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Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season(TV) (2010)
Torn from his homeland and the woman he loves, Spartacus, a Thracian warrior captured by Romans, is enslaved into a gladiator training school owned by Batiatus and his wife Lucretia. He is forced to fight daily for his life against deadly foes, under the brutal whip of trainer Doctore. Against all odds, Spartacus' rebellious instincts, his intense love for his wife Sura and his powerful fighting skills drive him to win a series of near-impossible battles - setting in motion a revolution against the tyranny of Rome. To survive, he must become more than a man, more than a gladiator. He must become a legend.
For more about Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season and the Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season Blu-ray release, see Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on September 17, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Writer: Brent Fletcher
Starring: Andy Whitfield, Liam McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Nick E. Tarabay, Peter Mensah, John Hannah
» See full cast & crew
Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review
Sex, Lies, and Gladiatorfights.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, September 17, 2010
Perhaps there is something beyond glory.
There's probably no other television show that's as potentially divisive as "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." Here's a series that pushes all sorts of boundaries that even decidedly adult-oriented programs like "Oz" and "The Sopranos" would have never dared approach even but a few short years ago. Not only is "Spartacus" awash in the ultra-violence of ancient Rome's gladiatorial arenas, it's also home to blunt sexual dialogue, full-frontal male and female nudity, and plenty of steamy sex scenes that place the show in the same grouping as some of the more explicit soft-core pornographic programs that used to be exclusive to middle-of-the-night airings on Cinemax. The series' first episode is particularly steamy and violent, but viewers who tuned out the show after its first outing missed out on a season that quickly turns into a far more emotionally engaging and thematically challenging story arc than its "blood and boobs" early veneer may have otherwise suggested. No, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" isn't at the top of the TV heap, and yes, the show probably exists more to push boundaries than it does to tell a meaningful story, but it still manages to offer a whole lot of good-old-fashioned entertainment that gets the blood pumping and the senses excited, all the while entwining some well-constructed drama and good character development amidst the cartoonish violence and almost nonstop parade of nudity, sexual intercourse, and the kind of explicit dialogue that might even make Quentin Tarantino blush.
A young Thracian who will soon become known as Spartacus (Andy Whitfield), hoping to finally put violence behind him and start a family with his wife Sura (Erin Cummings), enlists in the Roman Auxiliary army to fight the invading Getae and help end their brutal raids once and for all. When the Roman commanding officer of his unit, a legatus named Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker), choses to advance his career by ordering his Thracians to attack Mithridates and the Greeks rather than confront the Getae, the man who will be Spartacus leads a revolt against the legatus but is punished and ultimately finds himself sentenced to death in the gladiator arena while his wife is condemned to a life of slavery. The young man defeats several professional gladiators, and his sentence is reduced from death slavery. He earns the name "Spartacus" for his display of skill and bravery in the arena, and he's soon purchased by Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah), owner of a thriving "ludus" -- or training ground -- for developing and seasoned gladiators alike. There, Spartacus expresses his only wish -- to be reunited with his wife -- and bargains with his master, vowing to train and fight in exchange for Batiatus' promise to locate and free Sura from her life of bondage. Under the tutelage of a former gladiator known as "Doctore" (Peter Mensah), Spartacus hones his skills both in the ludus and in the arena as he struggles to keep his emotions in-check and body intact while dealing with a burgeoning and potentially deadly rivalry with a fellow gladiator, the undefeated Crixus (Manu Bennett). As Spartacus finds himself unwittingly forced to play a greater role in the inner-workings of Roman politics, his star rises as he proves his worth as a gladiator, earns the respect of his peers, and slowly molds himself not only into a champion but a leader of men.
Early on, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" might seem like a series created only to test the limits of taste and what producers can get away with on cable television. In that way, and that way only, it's kinda-sorta reminiscent of a live-action "South Park," but "Spartacus" -- at least not yet -- is nowhere near as smart and relevant and Trey Parker's and Matt Stone's classic animated program. "Spartacus" doesn't weave much in the way of either blunt or subtle social commentary into its story; rather, it exists as entertainment at the most base of levels, preying on its viewers darkest fantasies of limitless sex and ferocious violence. It's a world where ripped and well-oiled men and well-endowed women parade around in as little clothing as possible. At times -- particularly early on in the series -- "Blood and Sand's" plot seems almost like an afterthought, a frame in which to place its more gratuitous elements, but the show isn't quite as superfluous as it may initially appear. Certainly, audiences aren't going to commit to a series like "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" for intellectual stimulation -- its nonstop sex and exaggerated cartoonish violence are far too dominant -- but the series nevertheless offers a fair bit of drama that's grounded in the nitty-gritty world of ancient politics where the incessant maneuvering in the name lust, greed, hate, and power defines an entire society, from those at the pinnacle of wealth and power to the lowest of slaves forced to compete in the ring at the cost of life and limb. "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" shows audiences both sides of the coin, examining the power players and the gladiators both and the way their lives become forever linked for better or for worse within the power structure of Capua.
