BluRay/DVD Reviews

SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND

By • Sep 21st, 2010 •

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First, a bit of very sad news. Andy Whitfield, the titular star of SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND, has been stricken (again) with cancer, and will not be returning to the show for its second season. We wish him well. Last year Michael C. Hall of DEXTER dealt with a related medical problem, and made it through. Let’s hope for the best for Mr. Whitfield.

The series, drenched in blood and nudity, and some appealing non-gratuitous elements as well, is a phenomenon worthy of a gander. It is unrated. If it had been, it probably would have received an NC-17, for gore. The sex is manageable. The gore is way over the top, and despite Sam Raimi’s name in the Producer’s camp, it isn’t camp gore as in EVIL DEAD or DRAG ME TO HELL.

First let’s list a few names and see if they ring a distant bell: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, Woody Strode, Tony Curtis, Nina Foch, John Ireland, Herbert Lom, John Dall, Charles McGraw, Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Mann, Howard Fast, Dalton Trumbo, Calder Willingham, Alex North, Russell Metty, Robert Lawrence, Peter Ellenshaw, Yakima Cunutt, Saul Bass. Reads like a who’s who of the various and sundry departments of classy 50s and 60s film production, stage production, and literature.

These were the cast and crew and staff of the original SPARTACUS, released in 1960, the biggest film Universal ever made. Perhaps not quite a great film, but certainly a hard act to follow. So wisdom would dictate that if it were remade, it should stray far from the shadow of the original, as did other remakes like THE THING and THE FLY.

And it does. But where does this leave us?

Following in the footsteps of a string of profane cable tv series including THE SOPRANOS, DEADWOOD, and ROME, this new SPARTACUS stakes its ground. In the 1960 original, Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus whacked an enemy soldier’s arm off at the elbow. The shot was excised after the premiere, considered too graphic for its audience. It remained to be restored by Robert A. Harris in 1991. Here, first one leg is severed at the knee, than the other, and the poor maimed gladiator crawls on in this state until he is mercifully dispatched. One sees here the evolution and glorification of the violence, gore, and sexual elements of the 50-year-old, three-hour+ theatrical release into the current hotbed of small-screen decadence craved by today’s jaded viewers. Yes, the casting and acting are quite good, led by the grim, resolute Mr. Whitfield. And yes, the period feels experimentally solid, the art direction (Ben Milsom and Nick Bassett) and costume design (Barbara Darragh) stylistically evocative. There’s a dollop too much slo-mo/fast-mo for my blood, and there’s more than enough CGI blood-spurts to periodically break the spell.

But it’s a good cable exploiter, produced on a high level, kind of like what De Palma’s SCARFACE was back in ’83 – pure, unexpurgated exploitation, but on a high, big-budget level, despite the faux-classy presence of Pacino, Oliver Stone and friends.
I’ve been hearing that people are very hooked on this new SPARTACUS, that it is being considered by its fans as the future of episodic cable TV.

We shall see.

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