Friday, February 25, 2011

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

I was vaguely aware of this series when it premiered on some channel called Starz, whatever that is. I remember watching a trailer and thinking to myself, "boy, that don't look too good." Flash forward a year or so later and my friend Anna has started watching it... and now she won't shut the hell up about it. I realized I'd have to at least check it out or else I'd never be able to talk to her again or even read her blog.

Oh, and I guess because I also respect her opinion or something, and because her recommendations had up to that point never steered me wrong.

I got the first disc on Blu Ray via Netflix and barely made it through the pilot. The acting was bad, the script was terrible, and the special effects were awful. It was obvious that somebody important at the Starz channel came to work one day and said something to his staff like, "Hey, I watched this movie 300 over the weekend and it was great. Let's do a show that's a complete rip off, only since we're the Starz channel, it will have really shitty effects and a crummy cast."

And that's the impression I got from the pilot episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. It was a about three parts 300, one part Gladiator, with a sprinkle of Rome thrown in for good measure. Since 300, Rome, and Gladiator were all brilliant, Spartacus really paled in comparison. I didn't really enjoy it, and I didn't have much interest in watching the other episodes on the disc. Of course, I had nothing better to do and the mailman had already come that day, so I figured I may as well watch at least one more episode before I wrote it off completely.

Long story short, I'm glad I gave it another shot, because the second episode was awesome. Turns out, the first episode was just a somewhat rushed, kind of forced origin story that was used just to set up the events that led to getting Spartacus into the Ludus where he becomes a Gladiator. The second episode is where the extended cast is really introduced and where things start to get interesting. And as the episodes went on, the show just got better and better until I finally began to understand why Anna started raving about it. Anyway, now I'm raving it about it too.

After the first few episodes, the show found its own visual style beyond being a clone of 300 and Gladiator and Rome. In fact, as the season progressed, I'd say that it rose to the level of those three productions, which is high praise because I love Gladiator and think that Rome is just about as good a TV series as I've ever seen. This show has a lot of sex and violence to be sure, but I actually think it won me over because the writing was so good, so thoughtful, and so intelligently done. The overall story arcs for the main characters were flawlessly constructed, and the structure of the entire season was meticulously put together, building up to the incredible finale. I knew much of what was going to happen because I've seen the original film about Spartacus and became I'm something of a fanatic about Roman history, but I was still kept on the edge of my seat, guessing about what was going to happen next during every episode.

But I don't mean to downplay the sex and violence, which was also splendid. The cast of this series is full of extraordinarily attractive people, and we are lucky enough to see all of them either naked or so close to it that our imaginations have an easy task filling in the missing gaps. Lead actor Andy Whitfield gives a superb acting performance, and he is certainly as handsome and strapping a leading man as I have ever seen. And then there's Lucy Lawless, who is already a goddess among the geek community for her roles in Xena and Battlestar Galactica, only gets more beautiful as the years go by. She has never looked more gorgeous than she looks here, nor has she ever shown off so much skin. Honestly, this entire series is worth watching if only to see how amazing Lucy Lawless looks as a redhead.

And the violence is completely off the hook. Even though there is far too much CG blood splatter, the fight sequences are incredible. The sequence were Spartacus and his fellow Gladiator Crixus face off against Theokoles was without a doubt the greatest fight scene in TV history, ranking it pretty high as one of the best fight scenes of all time. I also loved the sequence toward the end where Spartacus was forced to square off against an entire group of Roman soldiers. But, really, every fight scene was well choreographed and brilliantly put together.

So I can't recommend this series enough. It's an absolutely brilliant, enthralling look at the life of the historical Spartacus. Very little of it is based on fact, of course, and the view we get of Gladiatorial life and combat is highly romanticized and stylized, but I wouldn't want it any other way. This show is just good, sexy, exciting fun. Check it out.

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

Hmmm...I dunno. I've only seen a couple of episodes, but I dunno...

Starz is, like, the only movie channel I don't get, though, so I guess I'll probably never see more than the couple of preview episodes I watched.