Created by Steven S. DeKnight
Featuring Andy Whitfield, John Hannah, Peter Mensah and Lucy Lawless
Good ol’ fashioned fighting fun with plenty of eye candy and drama. And Lucy Lawless. What more could you want?
Spartacus is a Thracian soldier, burned by Roman promises and double crosses. Separated from his wife and home, Spartacus goes from reluctantly fighting alongside the Romans to fighting for their entertainment. The series follows as Spartacus and his new-found comrades learns the extent of Roman treachery and the evils of slavery.
Action is the name of the game, both combative and sexual. Spartacus: Blood and Sand takes full advantage of its Starz premium channel home. The first episode alone has three sex scenes (including full frontal shots) and a kill count I lost track of. There’s plenty of eye candy for all to enjoy too, from a revealing sex scene with a redheaded Lucy Lawless (thumbs up, Xena fans) to gladiator bath house scenes that may make male viewers insecure in their masculinity. And of course, more than enough gore and bloodshed for all. Needless to say, not for the kiddies.
It’s almost cliché to say about this show at this point, but it really is 300 meets Gladiator. Both in slow-motion, bloody action scenes and in green screen effects, Spartacus duplicates the same visual aesthetic of 300. The similar setting and the soldier-prisoner-gladiator-hero character path rings familiar to any Gladiator fans (or fans of Stanley Kubrick’s 1960s Spartacus movie for that matter).
And then there’s Peter Menseh, who climbed out of the pit Leonidas kicked him down in order to bring that Spartian “madness” to the gladiators of Spartacus.
The main downside is the unsympathetic characters, including Spartacus himself. Many characters are unlikeable, Spartacus included during parts, as this series is populated with several assholes with no explored reason for being such. Even though the audience should feel sorry for Spartacus early on, the character squanders it with eventual complacency. This does turn around more at the end, where Spartacus himself begins to develop into the leader for freedom we expect, but it still feels a little forced.
Aside from that, some flat acting and modern curses will prove jolting. Still, the soap-opera level of double crosses and betrayal, combined with both violent and sexualized action, makes for an enjoyable, over-the-top experience.
Widescreen presentation in 1.78:1 to show all of the nudity and gore one could hope for. Oddly, the DVD menus are in fullscreen, which is both visually inconsistently and a pain when adjusting aspect ratio settings. Luckily even in widescreen doesn’t cut off anything but graphics.
The CGI is pretty glaring, especially with all the green screen and fake gore, but it’s pretty much what you would expect. Not bad, just not well done.
Editor’2 Note: The blu-ray takes the overall quality up a notch offering up stronger detail and better black levels but the CGI just stands out even more. I think it’s sort of a stylistic decision to make the the graphics look the way they do.
DVD 6/10 Blu-Ray 8/10
Sound comes in Dolby Digital 5.1, with both the original English and an optional Spanish track. The sound is clear enough. The soundtrack is fitting, but it fades into the background and becomes fairly forgettable.
Editor’s Note: Again the blu-ray release takes the audio up a level offering a TrueHD 5.1 presentation rather than the basic Dolby Digital 5.1 option of the SD release. The HD audio features better separation in the surround environment, good directional audio during fights but weak use of the subwoofer.
DVD 5/10 Blu-Ray 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This four-disc set comes in a neat book-shaped case. Each disc is protected in a page sleeve, accompanied with some related splash art and disc content info. The entire case itself is kept in a plastic protective sleeve.
The set also comes with a bevy of entertaining behind-the-scenes videos, including some creative names like “Andy Gets Plastered” and “Exposing Your Ludus.”
The only real knock against the features goes to the commentary. Not the commentary itself though, which is enjoyable enough with juicy production stories on the six episodes that have it. Which episodes, you ask? Have to figure that out for yourself. The collection fails to list which episodes have commentary and with whom, so the only way to find them is to come across them while watching (hint: episodes 4, 5, 9, 10, 12 and 13). Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. The other half, learn for yourself in the arena.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season is a fun, cathartic experience. It’s not the best acted or graphic series on television, but it’s a good time of drama, catfights, dude’s kicking ass and plenty of T&A for every gender to enjoy.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Series 7/10
The Video DVD 6/10 Blu-Ray 8/10
The Audio DVD 5/10 Blu-Ray 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10