The movie Gladiator is, at its base, a fighting movie and as such has lot of action scenes. Thus, the overall theme of the movie soundtrack is one of fierceness and quickness to mirror the action on screen. Perhaps no one scene portrays this use of music as well as the very opening scene where Maximus leads his troops against the Gauls in what is the last battle of a brutal war. At the beginning of the battle where all we see is chaos on screen, the music is very fast paced and intense, drawing us deeper into the action. This use of sound is further characterized by Louis Giannetti in Understanding Movies : ”The faster the tempo of the sound, the greater the tension produced in the listener”(208). However, the music does begin to change as more and more discernible actions are shown to us. For example, when the action slows and there is a brief moment where we see a barbarian waving around a giant hammer in slow motion, the music itself also slows down and gains a darker tone. By using this music, the movie does not need to use any words for the audience to understand that this guy is bad and is more than likely the leader of the barbarians. A few moments later Maximus is knocked off his horse to the ground and for a few brief seconds the music cuts out entirely and all we hear is the sound of his sword as he fights the seemingly endless hordes of enemies around him. By cutting out the music, the movie again conveys a message without using any words. This time the message is one of fear- here is the supposed main character on the ground seemingly close to death. How will he escape? Once we hear the final clang of Maximus’ sword and we know the bad guy is dead, the music again starts in earnest. The final change in the music happens when Maximus is saved from an attacking barbarian by his dog. The dog drags away the attacker and the motion slows and the music becomes much more smooth and solemn. Even though nothing has yet happened to the dog, the music is definitely foreshadowing the fact that something not too pleasant is about to happen. As the battle swirls around out of focus, we clearly hear a dog yelp and, even though we didn’t see it, we certainly assume that the heroic animal has been killed. Once the battle is won, the music changes to a tone of somber victory- the Romans won, but it was at great cost.
While Gladiator is mainly a movie of action, there are also several deep moments. However, even in some of these deepest moments the music seems to almost always hint back to the action theme. This idea is best shown in the scene where Commodus talks to his father and eventually kills him. At the beginning the music seems to go along with the general feeling of grief that is being expressed in the scene, both by Commodus and by his father. However, about halfway through Commodus’ confession of his feelings, the music in the background shifts a bit. While he is still explaining how tirelessly he worked to gain his father’s approval, the music shifts to a darker, more sinister mood. At first the change is very hard to notice, but as time passes the volume builds until it is almost easier to hear the music than the words the Commodus is saying. This use of the ominous music seems to nullify everything that he is saying in that it is hinting at a particularly evil event in the near future. Once he is done speaking he and his father embrace, in what should be a passionate and forgiving way, the music builds again until it’s intensity changes the mood of the scene entirely. Finally, the mood shifts fully as Commodus suffocates his father by hugging his head firmly to his chest until his father is dead. This idea of music being able to totally change the mood of the scene is further discussed by Giannetti: “In many cases, the predominant mood of a scene can be neutralized or even reversed with contrasting music” (216). This idea of changing the mood entirely is definitely exemplified in the scene with Commodus and his father.
Overall I thought that this movie had a wonderful soundtrack with many moving songs. The sounds designers did wonderful job of having the music corespondent to the action that was going on in the movie.