The best Spartacus tale to not actually have Spartacus in it, which probably isn’t in a crowded field.
A prequel to the popular Starz series Spartacus Blood and Sand, this six-episode miniseries focuses on the rise of the House of Batiatus to its place of prominence at the start of the first season. The series covers Quintus Batiatus (John Hanna) and his wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) taking over his ailing father’s gladiator school, as well as Crixus’ (Manu Bennett) path to taking the title “champion” from Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and Oenomaus’ (Peter Mensah) unwilling path to become the gladiator trainer.
While the production reasons for making this prequel miniseries is unfortunate, formor Sparticus star Andy Whitfield’s battle with lymphoma, series creator Steven S. DeKnight does a spectacular job maintaining the feel of the series even without its titular character. My main downside in the first season was in fact the unsympathetic Spartacus character, which was more a writing issue than an acting one. The great supporting characters from the first season break out as intriguing and oddly sympathetic main stars.
Quintus and Lucretia are wonderfully crafted as antagonists in the first series, and this series delves deeper into building them to their backstabbing and lofty aspirations. They both start at a somewhat lighter place and follow a darker path as their world chews them up and spits them out. Hanna and Lawless expertly portray their characters again in realistically and subtly conveying their development. Both get beaten down so much, physically and emotionally, that the audience begins to sympathize a little with them now and retroactively in the first series.
Even beyond them, the cast is a joy to watch. Current champion gladiator Gannicus is boisterous and fun. Oenomaus has a more youthful and joyous feel with a bride and no training responsibility. This miniseries’ antagonist Tullius is more two-faced and sadistic than Quintus ever was in the first series. I’m actually interested in these characters.
But of course, a series called Gods of the Arena needs to focus on the gladiators from time to time, and they get just as much of the spotlight. The combat is just as visceral and gruesome as the first series, if not more so. The weapons and combat are more varied than before, with more usage of axes, spears, tridents, maces, nets and flails. The dismemberments and physical punishment, just as much so.
This is a fun series to lose yourself in, with plenty of blood, sex and fascinating characters to enjoy.
The Video and Audio
Just as the first series, this series is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The soundtrack is still pretty forgettable. The CGI is still pretty obvious, but it doesn’t seem as jarring as the first series. This could be due to any combination of using more practical sets, refined technique or simply getting used to it.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This two-disc set comes in a book-shaped case of sturdy and glossy cardboard, bound in a hard plastic slip cover. If you’ve seen the packaging for the first season Spartacus Blood and Sand, it’s the same style albeit smaller due to fewer discs. It is a nice-looking case.
Likewise with the first series, this miniseries is also packed with bonuses. Plenty of features litter the second disc, from behind-the-scenes documentaries to fun videos of dismemberments and a day in the life of Lucy Lawless. Even a Comic Con panel on the series is recorded and left on the disc.
Overall (Not an Average)
Sparticus Gods of the Arena is a fun, escapist romp for anyone looking to indulge their primal urges while basking with interesting characters. Anyone who enjoys the first series will enjoy this one as well, if not more so.
The Series 8/10
The Video and Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10