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==A brief history of Spartacus in 200 words or less==
Spartacus was a Thracian dude (one of many Indo-European tribes inhabiting South-eastern Europe) born circa 109 BCE. He thought it'd be a good idea to fight as a Roman soldier but that backfired just a touch when he became enslaved alongside his wife before being sold to Lentulus Batiatus as a gladiator. Not at all happy, he alongside 70 or so other gladiators including two Gallic slaves Crixus and Oenomaus escaped daringly and set up base at Mount Vesuvius, successfully seeing off an ensuing Roman militia. Soon 70 became 70,000 as slaves flocked to join the rebellion and the army separated with Spartacus at the head of one half and Crixus the other. Rome was wetting their proverbial pants by now so got the richest man in Rome Marcus Licinius Crassus to come along and try to crush the rebellion. Sadly for Spartacus after many bloody battles during the Third Servile War Crassus achieved just that and Spartacus met his demise in 71 BCE and just to show what a heartless man he was Crassus crucified 6,000 rebels as punishment. I think that covers it.
==Spartacus: Blood and Sand==
2010 heralded a new epic tale of Spartacus when producer Sam Raimi and creator Steven S. DeKnight got together to produce 13 episodes at a little longer than usual of about 52 minutes each of the rather explosive "Spartacus: Blood and Sand". This is by far one of the most brutal shows I have ever seen and totally earns its 18 certification - it remains unflinching in its violent portrayal of Roman style depravity, betrayal, treachery, gratuitous violence, coarse language and explicit sex but in my opinion it is this ruthlessness that makes it utterly unmissable.
Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) - Searching to save his wife from Roman slavery, Spartacus learns the hard way how to survive in the gladiator arena. The leading man and the heart of the show, Andy Whitfield was perfect for the role. Not only did he look the part as a handsome hunk, but he showed great versatility with the huge range of emotions Spartacus went through with many personal tragedies and on several occasions he genuinely brought me to tears with his expression of anguish. He handled everything thrown at him and was especially superb in the fight scenes and brought the character of Spartacus to life. Sadly Whitfield passed away from non-Hodgkin lymphoma on 11th September 2011 but a replacement for Spartacus in series 2 has been found so the show will go on.
Crixus (Manu Bennett) - a fierce rival to Spartacus, Crixus takes an instant disliking to him and never stops letting Spartacus know which creates a constant source of spicy tension. But Crixus has his own problems with being the sex slave of Lucretia whilst pining away for Lucretia's slave Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt) and a lot of the show is devoted to his story. Bennett was another great selection - pretty much all brawn and no brains he was an excellent antagonist of Spartacus.
Batiatus (John Hannah) - having a Roman with a Scottish accent aside, John Hannah was absolutely superb in the role of Batiatus - a man you just love to hate. Spending all of his time trying to bring the House of Batiatus back to its former glories he will resort to absolutely anything - ass-kissing, betrayal and even the odd spot of murder now and again. Hannah was brilliant at transforming himself from the suave and charming host to greedy and villainous murderer in 0.5 seconds flat.
Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) - the wife of Batiatus, Lucretia is amazingly supportive in her husband's quest to restore them to former glory and she too will resort to pretty much anything and simply turns a blind eye to the more distasteful deeds of Batiatus. Lawless cuts a striking figure as Lucretia, and is utterly believable in her manipulations and is such a chameleon that you are actually never sure when she is genuine or not on account of Lawless' skills.
Ashur (Nick Taraby) - the spy and general dogsbody for Batiatus, Ashur is as opportunistic and sleazy as they come - you wouldn't want him bearing a grudge against you. Taraby is brilliant in the role and does make your skin crawl on many an occasion.
Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) - subtly lured into and seduced by the world of gladiators by Lucretia to be used as a political pawn. But she is a fairly unstable and dangerous character who likes her independence too much to be kept under the thumb for too long and Bianca is particularly good at portraying her barely hidden unhinged nature.
Varro (Jai Courtney) - Spartacus' only friend in the gladiator school he pretty much acts as the voice of reason for Spartacus' crazy plans often to no avail. He certainly looks the part and adds a bit of lightness to the show.
Since this show is based on historical fact it is difficult not to spoil the plot as this show has clearly tried to stay as true to the facts of the original story as possible by making sure all the essential characters are present and that events unfold as they have been historically documented so in my efforts to remain spoiler free all I will say is the time period this show covers,(starting from Spartacus' enslavement and subsequent relocation to gladiatorial school) is open to rampant speculation and wild embellishment...in other words total fiction...but hey, if you want historical accuracy go and watch a documentary - this show is designed purely for entertainment value and the makers don't even try to hide it.
