By Beth Laski
Cinescape (January / February 2000)
After reshaping sci-fi with Alien and Blade Runner, Ridley Scott takes on action and horror with Gladiator and Hannibal
"Working with Ridley was like doing quantum physics with Picasso," says Gladiator star Russell Crowe. "It was impressive, mate."
The Australian actor's simile is quite apt: Ridley Scott is famous for infusing nuts-and-bolts filmmaking with an artist's visionary aesthetic. In 1979, he turned sci-fi on its ear with Alien, a claustrophobic space fright-fest; three years later, Scott would revolutionize the genre entirely with Blade Runner. The baroque noir's bleak vision of the 21st century -- a rain- slicked metropolis overrun by soul-crushing technology -- has been replicated (or, as some would say, ripped off) in countless films ever since.
But although these two groundbreaking sci-fi films made Scott's name synonymous with slick, visually arresting moviemaking, most of his later works -- with the notable exception of the 1991 chick-flick-gone-haywire Thelma & Louise -- were rather forgettable exercises in style over substance. Legend, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, White Squall and G.I. Jane all failed to impress critics or cause significant ripples at the box-office.
Now, however, it looks like Scott is poised to rock Hollywood yet again. He's currently putting the finishing touches on Gladiator, a $100 million epic starring the red-hot Crowe as a Roman warrior in 180 A.D. After that, he'll tackle a screen adaptation of Thomas Harris' controversial Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal, which is currently undergoing script rewrites (the final screenplay will determine whether or not Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster reprise their Oscar-winning Lambs roles).
When CINESCAPE caught up with Scott on cell phone, the director was driving to his London office for some Gladiator post-production work. While scooting through traffic, he discussed his childhood influences, his interest in a new sci-fi project and what we can expect from this summer's Gladiator and the upcoming Hannibal.
When you were growing up as a kid, what kinds of Movies did you enjoy?
I think my father was starting to get worried about me because I wanted to be a cowboy until I was almost 17. 1 was an avid rider. We [were] living in Germany [and] my father's [business] colleague was a Texan who had a ranch, so suddenly I felt I had the real possibility of becoming a cowboy. So I think the person I really admired from when I was about 9 years old through 'til I was about 13 was Roy Rogers. I loved Roy Rogers more than anyone else. It was partly the clothes and partly the gun and the trappings. I was desperately, avidly involved in Westerns, and of course, I haven't [directed] a Western yet. I think at some point I will. But [I'm] trying to find a Western that will mean something for today's audience. It is difficult, but everything at the end of the day comes down to story, story, story and then character, character, character. If you can get the story right, and the characters follow, then I think it will be good for any audience at any time.
Were there any particular movies or filmmakers that influenced your work?
There are a whole bunch of [directors] from the '40s: Michael Powell, Orson Welles, David Lean. Then I started to discover foreign films, so there was [Akira] Kurosawa. I think they are my main influences.
While you were making Alien or Blade Runner, did you ever think that you would have such a lasting impact on modern science fiction-that kids in film school would be studying your work?
No. Not really. You never do, you know. You don't think about that. All I remember [about making Blade Runner] was getting beaten up [emotionally]. It was a hard shoot . It was a difficult process because it was the first time I had ever made a film in Hollywood, even though I had previously made Alien. Alien was filmed in London. So Blade Runner was my first Hollywood experience in that I was driving though the gates of the studio everyday. I thought ãThis is fun. God, I never thought Iâd get to this.ä That was the best news. Then the bad news followed.
What was the bad news?
It was a hard introduction. I was the new kid on the block. My methods of making movies -- and at that moment I had done two [Alien and The Duellists], so I wasn't a babe -- were different. I found it a little hard to come in initially. I found the structure and the way of working different. So it was a matter of me getting used to them and them getting used to me.
I understand that you're doing some restoration work on Blade Runner.
