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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND--THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON -- DVD review by porfle


The Starz original series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" is a heady mix of extremely violent action, gore, nudity and softcore sex, riveting drama, and even romance.  There's something for everybody here, but especially for people who love movies like 300 and GLADIATOR.  SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND--THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (2010) contains thirteen powerful episodes on four discs, and, if you're like me, you'll devour the whole heady concoction as fast as you can.

It's 73 B.C., and Rome has just asked the men of Thrace for help in their war against the Greeks.  Of course, Thracian warrior Spartacus (a perfectly-cast Andy Whitfield) and his men get screwed over by the snide young Roman commander Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker), who decides to pursue glory elsewhere while Thracian villages are pillaged.  After a bloody confrontation with the Romans, the surviving Thracians find themselves sentenced to fight and die in the arena for the entertainment of jaded Roman citizens.  But Spartacus manages to defeat all six of his burly, sword-slinging executioners and becomes a hero.

Batiatus (John Hannah, THE MUMMY) and his wife, Lucretia (Lucy Lawless, "Xena: Warrior Princess"), who are in the business of training gladiators for sport, see their new prize Spartacus as a means of gaining political power and social advancement.  But as devious and underhanded as they are, there are always others, such as Glaber's venomous wife Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) and Batiatus' backstabbing competitor Solonius (Craig Walsh Wrightson), whose own unscrupulous schemes threaten to destroy them.  Meanwhile, Spartacus endures grueling gladiator training under the whip of the invincible Doctore (Peter Mensah, 300) while reigning arena champion Crixus (Manu Bennett) becomes his bitter enemy.


I've barely scratched the surface of all the various subplots and machinations that crackle throughout this show's first season.  Spartacus' one goal is to make himself so valuable to Batiatus as a gladiator that he may someday win freedom for his beloved wife Sura (BITCH SLAP's Erin Cummings), who was sold into slavery by Glaber.  Batiatus and Lucretia are so supremely vain, selfish, and cruel that their unending villainy becomes fascinating, especially with Hannah and Lawless playing the roles with such reptilian relish.  In his own way, Batiatus is as ruthless as Don Corleone or Tony Montana during his "come-up", and his story sometimes has a GODFATHER B.C. feel to it.  Viva Bianca's spoiled, condescending Ilithyia is equally vile. 

The plight of their hapless slaves is the heart of the story--even our hero's bitter rival Crixus, who might have been depicted as a standard bad guy, gains our sympathy with his desperate love for Lucretia's servant girl Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt), which is complicated by the fact that Lucretia has chosen him as her virile sexual slave.  Spartacus' friend Varro (Jai Courtney) fights in the arena to repay his debts so that he can rejoin his wife and son, but fate conspires to keep them apart.  Spartacus himself will endure a series of tragic betrayals which will reveal to him the true monstrous nature of his Roman captors and eventually force him to contemplate a dangerous and deadly slave revolt.

While the slaves eke out their meager existence, the Romans wallow in decadence and perversion.  There's enough nudity (much of it full-frontal) and simulated sex in these episodes to equal a month's worth of Skinemax.  Some couples go at it in artistically-lensed romantic fashion, as in the case of Spartacus and Sura or Crixus and Naevia, while the Romans crudely indulge every aspect of their carnal lust with unwilling slaves.  Naturally, the occasional full-blown orgy pops up now and then.  There are some great-looking women in this cast--"Xena" fans will particularly enjoy the frequent views of naked Lucy Lawless.  For those who fancy the male physique, there's tons of bulging beefcake on display wherever you look.


With its sumptuous cinematography and imaginative direction, the show is like a graphic novel come to life.  (I was often reminded of Barry Smith's classic "Conan" comics from the 70s.)  Frequent use of green screen also lends a storybook quality.  Much of the battle action is visually stylized and accentuated by sudden moments of extreme slow-motion that look like extravagantly-rendered comic panels.  As for the violence itself, it is extremely graphic as heads, limbs, and entrails go flying and the frame is often awash in great crimson splashes of blood.  The staging of the numerous fights is outstanding, the action gritty, hard-hitting, and realistic. 

Even out of the arena, the shocking violence continues with a combination crucifixion-castration and an unexpected murder scene in which one woman impulsively bashes another woman's head to an unrecognizable pulp against a stone floor.  The season comes to a blood-drenched climax in a deadly frenzy of killing that is titled, fittingly enough, "Kill Them All."

The four-disc DVD set from Anchor Bay is 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English and Spanish subtitles.  Several episodes feature cast and crew commentary tracks.  There are nine behind-the-scenes featurettes exploring various aspects of the production.  The discs are encased in lavishly-illustrated book form, the only drawback being that it's a bit difficult sliding them in and out of their page slots without getting fingerprints on them. 

Often the curse of watching a single season of a great television serial is that you're left hanging at the end.  With SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND--THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, we may not get the full story of how he eventually leads a massive slave rebellion against the Romans and the tragic fate that awaits him at the end of his quest, but what we do get ends, satisfyingly enough, with a big, bloody bang.  This show is what you get when you cross a riveting, exquisitely-produced story with a meat grinder.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

so far spartacus is d best facinating firm 4me this era...it has evry passion that i lyk but hp 2 see d second season sooner.