×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

What ensues, alas, is the gladiator's life as filtered through the gauzy lens of a Calvin Klein ad.

With:
Spartacus - Andy Whitfield Batiatus - John Hannah Lucretia - Lucy Lawless Doctore - Peter Mensah Crixus - Manu Bennett Ilithiyia - Viva Bianca Glaber - Craig Parker Varro - Jai Courtney Sura - Erin Cummings

Presumably the title “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” was chosen for Starz’s latest dramatic foray because “300: Blood and Sand” or “Gladiator: Sand and Blood” wouldn’t clear legal. In any event, there’s scant resemblance between this dreadful blend of those recent movies and the program’s ostensible namesake, as the show tries to adopt “300’s” visual style and — despite spilling buckets of gore — proves woefully pale by comparison. Indeed, when the smoke clears from this blood-splattered battle, the survivors will likely stand and sheepishly plead, “I’m not ‘Spartacus!’ Please, don’t confuse me with ‘Spartacus!'”

Just to put this appraisal in context, the original 1960 classic remains a personal favorite, and I’m extremely fond of the other aforementioned efforts — so this hardly represents an aversion to swords and sandals. There is, however, considerable irritation over such a brazen, at-times-laughable attempt to piggyback on their success.

A Thracian warrior, the strong-willed man eventually christened Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) joins with the Romans to fight off a common enemy, but winds up being thrown into the gladiatorial arena when he refuses to obey their commands. Separated from his woman (Erin Cummings), he essentially girds his loins to endure all manner of torment in order to survive, on the outside chance the two might be reunited, which includes bonding himself to gladiator master Batiatus (“The Mummy’s” John Hannah) and his steely trainer, Doctore (Peter Mensah, whose “300” cameo provides a promotionally advantageous link).

What ensues, alas, is the gladiator’s life as filtered through the gauzy lens of a Calvin Klein ad. Sure, there’s some graphic sex and modest court intrigue among the haughty Romans, but nothing to approach the worst moments in HBO’s “Rome.” (“Xena’s” Lucy Lawless — the wife of series producer Robert Tapert — loyally chips in as Batiatus’ lustful spouse, who has an insatiable hunger for gladiators and, like the rest of the cast, scenery.)

Written by “Smallville” alum Steven S. DeKnight, lines of dialogue at times appear to uncomfortably echo those earlier movies, which is less irksome than it would be otherwise, because the less-familiar exchanges (“My boot will find your ass in the afterlife”) are frequently risible.

Unlike the sex, no one could call the violence gratuitous, since it’s the sole reason the show exists — an excuse to artfully spray slow-motion patterns of entrails and severed limbs across the screen.

To be fair, the program does improve marginally after the premiere, but by then the bar’s set so low a three-legged horse could clear it. And while one can hardly expect a budget on the scale of “Avatar,” the stylized, washed-out backgrounds and crowd sequences simply aren’t up to the standards of a young-male audience weaned on better.

Thus far, Starz has relied on presold titles (first “Crash,” now this) to ease the marketing burden in launching original dramas, but if the pay channel wants to become a serious presence under just-installed CEO Chris Albrecht, future endeavors will need to exhibit a few brains to augment the brawn.

Until then, “Spartacus” earns a big, very bloody thumbs down.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Starz, Fri. Jan. 22, 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in New Zealand by Tapert Donen Raimi in association with Starz Media. Executive producers, Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Joshua Donen, Steven S. DeKnight; producer, Chloe Smith; director, Rick Jacobson; writer, DeKnight.

Crew: Camera, Aaron Morton; production designer, Iain Aitken; editor, Jonno Woodford-Robinson; music, Joseph LoDuca; visual effects supervisor, Charlie McClellan; casting, Lauren Bass, Annabel Lomas, Faith Martin. 60 MIN.

Cast: Spartacus - Andy Whitfield Batiatus - John Hannah Lucretia - Lucy Lawless Doctore - Peter Mensah Crixus - Manu Bennett Ilithiyia - Viva Bianca Glaber - Craig Parker Varro - Jai Courtney Sura - Erin Cummings

More TV

  • Jason Flemyng, Casting Director Lucinda Syson

    Jason Flemyng, Lucinda Syson Launch Film and TV Indie The Kernel Factory (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jason Flemyng, fellow actor Ben Starr, casting director Lucinda Syson, and finance expert Cristiano D’Urso are opening The Kernel Factory, a new U.K.-based film and TV indie. Flemyng has a long list of movie credits including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” and Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking [...]

  • ITV Wins Pre-Sales for Mipcom Drama

    Pre-Sales for 'Noughts and Crosses' Lead Scripted Deals for ITV Studios at Mipcom

    ITV Studios Global Entertainment has racked up pre-sales for its leading Mipcom title “Noughts and Crosses”, and has unveiled a number of other deals on its drama slate. “Noughts and Crosses” has been acquired by M-Net in Africa, Russia’s More TV, TVNZ in New Zealand and on BBC First across Benelux prior to its launch [...]

  • Obit Obituary Placeholder

    Talent Agent Joseph Eric Rice Dies at 61

    Joseph Eric Rice, a talent agent who headed JR Talent Group, died unexpectedly at his home in Laguna Beach, Calif. He was 61. Rice headed his own talent agency based in Studio City where he primary handled actors. Earlier in his career, he headed the theatrical department at Abrams Artists Agency. Rice was born in [...]

  • Elisa Viihde Orders Second Series of

    Elisa Viihde Orders Second Series of Finnish hit Drama 'All the Sins' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Elisa Viihde, the thriving Finnish SVOD service, has ordered a second season of the local series “All the Sins” whose season one was a critical success and sold to over 30 countries. The new season of “All the Sins,” written by the award-winning Mika Ronkainen and Merja Aakko, takes viewers back in time to the [...]

  • Cuna-de-lobos

    Televisa’s Fabrica de Sueños Leads Content Revamp as ‘Cuna de Lobos’ Debuts Strongly

    Televisa’s Fabrica de Sueños (Dream Factory), launched last year under the leadership of Patricio Wills, has begun to reap ratings dividends from its anthology series of re-versioned hit Televisa telenovelas of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Founded under the slogan ‘Rewriting History,’ Fabrica de Sueños kicked off to stellar ratings in September with “La Usurpadora” (“The [...]

  • Project Blue Book

    Mipcom Roundup: A+E Sells, Ovation Buys, Fremantle Dating Format Takes Off

    In Variety’s second Mipcom roundup Ovation announces a raft of series and TV movie pickups, Nelson Mandela’s autobiographical recordings will be developed into a docuseries by Zig Zag and Hipster Media, A+E sells “Project Blue Book” to Viasat World and RTL, All The Kids and El Cañonazo are set to team in Spain on new formats; “Property [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content