“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” – Captain Oveur
Only a creepy airline pilot could appreciate the epic television fart that is Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Yes, you will actually notice a bad smell coming from your television tonight as this new dramatic series from Starz debuts. The story is familiar, and largely beside the point. Romans imprison a brave Thracian warrior and sell his beloved wife into slavery. The Thracian trains to become a gladiator, and hopes to one day be reunited with his wife. Look, they sent me the first four hours of this, and I managed to struggle through three of them. I don’t know how all of this turns out, and frankly, I don’t care.
In the first hour, I decided that I would count the number of times that blood spurted vividly, and in slow-motion, across my television screen, but I soon lost count. Based on the evidence here, it’s apparently a little-known scientific fact that blood always spurts in slow-motion. The combat scenes are brutal, in a WWE kind of way. Gladiators strut around like Vince McMahon’s more arrogant villains. In one scene we get to see our hero swing his broadsword one way and remove a leg of his opponent before swinging it back the other way and removing the other leg. Then, as his now-legless opponent tries to crawl away, he puts him out of his misery with a crushing blow to the back of the head. That, as I said, is our hero. You can only imagine what the bad guys are like. When we’re not being bludgeoned by the fighting, we’re being treated to sweaty sex of all kinds. What with everyone walking around nearly naked, and six-pack abs and perfect breasts in abundance, it’s no surprise that these people spend a lot of time rutting. What is surprising is that the Romans ever attained empire.
The look of this whole enterprise is not exactly technicolor. Everything, from the darkly colored costumes to the sunless weather, seems to be rendered the way it is so that the spurting blood will look redder. Backdrops are a computer-generated, low-rent tribute to the lesser George Lucas films. The action scenes try for the graphic novel look of 300 or Sin City, but fall far short. The cast features some actors, like John Hannah, who have done better work, and some, like Lucy Lawless, who have never been better. The title role is played by a well-cut statue by the name of Andy Whitfield. I’ll say this for Whitfield; he knows how to take a beating. Anachronisms abound, and you might be shocked, at least the filmmakers hope you’ll be shocked, at some of the language that was apparently common back in the day. The fact that Sam Raimi is one of the producers of this mess is simply unexplainable.
Have I mentioned that this Spartacus isn’t the Kirk Douglas Spartacus? In fact, Spartacus isn’t even this guy’s real name, but one given to him by his Roman captors in deference to a famous Thracian king. Perhaps I would have expected less if they would have called this Spartacus, Jr. Somewhere in heaven, Stanley Kubrick is rolling his eyes.