4K Blu-ray Review: Gladiator (20th Anniversary SteelBook)

It’s the 20th anniversary of the classic Ridley Scott film Gladiator, and with it comes a fresh limited edition SteelBook release of the Russell Crowe epic. Before I delve into the film, let’s take a look at the SteelBook art, as that’s what a lot of people will be looking to pick this up for.

As you can see this is a beautiful SteelBook with Crowe’s Maximus front and center. The white, silverish look is beautiful, allowing Maximus to pop while also giving the case a heavenly vibe, or that of the afterlife, especially on the back where we see Maximus heading up the ramp to enter the coliseum. Inside we have Maximus battling it out inside the arena in one of the film’s most memorable fight scenes. As a whole it’s just a great case with simple, yet powerful art. I especially love the choice for the back of the case.

Inside we have the 4K film, which contains both the Extended Edition and Theatrical Edition, as well as the Blu-ray that also contains both films. There’s also a second Blu-ray disc that’s filled with previously released extras. So for those who may have held off upgrading their Gladiator Blu-ray, this may be the perfect time to finally do so, as not only is the packaging great, but the film looks absolutely gorgeous in 4K (and even if you haven’t fully upgraded yet, you’ll still get the Blu-ray here to hold you over until you do.)

It’s easy to think that everyone will have seen Gladiator by this point, but even I’ll admit that there are a number of films deemed classics that I’ve yet to see myself. So with that in mind, and realizing that 20 years have passed since the film was released, that does mean that there’s a generation of young adults who may have possibly put it on the backburner and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. To them I say, go watch this film now (ideally in this superb 4K format if possible.)

Gladiator is a fantastic tale of redemption and revenge, and a movie that really put Russell Crowe on the map all those years back. In order to have a revenge film that works you have to make sure the audience is behind the lead character, because if they’re not then it’s just not going to work. That’s not an issue here, as Maximus has a presence that just leaps off the screen thanks to what is still arguably Crowe’s best performance. What also helps is that his arch-nemesis, Commodus, is someone who is incredibly easy to loathe, greatly in part because of how Joaquin Phoenix plays the part to perfection.

If it’s your first time watching the film it’s hard to say which version is best to watch first. The theatrical edition is perfect as it is and runs at 155 minutes in length, whereas the Extended Edition is about 16 minutes longer, hitting 171 minutes in length. I think I’d say to go with the theatrical version first, as it really does just get everything right; and then afterwards when you look to revisit the film (because you will look to do so) go the Extended route to get a bit more out of it. That’s mainly because this isn’t a Director’s Cut, where the film is altered in one way or another, and it’s more extra scenes being inserted into the movie that may throw off the pacing for some, so going to the Extended cut on a repeat viewing is probably the ideal route to go.

The film is just so massive in scope and filled with such wonderful characters that the time spent watching is never truly felt. There’s just so much to take in and so much to enjoy, from the violent battles on the fields of war as well as in the coliseum, to the quieter moments of reflection and political intrigue. Gladiator is a movie with loads of layers and its story is told in such a way that it is a timeless tale that holds up just as strongly today as it did 20 years ago – and with this 4K upgrade, it’s could be said that it’s never looked better.

The 4K film is presented in 2160p with HDR10, adding a beautiful depth of colour that is definitely noticeable. All around the movie just looks phenomenal, so for those who may have just purchased a 4K system or are looking to do so, Gladiator is a movie that should be added to your library to showcase what it can do. On the audio side of things, the film sounds fantastic, with a DTS:X soundtrack and overall wonderful mix that truly compliments the superb visuals.

Special Features:

The special features on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs are all previously released features so if you’ve seen them before then you know what to expect. For those who haven’t jumped down the massive rabbit hole that are the Gladiator special features I’ll list a few of them here, but there are just so many from over the years that you really owe it to yourself to sit down and delve in on an afternoon when you have some time.

The 4K disc has the following:

Introduction by Ridley Scott (Extended Edition) – This featurette is pretty self-explanatory and is seen before the film instead of something you look for in the features.

Audio Commentary by director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe (Extended Edition) – If you didn’t have a reason to watch the Extended Edition before, then getting to hear these two talk about this film while it’s playing definitely gives you one. Need I say more?

Audio Commentary by director Ridley Scott, Editor Pietro Scalia and Cinematographer John Mathieson (Theatrical Edition) – The theatrical edition has its own commentary track with the group mentioned above, each of whom plays a big role in what makes Gladiator such a great film to watch. Really interesting to hear the different perspectives and insights here.

There are a number of special features found on the Blu-ray, but the bread and butter would be the following:

Strength and Honor: Creating the World of Gladiator – This is an epic seven-part documentary that runs over 3 hours when all parts are added up. This is one where you can watch it in pieces as you wish, or just buckle up and go on the ride. Heavily recommended viewing here. The kind of feature you wish all your favourite films had.

Paramount Pictures Presents Gladiator. Directed by: Ridley Scott. Written by: David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson. Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielson, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Djimon Hounsou. Running time: Theatrical Edition: 155 Minutes/Extended Edition: 171 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: June 16, 2020.

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