Produced by: Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi
Starring: Andy Whitfield, John Hannah
Release Date: September 2010
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: October 14, 2010
First, let me start by saying I love the HBO series Rome. I think it was one of the best series every produced for television. I was quite disappointed when it was cancelled (due to exorbitant costs, I believe) and so was pleased to learn that Starz was planning their own Roman period show, Spartacus. I saw the previews, wasn’t thrilled with the slow-motion blood flying onto the camera lens, but decided I needed to give the series a try. The first episode of Spartacus didn’t excite me. Unlike Rome, which used amazing, and expensive, sets, Spartacus was heavily green-screened. It looked fake. Watching Spartacus and his companion crawl along the hillside to spy on an enemy’s encampment, in the snow, in their loin cloths, without the benefit of warm clothing, and no “breath” escaping when they talked, destroyed the image for me. I was going to stop watching but by chance saw the show the next week. It wasn’t long before I got beyond the blood, gore, and fake sets and got caught up in the story.
Based loosely on historical facts, in this version Spartacus is a Thracian soldier who volunteers to fight in the Roman Auxiliary against a common enemy. But when things go bad, Spartacus is captured by Glaber (history tells us he was the Roman commander who pursued Spartacus during the slave revolt) and torn from Sura, his wife. He is forced to join the gladiatorial ranks in the ludus (gladiator school) of Batiatus, his new owner. Spartacus is reluctant to fight until Batiatus promises to find Sura and bring her back to him.
While there is an abundance of blood and gore in this show, which undoubtedly draws in many teen boys, I was taken by the intrigue, multiple-layered characters, and constant plotting various players undertook to advance their own ambitions. Spartacus must deal with Crixus, the top gladiator under Batiatus’s rule and Crixus has made it very clear he hates Spartacus. Crixus, too, has a deep love for a slave woman, Naevia, but he is frequently called to “service” Lucretia, the wife of Batiatus. The gladiators live in the depths of the villa (safely locked away), but are constantly summoned to entertain the Romans. The discrepancy between the “superior” Romans and the slaves is enormous and you can see Spartacus’s blood boil as he is forced into demeaning situations. The Romans fight amongst themselves, the slaves and gladiators fight amongst themselves, and you know there’s going to be one heck of a revolt at some point.
As already mentioned, there was plenty of action to appeal to the male viewer, but also a great story to draw in women viewers. The developing loves that both Crixus and Spartacus nurture, and the hot and steamy love scenes that ensue put any soap opera to shame. Early on, I didn't like Crixus and thought he was just a big brute, but as his character developed, he became one of my favorite characters. We see the softer side of the gladiators, and the friendships that develop (and hatreds that grow). We all know how the story of Spartacus ends, but if you watch, and get hooked on this series, you'll find yourself hoping that the slave revolt is a long way off.
Quill says: It may take you a few episodes to get into Spartacus, but give it a try and you won’t be disappointed.