Spartacus: Blood And Sand – The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay)
This Starz original series is ostensibly a sword, sex and sandal update of the Stanley Kubrick gladiator classic remade as a pay cable soap opera, but this hopelessly trashy series looks more like 300 (complete with fountains of spurting CGI blood painted into scenes) by way Gladiator and Caligula, bouncing between gory scenes of battle and scenes of gratuitous nudity and soft-focus simulated sex. It’s like the producers of the Cinemax softcore late-night originals remade Rome as a gladiator series and spent the money on CGI instead of writers.
The series opens with striking battles visuals that look more like graphic novel illustrations (or perhaps air-brush van art) than live action scenes, complete with noble barbarian soldiers clad in nothing but capes and leather S&M gear in the blowing snow, before enslaving the rebellious Spartacus (Andy Whitfield, who bears a vague resemblance to generic action hero Sam Worthington) and sending him to the arena and then to gladiator school. The battle scenes are the selling point here and the producers lavish attention on ramping action, slo-mo and freeze frames where the red gushes over the image like a geyser.
There’s all sorts of political intrigue between the nobles (notably John Hannah and Lucy Lawless as a power couple with an open marriage) scheming their way into the Emperor’s confidence and blackmailing rivals into providing support but not much of a story. Essentially it’s twelve episodes of Spartacus and his gladiatorial rival Crixus (Manu Bennett) hacking their way through arena matches and getting rented out as gigolos to the lusty housewives of old Rome before they finally rise up in an exceptionally bloody revolt in the season finale. (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) If there are surprises to be had, it’s that name actors get hacked to pieces in the last episode, but as it means they don’t have to return for a second season, I chalk that up to a mercy killing. (END ALERT) Otherwise, there are no redeeming qualities to this tasteless and frankly dull piece of sword and sandal sexploitation, essentially a soap opera in bondage gear and Roman slave chic fashions. There’s plenty of sex and violence on display, there just isn’t a story to hold it together.
Features excessive levels of sex, violence and adult language (who knew the Romans and Thracians and various slave classes all had such foul mouths?). 13 episodes on four discs in a handsome bookleaf case with insert sleeves (the package is classier than the series). Also features commentary on select episodes and a bunch of featurettes. Exclusive to the Blu-ray are four “Directors’ Cut Extended Episodes,” which I can only assume simply adds gore and grind footage.