Cinematography is a great industry that is capable of bringing magic into our life. However, only few can understand how hard it is to create at least one simple movie or even cartoon. It takes a crew including a film director, production designer, and many other film professionals, costumes, make-up and hairstyles, and a lot of small yet meaningful details to create a simple movie. Can you imagine what it takes to create blockbusters or historical films? Can you imagine how hard it is to choose the location, the perfect angle for shooting this or that scene and to create the perfect atmosphere or tension between characters? Also, it takes much effort to create a perfect mise-en-scène of the movie and render its atmosphere and the nature of characters with the help of the mise-en-scène?
First, it is necessary to add that a mise-en-scène means a place on stage, and it includes all visual elements and all elements of the film production. For instance, Gladiator is a movie created in 2000 and directed by Ridley Scott, starring Hollywood actors Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. The scenario was written by David Franzoni, who had been inspired by a novel about the Roman times and Commodus the Emperor himself. Also, Ridley Scott hired another script author John Logan, who rewrote two first acts and made an unexpected twist in Maximus’s fate. Logan decided to kill Maximus’s family, which would give the character more reasons for revenge. However, eventually, Franzoni was brought back by two film producers Walter F. Parkes and Douglas Wick.
Ridley Scott is a director who is famous for simple plots, but with the help of visual effects, even this simplicity is always turned into something complex with a deep meaning. Working on Gladiator, Scott was in awe from Roman history. Thus, almost for a month, the director along with his crew discovered all locations that could be typical of Roman times and empire itself. Moreover, all the costumes were elaborate and pricy and similar to the clothes of those times. It included almost more than a hundred of steel armor and a lot of clothes made from silk and other high-cost materials. Ridley Scott is also a director best known for his visual style and ability to create the atmosphere of tension. Many other directors are trying to imitate Scott’s style and his gift of creating unforgettable scenes and moments.
The main production designer of Gladiator is Arthur Max
Besides Ridley Scott, Max had also worked with David Fincher, an amazing and unique in his film design style director. Moreover, Arthur Max has been nominated for Oscar twice, and the first time was exactly for his work in Gladiator. He began his career as a lighting designer in music clips for such rock bands as the legendary Pink Floyd. Developing his skills first in British TV commercials and then in American ones, he deserved the honor of working with the greatest directors and be awarded for his work.
The art department of Gladiator consisted of many talented people, but the main person was David Allday, who is presently one of the most famous art directors. He is best known for his works in such films as Notting Hill, Robin Hood (directed also by Ridley Scott), Charlie and Chocolate Factory,and many others. David Allday has been nominated for his different works many times too. His ability to perfectly combine the colors that cannot be combined is really impressive. For example, if one takes his work in Gladiator, every scene is impressive and the colors are perfectly selected. (Wilson, 2002)
According to the information above, one can easily notice that the crew that was working on Gladiator consisted of geniuses. To prove this fact, let us analyze a fragment from Gladiator, in particular, the moment when Maximus is fighting with Commodus and eventually kills him. (“Maximus Kills Commodus,” 2000) The mise-en-scène that Ridley Scott uses in this clip from the movie is amazing. The costumes and lighting on characters, the fight itself, the music, and the symbolic moments that Scott used help the viewer understand motivations of the director and the main themes of Gladiator.
The plot revolves around Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridis and his fate after being chosen by the Emperor of Rome to succeed his position. The Emperor’s son, Commodus, killed his father and ordered his servants to kill Maximus and his family in Spain, despite being friends with the General. Maximus survived the attack, but he could not save his wife and son. He found them both murdered and his house burnt. Being forced then to fight as a gladiator, as a slave in the Coliseum, Maximus’s plan is to take revenge for his beloved ones. (Ward, 2001)
One of the best moments in the whole film, its climax, is the fight between Maximus and Commodus in the arena. It is a fight to death. Maximus threw away his sword and decided to fight with fists. However, Commodus hid a dagger planning to kill General. That is a bright moment of the mise-en-scène. In the scene of the final battle, one could see that the camera and lighting are mostly focused on Commodus, who is pulling out his secret weapon and with that attracts attention to it.
There is also a special moment when with the help of darker lighting, Ridley Scott draws our attention to the dark eyes of Commodus. That is an example of Scott’s symbolism, when Commodus is shown as a soulless man or a man who is giving away his soul to the devil. Maximus acted as a man of honor, who respected Commodus’s rules of the fight. On the other hand, Commodus is a man without respect and honor; therefore, he is shown in darker lighting. (Nusim, 2008)
With the visualization and music that make a viewer feel the tension between the two characters, Ridley Scott makes us believe in this tension; he makes us feel the fight. Moreover, the eye-to-eye camera moments allow the viewer to see the purity of Maximus and the evilness of Commodus. Even the costumes of both characters differ and have symbolic meaning: Maximus in his silver armor is shown as an honorable warrior, while Commodus in his white clothes yet with his dark eyes is shown as a killer, a man who has committed many unforgivable sins.
Also, it is necessary to pay attention to Roman officers, who surrounded the place of the fight. The officers and Maximus wear the same clothes, which means that now they support their true Emperor, not Commodus. During the fight, every camera is focused on the small arena and the two fighters, who now seem bigger. At the end of this fight, Maximus kills Commodus, although he dies too, being injured by Commodus on purpose before the battle. (Nusim, 2008)
The elements of the mise-en-scène that Ridley Scott used in his Gladiator and exactly in the battle fragment perfectly show the location and culture of Roman times. With darker or brighter lighting, the director managed to show the viewer either tension or some symbolic meanings. He also skillfully rendered the atmosphere of the fight and its after-fight effect. With the help of the mise-en-scène, the director makes us understand both main characters, their motivations, and their feelings. Undoubtedly, Ridley Scott is one of those legendary directors whose style one can easily recognize among others.