The film Gladiator is not only known for Russell Crowe’s Academy award winning performance, but it is also known for it’s camerawork and cinematography. This film has a considerable amount of blatant formalism, which director Ridley Scott uses to portray Maximus’ message. Camera angles are commonly used to distinguish power in a scene, most of the time by using low-angle or high-angle shot. These types of angels are seen throughout the film. A main part of cinematography is color symbolism seen throughout Gladiator.
Another key component of camerawork used by director Ridley Scott are the various types of shots he use. In the text Understanding Movie by author Louis Giannetti defines shots as, “shots are determined on the basis of how much human figure is in the view (Giannetti, 2011, pg. 9). ” In chapter 9, 00:05 of Gladiator a blatant show of formalism is in this scene, which starts by showing the dessert nothing but rock that has a little light and no sign of life. Then in a brief moment Maximus’ face is shown in a close-up shot, where he appears to be floating as if ethereal or maybe in the after life.
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The shot changes quickly to a wall white with a closed wood door, the shot fells sorrowfully because of the color trend the color change is drastic from the bright reds of the dessert to the cool serenity of the blues. The mystic laughter of a child is heard as Maximus’ hand again touches the grain field, with the wind blowing softly giving the sense of freedom. Back to the harsh rock and his hand touches it in the same motion but then in another close up shot his eyes open. As if he is so torn apart by the loss of his family he in another world entirely.
This world consists of wind wildly blowing a flag that shadows the shot and a wild free white horse possibly his horse, running free, the clouds and sky moving at and unearthly rate, then jackal growling and biting snaps him out of this. The shot then changes to his wife and son again and his voice spirals out of control as if losing them all over again. The once free wild horse ridden and broken, and at last the small figures of his wife and child, something for him to hold on to in the new world, as this figures appears the image of Maxiums is transparent above them he is chained with his hands held above him.
This same shot of Maximus is shown in chapter 25, 03:11. (Chapter 27, 00:28) Maximus is dying. As the scene goes back to the wall the same white wall shown many times when he thinks about his family, or his home. Maximus is at the wooden door and you can see him motion to push it open. He is drawn back to his reality by Quintus, where he gives his final diction as a general and servant of Roma. The extreme close-up of Maximus face allows you to see life seemingly draining from his face. He seems trapped between two worlds, back and forth you hear the music, and a woman starts to sing, a child’s laughter accompanying it.
Maximus hits the floor in a strategically placed long shot showing a lot of details in the background, as well as Lucilla running to his side. Finally his is told by Lucilla to go to his family, which progresses to an ethereal shot of him floating above the ground to portray somewhere between this life and the next. Maximus is then seen in an extreme long shot if his family, his son running for him. This scene is important because it helps establish Maximus’ story is completed the visions he had all lead to this. (Chapter 6, 0:44) Marcus Aurelius confronts his son Commodus about not becoming emperor of Roma.
In this sense as they switch back and forth the angle on Marcus Aurelius gets higher and higher and Commodus is shown in a low angle which continues too low every time the camera switches back to hm. It shows the exchange and domineering power Commodus has. (Chapter 21, 07:07) Commodus and the senator are talking about how they have lost favor to Maximus. Maximus has the love of the people and the setting in this dark room and display of angles shows Commodus in a menacing light. He looks powerful and scary as he talks about letting his enemies come to him. Chapter 25, 00:13) The scene begins with an eerie close up camera angle of Commodus talking in a menacing voice about his sisters’ betrayal.
The low-key lighting as he walks over to her, speaking of the punishment he plans for her, helps set the tone. She appears in the scene in a high angled shot, and she looks simply destroyed. Commodus from that point on is shot in a low angle to emphasis his power over her. (Chapter 3, 0:52) In the text Understanding Movie by author Louis Giannetti stats, “Color tends to be a subconscious element if film (Giannetti, 2011, pg. 22). A dark carriage with dull color trends all except his sister’s fur this is not low-key lighting, which creates the grim atmosphere. Commodus is talking about his father’s death he moves closer to his sister where half his face is in light and the other is shadow. It makes him seem tore in way now yet knowing if he is a good character or our protagonist. (Chapter 4, 2:17) In this scene Commodus and Maximus are speck about there futures in which Maximus is making it clear that he does not instead to follow Commodus or anyone and the light on there faces half covering and half shadowed.
The shadow is on opposite sides of their faces as the seen plays out, it creates the look of different between the two of them and shows them as opposites. Throughout the scene there are warm colors mostly shades of red and yellow, this makes the atmosphere more intense giving the sensation of aggression and angry between the two men. (Chapter 5, 3:40) The hues or color palate almost completely change for the war happening outside. Outside in the forest they are cool colors even during the war and death sense but in the tent where Maximus and Marcus Aurelius talking it is a bright color palate.
The man talk about Maximus’ home this child his wife their land, the scene becomes relax and warm, with the bright colors you put more emphasis on the scene. The colors are bright suggesting more cheerful then grim, but as in the text Understanding Movies by author Louis Giannetti wrote “ bright colors tend to be cheerful, so directors often desaturate them, especially if the subject matter is sober or grim (Giannetti 2011, pg. 24). ” (Chapter 11, 00:13) Maximus is walking under red stained rope covering his face and head in red coloring.
Red commonly means change in movie the director is trying to portray a change in Maximus’ nature and being. (Chapter 1, 4:28) In Gladiator there is a headless rider on a white stallion which can symbolize the lost of purity, it is a call to war so to speak it is setting the battle up and allowing the audience to see the barren, ravished lands in the background. (Chapter 1, 5:01) There is a long shot view of the barbarian army in with there is a plush green tree line and you see a angled view of the Romans bathed in gray tones these hues suggesting a cold temperature.
The director added this sense to show them in two deistically different ways. It seems to symbolize the battle of life and death, conquered over conqueror. The barbarians are fighting for their life their freedom something Maximus will fell all too much later on. This line portrays the entire movie “People should know when they are conquered” “would you Quintus, would I”. (Chapter 9, 01:04) There is an extreme long shot, which shows a vast desert and the caravan assumed to have Maximus with them. The colors are bight and the hues are reds and yellows suggesting aggression.
This was put in to show that they really are in a different world compared to the previous extreme long shot in the war scene. I would think a long shot rather then the extreme would have done better giving more detail and comparison. (Chapter 14, 03:28) This shot is a medium shot I like this scene because is show the hustle around and the detail of the people. I think this is a good choice for the director to put such crazy details around such an intense conversation between Proximo and Cassius. Chapter 15, 06:38) in the battle of Carthage scene there are a few close-up shots of Commodus, which make his character seem grotesque but immensely enjoying the gore of the battle down below. He shows early on that unlike in a really battle at the beginning he is thirsty for more action as long as he can control it. This film has so many examples of formalism as well as cinematography. And as always it is up to the director to portray and the viewer to interpret the message.
Giannetti, L. Understanding Movies. 12. New York: Allyn & Bacon, 2011. 1-546. Print.