The Arena (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Roger Corman is famous for re-making and re-packaging his films. This is more or less the same movie as the eponymous Pamploitation classic from 1973, updated with a bunch of newfangled techniques.

In fact, the film has far too much technique. The director movies the camera constantly, never lets a set-up last more than a couple seconds before a cut, and makes constant use of colored filters and extreme close-ups. Frankly, a little of that goes a long way. After about 15 minutes of the film, I was ready to have a heart-to-heart with the director and tell him that sometimes its OK to just set a camera in one place and let the actors act.

Of course, considering the actors he had to work with, maybe he made the right choice.

The two stars, the main gladiatrices, are Karen McDougal and Lisa Dergan, two former playmates, the former a playmate of the year. The movie camera loves McDougal, but I don't think she'll be taking any of the Streep roles in the next generation. Dergan didn't look as good in the movie, but looks terrific in her commentary section, and did a more credible job with her lines.

The rest of the cast consists mostly of Russians and Russian-speakers from Central Asia. I guess the filmmakers found a place to shoot cheaply with competent but inexpensive labor.

You'd be surprised how well these guys can create an inexpensive film entirely in the editing room. There is nothing special about the actual filmed footage in this film, except that the set design was better than average for a made-for-vid. It's just the usual grade-b fare. But the director and his editor took that footage and turned it into something that looks like a real movie, and is paced fairly effectively. Strike that. Make it "something that looks like a very long rock video".

It's a "tweener" in terms of rating. Call it a C- or a double D+, I guess, because it's neither very good nor bad enough to really dump on.


Not enough! See the main report
It doesn't really have enough T&A for a titty film, and it has no frontals, and the scenes are too dark and too arty, and the camera inevitably cuts away from the good stuff just when you're expecting more, like Red Shoe Diary scenes. I guess that makes sense, because artificially enhanced chests would not look appropriate in Roman times. The good news is that when it shows some womanflesh, that resultant skin belongs to three very attractive women, the two playmates and a striking dark-skinned woman named Kemirimbe Severina Kamugisha. (Hire this woman, and she'll fill every one of your ethnic quotas. I guess she is African and Central Asian and Japanese, and maybe European as well). 

It doesn't really have the kind of quality that you'd expect from a mainstream theatrical release, but it isn't all bad, either. 

So I guess a near-miss as a regular period film coupled with a near-miss as a tittie film might result in a watchable film for a lot of you. I didn't mind watching it, except for the constantly jumpy camera work and editing, and the director did that on purpose! But let me stress this again. Every time he's about to show the best parts of a beautiful naked woman, he makes a jump cut to something else, and I think you'll get frustrated when he keeps doing that.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed 1.85:1

  • no full-length commentary, but each of the two stars talk on camera for 30-45 minutes about her scenes (two separate interviews, with intercut movie scenes)

  • some bios and trailers

Tuna's comments in yellow 

The Arena (2001) is a made-for-vid, and sort of a sequel to Pam Greer's film of the same name. The story takes place in a remote Roman outpost. The ruler sends someone to Rome to buy Gladiators, and women. The women prove to be spunkier and more combative than the gladiators just doing their normal kitchen chores, so they are trained as gladiators. They find something better to do with their swords than kill each other.

Think of this as  soft-core meets Gladiator. Karen McDougal, Lisa Dergan and Kemirimbe Severina Kamugisha show their breasts. The dialogue is normal soft-core quality, but some of the set decoration was above average for the genre. C.


The Critics Vote

  • no reviews

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: not enough votes for a score
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C (Tuna) or D+ (Scoop).

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