Fortunately, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" relents quite a bit in the way it seemed hellbent on copycatting 300 with almost every scene in its first two episodes. The cartoonish violence, seemingly unending streams of CGI blood, and extreme slow-motion elements intercut with sped-up footage meant to accentuate the most brutal of blows during action scenes all wear thin rather quickly as they give the show a wash-rinse-repeat structure. It's not until the series settles into its real cadence and tones its visuals down just a hair in favor of greater drama and characterization in the third episode does the series find its stride. Still, the drama captures something of a generic tone; the story of a hero forced into slavery and given no choice but to participate in brutal combat if he's ever to once again become reunited with the love of his life isn't at all original. The show clearly borrows heavily from both Gladiator and Stanley Kubrick's own take on the story, the classic 1960 film Spartacus. With that in mind, the character isn't afforded much depth; the Thracian hero comes off as somewhat flat, while those around him -- particularly the characters who make up the show's political power structure -- prove far more interesting. Considering the loads of sex and violence, the question as to whether "Spartacus" can sustain itself on "blood and boobs" in future seasons remains to be seen; it would seem that it can go only so far on its basic attributes and, even if it does settle into more of a drama with only sexy and violent elements in support, it will require a superior structural foundation to advance the series beyond where it currently stands.
"Spartacus: Blood and Sand" is certainly no Gladiator or 300 from a technical perspective, even if certain elements hearken back to those pictures. The series lacks the big-budget spit-and-polish that allowed those films to display far greater special effects while also managing better stories, superior acting, and stronger character development, the latter in particular the most disheartening considering the vastly greater amount of time "Blood and Sand" has to flesh out its primary players. Fortunately, the series isn't a total loss. The acting is adequate but never all that impressive; the cast looks far better than they perform, but each of them displays a passion for their roles and an understanding of the story that allow them to play the parts with some gusto from both a physical and emotional perspective. Additionally, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" is executed based on a script that has a certain poeticism about it, even if the series intermixes plenty of modern colloquialisms and slang -- particularly of the most sexually-perverse and suggestive type -- with an old-world style of dialogue. That juxtaposition fits rather well into the overall tone of the series that combines amped-up violence and re-imagined ancient history brought to life. Unfortunately, one area where "Spartacus" comes up short is in one of its most critical areas: its visual effects. Primarily shot against a green screen backdrop and enhanced with plenty of CGI blood and trickery, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" simply doesn't fare much better than a typical ScyFy channel production. Various overhead shots and crowd backgrounds take on a very basic, undefined, and unrealistic appearance. Making matters worse, the show's violence is far more often than not defined by some thoroughly unconvincing and overly cartoonish CGI shots that lessen the overal impact of the series. Maybe more realistic blood and guts would have been too much to air alongside the blunt language and almost never-ending stream of sex, but either way, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand's" special effects lessen rather than accentuate the series.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
"Spartacus: Blood and Sand" is set free on Blu-ray through a revealing 1080p, 1.78:1-framed transfer. Although the image sports a very glossy video-like sheen, it captures an exceptional level of detail that's evident from the series' first shot of the Thracian who will come to be called Spartacus awaiting his turn in the gladiator ring. Facial hairs; small lines and wrinkles in skin; beads of sweat; the stitching of his tattered clothes; and the texturing of the rough, worn, and filthy wall against which he sits are all revealed both here and elsewhere with an almost breathtaking level of excellence. Subsequently, the entire series proves to be nothing less than a showcase of stunningly gorgeous elements; whether the amazingly-rendered individual pebbles and grains of sand that make up much of the terrain seen in the show or the leather and metal armor pieces that are home to untold levels of detail, right down to the smallest nicks, scratches, and creases that are the result of everyday wear-and-tear and time in the arena, the transfer picks up and displays even the smallest details that elevate the transfer to lofty heights. Additionally, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" features an excellent color palette; although the show is dominated by earth tones, it delivers the more vibrant hues -- generally seen on clothes, hair, and gems -- as well as the tans, browns, grays, and greens that are so prominent in the series. Blood is bright red and cartoonish in appearance but displayed as it was meant to be seen. Black levels are generally of a high quality, though several scenes appear a bit too bright. The only real issue of note comes in the form of minor banding and the resultant poor color gradations sometimes seen in skies or, less frequently, human skin in slightly out-of-focus shots. Otherwise, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" delivers an excellent 1080p viewing experience that rivals many of the finest Blu-ray releases.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
