- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Multimedia mavens who love ancient combat have a couple of ways to spend the weekend through a pair of action-filled releases.

First, a film that won multiple Academy Awards gets the royal treatment in Gladiator: Extended Edition (from DreamWorks Home Entertainment, rated R, $39.99). Actor Russell Crowe portrays Maximus, a warrior who must fight his way home in this epic adventure set during the reign of Roman emperor Commodus.

The three-disc set is distinguished by an abundance of bonuses that candidly deconstruct the film and its creation through various multimedia presentations.

On the first disc, viewers not only get the theatrical cut of the film, but also can see the 17-minute-longer extended edition that director Ridley Scott introduces as “simply worth seeing.”

Viewers will want to watch either cut of the film before turning on an overwhelmingly informative commentary track with Mr. Scott and Mr. Crowe, who together deliver an anecdote-filled stream of memories that runs over nearly every second of scenes.

Rounding out the disc is an optional pop-up track of facts that appears in a box at the bottom of the screen during 95 percent of the movie. Viewers will, for example, learn that the first imperial Roman legions were created by Augustus Caesar in 31 B.C.

The first disc alone normally would be enough to satisfy most DVD aficionados, but the second disc provides a 3-hour, seven-part documentary on the making of the film that will continue to captivate fans. Highlights include “Resurrecting Proximo,” which examines how filmmakers completed actor Oliver Reed’s performance as the gladiator trader after the actor died with three weeks of filming left. A bit of luck and digital manipulation rounded out his masterful final role.

The third disc continues the behind-the-scenes magic with a walk through the computer-generated constructions of the battle of Germania and creation of Rome, the development of an ultimately abandoned scene of a gladiator fighting a rhino (including initial animation tests of the animal) and comparisons of storyboards to final sequences using the DVD controller’s angle button.

After the immersive lesson on “Gladiator,” viewers should be more than ready to enter a virtual arena and take part in the violent games that were a crucial part of the Roman Empire.

The third-person adventure Colosseum: Road to Freedom (from KOEI Corp. for PlayStation 2, rated M: content suitable for ages 17 and older, $49.99) plunges a player into a journey as a simple slave who must fight his way through warriors and buy his freedom by earning 1 million sesterces in 50 days.

After a player answers questions posed by his master to define his character, including what mythological god he believes in, the new gladiator gets a comprehensive, hands-on tutorial on his combat moves. The player then can enter a training area for performance-enhancement exercises, such as doing sit-ups, striking dummies and throwing swords, where the player quickly mimics controller-button sequences popping up on screen.

Those proficient with hand-eye coordination are rewarded with training points used to buy food that hones attributes such as strength, agility, dexterity and stamina.

After a night’s sleep, the battles begin as the rested gladiator is sent to a pair of arenas to face single and multiple foes ready to strike him down. During the timed and untimed, often bloody, action, the player can pick up, use and throw weapons dropped by combatants during the contest or buy them with his winnings during rest periods.

His battles range from team fights to one-on-one duels against veteran gladiators to mock battles based on historical events (the Carthaginian re-enactment seen in “Gladiator” is available).

Unfortunately, targeting enemies to fight is nearly impossible and the player often will find his warrior running around the ring, occasionally swiping at fairly confused brutes. The excitement level of the fights is also diminished by difficult-to-execute control schemes and the terribly animated crowds that harken back to the days of the original PlayStation.

However, the varied action along with appearances by emperor Commodus as well as Narcissus (upon whom Russell Crowe’s character was loosely based) deliver enough reason to rent Colosseum: Road to Freedom as a complement to Mr. Scott’s ode to arena warfare.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]washington times.com).

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