Judge David Johnson writes his legend in blood. And graphite!
Our review of Spartacus: Blood And Sand: The Complete First Season, published October 25th, 2010, is also available.
"Kill them! Kill them all!!!"
For its first piece of original programming, Starz decided to go all out.
Facts of the Case
An anonymous Thracian soldier (Andy Whitfield, Gabriel) is absorbed into the Roman infantry, which he promptly rebels against after his men are screwed over. He's captured, sold into slavery, and his beloved wife is sent somewhere far, far away. He finds himself in the Roman city of Capua, the newest member in a gladiator ludus, run by the scheming Batiatus (John Hannah, The Mummy Returns) and his even schemier wife, Lucretia (Lucy Lawless, Battlestar Galactica).
The task before him: fight in the arena under the name of Spartacus, earn his freedom, and find his wife. What follows is 13 episodes of violence, nudity, scenery-chewing dialogue, and an unsettlingly high number of prosthetic wieners.
If the first thing that occurs to you when you look at the promotional art for this show is "300," your instincts serve you well. The opening episode is uncomfortably similar to Zack Snyder's sword-and-sandal CGI bloodfest. But stick with it, even through the first couple of episodes; they're better than the premiere, if still saggy. Because I'm telling you, once this show finds its footing, there are few broadcasts as entertaining, uncompromising, fast-moving, and straight-out badass as Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
Lured by the promise of burly gladiatorial combat and a comic book vibe, I tuned in during its original run and got taken in almost immediately, shaky start and all. And while the series dealt liberally in a blood and slow-mo fight scenes, what truly astounded me is how it morphed into a genuinely great show. The over-the-top R-rated shenanigans add a hook for sure, but what separates Spartacus from sophomoric Cinemax debauchery is the commitment to telling an interesting story (inspired by history, kinda sorta) and performances by good actors who buy into the concept.
Wow, do they buy into it. Lucy Lawless is a lot of fun as a manipulative temptress; apparently enjoying the role so much, she doesn't mind indulging in a nude scene here or there. Newcomer Andy Whitfield is solid as Spartacus, believable in the action and sympathetic in his rendition of the man's motivations. But the guy who constantly brings it is John Hannah, who devours his lines like an emaciated bear cub on a Porterhouse. Just hear the guy belt out "Jupiter's cock!" once and you'll be transfixed.
What I appreciated most about Blood and Sand was that creator Steve S. DeKnight put this thing together like the first season was his last. And that's actually true; he notes in the commentary that all the episodes were shot prior to the pick-up of Season Two. As a result, something huge happens each episode, main characters die, and the finale—scripted to double as a series finale, if need be—is a blood-soaked orgy of carnage and finality. Once the show has you in its sweaty grip, I defy you not to tear through these episodes in record time.
Finally, here's your parental guidance for the show: Don't let your kids watch. The violence is hyper-stylized, yes, but there's still a ton of it, most of which I have never seen even in a feature films. Heads are whacked, faces are ripped off, limbs are chopped, torsos are skewered, guts are spilled, and one guy even receives the old castration/crucifixion double-play. Hefty bounties of fornication and creative profanity add up to a series that is so over-the-top, it is this close to being comical. But to everyone's credit, they hold the line, and the show succeeds in a big way.
If you do opt to take the journey, do yourself a favor and go the Blu-ray route. This set is gorgeous, leading off with some slick, glossy book-style packaging. Once the discs spin, you'll be in for a visual feast; the 1.78:1 transfer is absolutely beautiful, perfectly transmitting the style of the show. Sure some of the visual effects suffer a bit in the enhanced 1080p resolution, but the razor-sharp detail and deeply satisfying color work more than make up for it. I couldn't ask for better picture quality.
Or audio for that matter. A lot of craziness goes down on this show, and it's supplemented by an aggressive—if familiar—rock/orchestral soundtrack that really gets the sound system throbbing. The mix is TrueHD 5.1 and it's clean, hard, and enveloping.
Extras: Commentaries on select episodes from the cast and crew, a pop-up historical trivia track, extended scenes, a gag reel, and a pile of HD featurettes—behind-the-scenes, gladiator camp, the series' most memorable kills, the "pit scene," Andy Whitfield's plaster cast experience, the birth of the story, the T&A, and shooting fight scenes against a green screen.
If you don't mind unbridled, hard-R excess, Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season delivers a damn good time. The Blu-ray set will bring the mob to its feet in joy.
Not Guilty. By Jupiter's co—nah, forget it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Episode Commentaries
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