Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First Impressions-- Season 1 "Spartacus: Blood and Sand"

I was the happy recipient of the first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand (Starz) last week and finally had a chance to pop in the DVD today and start watching. However, having kids means that I have to schedule this particular entertainment at a time when they're not home. Like most shows on the premium channels it has violence, nudity and language in abundance. Because of the time constraint I was only able to get through two episodes today-- not enough for a proper review-- so I'm just going to give a quick summary of my first impressions.

Holy cow! Xena's naked!

Having a show set in ancient Rome definitely screams nudity as far as reputations go. It doesn't matter whether the story is set in Pompeii (with its notoriously phallic fixation) or our vague imaginings of the wild Bacchanal (to which the show does refer in the early episodes), it's something all the "it" shows are only too happy to feature; but I'd be surprised if any nudity on this show gets more attention than that of Lucy Lawless. I mean, she's Xena! But she gamely jumps in with sex scenes that are raunchily vivid. Like "True Blood," (which has earned a reputation for being "vampire porn,") "Spartacus" has been jokingly been referred to as "Debbie Does Rome." I am not any kind of an expert on ancient Rome, so I can't say whether the show is historically accurate; though I bet it's highly exaggerated. And the show doesn't discriminate between male and female nudity. You'll see more women overall, but the men aren't exactly shy when it comes to displaying the goods.

I didn't know you could lose so much blood and still live...

Like the name of the show ("Blood and Sand") implies, there's a whole lot of blood spilled on this particular show. In fact, it doesn't just spill, it flows, spurts and puddles in copious quantities. The CGI use becomes clear in the battle scenes primarily because of the show's unusual fixation with blood. It seems as if the sepia tones that seem to overlay everything are there merely to highlight the redness of the blood as it splashes across the screen in slow-motion splendor. It doesn't matter whether someone receives a major or minor wound-- there will be blood and lots of it.

We do love a good spectacle...

The centerpiece of the Spartacus story is the Gladiator Arena. The show wastes no time in featuring the bloody sport (appropriately so) and the scenes are unnerving-- but not for the reasons you'd expect. When you watch it, you can't help but think are we so different today? We might not keep slaves or literally throw people to the lions anymore, but seeing the crowd cheer on the grotesqueness of the games put me in mind of the modern voyeuristic indulgence--  the reality show. Perhaps I'm getting old, or maybe I'm too young to put it all in perspective. I'm not sure which. But the uninhibited culture of the hyped-up reality show, coupled with the YouTube culture, makes me think we've resurrected the spectacle depicted in "Spartacus" with a modern twist. It doesn't matter what people do as long as they're willing to do it for an audience and people will flock to see it.

I'm intrigued

I'm normally not drawn to watch anything that's heavy on the sex and violence but the lead in "Spartacus," Andy Whitfield, is very compelling. I do know that Whitfield is not scheduled to return for a second season (due to a very unfortunate cancer diagnosis), but I can't quit the show even knowing that. I hear the first two shows of the season are the weakest and that it gets much better as it moves along-- so I'm willing to put in the time. (If they can replace Dumbledore....) And I won't lie, I'm curious to see what they're going to have Lucy Lawless do next.


yllektra (force-oblique) said...

I so loved that show!
For me it was like a revelation for 2010.
It was amazing, brilliant and the plot was consistent and awesome and of course, visually it was stunning!!!!!

They say they are filming a pre-quel! XD

SQT said...

@yllektra-- I've read that they did the prequels (I hear there's more than one) in an attempt to stall until Andy was well enough to film again. But his cancer came back and he had to pull out of production. It's a shame they're recasting but I don't know what else they can do.

Xenophon said...

I thought Spartacus B&S was simply awful. The 300-like CGI dark backgrounds and copious amounts of CGI blood slowly drifting through the air were just overkill. It was just thinly veiled sex and violence with the weakest of plots to cover it. So it gets two nipples up on the gratuitous nudity, almost as bad as the second season of The Tudors.

As for historical accuracy, there was none to be found. Try HBO's Rome, it was well written and depicts a much more accurate portraiture of Roman life and times. This show has nothing do with the historical figure Spartacus. The original movie with Kirk Douglas is still way off the mark, but much closer than this mess.

For the sake of just entertainment only it could have been worse. But as far as I'm concerned this was just Conan the Barbarian in the arena.

M. McGriff said...

Wow isn't this review right on time! I have the first DVD of this series due in my mailbox from Netflix Friday!

I picked it up because I remember watching the original (my dad and I loved to watch old movies like that) so I was very curious to see this remake.

Because it's Premium TV, I do expect the blood and sex scenes and I didn't know it had CGI effects to it. I just hope the plot is really good!

Charles Gramlich said...

I saw one episode of this as a promotional thing and liked it much. I don't get the cable channel though but maybe some day I'll rent the whole season

SQT said...

Xenophon-- I've read a lot of reviews that echo yours. It isn't going to be for everyone-- that's for sure. I'm still on the fence.

M. McGriff-- Look at me, being all timely and stuff. I hope you like it.

Charles-- If you like it, then it can't be all bad.

BryStearns said...

I love Spartacus! It gets so much better as time goes on, and becomes oh so good. I'm glad you've stepped out of your norm and are checking it out. Good on ya :)