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Spartacus: Vengeance(TV) (2012)
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: Vengeance and the Spartacus: Vengeance Blu-ray release, see the Spartacus: Vengeance Blu-ray Review
Starring: Andy Whitfield, Liam McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Nick E. Tarabay, Peter Mensah, John Hannah
» See full cast & crew
Spartacus: Vengeance Blu-ray Review
Someone forgot the drugs and Rock 'N' Roll.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 27, 2012
Stand as one or fall divided.
The highly-stylized "Spartacus" series was probably conceived to be a Soap Opera for adults, one that's one-quarter cartoon, one-quarter porn movie, one-quarter bloody violent epic, and one-quarter intense human drama. The series combines the oftentimes overwrought drama of daytime television with gratuitous full-frontal nudity and extreme violence, a pairing quite unlike anything ever seen on television before. Now in its third season, the series hasn't really broken any new ground, content to remain in the comfortably stretched boundaries in which it has found so much critical acclaim and public favor to the tune of a rabidly-devoted fan base and extremely high ratings. "Spartacus" excels in its unique arena, making the lurid palatable, enjoyable, and even intoxicating, the series reveling in all sorts of sordid details, interpersonal drama, ripe political pickings, and enough violence to satiate even the most bloodthirsty audience member. The series assembles an intricate jigsaw puzzle of the steamy ancient life and delicately balances its hardcore elements with its oftentimes unbelievably complex and surprising dramatic angles. Indeed, "Spartacus" manages the impossible, offering detailed and nearly constant sex, nudity, and violence with its storytelling, intermixing the still somewhat taboo elements so seamlessly into the show that only an overuse of the word "c*ck" really only jars the audience out of the story and makes them more aware of just how far the show aims to go. It's certainly a spectacle, obviously not for everyone, but the series continues on as strong as ever. Does the third season, and a direct sequel to the first, match or surpass earlier entries in terms of sex, violence, and/or drama?
The following contains spoilers for "Spartacus: Blood and Sand."
Spartacus and his band of rebels -- comprised of former gladiators and slaves -- have escaped the House of Batiatus after killing its head and leaving Batiatus' wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) mortally wounded. The escapees are led by Spartacus (now played by Liam McIntyre, who effortlessly slips into the role left by the late Andy Whitfield), the champion gladiator both revered and reviled by those closest to him and those who would see him dead for his crimes against Rome. The escaped rebels have terrorized Capua in the weeks following their escape. They're wanted men and women, and the government is hellbent on putting an end to the uprising at all costs. Seppius (Tom Hobbs) has dispatched his mercenaries to squash the rebellion, to track down the gladiators and put an end to their misdeeds. It is his hope to use to rebellion to his advantage, to steal the spotlight and lay claim to the title of hero of the people and see his stock rise in the national political spotlight. But it's Praetor Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) going to Capua under the orders of his father-in-law Albinius (Kevin J. Wilson), officially tasked with putting an end to the rebellion. He insists on his pregnant wife Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) accompanying him. There, they establish a base of operations at the former house of Batiatus where a shocking discovery is made that Glaber efforts to use to his public advantage as a sign of favor for his task from the gods. Ashur (Nick Tarabay) arrives with a captive Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) in tow. Ashur proves his allegiance to Glaber but is unable to glean any information on the rebels' whereabouts from the man once known as "Doctore." The rebels, however, are not as organized as they might should be. Spartacus aims only to sustain the group, gather food and weapons for the fight, and ultimately kill Glaber, a man involved in the capture and death of his wife Sura. Meanwhile, Crixus (Manu Bennett), former champion of Capua, wishes to head South and locate Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) instead, the divide threatening to tear the group apart. What follows is perhaps the bloodiest chapter in the history of the Spartacus story, one that will forever leave the Roman landscape scarred and its future in peril.
