Gladiator is a film about great loss, massive heroism and much bloodshed. Set in the Roman Empire during the height of its power, in the final days of Marcus Aurelius' reign, the aging emperor arouses his son Commodus' anger when he makes known his wish that the hero Maximus be his successor. Power-hungry Commodus kills his father and orders the death of Maximus. However, the latter is captured and is sold as a slave and a gladiator. Eventually, Maximus journeys back to Rome to confront his arch rival. His wits are pitted against the country's finest gladiators and finally, overcoming all the odds, he gets his chance to avenge the dead emperor and to rid the land of a tyrannical leader. But not every fight is a fair one...
The film suffered a major set back which threatened its release; the cause of this was the death of Oliver Reed. However, with the help of a double, a minor alteration to the plot, and computer imaging wizardry, filming continued.
The challenge of Gladiator is that it's not a sci-fi movie, it's based on fact, so we had to make sure that whatever we did was not only convincing but also didn't take the viewer outside of the story.
- Tim Burke, Visual Effects Supervisor for Mill Film.
It was not possible to film in the Colosseum, Rome, so a mock-up was built in Malta. However, this mock-up was only one tier high. In order to film the 360° sweeps a lot of computer graphics were used. There was still the problem of turning a cast of 2,000 extras into a screaming host of 35,000. In order to do this each of the 2,000 actors were filmed for 15 seconds, wearing grey clothes, either cheering, sitting, or eating. They were then given different colours and timed to start at different intervals. In the end the same clip appears in 17 different places of the audience.
All in all, Gladiator is not too bloodthirsty. Instead, it is a reflective, emotional film and quite a tear-jerker.