Graphic 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' offers more of the former
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Do you like movies about gladiators?
If so, Starz's "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" might satisfy, but only for viewers comfortable with violence, gore and nudity.
From the executive producers of "Xena," "Hercules" and "Legend of the Seeker" (Sam Rimi, Rob Tapert) and written by Steven S. DeKnight ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," Smallville"), "Spartacus" is filmed in the CGI-heavy style of "300" with gallons of bright red blood that flow like Kool-Aid on a hot summer day.
Premiering Friday at 10 p.m., the pilot sets up the premise of the series: A Thracian soldier (Andy Whitfield) soon to be given the name Spartacus falls out of favor with a Roman commander and is forced to fight as a gladiator. Eventually he's sold into slavery to Batiatus (John Hannah), husband of the scheming Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), and he's trained in the ways of gladiator, all the while hoping to reunite with his wife, Sura (Erin Cummings).
There's not much room for character development in tomorrow's battle-filled premiere. Next week's episode offers slightly more promise on that front, and episodes three and four show marked improvement. It's no "Rome," but at least it appears headed more in that direction. (Starz executives must like what they see in future episodes: Last month the network renewed the show for a second season even though it had yet to premiere.)
Starring: Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless.
The CGI used in the arena scenes looks pretty decent, but when characters are in natural environments (on a mountaintop, on a hillside), the backgrounds look more fake than stylized, like a video game.
And there's also imagery that makes no logical sense: If you're going into battle in the snow, wouldn't it make sense to wear a shirt rather than charge into battle bare-chested?
The nudity isn't confined to the nonsensical on the battlefield: Tomorrow's premiere features full-frontal female nudity; next week's episode features full-frontal male nudity (from a greater distance).
As the star, newcomer Whitfield makes a favorable impression as the soulful, belligerent warrior who's not well-skilled in the art of compromise. Hannah and Lawless get the juiciest parts as the money-obsessed owners of the gladiators.
"Spartacus" hits its stride in episodes three and four as some of the other gladiators come to the fore, including Crixus (Manu Bennett), Lucretia's sexual plaything who pines for a slave girl, and Varro (Jai Courtney), Spartacus' curly-haired buddy who looks like a gladiator version of Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering) from the original "Beverly Hills, 90210."
But be warned: Even as "Spartacus" grows into a more interesting character drama, some viewers will consider it too graphic. Nudity prevails -- I'd love to know if producers spent more on CGI or fake sweat for covering all the bare skin during sex scenes -- and in episode three Varro is forced to have graphic sex, "like an enraged bull," for the amusement of partygoers
Although some characters share the same names as those in the 1960 Kirk Douglas movie of the same name, this vivid, revealing remake is not for the faint of heart.
First Published January 21, 2010 12:00 am