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Series


The epic story begins when an unnamed Thracian’s (Andy Whitfield) involvement in a Thracian unit of Roman auxiliary in a campaign against the Getae. The Thracians only agree to fight because the Getae hordes frequently raid their homeland, not out of any love of or respect for the Romans. Roman general Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) has little interest in the Getae or the Thracians, and pressed by his lustful wife, he abandons the Thracians. When the unnamed soldier, a natural leader, confronts Glaber, a series of dominos drop, and some of the Roman high command are killed. As punishment the soldier and his wife (Erin Cummings) are ripped apart and into slavery. Expected to die against impossible odds in the arena, the Thracian kills four reputable gladiators, and earns himself the new name Spartacus from his new master Quintus Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah).

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Season One
Blood and sand, and breasts, and guts, and men having sex with women, and women having sex with other women, and men having sex with other men, and be-headings, and more nudity. On the surface Spartacus: Blood and Sand may be the most eclectically outrageous television series ever to air in the United States. The only thing missing are actual insertion shots. Yet the series is so stylized and the subject matter so debaucherous in the first place it all feels about right. At first the series style is too close to Zack Snyder’s 300 and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, but assuming the viewer can get over the lack of any scruples or subtlety on the part of the cast and crew, it’s actually a pretty fun little ride. The melodrama and scenery chewing is all part of the series’ high volume style, which begs it’s audience to look at the god damn screen no matter what unnatural gore effect, monkey business plot twist, or slow motion for the sake of slow motion makes us want to ignore the insanity. I really, really enjoyed this show against all my better judgments. I love the stupid amounts of blood that pour from wounds, I love the Sam Raimi inspired compositions, I love each and every one of the actors, and I love the way they all only have two volume levels – contemplative murmur, and furious shouting.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Season One

Video


There is an artificial look to this entire series, but in high definition, 1080p video I rarely looks anything short of impressive. Grain is prevalent but in a fine digital form, and I caught virtually zero artefacts or haloing. Details are incredible, even those delegated to the background, and likely ignored by most viewers. The close-ups are almost unreal in the amount of detail. You can feel the dirt ground into the pours. There’s lots of sharp focus pull, and there are very limited colour pallets, but these are obviously in keeping with the kind of weird style. Golden sunsets and rises, golden sand, and golden, glimmering body parts are all clean and sharp, but the red highlights are the strongest visual element. Blood is a clear forerunner here, but so are many of the costumes, especially those of Lucy Lawless, whose hair is downright distracting at times. The tone is certainly dirty, and the visuals follow suit, but this is a crystal clear image anyway.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Season One

Audio


Anchor bay opts for a TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, and it is alive in every channel, especially when music is taken into account. Dialogue heavy scenes keep most of the sound in the middle channel, with minor exceptions of characters moving through the stereo channel. However, when the music kicks in it bounces around all the channels, even during these slowed aural moments. Battle scenes are the big draw for the track, with their whooshing, clanging weapons, grunting fighters, and rear channels full of cheering, bloodthirsty fans. The music here also picks up a metal slant, and has a more powerful drumline. The LFE gets plenty of work throughout the series, in the form of drums, and pounding bodies.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Season One

Extras


Extras begin with commentary tracks, which are hidden deeply in the in the menu system. To access one must go to the episode in question, verify they want to watch it, then verify they want to listen to the commentary. Episodes with commentaries include ‘The Red Serpent (with director Rick Jacobson, writer/creator Steven DeKnight, executive producers Rob Tapert and Joshua Donen), ‘Sacramentum Gladitorum (with director Rick Jacobson, writer/creator Steven DeKnight, executive producer Rob Tapert), ‘The Thing in the Pit’ (with director Jesse Warn and actor Andy Whitfield), ‘Shadow Games’ (with director Michael Hurst, and actors Andy Whitfield and Lucy Lawless), ‘Delicate Things (with director rick Jacobson, creator Steven DeKnight and actor Erin Commings), ‘Whore’ (with actors Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless and Viva Bianca), ‘Party Favors’ (with actors Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless and Viva Bianca), ‘Revelations’ (with writer Brent Fletcher, creator Steven S. DeKnight and actor Nick E. Tarabay), and ‘Kill Them All’ (with writer/creator Steven S DeKnight, and actors Peter Mensah and Katrina Law. The tracks all have their own style, with the writing staff filling in some blanks while Lawless and Whitfield have no problem being dry and witty. The all four discs in the set feature a series of pop-up historical factoids, surprisingly few of which have anything to do with the historical period at hand. Still, some good factoids, and a good addition.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Season One
Disc four also features a series of featurettes, starting with ‘ Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Behind the Scenes’ (HD, 14:50) a Starz channel EPK likely played between movies and television shows, made of choice scenes, some behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interviews. Next up is ‘Spartacus: Battle Royale’ (HD, 7:30) a look at the speed ramped, digital blood fights set to the series sound track. ‘Gladiator Boot Camp’ (HD, 4:20) sort of speaks for itself, and gives us a peak at the boys practicing for the action. ‘Grime and Punishment’ (HD, 4:50) takes a look at the making of the scenes that take place in ‘The Hole’, a particularly gross pit of cess. ‘Andy gets Plastered’ (HD, 2:40) covers the casting of the lead actor’s body. ‘Legend Re-Imagined’ (HD, 4:00) is another kind of fluffy look behind production, and admitting fervently that the series is not historically accurate. ‘Oh Those Randy Romans’(HD, 6:15) is a look at all the shows sex, and the intertwining relationships, but again appears to have been made for television. ‘Shooting Green’ (HD, 4:50) is a look behind the scenes of the complex green screen effects. No mention of Zack Snyder’s 300. ‘Exposing Your Lotus’ (HD, 5:20) finishes things out, and is basically a blooper reel. Things end with a Spartacus: Vengeance trailer.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Season One

Overall


Spartacus: Blood and Sand is a surprisingly potent little guilty pleasure. I really had little interest in it (I’m not a fan of 300 beyond its technical prowess), and now I want more. Apparently star Adam Whitfield cancer scare hasn’t ended yet (seriously, Lymphomas, stay away), so I’ll have to get used to a new face for my hero. I should also have plenty of occasions to discuss why I’m not totally gay for eyeballing this many sweaty muscle bound men’s men. The video quality is nearly perfect, giving one the perfect chance to really enjoy all that dirt caked man meat, and the TrueHD sound is brash and violent. Extras take up a lot of time, but don’t add up to quite as much as I’m guessing Starz intended.


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