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Film / The Gladiators

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The Gladiators is a 1969 Science Fiction movie, shot and produced in Sweden and directed by Englishman Peter Watkins (of The War Game fame.) In the near future, no country is still in the possession of a standing army. Instead, when conflict arises, highly trained commando groups are pitted against each other in what is called "the international peace games": a sort of gladiatorial games held in the neutral countries, and broadcast as TV-entertainment for the masses to enjoy.

In practice "the international peace games" consist of the two multinational teams competing on a hi-tech obstacle course, where the main objective is to follow a string of colored lights to the exit. "Yellow" means longer but safer and "red" means shorter but deadlier. This, year the games are held in Stockholm, Sweden, and pits a group of American, British, French and South Vietnamese soldiers against a group of Chinese red guards. To shake things up a bit, the western team is also assigned a non-combatant member: a French student and anti-war activist who is doing everything in his power to undermine the game and destroy ICARUS: the Master Computer from which the peace games are run.


Not to be confused with the 2001 Ridley Scott film Gladiator. Or the game show.

This film contains examples of:

  • An Aesop: "Your way or someone elses. They are all the same."
  • Angry Black Man: One of the two American soldiers on the Western team is this.
    "If I'll win this game, you'll just send me home, so I can go sit in the back of the fucking bus!"
  • Calvin Ball: There is no real point to the Peace Games, and the rules change arbitrarily at the drop of a hat. Captain Davidsson and his partner are also seen pressing weird buttons on ICARUS with names like "TRIAL OF STRENGTH", "EXTERNAL THREAT" and "SLOW MOTION MURDER" but we never really get to see what they do.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Captain Davidsson, the Swedish Army captain who is one half of the team that manages ICARUS.
  • You Are Number 6: None of the Soldiers have names. Instead they are called C1, C2, etc.
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  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Laguages spoken in this film include English, Swedish, French, German, Chinese and Vietnamese. Absolutely none of them are subtitled.
  • Translator Microbes: Used by a friendly police officer when he wants to communicate with the French protester.
  • The Horseshoe Effect: A central theme. The student protester is shown to be just as callous and cruel as the Militarism he is supposedly fighting, by shooting and killing a guard who did not provoke him and was just doing his job. The Soldiers (except the British one) are all racists who can't stand eachother. When the protester finally comes across ICARUS, he doesn't know what he is supposed to do with it.Captain Davidsson explains to him that he was never a threat to ICARUS, the British and Chinese Soldier were, since they were the only ones who saw eachother as humans, and not enemies.


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