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Spartacus: “Blood and Sand” or “Blood and Sex”?

Spartacus: Blood and Sand could perhaps be the worst show ever.  Ripping off stylistic and story elements from 300 and other more recent sword and sandal flicks, STARZ’s first attempt at an original series comes up less epic and more of an epic fail.  The end result is a combination bloodbath/comedy hour that makes Hercules: The Legendary Journeys look like high-brow entertainment by comparison. They should have just called it “Spartacus: Blood and Sex.” 

Clocking in at under an hour, Spartacus managed to squeeze in no less than four lengthy sex scenes complete with full-frontal female nudity (including the obligatory lesbian make-out session at the equally obligatory Roman orgy, and even some merkin action) and countless images of slow-mo, freeze-frame instances of blood-splattering, painfully CGI-ed gashes, and the compulsory decapitation.  In one of the show’s most unintentionally hilarious moments, a gladiator with both of his legs hacked to bloody stumps attempts to crawl away from an enraged Spartacus.  The scene plays more like Monty Python than Gladiator. The only thing missing was a psychotic white bunny and the gladiator declaring “It’s just a flesh wound.”

And that brings us to the acting.  What acting!?  In lieu of actors, the cast may as well be populated with chiseled male models or retired Chippendales dancers.  Andy Whitfield as the title character is adequate at best while Erin Cummings (as Spartacus’s wife, Sura) delivers some of the most wooden acting of the series.  When Lucy Lawless (as Lucretia, an overly ambitious, oversexed wife of a gladiatorial school owner and trainer) is the name that brings the most credibility to the production, that should be an indicator of the best that can be expected of Spartacus: Blood and Sand

In their defense, it’s not like the cast has terrific material to work with in terms of writing.  They seemed to make an attempt to be like HBO’s terrific (and all too short-lived series), Rome and amp up the historical factor.  Yet, all the talk of battles and barbarians has little substance, however, and seems like just a prop for all of the blood and gratuitous sex scenes that take precedence.  While the show features a warning in the beginning that the graphic scenes of violence, blood, and nudity are an attempt at an accurate historical reflection of the period, it still seems more like sensationalism than substance.

In terms of props, scenery, and costuming, I will hand it to the show as having some gorgeous CG-ed backdrops that look like paintings.  While this may have been a stylistic element nicked from 300, it’s still visually appealing.  Ditto for the opulent costuming and set design, which was clearly the best part of the hour.

The final verdict on Spartacus: Blood and Sand?  Two gladiatorial thumbs down.

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