Hype for Spartacus was big and it only continued to grow throughout its first season. With a very 300-like visual style and plenty of action in each episode, the fans of the series grew as it progressed on and it’s clear that by the end of this first season, Starz had a significant hit on their hands. Unfortunately with the star, Andy Whitfield, still undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the fate of the season (as well as the series) remains up in the air as the network decides whether to go with re-casting or simply shutting down production altogether. While fans wait for its return, however, they can be satiated by the first season on home video and the mini-series set to air in January.
Betrayed by the Romans, forced into slavery, reborn as a Gladiator. The classic tale of the Republic’s most infamous rebel comes alive in the graphic and visceral new series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Torn from his homeland and the woman he loves, Spartacus is condemned to the brutal world of the arena where blood and death are primetime entertainment. But not all battles are fought upon the sands. Treachery, corruption, and the allure of sensual pleasures will constantly test Spartacus. To survive, he must become more than a man, more than a gladiator. He must become a legend.
I was really looking forward to Spartacus. The advertisements looked cool and it was basically a series long version of 300, which is a movie I love. Shortly into the pilot episode of the show, however, I began to realize that something was amiss with this show. The setting was fine and the action was good, but the CGI was truly abhorrent at times; that really wasn’t even the worst bit of it either. For me the most off-putting thing about the show was its penchant for dropping F-bombs every sentence. I don’t pretend to know what their grammar was like back then, but it became a very quick annoyance for me as they all just let out expletive after expletive. I’m not even offended by the dialogue, it just felt incredibly out of place and annoying.
If my issues with the series stopped there, however, then I probably would’ve kept watching. Sadly they continue on with the distracting CGI that’s forced upon us at times; I know it’s supposed to be like 300 but it just looks really cartoony and plastic-y almost every time there’s a limb cut off or blood sprayed. Pile on the copious amounts of sex (another thing that shouldn’t bother me, yet somehow does) and I just couldn’t make it through the broadcast of the first four episodes. By the time this Blu-ray came and I sat down to finish the series off, I found it excruciating as the dialogue grew more and more profoundly stupid before finally the final episodes credits scrolled across my TV and I could breathe a sigh of relief.
I know several people who love this show. Absolutely love it. This wouldn’t really surprise me considering how many people do enjoy it, but those I know who love this show also love the same shows that I do. So it’s not as if we share a separate interest in TV shows—quite the contrary, we all watch the same ones for the most part. There just seems to be a perfect storm of tiny annoyances built into Spartacus that I can’t overlook, no matter how hard I try. Perhaps its my inherent disdain for ancient Rome style shows—I don’t like watching anything that’s swords and sandals related for the most part (300 being the exception for some reason)—but I just couldn’t get into this show, even after watching the entire season.
On the flipside I definitely see its appeal. While a lot of the episodes amount to little more than soft core porn (it rivals True Blood in that department even), the storyline is a pretty timeless one with Spartacus trying to reclaim the love of his life. He’s forced to face off against countless foes and as he works his way up the ranks, it’s clear that that is still what drives him. It’s not an entirely original story but it’s one that makes for enough drama—at least with our title character. The secondary characters are a different story, as the main focus aside from Spartacus is Lucy Lawless and John Hannah’s characters. Not only do they have a strange relationship, but their sexual activities are some of the more…interesting ones on the show.
Overall Spartacus isn’t for everyone. There’s a certain hokeyness to it that just doesn’t sit right with me, probably because it’s paired with so much drama and action. I really wanted to enjoy it and perhaps I’ll give it another shot whenever the second season starts…but for now it is only something I can push as a Rental, simply because it didn’t appeal to me at all. I enjoy excessive violence, foul language, and nudity as much as the next American, but this series is just too much at times.
Anchor Bay/Starz pushes out Spartacus: Blood and Sand onto Blu-ray in a four disc setup that will definitely “pop” on your shelf. Housed inside of a plastic slipcover that hides a cardboard foldout/according style packaging underneath, the set definitely looks as expensive as it was to produce. In addition to that the menus are very nicely done and are a simple and easy to navigate affair.
Video is truly what the Blu-ray format was made for. There is so much exceptional detail housed inside of these 1080p AVC encoded transfers its ridiculous. While the CGI and green screen work is obvious, the actual sets and clothing are just jaw-dropping. The detail is vast and everything from the grains of sand to the drops of blood look absolutely astonishing. The series also makes for a good test disc for your TV if you want to calibrate the color levels, as while it maintains the earth tones throughout there is so much bare flesh that it’s easy to dial in on what the proper skin tones should be should you be wanting to get that adjusted on your set. Truth be told though as tedious as I found the series to be, the Blu-ray transfer was never something I had an issue with—it’s absolutely astonishing.
Audio is similarly fantastic with a TrueHD 5.1 mix accompanying every episode. There really isn’t a single episode that doesn’t deliver the goods in both the surrounds and the subwoofer department—there’s just so much brutality stretched across this set that it’s hard not to be blown away and amazed by all of the aural goodness that this set packs. As hokey as some of the CGI work is, the way they are married with some of the audio effects is really quite fantastic; everything from slow motion head lopping to blood splatters are carried out exceptionally well. There isn’t much about this audio mix that doesn’t endlessly impress and combined with the video it definitely makes for one of the best Blu-ray experiences this year.
Audio commentaries cover “The Red Serpent,” “Sacramentum Gladiatorium,” “The Thing in the Pit,” “Shadow Games,” “Delicate Things,” “Whore,” “Party Favors,” “Revelations,” and “Kill Them All.” The remainder of the extras are spread across the fourth disc, although there are extended/enhanced episodes (“The Red Serpent,” “Sacramentum Gladiatorium,” “Shadow Games,” “Delicate Things,” “Mark of the Brotherhood,” “Kill Them All”) that offer up more footage (mostly more sex and violence, surprise surprise!) for the specific episodes. The remainder of the featurettes/bloopers/etc. add up to only bout half an hours worth of extras, so don’t expect too much more past the commentaries. Considering that the tracks cover nine out of the thirteen episodes, however, you’ll have plenty of time occupied with those at the very least.
Overall this is a Highly Recommended set for those who enjoy the series, simply because of how superb the Blu-ray A/V transfer is. On top of that the extras are rock solid. If you’ve never seen the series, however, then a rental would be a wise choice. Just don’t judge the series too harshly on the first couple episodes as they easily are the worst in the bunch. Sadly, for me, they just didn’t improve enough to really get into the show.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.