We're remixing arid reprinting Blade Runner in January. We've been going through the old negative and we're adding a few scenes back into it because the film, according to Warner Bros., gets requested about 30 times a year [by repertory theaters]. So the prints were getting used up and they wanted to update everything. We'll add about eight minutes back in. But we're going to mix the whole thing and [make a new print], which will be interesting because, you know, prints start to fade after about 10 years. It's pretty great. One of the great things [is being able to use] this high definition digital DVD, which is one way we're managing to preserve the original look and sound of how the film was meant to be.
Would you say that you enjoy working on science fiction films?
Yes. I've only done two, but I would certainly like to do another. Again, the biggest problem is finding the story. I think I've found [a project] very recently. It's not science fiction in the conventional sense. It's not ray guns. It's sociological. It's futuristic in the sense that Blade Runner was futuristic. It takes place in about 2020, which I like because most of the audience can look to 2020 and say, "I'll be around then." So it's tangible. It deals with a kind of future history because it's a prediction which may happen. So it's cautionary, as well. We have to caution ourselves and reexamine what we're doing at the moment. I've only just begun [thinking about the story], but I'm hoping that something will come from it. This just occurred earlier this week, so I'm quite excited actually.
Is Gladiator your most action oriented film?
I think you'll [have to] see it. It's got a very interesting combination of things. It has a strong narrative, which takes the main character through events that inevitably are involved in the gladiator arena.
We start the film off [in Germany]. Germany was the one territory that just wouldn't succumb to the Romans. So Marcus Aurelius spent 17 years on the German front [with his troops]. Can you imagine that? Seventeen years on the German front in those dark forests.
We start off with a 13-minute battle at the beginning of the movie, which also shows the frustrations and self-searching of Marcus Aurelius. Towards the end of his life he got even more philosophical, wondering if he'd dealt with his life in the right way. His closest ally and confidant is General Maximus, who is played by Russell Crowe. So there's an interesting context and some very good performances [amidst the action].
What else can you tell us about Gladiators plot?
The story is quite intriguing and unusual for this kind of epic. As opposed to just reproducing history, we wrote a story into history, and actually did adopt certain factual characters such as Marcus Aurelius, his son Commodus [Joaquin Phoenix] and daughter Lucilla [Connie Nielsen]. We also added a very interesting character, a slave trader named Proximo, who is played by Oliver Reed.
The title describes the central character, who is Maximus. He's a general in the Roman army who is betrayed by politics and hierarchy [after Commodus has Marcus Aurelius killed.] He finds himself sold as a slave and eventually comes back into Rome as a powerful gladiator.
Your next project Is Hannibal, the sequel to Silence of the Lambs. Any word on when you'll go into production?
We are aiming to get started shooting around mid-March or the beginning of April. The middle act will be shot in Italy. The rest of the film will be done in the Eastern U.S. -- North or South Carolina [or] Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
Will Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins reprise their Silence of the Lambs roles?
At this juncture, I have no idea. I hope that they do.
Is it true that the ending of your film will be different than the ending of the novel?
The fact that Starling goes off with Lecter [in Thomas Harris' book] is, well ... a little hard to ... swallow is the wrong word. It's difficult. We've come up with another solution.
Which you can't tell me about, right?
Following up Silence of the Lambs won't be easy. Was it hard to say yes to the project?
I didn't hesitate.
Empire Magazine (September 1999)
Fallen hero fights for survival in the arena of ancient Rome.
The hottest poop surrounding Ridley Scott's Ben-Hur-meets-Spartacus Roman epic remains the on-set death of lead player Oliver Reed. Rumours abound of roles being re-jigged and of Scott computer grafting Reed's head onto another actor's body in order to complete his scenes.
In reality save for one speech (now delivered by Derek Jacobi), Reed was pretty much finished on the film when he supped his last in a Malta tavern.
The colossal sword-and-sandals saga features Joaquin Phoenix [pictured] as the Emperor Commodus, cruel successor to the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, and Russell Crowe as Narcissus Meridas, a former general and a favourite of Aurelius stripped of his rank and reduced to the status of gladiator by Commodus, who fears him as a rival for the throne. Forced into mortal combat in the arena, Narcissus must survive long enough to free himself and wreak vengeance on his sworn enemy.
