By Chris Nashawaty
Updated February 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Gladiator (2000 movie)

  • Movie

Ever notice how the words fall and Oscars automatically go together, while summer usually gets matched up with oh, say, Bruckheimer? Where does it say that if a multiplex’s air conditioner is blasting that the celluloid on screen is inevitably ineligible schlock? Remember, Mel Gibson’s full-tilt kilt epic, Braveheart, came out in May 1995 yet wound up winning the Best Picture haggis.

Well, hold on to your chariots, because beneath Gladiator‘s bone-crunching title you’ll find a lot more to Ridley Scott’s summer blockbuster — and Golden Globe winner — than just he-men with tridents circling each other in the ring. If anything, Gladiator has even more brains than brawn: There’s a love story (between Russell Crowe’s general-turned-warrior Maximus and the Caesar’s sister); patricide (Joaquin Phoenix’s fiendish Commodus murders his emperor father, Richard Harris’ Marcus Aurelius); revenge (Maximus slashes his way to Rome to settle the score with Commodus for killing his wife and child); and even a dash of family dysfunction (Commodus’ unhealthy yearning for his sister, Connie Nielsen’s Lucilla). Heck, there aren’t too many action flicks that debate the merits of a republic versus a monarchy.

And, of course, there’s action, and plenty of it. Whether staging staggering battle scenes in the snowy forests of Germany or choreographing quick-cutting ultraviolence in the Colosseum, Scott says his goal was to pick up the gauntlet that Steven Spielberg had thrown down at the beginning of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. ”He set a new standard,” says Scott. ”Battle scenes used to just be wide shots like a ballet or a dance, but now you can take the audience inside the battle like Ryan did. It’s right in your lap in the theater.”

Come March 25, if Gladiator earns the Academy’s imperial thumbs-up, Scott, Crowe, and company will have pulled off a rare bit of cinematic alchemy — spinning popcorn into gold.

Gladiator (2000 movie)

  • Movie
  • R
  • 154 minutes
  • Ridley Scott