Spartacus: Blood and Sand, starring Andy Whitfield in the title role. This show is as close to pornography that I have seen on any network, and I have watched Deadwood and Rome. No let me rephrase that, this Spartacus IS porn. Just softcore porn. (So much for my family friendly rating for the blog)
First: I was really looking forward to this series, I was excited. I was expecting something that would emulate HBOs' Rome and the movie 300. And it does….badly…. it takes the elements that made both such wonderful adult entertainment and visually stunning production so over the top that it crashes spectacularly under its own weight!
Now, just a little back ground so one might put what is to be harsh critique into perspective. I grew up on the epics of the 50s' and 60s': Spartacus from 1960 starring Kirk Douglas and Ben Hur, 1959, with Charlton Heston. I am a product of simpler and more prudish mind set, if one would define it that way. I still prefer Errol Flynn's Robin Hood above all others. I don’t need graphic violence or sex but I do need story and acting, even cheesy well intentioned acting. Unfortunately this Spartacus is so lacking in many key areas and overdone in others I could hardly watch the first episode all the way through.
Quick back-story: Spartacus was a slave in Rome that would lead a slave revolt that caused the empire to shudder at the implications. While Spartacus led his rebels, the Senate and generals played politics. This is the stuff of awesome fiction and it is history!
Now I was not expecting anything remotely like a documentary on Rome and its gladiators, but what I saw had me reaching for the remote. The story opens in Thrace with the barbarians looking to repel their enemies and willing to align with Rome to do it. The Romans play politics and decide to pursue the Greeks to the south rather than pursue the enemies of Thrace that are circling to attack the Thracians' unprotected villages. Spartacus, though he is given this name later, smacks around the Roman leader and takes his men to save their villages, and his wife. He arrives in time to save her, but the village is lost. They spend the night entwined to be captured by the Romans in the morning. Spartacus' wife is dragged off and he is sent to the gladiator pits.
Sounds good right? Nice set up for the series. Well, let's look at how we get there: first BLOOD!!!!!!! Oh the blood, sprays, fountains, geysers, splatters, splotches, and gouts! Now, for battle scenes and people getting run through with pointy things you would expect this. Like 300, this show slows it down so you can enjoy every gory second. It worked in 300 stylistically; in Spartacus: B&S it becomes annoying. Maybe because EVERY blow is slowed down so the carnage can be fully savored. Even when Spartacus is in a fist fight, a good clip to his opponent's jaw sends splatter into a spectator's eyes. Now, I love good fight scenes, mass combat or single duels, its visceral and gets the blood up when well done, Spartacus bored me by the time we got to the above mentioned fist fight.
The blood, like the majority of sets seems to be green screen animation in the 300 style, on this point I can understand artistically and on a budget that this is not a bad move. This actually works for the story they wish to tell. It is one of the few things that do work for this series.
The acting: if Spartacus isn't mooning over his wife's thighs someone is using language you wouldn't hear in a brothel. Now, this is sad because there are several good actors in the production, and I am not referring to Lucy Lawless. Craig Parker, who played Haldir in Lord of the Rings and John Hannah of The Mummy franchise, are both in the series in pivotal roles, at least initially. The fake British accents that ancient Romans apparently had becomes annoying when actors can't do them well. Viva Bianca as the vapid, though ambitious Ilithyia comes to mind. The dialogue goes from well thought out and flowing to someone yelling "You ****** sucker!". This language gets worse as if the characters try to outdo each other in vulgarity. Even in casual conversation reference to anatomical impossibilities abound. Do people talk this way? Yeah if they have Tourette's.
Language and nudity is to expected and actually effective story telling devices in a program. Spartacus: B&S has taken the idea from Deadwood and Rome in that if they could shock and be successful with excessive nudity and language, then we should do MORE!
When I call Spartacus: B&S softcore porn, I do not exaggerate. Male and female nudity is thrown out there almost like backdrop, as a side note I read that prosthetics were used in male enhancement. Not sure if this is true, but if it is COME ON!!!!!! That borders on the ludicrous. The sex scenes leave nothing to the imagination, but rather, slow it down so that the voyeur can enjoy ever moment. Like bad slasher flicks something is lost when the actual act is shown fully, not allowing the audience to provide their own emotional response to the scene.
I really wanted to enjoy this show, I found Rome great and engaging, 300 was visually awesome with a basic but gut-kicking story. I had hoped that the blend produced by STARZ would at least be entertaining. It was not. Others might find it so, and they are welcome to it, I will put in my copy of Stanly Kubrick's epic, (still on VHS for me) and enjoy the story and drama to be found there.