Spartacus Blood and Sand Season One & DVD Review

by on October 24, 2010

in Entertainment, tv reviews

For more than over a year, I’ve been reporting various news updates about the Starz TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand from Starz Entertainment. I’ve also reported the sad news about Andy Whitfield’s medical challenges. But up until recently, I’ve never had the opportunity to catch the series.

After watching the first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, created by the Joss Whedon alum, Steven S. DeKnight, all I have to say is wow. By Jupiters *, just wow, what a riveting presentation with an incredible amount of quality drama interlaced with a love story as a motivation that later turns to retribution, and peppered with just the right amount of violent gladiator action that doesn’t over-do it.

What sets this show apart from many others is the style of photography, using high speed cameras to capture some of the action, while other scenes fade into other scenes in a wonderfully artistic method. The intimate conversations & coloration of the scenes are fresh.

Andy Whitfield as SpartacusAndy Whitfield as Spartacus

Andy Whitfield stars as Spartacus while John Hannah (The Mummy, TV: New Street Law) delivers a wonderfully insidious character in Spartacus’ dominus, Batiatus. Manu Bennett (30 Days of Night) delivers one hell of a visual presentation as Crixus, the plaything of Lucretia (Lucy Lawless [Bitch Slap, Euro Trip; TV: Battlestar Galactica]) and the gladiator champion of the stable of Batiatus… well, for a while that is. Peter Mensah (Avatar, 300) plays Doctore and whom I think was the most insidious character in the entire ensemble was Ilithyia, played by Viva Bianca.

Erin Cummings as Sura in Spartacus Blood and Sand on StarzErin Cummings as Sura

But what helps this fantastic cast bring forth some of their best work is the creative team behind Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Check this partial list of producers:

  • Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, 30 Days of Night, Drag Me to Hell; Upcoming: Priest),
  • Robert Tappert (30 Days of Night, Drag Me to Hell),
  • Steven S. DeKnight (Dollhouse, Angel, Buffy The Vampire Slayer),
  • Joshua Donen (Legend of the Seeker, 30 Days of Night, Drag Me to Hell)

Check out this list of writers who contribute to the great stories:

  • Aaron Helbing (Smallville, Brotherhood, Carnivale)
  • Todd Helbing (Entourage, Carnivale)
  • Steven S. DeKnight

This creative team is a power-house of talent!

Manu Bennett as Crixus in Spartacus Blood and Sand promo artManu Bennett as Crixus

The series blew away all my preconceptions about this period Roman piece and the rich, highly detailed and engaging plot throughout the show grabbed me by my imagination and dragged me happily along for the ride. If you think you know how this series will progress, think again and don’t let yourself be fooled by presumptions.

Viva Bianca as Ilithyia in Spartacus Blood and SandViva Bianca as Ilithyia

For one, the presentation of the series is presented in what the showrunners call a “graphic novel in motion.” They go on to tell us in one of the extra interviews of the DVD package that this is an R-rated action series where much natural conflict takes place amongst the characters.

If you ever tuned into the premiere episode of Blood and Sand, and found yourself turned off by the amount of 300 movie style sense of gore, you should come back and check out the rest of the series. The premiere episode was a bit over the top with the flying, “stylized” blood, but the subsequent episodes were less about the flying blood and more about the man, the characters and the political intrigue that involves everyone at every level of the story. Yes, everyone is involved in the political strife that the Dominus of Spartacus is involved in.

Peter Mensah as Doctore in Spartacus Blood and Sand promo artPeter Mensah as Doctore

The series itself is not about the gladiator , it is about the man whom the Roman public have declared to be the holder of the title of Spartacus. If I’m not mistaken, we never learn his true name, but after first being granted the title, he tries to deny the title and says he has a name, but he’s reminded, as a gladiator, that the only things that matter is the dirt beneath his feet and to survive the battles. That anything he ever was no longer matters and to focus on what he is now. That is the way of any slave/gladiator. It’s the best they can hope for.