A reported budget of $100 million vouchsafes sumptuous sets, massive effects from Mill Films and a veritable vomitorium of gloriously visceral fight scenes. Plus, Scott's proven visual flair should ensure a screenful of authentic Roman Empire decadence. (ETA summer 2,000)
ANIMATRONICS BRING DEAD ACTOR BACK TO LIFE
By Vanessa Thorpe
London Observer (August 4, 1999)
The late Oliver Reed is to be brought back to life. The hard-drinking star was filming Gladiator, an epic adventure film, when he died in May.
Reed, who was 61, was due to play the key role of the warrior Proximo in the adventure story, set in ancient Rome, and he had already completed several of his scenes.
When the option of recasting Reed's role was dismissed, animatronics and special effects experts were brought in to find ways of superimposing the actor's image on scenes he had not yet shot. The technique has been used before. When Brandon Lee died before completing "The Crow" his image was projected on to a crucial scene. Improvements since then in virtual reality computer programming mean that Reed's "replicant" will be more convincing.
Gladiator, which required more than 2,000 extras, is the most ambitious project at Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks studio in recent years and the company has had to rely heavily on its close financial partnership with Universal Studios. The use of so many extras and large constructed sets has made the reshooting of all Reed's scenes impossible.
"Dreamworks will have two basic options," said a leading British special effects expert. "They will either be able to scan the three-dimensional image of Reed into their computers and then manipulate it through a basic program that will allow his face to smile and talk, or they will have to put electronic sensors on the face of an actor who looks a little like Reed and then mathematically record the movements of his features as he speaks the new dialogue. I imagine this last option, although more realistic, would still be too difficult because of the subtleties of the human face.ä
The cost of re-creating Reed for some scenes and editing around him in others has seriously delayed the film and caused budget problems for the two Hollywood studios behind the production.
The film, directed by Ridley Scott, was already set to be the most expensive American production ever brought over to Britain, with a budget of more than $100 million. Originally due for release this summer, it will not now be seen on until late next summer at the earliest.
The stars who were lined up to appear alongside Reed include Richard Harris, Derek Jacobi and Russell Crowe, who plays the fighting hero of the title. Harris portrays the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and Joaquin Phoenix is cast as his villainous son, Commodus. The narrative follows similar lines to Anthony Mann's epic "The Fall of the Roman Empire," which starred Alec Guinness and Christopher Plummer.
In the wake of the enormous critical and commercial success of Scott's earlier films, "Black Rain" and "Thelma and Louise," this new project has been eagerly awaited within the industry. And Dreamworks is relying on coming up with a box-office smash.
GLADIATOR' IN BIG-BUDGET FILM ARENA
By Marco R. della Cava
USA Today July 23-25, 1999
KALKARA, Malta - In this moment, it's almost as if the empire never fell. In a storm of dust and fur, Rome's ruined Colosseum - or at least a remarkable facsimile thereof - comes screaming back to life as a bearded Russell Crowe, wrapped in gladiatorial leathers, crashes to the arena's dirt floor to find a tiger snarling over his left shoulder. He scrambles out of the frame as the director calls "Cut!" and thousands of toga-clad spectators come down from their fit of pandemonium.
Behold the early days of the first millennium, Ridley Scott style.
As it barrels into the second half of its four-month shooting schedule, the feature film Gladiator is taking aim at other ancient-times epics, such as Ben-Hur and Spartacus. Its weapons: a beefy budget ($100 million), imposing sets (the Colosseum, the Forum, Hadrian's Gate) and dueling stars (Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix). Though DreamWorks executives won't divulge a release date, one suspects that a new-millennium unveiling would work well for publicity purposes.
Magnificent sets or no, eye candy isn't an end for director Scott. It's a means to tell a believable tale of revenge and love -- in that order.
"This is a big canvas, but the trick is to make sure the characters never get outscaled by the proscenium," says Scott, who hopes Gladiator redefines Roman films the way his Alien and Blade Runner refocused the sci-fi flick and Thelma & Louise twisted the road-trip movie.
Scott could use a fourth jewel in his cinematic crown after efforts such as White Squall sank. He concedes that "someone got me off my track of tackling challenging, big canvases."
