Directed By: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Karen McDougal, Lisa Dergan, Olga Sutulova
Tag line: "In an age of Gladiators... Destiny lies at the end of a sword"
Trivia: Though set in Ancient Rome, this film was shot entirely in St. Petersburg, Russia
OK, confession time: I bought the DVD for 2001’s The Arena because of its cover. While scanning the used shelf at my local FYE store, I came across this one for $2.99. Sure, I figured it would probably suck, but at that price, and with two gorgeous women on the front of it, locked in mortal combat, why not take a chance?
A remake of the 1974 film of the same name (which starred Margaret Markov and Pam Grier), The Arena is set in the latter days of the Roman Empire. Timarchus (Viktor Verzhbitsky) has been appointed Governor of a remote outpost, and soon finds himself missing his beloved Rome. To make his stay there more comfortable, he imports several gladiators from the capital (to fight in a makeshift arena he’s recently constructed), as well as a bevy of beautiful girls, including Jessemina (Karen McDougal) and Bodicia (Lisa Dergen), to work as slaves in his brothel. But when the gladiators fail to entertain him, the deranged Timarchus decides to allow the newly-arrived women to fight instead, battling each other to the death for his own amusement.
Something I didn’t realize when I purchased The Arena was that it was directed by Timur Bekmambetov, who in the coming years would turn out such big-budget action flicks as Night Watch (in 2004), Wanted (in 2008), and 2012’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Sure enough, Bekmambetov’s penchant for flashy fight sequences makes its way into The Arena, yet unlike his later works, the rapid-cut editing style he employs in this film is confusing at best (the first battle scene, where local warriors face off against Romans on horseback, is a muddled mess). This is a problem that plagues the entire movie, which jumps back and forth between storylines so quickly that we’re never quite sure what’s going on.
The Arena is, without a doubt, a stylish film. Unfortunately, it’s also not a very good one. I can’t say I’m sorry I bought it, but I am glad I didn’t pay more than $2.99.