Good things were said from reputable sources while the US TV series Spartacus Blood and Sand aired on the Starz channel last year, although all the write-ups have been upfront about the levels of violence and nudity that are excessive from the start and continue to the end of the series.
Weighing up these comments I chose not to watch this series when on television as there was more compelling series competing for my attention, I also did not have sufficient interest in Andy Whitfield who plays Spartacus or that keen to see any more of Lucy Lawless and John Hannah, so when the Blu-ray set turned up I began to watch it with cautious interest rather than the excitement you may have if you bought into this series. Having watched every episode in close succession I found that there were things about this series that are indeed commendable, but more aspects that are much closer to the deplorable.
Early on, in what can only be described as an experience rather than a mere viewing, it occurred to me that the series should have been entitled Blood, Guts and Breasts, as the myth of Spartacus is used very loosely to depict some of the most serious flaws in Roman society. Slavery, sexual perversion, adultery, bullying, disregard of life, rape, gluttony and the relentless pursuit of wealth and status are what Spartacus is fighting against. He is torn from his wife because he is an honourable man and would not see his countrymen suffer at the hands of invaders, which meant reneging on his agreement with his new Roman allies. He is then tossed into the arena to die, but proves himself a capable enough fighter to be bought by John Hannah and trained as a gladiator. All of these events are brutally and graphically presented in comic book fashion, which makes viewing at once bearable and appalling.
There are flashes of visual and thematic film references here: The Last of the Mohicans provides some of the earlier references, while 300 provides the inspiration for the visual style for which the series directors, Michael Hurst, Rick Jacobson and Jesse Warn, should be very grateful. With so much blood on show, viewing it in any other way would have inspired most of us to turn off. The continual sex, like the violence, seemed fairly arbitrary and shot from a virginal teenager’s perspective. This part of the audience will be captivated if somewhat misled by the emotionless and far from erotic scenes of Xena or the aptly name Ilithyia (a name which actually means ‘idiot’ in Greek-played well I thought by Viva Bianca despite it being a dubious compliment) getting it on with men and women alike.
In Blood and Sand, Spartacus’ fight for life and love causes an mêlée between what is acceptable and entertaining and what should never be presented as such. For me, the themes of this series were by far too grave for the approach applied and I felt as though I kept straying somewhat bemused from someone else’s prolonged sexual fantasy into a comic book gladiatorial arena often seeing little continuity or reason. The Blu-ray offers extended scenes of sex and violence, if that’s your thing, but if you come to this expecting any relationship between Stanley Kubrick’s original Spartacus (1960) played by the glorious Kirk Douglas or Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) then you will feel sorely disappointed and may even find yourself muttering, “You are not Spartacus”….
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