"Spartacus: Blood and Sand" storms onto Blu-ray with a high-powered Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Making fine use of the surround channels and often playing out with an aggressive posture and implementing plenty of wonderfully-realized sound effects, the entire 13-episode season is as sonically revealing as the show is visually stimulating. The highlight, of course, comes from the many gladiatorial battle sequences that feature an abundance of crowd noise spilling out from all over the soundstage, accentuated by the clanking of sword-on-sword or sword-on-armor contact, not to mention the series' amped up sounds of general human carnage accompanying various slices and dices into flesh and over-exaggerated sounds of blood exiting the body. Even better, the track doesn't shortchange listeners when it comes to clarity; the rambunctious elements are all strongly integrated, and while the track never completely fools the listener into believing he or she has suddenly been transported back in time, it does find a fair amount of distinction between elements with none of them sounding too phony or mushy. Several sound effects are accompanied by excellent imaging as sound moves effortlessly about the soundstage, and the track captures distinct, speaker-specific elements equally well. Additionally, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" features some lesser but no less critical atmospheric effects that heighten the calmer scenes throughout the film; a chilly winter's wind howling around the soundstage in one scene or insects buzzing about in another are but two examples of the various elements that spring to life and the ease with which the track replays more subtle nuances. Bass is never lacking in power, and the low end rattles the furniture in several scenes in support of both music and sound effects. The show's score plays with an effortlessness and pinpoint accuracy across the front and with a heavy surround-speaker accompaniment. Last but not least, dialogue is consistently crisp and accurate, primarily through the center channel. No doubt "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" sports something of an over-pumped and over-exaggerated listen at times, but Anchor Bay's lossless track handles it superbly, making it the perfect compliment to the show's cartoonish violence and nonstop action and sex.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
"Spartacus: Blood and Sand" features extra material spread across all four discs, with the bulk of the extras found on disc four. MovieIQ connectivity, episode recaps, and Spartacus Historicus: Pop-Up History -- the latter a pop-up trivia track that features "historical information about gladiators and the Roman Empire" -- may be found accompanying each episode. Several audio commentary tracks are also scattered throughout the set. The following is a disc-by-disc breakdown of what's included.
Disc one features extended versions of The Red Serpent and Sacramentum Gladiatorium while featuring episode-specific commentary tracks for The Red Serpent (with Director Rick Jacobson, Writer/Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight, and Executive Producers Rob Tapert and Joshua Donen), Sacramentum Gladiatorium (with Director Rick Jacobson, Writer/Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight, and Executive Producer Rob Tapert), and The Thing in the Pit (with Director Jesse Warn and Actor Andy Whitfield).
Disc two offers an enhanced version of Shadow Games and extended versions of Delicate Things and Mark of the Brotherhood. Audio commentaries include Director Michael Hurst and Actors Andy Whitfield and Lucy Lawless discussing Shadow Games and Director Rick Jacobson, Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight, and Actor Erin Cummings taking viewers through Delicate Things.
Only audio commentaries for Whore and Party Favors with Actors Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless, and Viva Bianca; and Revelations with Writer Brent Fletcher, Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight, and Actor Nick E. Taraby are included.
Aside from a commentary track accompanying the enhanced episode Kill Them All with Writer/Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight and Actors Peter Mensah and Katrina Law, disc four features a host of additional extra content. First up is a collection of nine featurettes presented in high definition. 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' -- Behind the Scenes (14:50) features cast and crew offering a brief general overview of the series and its construction, sharing their thoughts on themes, the evolution of the series, the special effects, costumes and props, historical accuracy, the actors' physical training, the characters, and more. Spartacus: Battle Royale (7:26) is a compilation piece constructed from several of the series' most exciting and brutal action scenes. Gladiator Boot Camp (4:21) takes viewers behind-the-scenes of the actors' physical training for their parts. Grime & Punishment: The Hole (4:54) looks closely at one of the show's more vile set pieces. Andy Gets Plastered (2:44) features the series' lead actor being molded for a full-body casting. Legend Re-Imagined (4:00) looks at the show's rewriting of history for entertainment purposes. Oh, Those Randy Romans (6:14) features a glimpse into the series' hedonistic underbelly. Shooting Green: The Shadow of Death (4:48) is a brief piece that looks at the challenges and purpose of shooting in front of a green screen environment. Finally, Exposing Your Ludus (5:21) captures some of the lighter moments on the set. Rounding out this collection of extras is a trailer labeled "Spartacus: Vengeance" (1080p, 1:31) which is really just a trailer for "Spartacus: Blood and Sand."
Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"Spartacus: Blood and Sand" often feels like a rip-off of 300 and Gladiator, a bodybuilding competition, a Playboy or Playgirl spread, and a late-night soft-core porn movie, but those elements don't necessarily overwhelm the show. Once it finds its footing, "Blood and Sand" plays out as an entertaining and interesting series that weaves its story through the political inner-workings of ancient Rome and the dominance that gladiatorial combat played in the lives of all citizens, from the lowest of slaves to the highest of officials. The series certainly builds its main elements through political intrigue, sex, and ultra-violence, with the latter two seeming to define the series' visual and thematic direction and serving as its raison d'être. It's never going to be classic television or intelligent entertainment, but for 13 episodes worth of brutal violence and nearly unrestricted sex and nudity, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" is tough to beat. This Starz/Anchor Bay Blu-ray release features exceptional video and audio presentations as well as a nice array of bonus materials. "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" comes recommended to audiences looking for escapist entertainment at its most base level and who aren't easily offended or turned off by an excess of sex and violence.
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