Day 107: Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010)

I’m not exactly sure why, but a few years ago I was really into the History Channel’s Barbarians and Barbarians II (these are not to be confused with A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, which also turned up in my search for the History Channel series on Netflix). I quickly watched both Barbarians seasons, regardless of the sometimes silly reenactments. Admittedly, I felt smarter after seeing these shows. I dropped the names Vandals (no, not in the sense it is used today) and Goths (again, not with the modern connotation) into as many conversations as possible. Come to think of it, I should have probably explained what I was referring to when I talked about them. Oh well, hindsight is 20-20.


And while I learned about several tribes of “barbarians” throughout early history, I discovered that all I knew about the Romans was what I learned in my high school world history class. Needless to say, it was a very bland, watered down version if even a tenth of Spartacus: Blood and Sand is remotely historically accurate. However, I would have paid a lot more attention in class with some of those details. Hell, I probably would have even done some voluntary extra credit. Those Romans were saucy! (**I really, really wanted to write “them Romans” here. In fact, I had it written like that because I thought it sounded funny. But then I feared the grammar police banging down my door. I am sure the fashion police are already on their way for the baggy T-shirt I am wearing; and I just can’t deal with the law today**)


Spartacus: Blood and Sand follows the life of Spartacus as he tries to determine which falls faster from the top of a building: blood or sand. The episodes consist of him releasing both at the same time from different heights, then recording the rate of their fall. Turns out, it is V=a*t. Silly Spartacus. He should have just googled it. So, that’s not exactly what the show is really about. It’s actually quite a bit more violent, raunchy, and political.


In Blood and Sand, Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) was a Thracian who turned against a Roman officer and was sentenced to die in the battle arena. However, his kickass killin’ skills and sculpted abs instead land him in the hands of Batiatus (John Hannah). Batiatus, a rare Scottish Roman, owns a ludus gladiatorius (seriously, does everything Roman have an “us” at the end of each word?), a family business that has trained gladiators for at least two generations. Sparty is your typical bad boy. He don’t play by no rules—er, I mean, he doesn’t play by the rules. So, amidst the jockeying for political power by Batiatus and his wife (Lucy Lawless), navigating the manipulative waters of Roman society, and potential backstabbing (figuratively and literally) by his fellow gladiators; Spartacus attempts to earn his freedom and reunite with his wife.


When I started Spartacus, I was fairly irritated. The first episode is not good. In fact, I almost stopped watching it altogether. Perhaps most annoying was the use of very odd transitions. The show likes to keep the actor onscreen as the background changes to a new scene. I guess this is supposed to be cool, but I found it distracting and cheesy. I was also confused as to why Spartacus seems surprised to find himself in these new scenes. I mean, he didn’t teleport in, right? Right? However, I continued to watch a few more episodes. What can I say—there was nothing but reruns on TV at the time.


Three episodes in and I was hooked. Very few characters in the show have clear loyalties or motives. There is more backstabbing and manipulation in this show than on most reality shows today. Most of the characters are actually pretty shady people—and are often ruthless. Nestled snugly among the endless drama of the villa are the fantastic battles in the arena. These are over the top, gory, and highly choreographed. In other words, entertaining. The tone, editing, and action in these scenes make me think of graphic novels. I am not sure if this was purposeful, or if the show was trying to replicate some of the effects of 300; but either way it is super stylized and allows for optimal gore (and violence).


However, while watching Blood and Sand, I couldn’t help but root against Spartacus about 85% of the time. Now this isn’t because I dislike the actor (actually he is good in this role), but I felt that the character of Spartacus seemed pretty shallow. He is fueled by rage and anger, anger and rage. Sure, there are moments where he is able to express something other than hatred, but they are few and far between. Sparty seems to be seething, like a coiled snake ready to strike at any time. Yeah, I understand that he is pretty pissed off, but he seems like doesn’t care who he hurts as long as he gets what he wants. Hmmm, sounds like a lot like the main character in Prison Break, if you ask me (yay, sociopaths!). I was actually more intrigued by some of the supporting roles (like Crixus or Doctore) and felt that they were a bit more likable.


I should point out that Blood and Sand is really graphic. It is super violent and very bloody (sometimes it’s also intestine-y and decapitate-y). Certain scenes I had to look away from because they were pretty disgusting. There is also a lot of explicit sex and nudity in this series (like the “gee, I hope no one catches me watching this stuff” explicit). However, when I watched Blood and Sand, I couldn’t help but (if even for a fleeting moment) pass judgment on the Romans for watching (and enjoying) blood sport. Then I would catch myself in mid-thought and realize what a fricking hypocrite I was because that is exactly what I was viewing on my TV thousands of years later. I don’t know if I should be saddened that not much has really changed over the years in that sex and violence still holds our attention. But at least we don’t wear togas. So there.


Spartacus: Blood and Sand was quite addicting once I got past the first episode. I don’t know if I was pulled in because of the violence or the political intrigue. The intellectual in me wants to say I was hooked in by the story—by the layers of character development and the twisted webs they weaved. But the popcorn eating, blockbuster watching person in me says I watch Spartacus for the action scenes. Freud, on the other hand, would just say sex. It’s always sex with Freud, isn’t it?


I suppose Spartacus: Blood and Sand should be recommended only if the viewer doesn’t mind really gory, bloody battles, can withstand the stress of watching all the political manipulations in every social strata of the villa, and (perhaps most important) are at least this [*imagine Yosemite Sam with his hand outstretched*] tall to enjoy the ride.


Thanks for reading and have a fabulous day! Smile

Score: B-

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