodus was a popular gladiator but it was unknown why he did so because he was never a criminal or a slave. Commodus most likely just wanted to participate in the games. Either way, it’s clear that Commodus had a soft spot for the games considering that, just like the movie, he fought some gladiators while he was in power. However, unlike the movie, Commodus did not die in real life to an opposing gladiator in The Colosseum.
There is, however, a few things wrong with the main character, Maximus. First off Maximus isn’t real. He is a fictional character made up by DreamWorks to help move the plot of the movie. Because Maximus isn’t real, this takes away the story of Marcus Aralias picking him over his son, Commodus, for being emperor. Also, since Maximus isn’t real, this takes away how Commodus dies in the movie. In the movie, Commodus dies when he challenges Maximus to a gladiator battle to which he loses. In real life, Commodus was, according to Olivier Hekster, “…assassinated on New Year’s Eve, AD 192,” and not killed in combat.
There was a whole lot that the movie didn’t include about Commodus because he was killed off. One of the things that happened to Commodus was that he went insane. He made a bunch of crazy orders to do the year following his assassination. Olivier Hekster tells about how “…he had been planning to kill the new consuls…” He even went as far as to change his name to Hercules after the god. In Emperor Commodus: Gladiator, Hercules, or Tyrant, Geoff W. Adams talks about how Commodus was known to be very fond of Hercules. He even went as far to say that, “…his addiction to Hercules was ‘manic’…”
Even though Hollywood is known for making some historical movies illegitimate, I would say that DreamWorks did a pretty good job recreating this important time in Roman history. Most of the stuff down to the weapons was pretty accurate to the real games according to scholars and college professors. Only a few things weren’t very accurate to the real games such as Maximus and some of the properties of Commodus, but overall it was very accurate.