Those Romans I tell you – they were just like us. As were the Greeks, the Thracians, the Pelasgians and, yes, the Trojans. They danced, they fought, they fucked – my God did they fuck? And Spartacus: Blood and Sand has taken the bold editorial decision to fearlessly depict as much sex as possible in the name of
buttressing a hopelessly weak story historical accuracy. Antiquity was all that and swearing and violence too. Essentially, everything you can only express fully on subscription cable channels. What else can you do if you’re a movie network looking to expand your original programming base but tell it exactly how it was, in your honest sweary, shaggy opinion? In any case it’s easy enough to suspend disbelief when people engaging in the bloodletting and sexual revelry are sexually attractive and that would certainly seem to be the case here.
“Spartacus is all ‘West to protect our villages from the advancing rapey Getaen hoards!’ but Gaius is like ‘East to military glory and screw your pikey villages!’ and Spartacus ain’t trying to hear that.”
Anyway, there’s this Thracian warrior who we’ll call “Spartacus” (Andy Whitfield). It’s not his real name – we may never know his real name because Spartacus was given him by a Roman Senaturd who blithely notes how he fights like the great Thracian king of that name. Spartacunt likes to run his mouth and he gets into it with Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) , the Roman army legatus he’s serving under. Spartacus is all “West to protect our villages from the advancing rapey Getaen hoards!” but Gaius is like “East to military glory and screw your pikey villages!” and Spartacus ain’t trying to hear that. He leads a mutiny where a handful of Romans have the killing done to them. Then he’s dipping up the block like Usain Bolt to face the Thrace.
“It’s a bloodthirsty, firm but fair crowd. That’s the Roman mob – much like the Jeremy Kyle studio audience but capable of mercy.”
Because Spartacus is all about the pie – his wife Sura (Erin Cummings) is just about to be mauled by Getaen rapemen when he arrives to hand them their arses. The happy couple toast the slaughter with several rounds of Channel 5 sex. The next morning though, Glaber and his crew of flunkies catch up with him, and everyone’s all “he’s Spartacus!” before running in the opposite direction. The Romans throw Sura into slavery and sentence Spartacus to death at the gladiatorial games.
But Spartacus is no ordinary slave and he takes out four gladiators in the arena, only sustaining minor near-fatal wounds in the process and Spartacus is all up in the Romans’ grill like “what?” After having taken the kind of beating Yeshua Ha-Notsri took in Passion of the Christ, it’s only fair that his death sentence be commuted to a lifetime of slavery on the wishes of the bloodthirsty, firm but fair crowd. That’s the Roman mob – much like the Jeremy Kyle studio audience but capable of mercy.
“The gladiators are told: win the hearts of the crowd in the arena and you may gain coin, even freedom. Not much of a pension plan but it’s something to hold on to.”
It’s not much of a deal for Spartacus, mind. He is enrolled into the ludus of Quintus Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah) where more ass kickings, whippings and sword wounds follow. But where there is life and 10 episodes to fill there is hope. The gladiators are told: win the hearts of the crowd in the arena and you may gain coin, even freedom. Not much of a pension plan but it’s something to hold on to.
“I’m sure the assorted gladiators with their well oiled pecs are meant to be imposing but it really just looks like Peter Andre got cloned.”
This is a funny one. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster comprising the swearing of Deadwood, the slow motion CGI gorefest of 300 and the dubious historical revisionism of Rome. It’s quite possible subtlety is overrated and nobody is going to accuse this of being subtle – it’s heavy-metal television. I’m sure the assorted gladiators with their well oiled pecs are meant to be imposing but it really just looks like Peter Andre got cloned.
The fight scenes are cool and nicely choreographed – I guess the trouble is everything feels like it’s been done before. It’s one thing to wear your influences on your sleeve, quite another to just copy what the other guy did. It feels watchable, right enough, but it also feels disposable. I’ll give these humps at Starz credit though; they have pulled out the stops to give their original programming flagship a chance. Buffy/Angel alumnus Steven S. DeKnight is co creator/writer and there’s a pretty strong cast. Whether all this sex in the sand will give birth to a proper TV show or just leave you with sand in your crack remains an open question.
The verdict on Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Overblown but not yet blown over.
Marks out of 10: 7
Imagined: Wednesday, March 17, 2010