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Spartacus: Gods of the Arena(TV) (2011)
Before Spartacus struck down his first opponent in the arena, there were many gladiators who passed though the gates onto the sand.'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' tells the story of the original Champion of the House of Batiatus: Gannicus in a more ruthless time before Spartacus' arrival where honor was just finding it's way into the arena.
For more about Spartacus: Gods of the Arena and the Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray release, see Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 30, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: John Hannah, Manu Bennett, Peter Mensah, Dustin Clare, Lucy Lawless
» See full cast & crew
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray Review
The super sexy and extremely bloody smash hit TV series earns a stellar Blu-ray release from Anchor Bay.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 30, 2011
Even the lowest man can rise beyond the heavens.
Who needs the complex family drama of "The Sopranos," the interpersonal intensity of "Breaking Bad," or the extensive back stories and full-circle genius of "Lost" when there's gratuitous sex and insanely excessive violence to be consumed? Is television success really that easy? When it comes to the "Spartacus" series, the answer is pretty much a resounding "yes." The groundbreaking and boundary-pushing cable show is quite possibly the bloodiest and most sexually explicit that's ever been aired. Ratings are through the roof, the fan base is feverishly awaiting more, and there seems to be no limit to where the material can go, save for that blatantly pornographic boundary against which nearly every episodes bumps. "Spartacus" isn't just an orgy of sinful delights, though; there's plot, characterization, and enough drama for the show to be labeled as a "success" even if it were to cut back on those elements that have really made it famous, but make no mistake, this is no Basic Instinct, perhaps the ultimate "plot overshadowed by sex" spectacle ever made, a smart and alluring grand achievement in wonderful writing, storytelling, acting, and directing that's overlooked amongst casual audiences because of its reputation, deserved or otherwise. No, "Spartacus" -- this iteration in particular -- isn't that good. No matter how rich the plot lines, this season just can't quite escape the 300 rip-off look, the gratuitous comic book and highly stylized blood spilling violence, or explicitly raunchy sex-capades that appear in every episode.
Before the days of Spartacus, the house of Batiatus strived to gain prominence in the city of Capua. With his father Titus (Jeffrey Thomas) temporarily out of the picture, Quintus Batiatus (John Hannah) takes control of the family ludus and recruits an incredibly skilled but also extremely cocky gladiator named Gannicus (Dustin Clare) whom he hopes will elevate the house of Batiatus to the levels of prosperity and respect he craves. With his wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) at his side, Quintus schemes to gain every advantage he can, including making sure his fighters will be prominently featured at the opening of a state-of-the-art arena. Gannicus is rewarded for his victories with drink and women, and Quintus maneuvers every asset at his disposal to his advantage. Unfortunately, the house of Batiatus's rising fortunes will not go unchallenged. Rival Tullius (Stephen Lovatt) schemes to acquire the champion gladiator Gannicus for his own house, while friend Solonius (Craig Walsh Wrightson) proves he may not be a man Quintus can fully trust. Meanwhile, the house of Batiatus purchases a rough and unskilled gladiator named Crixus (Manu Bennett) to fill in the ranks while a veteran and very proud gladiator named Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) finds himself suddenly thrust into a position of great prominence in the house. In the world of Roman Capua, it's every man for himself both inside the arena and out of it, but there's always room for sex and wine even in the midst of personal and political chaos and excessive bloodshed at every turn.
As most fans probably already know, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" is a prequel rather an a sequel to the wildly popular "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." In fact, the title character doesn't make an appearance in this short six-episode "mini season;" the name is more of an identifier for a program set in the fictional universe of "Spartacus" rather than an outright reference to the same hero who appeared in "Blood and Sand." Like its predecessor, this season is defined by its sex and violence. Unlike its predecessor, these elements play more as the dominant feature in the show rather than a supporting -- albeit highly gratuitous -- piece of a greater puzzle. "Gods of the Arena" seems determined to overshadow the first season by pushing its limits further than ever before; the first episode, in fact, feels like little more than an hour of visual extremes. Blood gushes all over the screen, a head is lopped off at the mouth with extremely graphic results, sexual encounters between numerous participants run rampant, and full-frontal male and female nudity is the norm. That's not even to mention public defecation and urination, one time on a down and beaten character. Granted the episode introduces audiences to this season's gladiatorial focus -- the womanizing, drunken, self-absorbed Gannicus -- re-introduces the conniving couple Quintus Batiatus and wife Lucretia, and sets the stage for the rise of two of season one's most notable characters, Doctore (Oenomaus) and Crixus. Nevertheless, this iteration never quite finds that near-perfect balance that defined season one, and it's easy to see why.
The primary problem facing season two is its status as a prequel show. No matter how difficult, unbeatable, or unbelievable the situations that face the characters may be, the specter of the happenings of the first season -- notably its exemplary finale -- hang over the entire six episodes. On that note, audiences just becoming familiar with the series will definitely want to start here rather than with "Blood and Sand." The show is still effective and the plots manage to shape themselves both within a compartmentalized in-season structure and within the context of the greater whole, but ultimately there's something of an absence of mystery that can't help but to somewhat lessen the overall impact of this season's arc. However, veteran "Spartacus" audiences may feel more free to become absorbed in the story as it comes into focus on both planes and enjoy the developments that see Quintus and Lucretia become more than irrelevant pawns under Titus's shadow, Oenomaus's transformation from skilled gladiator to ludus Doctore, and Crixus's rise from humble beginnings to a force to be reckoned with in the arena. Still, despite some new faces and a timeframe several years prior to the arrival of Spartacus on the scene, "Gods of the Arena" doesn't feel all that different from the first season in terms of its visual stylings and willingness to cross boundaries. Take a clip from this season and compare it to anything from the other, and chances are that, at a glance, they'll be practically indistinguishable one from the other.