Compared to the rest of the series I found the first episode a little disjointed, probably because the bulk of the scene setting was required in this episode so the pace was perhaps a little slow in places despite there being plenty of violent action, sex and bloodlust from the crazy Roman crowds. I wasn't particularly convinced by the special effects creating the gore for all the horrendous beheadings, amputations, impalements, mutilations and flying body parts as it all looked seriously over the top, but the fact it is a tiny bit laughable is actually a good thing as it makes it possible to watch all this senseless violence without feeling even remotely disturbed. There was also some seriously lewd language in usage (I was bored one day so I counted all the inappropriate words from the first episode, the worst of the lot being: the f-bomb (9); sh*t (6); whore (4); cu*t (3) ) I assume as a way to reinforce the notion that the Romans and Thracians of the time were rather debauched - certainly not a show suitable for delicate ears. There was also some very unnecessary and in your face nudity and sexcapades occurring no doubt for that very same reason (so this is not a show to watch with your parents).
However, the cinematography of this show utilised some interesting effects with overall dark filters that created a somewhat gloomy atmosphere but with contradictory and startling vibrancy of focal things like dazzling skies and explosion of blood during fight scenes which does create an appealing dreamlike feel to it all. Slow motion is another technique used during the fight and other action scenes to really highlight the brutality which is effective during some of the more gruesome mutilations but I did feel was a little overused throughout the series. The score throughout the show also features prominently invoking orchestral undertones with often a tribal quality to it which bubbles away subtly during tense scenes and explodes to the forefront during the fight scenes. The whole production of the show feels slickly done and is thoroughly well made and even if it does feel slightly out of touch with reality it is very watchable.
Thankfully after episode one, the show starts to find its groove even if it does become a bit formulaic with perhaps the excessive gore, gratuitous full frontal nudity (for both genders) at every possible opportunity as well as deliciously despicable treachery at every turn acting as a smokescreen for the slightly thin on the ground storylines (which pretty much revolved around whoever was most cunning in their treachery prevailing). But the story arc throughout the series and the character developments certainly makes up for this as it becomes more about Spartacus' journey plus with an endless supply of hot blooded gladiators with rippling muscles strutting their stuff for the girls and plenty of buxom young wenches for the boys every episode there's very little to complain about on the whole. By about episode 4 I got to the point where I simply couldn't wait for the next episode, and when the final episode arrived I didn't care that it was gone midnight on a school night - it just had to be watched which I think shows just how addictive this show gets and also how little I care about being awake at work.
So, in essence what you're going to get from Spartacus: Blood and Sand is an action packed, no holds barred gore fest with a flagrant disregard for propriety and the exposure of human nature at its most treacherous and depraved that is also shamelessly addictive. If you can see past the adult content you will be in for a real treat even if it is all just mindless entertainment. Though to be honest, you wouldn't expect anything less from the ancient Romans - sex fiends the lot of them. I would thoroughly recommend this show with the caveat of never watching with your parents.
The DVD itself is very artistically done with slim-lined and neat packaging for the 4-disc collection, and the displays for each disc are excellent with the dramatic theme tune music playing on a loop and teasing scenes from the episodes playing in the background. Each episode is brought up with a dramatic crescendo followed by the sound of splashing blood and comes with a little synopsis plus the chance to play it with or without a recap or with audio commentary (which I can never see the point of) - a very nicely produced box set in my opinion.
There is quite a good array of bonus features on this DVD with the advantage that they are all short and sweet:
* Spartacus: Blood and Sand - Behind the Scenes
15 minutes of the usual stuff - enthusiastic chats with the cast and crew and all the typical insights you can pick up about what the makers were looking for and the ways they go there, with looks at the technical and stunt side of things. It's short enough to hold your interest and there is quite a lot of interest here.
* Spartacus: Battle Royale
An 8 minute montage showing off some of the more dramatic fight scenes. A little burst of adrenaline if these sort of scenes float your boat, but there is nothing new here.
* Gladiator Boot Camp
5 minutes of footage covering the month at Gladiator Boot Camp documenting how the actors got "ripped" to play the part of the gladiators, and learning all the moves and skills required to pull it off. It's fascinating to get the actors' views of what they went through.
* Grime and Punishment
5 minutes of hilarious footage showing the preparation and disgusting discomfort Andy Whitfield and Jai Courtney went through for filming their punishment in one of the episodes by being dumped in the hole where general waste went. Well worth it for a chuckle.
* Andy Gets Plastered
3 minutes of footage showing Andy Whitfield getting plaster casts of his arms, body and head made for such things as making scar maps for continuity. Some of it looked pretty unpleasant so just highlights the amount of work and commitment that goes into making such a show.
* Legend Re-imagined
4 minutes of the producers Rob Tapert and Stephen S. DeKnight talking about how they took liberties with history to make the show as entertaining as possible - more interesting insights here.
* Oh, Those Randy Romans
6 minutes of talking with the cast about the sexier side of the show and their thoughts starting with the outrageously bawdy nature of it all and then moving on to the love stories. Again more insights to be had if you're interested.
* Shooting Green: The Shadow of Death
5 minutes of footage showing how effective using the green screen was to create much of Spartacus' world with a lot of interesting technical tricks.
* Exposing your Ludus
5 minutes of footage of the actors just joshing about behind the scenes, plus some bloopers where things didn't go as planned - not laugh out loud but quite amusing.
* Spartacus *Vengeance* Trailer
The dramatic trailer for the season one DVD - it captures the spirit of the show nicely.