Interestingly, it was a real canvas that persuaded him to take the helm of Gladiator: an 18th century painting depicting a Roman emperor giving a thumbs-down -- the order for execution -- to a gladiator standing in the Colosseum's pit.
"This highly romantic view of the Roman Empire at its grandest and sickest challenged me," says Scott, sucking on one of his favored Monte cristo Cuban cigars. "That civilization went from real war to war as entertainment."
Scott's raw view of a world normally treated by Hollywood as a land of bathhouses and peeled grapes persuaded Crowe to lend his bulk and gravitas to the lead role.
"This movie deals with important subjects such as political intrigue and religious persecution," says the Australian, on a break from fighting a hulking opponent who nearly sliced his left cheek open by accident.
"Besides, mate," Crowe grins, "you don't get gladiator roles sent your way every day."
Crowe plays Maximus, a general who turns gladiator after being exiled by Commodus (Phoenix), a troubled young emperor who keeps his people happy by staging duels to the death for their entertainment.
Maximus quickly becomes the people's Muhammad Ali, prompting a showdown with the "gladiator emperor."
Attempting to keep a lid on all this raging testosterone is Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), Commodus' sister, who enjoys a seductively complex relationship with both men.
"She is the conscience of this film, someone who, if born a male, would have been emperor," says Nielsen (Devil's Advocate, Rushmore), a history buff who keeps a copy of Everyday Life in Ancient Rome on her hotel coffee table.
"Trust me, if this had been just a movie about a bunch of guys with swords, I would not have been interested," she says. "But there is great character intimacy considering the scale."
If the rebuilt Colosseum is any indication, moviegoers can expect impressive size and realism. A horseshoe version of the famous circular arena rises amid the ruins of an old Maltese fort that, like most of this arid island south of Sicily, retains an ancient air particularly compatible with this production.
"You have this great sense of history here in Malta, as opposed to shooting on an L.A. back lot," says Phoenix, who won Scott over with a compelling man-child screen test soliloquy.
Now, in shorts, white T-shirt and sneakers, he does his part for verisimilitude by twirling a heavy steel sword until his fingers blister.
Over in the Colosseum, crews have taken wood, plaster and paint and transformed them into oxidized copper statues of Roman senators, a massive marble emperor's box complete with red velvet awnings and alabaster general-admission seating.
The stadium's walls soar to a height of 50 feet. Because the original was more than 150 feet tall, the remaining two-thirds will be filled in on screen with computer-generated imaging.
In the sprawling Forum, columns the size of redwoods prop up imperial palaces.
In the streets, horse-drawn carts pass sculptures that include a black foot the size of a school bus.
A hundred yards away, carpenters ready a tunnel that will serve as a dank underground section of the Colosseum, a place where animals and slaves await their fate in the ring. Picture Scott's claustrophobic L.A. street scenes in Blade Runner, only with less clothing and no light.
In one corner of this apocalyptic scene, a cart waits at the top of a steep ramp. It will be used to dump the bodies of less fortunate Colosseum competitors into an inanimate pile.
If you even wondered whether Gladiator would be more Cleopatra and less Braveheart, this cart sets you straight, recalling that the man in the director's chair once found cinematic closure by sending two women plummeting into the Grand Canyon.
"The violence in Gladiator (comes from) the pages of history; it is not gratuitous," says Scott, looking over a prop designer's rendition of an "Uzi crossbow," complete with four steel arrowheads.
And besides, he insists, he's only scratching the surface.
"Believe me," he says, "we're not doing anything remotely like what the Romans really used to do."
TOGA ROLE WAS OLIVER REED'S LAST
By Claudia Puig
USA Today July 23-35, 1999
British actor Oliver Reed, veteran of more than 100 films, takes his final bow in Ridley Scott's Gladiator.
The darkly intense actor, famous for playing villains, died in May on the island of Malta after a heart attack. The 61-year-old Reed was on the Mediterranean isle shooting the role of Proximo, a morally bankrupt slave trainer who ultimately does the right thing.