Love it or hate it, see past the sex and violence or not, there's no denying that "Gods of the Arena" is a well-written (if not a bit overzealous with its use of another word for "rooster") and strongly-acted production. Even its graphic novel/comic book stylings are highly effective in creating an alluring, almost otherworldly atmosphere, even if some of the more general special effects shots aren't very far removed from low end SyFy-style renderings. Even just superficially, the show does a great job of demonstrating the opulence and sexual deviance of its time. The show thrives on political maneuvering and sexual manipulation as a means of personal gain and exploitation, with the gladiator battles the ultimate source of pride and social mobility for the upper crust. It contrasts nicely with the fighters who do what they do not always out of a sense of duty, but rather for self fulfillment and/or other ulterior motives that are sometimes easily assessed, and at others shrouded in multistage and multi-participant uncertainty. The two are nicely complimentary, and where the show really works is in the way it makes its characters so superficially one-dimensional yet internally complex at the same time. Nothing happens without purpose, no word is uttered without a secondary meaning behind it. To that end, the performances are strong and borderline exemplary; John Hannah's career-defining performance as the scheming and sex-crazed Batiatus is almost the stuff of legend, so perfectly absorbed into the character he is in every scene. The supporting cast is quite good, too, given that they almost all need be not only quality performers but also centerfold quality human beings to ensure the series reaches peak visual over-exaggeration with no blouse not bursting at the seams and no muscle anything but perfectly defined and bulging to the max.
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray, Video Quality
"Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" features a near flawless 1080p, 1.78:1-framed transfer. The show was digitally shot and features heavy post-production computer manipulation; the 1080p transfer captures the strengths and weaknesses of each and holds true to the series's visual stylings and natural appearance. Though the image can be a touch flat, fine detail is strong-to-exemplary; human skin textures are incredibly revealing: facial lines, flaws on naked bodies, the texture of scars, and even wrinkly lines around joints are plainly visible with striking sharpness and clarity. Likewise, the transfer never fails to impress by showcasing every scratch on armor, every ding on weapons, and the finest little structure of sand in the arena. Unfortunately, the sometimes rough digital shots -- generally of longer-distance elements -- prove disappointing in 1080p, but thanks to the technology used in the making of the show and not at the fault of the Blu-ray disc. Colors are as pleasant as the detailing; though much of the show primarily dabbles around dull earth shades, splashes of vibrant coloring -- particularly in clothing -- appear wonderfully lifelike. Banding and blocking are non-factors, and noise is but minimally invasive. Flesh tones are accurate from the palest to the darkest face. Black levels are strong but tend to waver on occasion, going a bit gray from time to time. This one's all about the exceptional detailing, though; even the slow motion shots capture a dumbfounding level of lifelike texturing, making this at least on-par with the stellar Blu-ray release of "Blood and Sand."
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray, Audio Quality
"Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" thrusts onto Blu-ray with a high quality Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The track is potent and dynamic; music is exceptionally clean and well spaced across the front while enjoying a satisfying -- but not overwhelming -- surround support structure. The presentation handles the sounds of battle with pinpoint clarity. Various sound effects are wonderfully crisp and engaging, whether the whacking of wooden practice swords on shields, the clanking of a metal weapon on heavy armor, or the sound of gushing blood and ripping flesh. The back speakers do carry a heavy load throughout the season; battle sequences spring to life with the sound of cheering crowds and struggling fighters as they dodge weapons slashing through the speakers. On that note, the only real fault occurs during some of the more rowdy arena sequences; here, dialogue can be a bit hard to fully discern under the surrounding din, but the spoken word is usually crisp and firmly entrenched in the center speaker. All in all, this is a powerful, thrilling soundtrack that's the perfect companion to such a visceral television program.
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
"Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" arrives on Blu-ray with plenty of extra content featurettes, all of which may be found on the second disc of this two-disc set. This set does include audio commentaries for all six episodes. However, the only way to reach them through the main menu is by selecting individual episodes, which will then release a prompt to hear the commentary. They are not listed in a special features tab, and there is no option to turn them on or off by selecting the "play all" feature. For the episodes with available recaps (all but "Past Transgressions (Extended Version") users will have to make yet another click to find the option to turn the commentaries on or off.
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" is as stylish, sexy, and brutal as its predecessor, so there's very little in terms of raw visuals to set this season apart from the last. Fortunately, the storyline is strong -- though not as involving as "Blood and Sand" -- but still a quality entry into the "Spartacus" universe. The series must contend with the foreknowledge of the inevitable for most of the characters involved, but the "Spartacus" team has done a commendable job of keeping these six episodes fresh and exciting despite the built-in lack of suspense considering where the series has come from. Fans will enjoy this a great deal -- it's more of the same, basically, minus star Andy Whitfield -- and newcomers should probably start here just for the linearity of the story, though the purist might have a hard time making that choice. Fortunately, there's no debate about the quality of Anchor Bay's Blu-ray release. "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" features a stellar technical presentation and a nice assortment of extras. Recommended.
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Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray (Updated) - July 19, 2011
This September, Starz and Anchor Bay Entertainment bring Spartacus: Gods of the Arena to Blu-ray. This television prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand details the rise of Batiatus (John Hannah, The Mummy) as he and his wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless, Xena: Warrior ...
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