Dark deeds, dirty politics, general debauchery, and plenty of graphic violence shape this -- and the other -- seasons of "Spartacus." The series seems to almost gleefully push limits as it weaves together tales of intrigue and hate and lust and personal and political maneuvering on one side, a bit less on the other but the rebels are certainly no strangers to divisiveness, unshared goals, and sticky quagmires that threaten to destroy everything for which the've so laboriously fought and won. It's through all these complexities that the series often shines. It's not the blood and the sex -- the truth is that those things can be consumed elsewhere and in greater quantities -- that shape the show, it's the characters and the stories they make that give this show its appeal. However, "Spartacus" most certainly seems externally defined by its excess. Indeed, the sex and violence may be over-the-top, but they're so much a fabric of the "Spartacus" experience that they seem almost necessary, and to be sure the raw appeal of the forbidden fruits that are so prevalent throughout actually serve to carry the series in those rare moments when the drama becomes a little too hackneyed or overbuilt even for a soap opera 2,000 years in the making. Certainly, audiences sensitive to the kind of things the series portrays (though not necessarily glorifies) should rightly stay away, but most viewers who watch for the entire package and not simply the newest orgy, naked bath scene, or CGI sword slicing through a torso will be rewarded with a juicy, complex tale of politics, freedom, and fate. The characters are superbly developed, all very well shaped and nuanced so that the intricate details of the relationships, and not merely "sides" in a conflict, serve as the series' foundation. In fact, it's often the drama that unfolds in each respective camp and amongst their own from which the series derives much of its drama. "Vengeance" in particular almost works better focusing on the inner-workings of Glaber, Ilithyia, Lucretia, and Ashur. While there's not quite the same level of intrigue amongst Spartacus, Crixus, Mira, Gannicus, Oenomaus, Naevia, and the other rebels, their own in-stories are suitably complex and rise above the elements that give the series but a visual appeal.
Yet even if the series is shaped by the drama and the violence and sex are more window dressing than anything else, they're still a major factor in the "Spartacus" experience that cannot be ignored. The series is almost comically bloody, and the computer animated effects never look so real that the audience might be completely turned off by some of the terrible visuals that appear throughout the series, not the least of which are bloody gashes, beheadings, and all manner of brutal injury. The blood splatters to an almost jovial extreme. It flings towards the screen with regularity and looks so glossy and artificial that the effect becomes nearly ruined. To be sure, it's more about quantity than quality when it comes to the bloodletting, and ditto the fairly repetitive sex scenes that saturate the series. Yet as noted, the sex and violence merely accentuate the story, and for better or for worse they are both so prevalent and laid on so thickly they just become an accepted part of the larger puzzle. Fortunately, the entire show is so well put together that the blending effect really does work save for a few extreme cases. The rhythm is so constant and the story so often engaging and crazy and awe-inspiring all at once that it all seems to gel regardless of what's in store next dramatically, sexually, or violently. This third season in particular works very well in that regard. At ten episodes in length, it never overstays its welcome and manages to tell a complex tale without becoming bogged down by unnecessary runtime. There are moments when it seems there's nowhere to go, no way to stretch things out, but "Spartacus," more than any other show, makes nearly every scene a cliffhanger, each episode a dizzying collection of dramatic developments that keep things fresh even as it traverses a well-established course of action. The characters enjoy significant development, and the series never shies away from killing them off or setting them up for future victory or defeat. Ultimately, it's not much of a surprise where things are headed, yet the finale captivates with a barrage of killings and happenings, all of the drama and death and dismemberment and eye-opening shocks that viewers have come to expect and experienced all season but brought to a startling climax in a single hour of must-see television. Yet it culminates with the inevitable more than the incredible, which perhaps shows that while pushing boundaries is not out of the series' purview, it shies away from bucking trends in the drama department. Where the series can possibly go with "War of the Damned" is anyone's guess, but the smart money is on more of the same. And that can't be a bad thing.
Spartacus: Vengeance Blu-ray, Video Quality
"Spartacus: Vengeance" slices onto Blu-ray with a gorgeous 1080p transfer. As with its predecessors, the digital photography and highly stylized visuals blend remarkably well, creating an oftentimes dazzling picture quality that often rivals the finest available, particularly in terms of stability and detail resolution. Anchor Bay's transfer offers crystal clear video, whether under the bright sunlight or under the cover of heavy gray clouds that seem to saturate the entire screen beyond the characters themselves. The image is consistently complex and accurate, astonishing, really, in the level of nitty gritty information that's displayed on the screen. Facial hair and lines and pores and scars look absolutely remarkable in-close-up shots, as do leathery and metallic armor textures that show battle wear and a general worn-down appearance. Even the sandy terrains and, later, in particular, rocky surfaces really shine. The gore effects are marvelously rendered, whether practical or digital. Colors aren't usually blinding but offer good balance and lifelike stability and naturalism. The ladies' garb, in particular, offers nice splashes of reds and blues and greens contrasted against plenty of earthen tans, sweaty naked bodies, and overcast grays that are so prevalent throughout the season. The HD video serves up an inherently flat appearance; there's not much sense of depth to the image, but it's more than made up for by the raw stability and sharp details. Black levels are fine, perhaps a touch too bright in places, and flesh tones are naturally reflective of environmental conditions. There's a hint of banding across large sky expanses and other solid surfaces, but other negative issues are practically nonexistent. This is pretty much reference-grade material from start to finish.
