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'Gladiator' Enters the Coliseum Again

Some fans may enjoy having Russell Crowe all to themselves. But DVD doesn't have many extras.

November 23, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DreamWorks' two-disc digital version of the blockbuster "Gladiator" ($30) isn't laden with lots of extras, but the DVDs are an enjoyable experience--and for star Russell Crowe's legion of female fans, an experience that can be enjoyed over and over and over again.

The epic--directed by Ridley Scott--stars Crowe as Maximus, a Roman general who is sold into slavery and becomes a star gladiator. Joaquin Phoenix plays the psychotic Roman emperor Commodus; Connie Nielsen is Commodus' sister, for whom he lusts; and Oliver Reed, in his final film performance, plays the slave owner who turns Maximus into a star.

The first disc includes a lovely wide-screen transfer of the action romance, which was beautifully shot by cinematographer John Mathieson, and intelligent commentary from Scott, Mathieson and editor Pietro Scalia. In discussing the actors, Scott says he hired Phoenix because he wanted an actor who could express a psychologically wounded quality. Scott had the makeup artists put dark circles under his eyes to give him a sickly appearance. Phoenix, recalls Scott and Mathieson, was terrified playing the part at first because he felt he couldn't live up to the expectations of the role.

The second disc includes 25 minutes of deleted scenes with Scott's commentary. Most of them were excised because of time constraints. There is one riveting and stomach-churning scene in which Maximus visits the wounded after the battle with the Germans, and another in which Reed discovers he's being spied upon by Commodus' henchmen.

Another seven minutes of unused material is featured on the disc in a montage set to Hans Zimmer's score.

There's also a typical "making of" documentary that includes interviews with the stars, director and creative staff; "The Bloodsport of a Gladiator," an interesting documentary that aired on The Learning Channel; and an interview with composer Zimmer. Rounding out the disc are trailers, production notes and cast and crew bios.

*

Also new this week from DreamWorks is the DVD of the delightful animated comedy "Chicken Run" ($27). The summer box office hit is the first feature-length, clay-animated film from Britain's Oscar-winning Aardman Animation (of "The Wrong Trousers," "A Close Shave' and "Creature Comforts").

A poultry version of "The Great Escape," this clever comedy finds a group of chickens trying to escape from a farm run by the vicious Mrs. Tweedy and her weak-willed husband. Mel Gibson supplies the voice of the cocky rooster, Rocky, and Julia Sawalha is Ginger, the feisty hen who leads the escape.

The DVD includes the wide-screen version of the film, a read-along of the story, production notes, bios, trailers and two documentaries: "Making of Chicken Run," which aired on NBC, and HBO's "Hatching of Chicken Run." Directors Nick Park (the shy one) and Peter Lord (who does most of the talking) supply the entertaining commentary. Best not to watch while eating Chicken McNuggets or a bucket of KFC.

*

Yet another big box office summer smash, "X-Men" (Fox, $30), makes its DVD debut in time for the Christmas season. Based on the popular Marvel Comics about a group of mutant superheroes, "X-Men" boasts a wonderful cast--Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman and Anna Paquin--and fast-paced direction by Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects").

The digital edition features a still photo gallery, excerpts from an interview with Singer on "The Charlie Rose Show," bios, storyboards, Jackman's screen test and several deleted scenes. There's also an average featurette called "The Mutant Watch."

Noticeably missing, though, is a commentary track from Singer. His insights into the film and why he cut certain scenes would have added much to the "X-Men" digital experience.

*

Columbia TriStar's DVD of Howard Hawks' side-splitting 1940 comedy "His Girl Friday" ($25) is a revelation. Most prints of the farce with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell--a remake of the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play "The Front Page"--shown on TV or available on video have been in horrible shape--dirty, scratched and chopped to shreds. The transfer for the digital edition is crisp and beautiful, and the often-muddied sound is sharply clear.

The disc also features trailers, vintage advertising of the film, four very short features on Grant, Russell, director Hawks, and Hecht and MacArthur. Variety film critic Todd McCarthy, who wrote a biography of Hawks, supplies the informative commentary.

*

Kudos also to Columbia TriStar for its lovely digital edition of the Oscar-winning 1957 classic "The Bridge on the River Kwai" ($25), which was directed by David Lean and stars Alec Guinness, William Holden and Jack Hawkins.

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