Five Minutes of Spartacus and Gladiator

I will be comparing two ‘sword and sandals’ films in this essay. These are films about the Roman Empire, and how they were perceived. The two films I am comparing are Spartacus and Gladiator, which are both epics with many similar attributes. Spartacus, made in 1960, was released at a time when there were many similar films of this genre were being made (such as Goliath And The Sins Of Babylon, Goliath And The Sins Of Babylon and many more), and therefore had to try particularly hard to stand out from the rest. Gladiator, however, did not have to stand out because it was in the year 2000, when there had been no films of this type made for many years.

Consequently, the title sequence of Spartacus is very long (about three and a half minutes) because it is trying to make the audience take notice of this film. Gladiator’s is very short in comparison. It does not, unlike that of Spartacus, list all the actors that will be appearing in the film. Spartacus did this because the well-known actors would attract a larger audience, which was needed in a film genre that had been almost overexploited.

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The title sequence of Spartacus has very dramatic music, which ties in with the fact that is trying to stand out from the other films. As you would expect, Gladiator does not use this sort of music. It has rather soft and Eastern-sounding music, which sets the scene for where the story is featured. The mise en scene of the title scene of Spartacus is predominantly grey and dark, with lots of images of Roman statues and numerals.

This makes the audience feel that while the Romans may be bold on the surface, they are actually very routine and ordinary. We tend to think of the colour grey as being very uniform and boring, and this links with the idea of the boredom that the slaves (who this story centres around) face. Among the background images are different faces, which hints at the fact that the character Spartacus feels that the Roman Empire has many different faces.

A sword appears as we see the title Spartacus, which tells us of the warrior-like qualities of the character Spartacus. The music becomes more uplifting and this reflects how the slave Spartacus rises against the Roman Empire. This title sequence ends with a stone face crumbling, the same as the Empire will. The camera zooms into the eye of the statue and fades to black. The mise en scene in the title sequence of Gladiator is black with swirling golden dust in the background. The gold dust could indicate that our main character is ‘like gold dust’. Or, in other words, that he is special and different from the rest. The Dreamworks and Universal Studios logos are also golden. Out of this golden dust emerges the title Gladiator, which represents not only our main character standing out from his surroundings, but how this genre of film has emerged from the ‘dust’ (the old films of the genre) and come to be something amazing and bold. It fades into black.

After fading into black, Spartacus opens into a very bright landscape scene with a male voice over explaining the story. He uses phrases like ‘The Pagan Tyranny of Rome’ (which shows how brutal the Romans are) and ‘Golden Rome’ (which he says sarcastically as if he does not believe it at all. The camera shot is a high angle long shot, which is known as the establishing shot as it sets the scene.

In Gladiator, however, after seeing an unbiased story explanation the first scene we see is a rather dark and dismal one. We get a close up of a hand (which has a ring on, indicating that he is married) moving through a golden cornfield, then a CU of our main character, Maximus. He seems sad, and we can tell that he is missing his hometown and wife. We sympathise for him in the same manner that we do to Spartacus, who is worked very hard by the Romans, was sold as a slave when he was 13 and seems not to have any family or friends. After seeing the CU of the hand in the cornfield, we see Maximus watching a robin flying away, like he wishes he had that freedom of being able to fly away whenever he wants.

Spartacus helps up a man who has stumbled, and then bites a Roman soldier in the leg when they kick him and shout at him. This tells us that he is kind and stand up for what he believes in. Maximus empathises with his enemy when in battle, which shows us how kind he is as well. We also see Spartacus throw his basket he is carrying down the mountain; it shows how he cares little for his work and how little the Romans care about their slaves to put them in such a dangerous working environment. They wear better clothes than their slaves, look washed and a lot better fed. They wear bright red capes which make them stand out, which could symbolise that Spartacus thinks all their battles are just for show.

In Gladiator, the Romans are perceived in a more positive light. The grey battle scene that we see makes us sympathise with them for having to fight, as the grey makes it seem everyday. Both films use quite good-looking male leads because the men watching the film would like to be them, and the women are attracted to them. Also, seeing Kirk Douglas in Spartacus looking very dirty would have shocked the audience and therefore made them pay attention to what was going on.

Spartacus says nothing in the opening five minutes and this makes us wonder about him and want to know more. Maximus does not say much, and what little he does say is spoken in Standard English with a British accent. The Romans in Gladiator come across as being very civilised. We can tell this by when they are about to go into battle, as they stand still and orderly, whilst the Germanians look angry, shout and appear to be rather careless appearance wise.


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