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Blu-Ray Review: Guilty Pleasures of ‘Spartacus: Blood and Sand’

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CHICAGO – “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” is a ridiculous program, a mix of pretentious dialogue that thinks its more important than it is, elaborate battle sequences shot in slo-mo to hide the show’s budget, and historical inaccuracies on an epic scale. And yet it’s also remarkably enjoyable. It’s a guilty pleasure program that has developed a rabid following on Starz and should put the network on the map when it comes to original series with the help of an excellent Blu-ray release for the first season.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0

“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” appears to be attempting a record for televised slow-motion blood spumes. And it’s going for it after only one episode. With more grunting than your average Skinemax movie (and more skin for that matter), it can be difficult to take the drama of the program seriously but this is one of those unusual shows were standard critical appraisal starts to fall away. Is it traditionally “good”? Not really. But it’s fun enough that you won’t really care. And it looks amazing in HD.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 21st, 2010
Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 21st, 2010
Photo credit: Anchor Bay

Clearly inspired by the stylized look of “300” with the more emotional notes of “Gladiator,” Starz’s program centers around a man betrayed by his own people, the Romans. Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) is then ripped from the love of his life Sura (the gorgeous Erin Cummings) and sold into slavery to Quintus Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah) and his wife (Lucy Lawless). Over 13 episodes, Spartacus is trained, fights, and leads his new people in a revolt against the Romans.

“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” can be visceral fun, but a bit too much of the program plays like a Linkin Park music video with exaggerated effects and overcooked camera tricks. And the remarkable amount of bare breasts and bloodied bodies can’t help but feel like a device meant to disguise the lack of actual drama. How many of the record-setting (for Starz) viewers of the show tuned in purely for the sex and violence? It’s well-done sex and violence, to be sure, but it’s essentially a smoke and mirrors act. If you took those elements out of the program, it probably wouldn’t have half the viewership that it does.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 21st, 2010
Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 21st, 2010
Photo credit: Anchor Bay

The dialogue in “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” reaches laughable levels on several occasions (as in when Batiatus looks to the skies and says to the Gods, “I beg you: Do not f**k me.”) but the over-the-top nature of the program starts to blur together into an accomplished guilty pleasure. “Blood and Sand” never takes itself too seriously, always keenly aware that it is nothing more than swords-and-sandals drama in a market where typical restrictions on breasts and blood have been removed.

And the cast is not bad. Whitfield has undeniable screen presence and it’s a shame that his recent illness is going to pull him out of this program that could have made him a star. And supporting performers like Hannah and Lawless add credibility to the proceedings that lift it above the moments when it feels like a bad pay-cable midnight movie.

So, is “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” a good show? Yes and no. There’s something almost refreshing about a visceral program that focuses so completely on the base human desires for lust and carnage. The dialogue and level of pretension may be awful, but it’s hard not to get swept up in the ridiculousness of it all and simply go along for the ride. “Blood and Sand” is mostly trash, but it’s well-done and highly-entertaining trash.

The gorgeously-transferred video on the Anchor Bay Blu-ray help what could be deemed a softball approach critically. A show like “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” simply needs to look great to work and it truly does in HD. A series of featurettes offer some behind-the-scenes details on the program and round out a surprisingly-strong release for a surprisingly-enjoyable program.

Special Features:
o Audio Commentary
o MovieIQ
o Spartacus Historicus: Pop-Up History
o Behind The Scenes
o Battle Royale
o Gladiator Boot Camp
o Grime And Punishment
o Andy Gets Plastered
o Legend Re-Imagined
o Oh, Those Randy Romans
o Shooting Green: The Shadow of Death
o Exposing Your Ludus

“Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season” stars Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless, John Hannah, Peter Mensah, Manu Bennett, Viva Bianca, Erin Cummings, and Nick E. Tarabay. It was created by Steven S. DeKnight. It was released on September 21st, 2010. It is not rated and runs 692 minutes.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

rainrotoka's picture

OMG!!!!!!!!!! I’m biggest

OMG!!!!!!!!!! I’m biggest fan of Spartacus: Blood and sand show. It’s really really wondrous historical show. I never forget to watch Spartacus Blood and Sand episodes.

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