Reed is one of four leads in the epic action drama. Some of his best-known roles were in Women in Love, Oliver!, The Three Musketeers, Tommy, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Sting II.
Paradoxically, while watching daily footage shot on the Gladiator set, DreamWorks co-president Walter Parkes remarked on how fit Reed looked.
"He was tan, with this long mane of gray hair, and we all said, 'My God, this will be the rebirth of Oliver Reed's career,' " Parkes says.
"His work was just mesmerizing. It's a very exciting thing when you see a great talent come back. It was fairly devastating in that context to hear the news."
The good news for Reed's fans is that he was largely done shooting.
"We had to do a little bit of editing and a little bit of restructuring, but for the most part, the performance remains intact," Parkes says.
"It was a wonderful character, a character, like Bill Sykes (in Oliver), that he was born to play. Ironically, he was so strong in the part that we wrote additional scenes for him. He was one of the emotional centers of the movie. Luckily, the performance will live on. In some ways, the movie will be a tribute to him."
HOLLYWOOD ARENA FOR 'GLADIATOR' HOUNSOU
By Jeannie Williams
USA Today July 2-4, 1999
Djimon Hounsou had a great time being chained to Russell Crowe and fighting off other captives in an arena for the upcoming Ridley Scott epic, Gladiator.
Hounsou, 32, whose breakout movie was Steven Spielberg's Amistad, is back in L.A. after a satisfying shoot on Malta in the $100 million movie, due next summer. But he's still battling a far more elusive opponent -- the image Hollywood has of him.
The one-time model has lived on the West Coast for 12 years and studied acting for some time, "but a lot of people in the industry are almost shocked to find I do speak English, that I'm in America." A native of Benin in west Africa, Hounsou's goal is to do all kinds of roles, but he has run into the wall faced by many black actors.
"The reality is that if I were white and had such an impact in a film (he was Golden Globe-nominated for Amistad), there wouldn't be any issue of trying to educate people. It's not a question of racism. I don't know what to call it."
His five guests spots on ER this year helped. But at studio meetings, "I say, 'Hi, how are you doing?' and they say, 'Oh, I didn't know you speak English. I thought you'd come with a translator.' It's really frustrating. I still have to go through the process," to show he can act, and in English.
Finally, he does say that when Hollywood "is not really thinking about you, it is a form of racism. They think of you as a black artist, not an artist, and that's crippling.
"You have to fight and fight for them to think of a role as being black because they've been thinking white, white, white." He wants to be able to ask for particular roles to be changed from being written just for white males. "I still love making movies. I'm just disappointed in that whole aspect of Hollywood."
But working on Gladiator was far from disappointing. He admits he was "spoiled" on Amistad because as slave leader Cinque he was a lead actor. In Gladiator, he has a supporting role.
But this meant he had time to watch. Scott, he says, had to deal with so many actors, extras, stuntmen, all wanting "to write their own scripts. Too much testosterone!"
He watched Scott, "shaking my head and saying, 'I don't know how he can have so much patience!' "
Hounsou would love to do more TV. He's working on a project to take to HBO, which happens to be a black story. "I have to start thinking for myself. Nobody else will."
SLAVES 'N' SANDALS EPIC
Total Film (4/99)
Thousands of years after Caesar's main event, the Surrey countryside once again rumbled to hearty chest-slapping salutes and cries of "Ave!" as 700 grubby centurions in leather skirts gathered to defend Tilford Woods. The location near Farnham has been standing in for German forests for $80-million blockbuster Gladiator.
Conscious of the expectation-raising realism of Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan's battle scenes, director Ridley Scott is going to impressive lengths to ensure his pic trounces even those in Spartacus. Expect blood, real-life amputees trashing around the battlefield and numerous scenes of Ben Hur beating scale: there's a rumoured call for 2,000 [sic] extras for a scene to be filmed in the Mediterranean next month.
Gladiator stars LA Confidential's Russell Crowe as Maximus, an Imperial general whose triumphant return to Rome from the Hun-bashing episode shown here turns sour when Emperor Marcus Aurelius is murdered by his own son (Joaquin Phoenix). Banished and stripped of his rank and power, Maximus gains access to the capitol by becoming a gladiator and, once there, sets about getting some righteous payback.
