Spartacus: Blood & Sand
It's not difficult to see how the suits at Starz settled on the subtitle Blood & Sand for their new flagship title. For if they took out the gushing arterial sprays of the former and the extended shots of the sunbaked latter, they wouldn't have enough footage left over for a series of picture postcards, to say nothing of a series. Cobbled together from bits of other, far superior early AD epics, butchering off bits of everything from the classic Kirk Douglas starrer of which it shares it's name, to Caligula and beyond, Blood & Sand is a painful, unwanted blister on the heel of the sword & sandal picture.
A loose re-telling of the eponymous Thracian's coliseum exploits, Blood & Sand chronicles the fall from grace of a principled warrior, condemned to death in the arena having offered an affront to the aristocracy. But having won the hearts of the crowd with his dashing swordplay his life is bought by scheming slaver Batiatus (John Hannah) for his Ludos (gladiator stable) who, along with his sultry wife Lucrecia (Lucy Lawless), seek to leverage him for favor with Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker), the army commander Spartacus deserted. The presence of Lucy Lawless, fresh off her impressive turn as a theologizing Cylon in Battlestar Galactica, offers the series an undeserved hint of credibility, quickly washed aside when you notice husband Robert Tapert's presence on the producer's sheet.
The series feigns for all of three minutes of vague, non-specific political intrigue with Batiatus attempting to make encroachments to the upper echelons of roman society, competing with wealthy rivals while concealing his own rather stretched finances. But it's all so needlessly convoluted (if you can figure out how exactly keeping Spartacus alive helps Batiatus, let us know) and awash with such dullards and stock characters (the arrogant senator, his spoiled daughter, the meek servant with secrets) as to be frankly uninvolving. Rome, this certainly is not.
Rather the most obvious touchstone reference is 300, and with its washed-out color palette, balletic, slow-motion combat, and endlessly stylized cinematography, it's quite incredible that the pilot ever made it out of the legal department. As our brooding, oppressed hero, who accepts a life of servitude in exchange for the false promise that he'll someday see his wife again, Aussie actor Andy Whitfield just about manages to approximate a constipated Levi's model. The script, meanwhile, is less than engaging, with the writers apparently somewhat confused between vulgar and edgy. Barely a conversation takes place where the subject doesn't invariably turn at some point to a random combination of the four most commonly used words in Blood & Sand: "Piss" "shit" "buckets" and "cock." No, we're not kidding, we merely wish that we were.
The sole chuckle to be found comes in the form of the entirely unironic casting of 300's Peter Mensah (the messenger Leonidas kicks in the pit) as the Ludos drill sergeant, ritualisticly whipping Spartacus like a vengeful Ghost of Better Sword & Sandal Movies Past. The remaining runtime each episode so far seemingly consists almost entirely with long, lingering slow-motion shots of sweaty, impossibly ripped men's torsos, ranking in the grand annals of homoeroticism somewhere between the vollyball scene in Top Gun and out-and-out gay porn.
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