“Strength And Honour.” Nothing quite expresses so bluntly and poetically the brute power of ancient Rome than Nick Livesey’s original, abandoned approach to the opening of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.
Given the script for the first quarter of the film and the wheatfield rushes of star Russell Crowe as Roman General Maximus brushing his fingers through the crop, which was locked in as the opening image, Livesey was tasked with creating an opening crawl that would lead into this. The colour of the wheat and the patina of the overall image was an inspiration to set his titles in bronze, as if from a Roman foundry – to give it the weight and heft of an epic introduction, not unlike “the Rank gong.”
The camera opens high on a cracked, bronze foreboding plain – Germania, with lines zig-zagged across it, like Roman ranks. As it pans down and tracks forward and across, side to side, following each line, we see they aren’t legionaries, but bronze letterpress, cast in clean, crisp font. This is the legend of Rome, and its reach. How Emperor Marcus Aurelius has fought the stubborn Germanic tribes for fifteen years to this point, to this day.
As the camera glides across on its pre-programmed approach, dust is blown from the surface and typeface, revealing the next piece of the legend, while Hans Zimmer’s Spanish styled strings and Lisa Gerrard’s vocals set the mood. In the end, as the run-time of the film stretched on, Ridley Scott passed over the opening concept, despite being excited by it, opting instead for a (not much) shorter, more traditional one. Here is Nick Livesey talking about his approach, and the finished, unused opening, which I for one wish Scott had retained.