Despite the production's promise to replant the acres of woodland felled to make the Tilford Woods fort, local conservationists have been horrified by the devastation, while other residents found that the encampment's demands for drinking and fire-fighting dramatically lowered their water pressure. However if Scott's to make his early January release date, he'll have finished off shooting at nearby Shepparton Studios and headed off to Malta before the end of April.
Neon Magazine (2/99)
After a series of flops, the knives are out for Ridley Scott. So will his Roman epic Gladiator see him winning laural or falling on his sword?
By rights, Ridley Scott's career should be in ruins following a string of box-office flops in the 90's. But Ridley Scott, director of 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, White Squall and GI Jane, is also Ridley Scott, director of Alien. Blade Runner and Thelma And Louise.And that's why his next film will be Gladiator, a bloody epic set in ancient Rome. The movie is a co-production between DreamWorks and Universal and is currently budgeted at a mammoth 5105 million. Not bad for a 30-second pitch made by screenwriter David Franzoni to DreamWorks head Steven Spielberg during the production of Amistad.
Set in 180AD, the film centers on the bitter rivalry between two men: Commodus, son of the ailing emperor Marcus Aurelius, and Maximus, a trusted general and heir to the throne who is banished from Rome when Commodus murders his own father. Historians characterize Commodus as being a few wheels short of a chariot as well as a shameless hedonist - he kept a harem of 300 women and 300 boys and his reign as emperor has been pinpointed as the start of the decline of the Roman Empire.
David Franzoni, though, believes there was another side to Commodus that modern audiences will relate to: "We do know he was sort of an entertainment/political genius," he says. "The Roman emperors always used the arena to control the mobs, but as far as I know, Commodus was the only emperor who ever actually went into the Colosseum as a gladiator.
In the movie, Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix) actually confronts his arch enemy Maximus (Russell Crowe) in the bloodiest arena of them all: the Colosseum in Rome. Unfortunately for Commodus, since his exile Maximus has become a gladiatorial hero with the stage name of Narcissus.
"If your average Hollywood spectacle features Rome as West LA, and Fellini featured Rome as Mars, then we're going for Rome as Rome,"reasons Franzoni,"but with a very specific contemporary resonance: sports heroes who wield political power, crowds driven to a frenzy - the kind of thing that, if it existed today, would have an eight-lane freeway to the stadium, and CAA representing all the gladiators."And in fact there's even an agent figure in the film, described as a cross between Mike Ovitz and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which Oliver Reed is in talks to play.
The cast is rounded out by Djimon Hounsou as Crowe's second-in-command and, possibly, Sean Connery as Marcus Aurelius. Writer John Logan, who recently scripted Oliver Stone's American football picture On Any Given Sunday, is currently polishing the screenplay, with a scaled-down Colosseum being built to specification on the island of Malta. Additional battle locations are being planned for Morocco, with a February start date in sight.
"We're trying as much as possible to capture the true nature of the Colosseum," says Franzoni, who acknowledges that this is problematical given the degree of brutal carnage that existed in Roman times."On one level we can't do it and not get an X-rating," he says,"because what we're showing is going to be far more vicious than is usually portrayed. And perverse. But Ridley knows he's going to have to walk a very fine line." Paul Cullum
ROMAN INVASION 1999
Scottish Daily Mail
February 16, 1999
The Roman Empire lives on -- in woodlands in stockbroker-belt Surrey that resound to the crash of timber, the neighing of horses and the shouts of 700 warlike local citizens. Saving the Forestry Commission a denarius or two, Steven Spielberg's filmmakers have won permission to clear a mile-square plantation of pines to stage battle scenes for the hoped-for epic movie Gladiator.
The wood at The Bourne, near Farnham, has been transformed into the banks of the Danube in AD 180. Watched from a hilltop by members of Spielberg's Dreamworks production company, hundreds of locally employed extras have swopped pin-stripped suits for the tunics and battle gear of Ancient Rome. Nostrils flaring, horses gallop to and fro carrying Roman warriors, while cohorts of foot soldiers hide with their battle emblems behind barriers of evilly sharpened stakes.