Spartacus: Vengeance Blu-ray, Audio Quality
"Spartacus: Vengeance" splatters a high quality Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack all over the soundstage. This is a big, rocking track, exactly the sort of thing to really boost a show with so much muscle, blood, testosterone, sex, and drama. The track offers listeners a remarkably rich, smooth, effortless sonic experience. The entire thing seems naturally immersive with pinpoint sound placement and immersion combining to create one of the best overall tracks a television series has ever enjoyed on the Blu-ray format. Clanking metal, squirting blood, heavy footfalls, and all sorts of battle specific sound elements easily and routinely saturate the listening area, effectively placing the audience in the middle of the sword-and-sandal carnage. Natural ambience excels, too, with varied elements easily engulfing the soundstage. A drenching rain and accompanying thunder easily transform the soundstage into a wet, stormy environment at the end of episode six. Manmade elements around the cities or other bustling locations offer so much in the way of minor but precise and environmentally-crucial sound elements that listeners may often be turning their heads to see what's happening behind them, only to be temporarily shocked back into reality when there's but a speaker and room and not a sandy terrain and scantily-clad warriors mulling about. Music is hefty and very well spaced but clear and accurate through the entire range. Bass is potent and even. Dialogue enjoys pinpoint clarity and natural spacing and placement from the center channel. This is a fantastic sound presentation that excels at every turn.
Spartacus: Vengeance Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
"Spartacus: Vengeance" contains audio commentaries on all but two of the season's ten episodes. All additional extras are located on disc three. Recaps are optionally available with each episode.
Spartacus: Vengeance Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"Spartacus: Vengeance" is really just more of the same, but why mess with a formula that's proven so successful? This is a series that never really had to find its stride; from the get-go "Blood in the Sand" seemed like an established series with complex characters and a rhythm that hasn't changed since the opening minutes. Characters and actors both have come and gone, but the core remains largely untouched. It's a brutal series, a shock to the system even in 2012 for all its sex and violence lumped into one place, but the dramatic arc dominates, even as the visual additives shape the series from afar. Season three offers an excellently in-depth storyline, rising characters to great heights and delivering some truly startling developments. The finale is no slouch, even if it could have strayed from the expected path to give the drama as much oomph as the visuals. Still, it's a fine season, easily in-line with the rest of the series. Yet one must wonder where it goes from here in its fourth and final outing. Here's hoping (and knowing, really, given the quality of "Blood and Sand" and "Gods of the Arena") that "War of the Damned" hits Blu-ray in a package as fine as this. "Spartacus: Vengeance" features dazzling video, reference audio, a good assortment of extras, and attractive packaging. Highly recommended.
Spartacus: Other Seasons
Blu-ray bundles with Spartacus: Vengeance (1 bundle)
Spartacus: Vengeance Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Spartacus and Sanctuary (Expired) - November 4, 2012
Amazon's Blu-ray Deals of the Week affect Starz Home Entertainment's three Spartacus season compilations as well as Entertainment One's first four Sanctuary season. These deals expire at 12 AM PST/3 AM EST next Sunday, November 11th.
• This Week on Blu-ray: September 11-18 - September 8, 2012
This Tuesday brings one of the most critically and commercially successful films of all time to Blu-ray: James Cameron's Academy Award-winning Titanic. The key to Titanic's enduring popularity lies in Cameron's skillful manipulation of disparate elements; his ...
• Exclusive Giveaway - Spartacus: Vengeance - September 5, 2012
Blu-ray.com and Anchor Bay Entertainment are offering three members an opportunity to win a Blu-ray copy of Spartacus: Vengeance - The Complete Second Season, starring Liam McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah, Manu Bennett and Viva Bianca. The highly stylized ...
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