The series starts out showing how Whitfield’s character is betrayed by Roman politics and battlefield decisions leave’s his village and beloved wife, Sura (Erin Cummings) at the mercy of an intruding enemy. He rebels and heads home to save the love of his life, but is later captured by Glabor (Craig Parker) and both he and his wife are turned into slaves. She for her husband’s indiscretions at disobeying orders.

Lucy Lawless as Lucretia in Spartacus Blood and Sand promo artLucy Lawless as Lucretia

This deed sparks the sole drive for Spartacus, to escape and save his wife.

Throughout the series, we watch the battle-hardened fall in love, and the love-lorned become hardened while the politically aspiring worm their way through the system, even if they’re a bit misguided or mis-informed of their ability via birth, to hold high ranking seats. I have to mention it was quite the pleasure to watch John Hannah in this role of Dominus. I’ve only seen him as the bumbling character in the Mummy movie franchise but his focus, his demeanor as Batiatus is a very good interpretation as an aspiring slave & gladiator owner.

John Hannah as Batiatus in Spartacus Blood and Sand promo artJohn Hannah as Batiatus

Every thing Spartacus does is geared towards reuniting himself with his soul-mate, the love of his heart. He survives his enslavement via choices and sacrifices. His early style of battle keeps you on the edge of your seat as he gets beat down but then something deep down inside him drives him. Reminds him what he needs to do to see his wife again. Though the side story are the coliseum battles, it’s something bigger that gives the gladiators incentive to succeed in the early days of “pay entertainment.” (It’s the earliest version of pay-per-view entertainment!) And through it all, fate always seems to intervene in ways some just don’t like, but must acknowledge. Sweet, delicious and evil fate.

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Jai Courtney as Varro in Spartacus Blood and Sand promo artJai Courtney as Spartacus’s close friend, Varro

The cast, mostly unknowns, was a pure pleasure to watch and have made names for themselves in this daring production. Aside from Manu, Jai Courtney played a very endearing character of Varro. After watching the entire series in just a few days, I am so saddened to know that Andy Whitfield won’t be returning to the role. Yet how the character of Spartacus is a title and not a characters name is a fortuitous aspect of the story.

This sites’ thoughts are with Andy Whitfield in his battle where I hope he kicks some Spartan ass in this challenge, but I have complete faith that no matter what Starz does casting for the subsequent seasons in Spartacus: Blood and Sand will be winners.

My only “aside” that I feel I must pass on as a warning to my readers is that there is an abundant amount of foul language, sexually explicit moments of word and action and frontal nudity of both genders. Yes, though toned down, there is still sufficient amount of motion-comic style blood and the hi-res photography that allows the action to be stopped to pose for a scene of action is fun. And I got a total kick out of what I call the Iron Man-in-the-helmet camera shots were totally awesome!

Despite the obvious fighting themed series, this series is truly about the life of a gladiator and the political underpinnings that surround this gladiatorial form of entertainment and how the slave owners destiny can hang in the balance, dependent on their very lowly slave contingent.

And through it all, the taming of Spartacus was such an experience, and to know that’s it not a tamed Spartacus, but one who bides his time with ulterior motives in every move. Even through the heart-rending moments that he HAS to either make happen or experience.

When you watch this show, I think you’ll also be watching one of the most physically cut set of actors ever seen on the small screen. I don’t think anyone is going ever look any better than this cast, in both genders, but you have to appreciate the four hours of work the cast did every day to get in shape for these roles. (As we learned from one of the many extras in the DVD package.)

I have to leave a note for those naysayers who live to point out disparities from TV shows, keep something in mind about the show: It’s a reimagining of the the era, not a historical recounting.

I’m sorry, but after Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I won’t ever be able to watch any other project based on this period without comparing it to Blood and Sand. And I don’t think anyone will ever measure up. If you ever see anyone from this creative team ever come together again, I’d bet bottom dollar it will be an awesome project.

In other words, if you find yourself buying the season one DVD or Blu-ray of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Amazon: Spartacus: Blood and Sand

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