`The woodland is supposed to be reminiscent of Germany in AD 180' explained one member of the production crew. `The Germans are fighting off invading Romans.' The £50 million film is being directed by Ridley Scott, director of Blade Runner, Alien and Thelma and Louise, and stars Oliver Reed as Proximo, trainer of gladiators, and LA Confidential star Russell Crowe as the Roman General Maximus. Crowe, who is in a part apparently originally earmarked for Tom Cruise, has been sharpening his sword skills in the Surrey forests by pretending to behead a hapless German. On horseback, he is accompanied by an Alsatian dog made to look like a wolf. Other parts in the film are taken by footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones, Amistad star Djimon Hounsou and the late River Phoenix's brother Joaquin. Nicole Kidman has been tipped for the main female role.
In the meantime, as rows of canvas tents are raised where trees used to be and chain-mail clad soldiers trip over ground that is frost-laded one day and sludge-filled the net, it is the local £60-a-day extras who have stolen the scene. The filmmakers, and for that matter the extras, have been at pains to discount local rumours that washing has been banned in an effort to get that Romano/Germanic lived-in-look. Some locals, however, have complained that the invaders have used up precious local water supplies both to slake the thirst of the cast and put out the raging fires of battle.
It is hoped that the film, which will play to a backdrop of music by Chariots of Fire composer Vangelis, will capture at least some of the atmosphere of the old classics such as Ben-Hur and Spartacus. "A decent old Rome film hasn't been made for, what, 30 years," Spielberg says. The plot is that the new Roman emperor Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, strips Maximus of his rank, forcing him to fight as a gladiator for his freedom and the future of Rome. `It is an epic tale set in various locations around the Roman Empire,' said a spokesman. By the time the film is finished, the scenes in Farnham will form a small part of the opening stage-setting. And by the time it is released, new saplings will have been planted on the make-believe battlefields. Meanwhile the Surrey Romans can only sit back and admire the filmmakers' art. `One thing that stayed with me,' said one extra, "was the result of Ridley Scott's passion for backlit scenes. "Towards the end of one day's filming, a legion of soldiers was filmed advancing up a hill. The scene was backlit by brilliant sunshine, so the soldiers were in silhouette."
Steven Spielberg says he chose to veni, vidi, vici in Britain because of tax breaks and the availability of enthusiastic local talent. It is a formula he chose with great success when he made the Oscar nominated Saving Private Ryan in Hatfield, Hertfordshire and County Wexford, Ireland. Last night the days of the Romans in Britain were definitely numbered. Filming is due to be complete by the end of the month when the scene will switch to Malta. There, 28,000 extras and a replica of the Colosseum await. (Thanks Marjory!)
MIGHTY GLADIATORS GIVE NO QUARTER IN EPIC WOODLAND BATTLE
February 5, 1999
The battle cries of more than 700 warriors have been ringing out around Bourne Woods this week as filming for the blockbuster film Gladiator got under way. After two months preparation the Forestry Commission land has been transformed into a scene of ancient battle with German and Roman soldiers prepared to clash for the Ridley Scott epic. Armoured warriors stood behind a barricade of wooden spikes as they prepared to clash. Large wooded catapults have been primed and archers ready to fire flaming arrows over the heads of horse-riding battle chiefs.
Anticipation about the filming has been building throughout the last few weeks and by last weekend the roads bordering the woods had become packed with cars as people examined the set. Since Monday access to the site has been heavily restricted with production company Dreamworks eager to make progress. A spokesman for the Steven Spielberg owned company declined to talk about the filming, which is scheduled for the whole of February. But Surrey police, who have held a site meeting with Surrey County Council, say all parties involved have been "extremely co-operative." The police have received complaints from Tilford residents about cars blocking the roads near the woods but these were dealt with swiftly. The film, set in 180 AD, stars Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, and, rumour has it, Vinnie Jones. (Thanks Marjory!)
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