How Not to Train Your Gladiator
Like a seemingly endless succession of mediocre CG animated films before it, Gladiators of Rome is what happens when you take a foreign movie, slap an English dub atop the onscreen antics and release it as a finished piece.
In the case the source material comes to us from the unlikely country of Italy. In fact, it arrived to us domestically in the year 2014 though it was making its rounds through theaters in its native Europe as far back as 2012. The film is directed by Iginio Straffi, who also cowrote the screenplay as well as co-produced it.
Built initially upon a budget of $45-million, it is rumored to have barely recovered a fraction of its production costs by the time it had been brought to the Americas. All told, the global gross for the film is estimated only as returning $50-million. This is particularly troubling considering in the US alone it somehow earned the distribution efforts of DreamWorks’ own distribution channel in Paramount Pictures.
The story here follows a lad named Timo- from his humblest of beginnings as a survivor of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii in the year 79 AD. He is immediately rescued and taken in by Chirone; the fair and honest owner of a gladiator training academy, where he is raised as Chirone’s own son.
Unfortunately (and slightly disturbingly) when his step-sister through adoption, Lucilla, heads to Greece to get her studies on, our pal Timo decides to throw in the towel on this game called life. He allows himself to become fat and defeated, picked on even by a marauding band of baby gladiators in addition to taking abuse from his own peers.
Once Lucilla returns home (did Timo really fear no end to her education?), Timo suddenly needs to get his life turned around in a hurry as being a gladiator means a fight to the death in the Coliseum if he’s to have any hope of defeating the boisterous Cassio and winning the hand of his step sister once and for all.
If this isn’t all askew enough, a nearly-nude, high heel-sporting dominatrix chick named Diana shows up seemingly out of nowhere to train our hapless hero. Who she really is or why she decides to help is never made clear but by this point in the muddled mess that is Gladiators of Rome, it should be the least of one’s concerns.
The film’s biggest flaw has got to be its pacing. Moments like Timo’s having become an orphan and then being taken in to another family are all whisked over literally within the first three minutes of the film. From there you will endure frequent segments of little more than mindless slapstick. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a sequence in this movie that doesn’t try every trick in the book to elicit a laugh of the slapstick/ Loony Toons variety. There are trips, slips, smacks, whiffs and kicks to the genitals in nearly every shot.
And in the event that even this weren’t enough to make the audience chuckle, there’s a host of animals integrated as backup: a rabbit that gets beat on for no apparent reason, a tag team bear and bobcat looking for victims to maul, a horse with unrelenting gas. Straffi must not have gotten the memo that when it comes to comedy, often less is more. Such blatant over-reaching here has almost the opposite effect; scenes that may ordinarily have been cute are nothing but annoying for having been shoved down the viewer’s proverbial throat with such regularity.
On a grander level there is the subtle fact that nothing about this story really makes much sense- Does Timo even want to be a Gladiator? Nowhere here is the lifestyle presented as a result of slavery but rather as a legit career choice. One that just so happens to culminate in a fight- to the death no less. Is surviving this the only way to win the affection of the woman he loves? If so, is that really the type of woman he should be hoping to marry? Of course this isn’t even taking into consideration that they are essentially step-siblings. Or that while Timo was off training in a slap-stick-o-rama with Diana, Lucilla was fraternizing with Timo’s arch nemesis Cassio. And who is Diana? She appears out of thin air with no real motivation to help Timo. Did I mention there is a band of baby gladiators running around doing, for reasons never explained, Cassio’s bidding?
Visually the film makes use of some wonderful textures and solid models but the animations are cobby and inconsistent. Again, the focus here seems to have been on delivering silliness and slappy gags rather than capturing any depth of human emotion through the medium of animation.
All in all, there’s a very clear explanation for why, after having toured nearly the entire globe, Gladiators of Rome only barely recovered the money it cost to be made; it simply fails to deliver on any of the promise in its premise.