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Spartacus: The Complete Series
Spartacus: The Complete Series is a thirteen disc set containing the entirety of the Starz series run featuring the premiere season Blood and Sand, prequel series Gods of the Arena, and the sequel season Vengeance as well as concluding season War of the Damned. From executive producers Robert Tapert, Joshua Donen, and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead and Spider-Man trilogies), this popular television program was created from writer Steven S. DeKnight (a staff writer on Smallville, Angel, etc.) and is one of the more successful productions to come from Starz; simultaneously finding success on home media during the course of its run. Now that the production is over the network has decided to revisit the show with two brand new collector's set's: one comprised of a standard Blu-ray Digibook package with HD UV copy, another with a smaller sized version of the same set housed in a collectible statue/figurine.
In Spartacus: Blood and Sand a warrior is fighting a battle against the Roman Empire, and is determined to make an impact. The character on the show will eventually become known as Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) and is the title lead of the show. He has a wife named Sura (Erin Cummings) who he believes he can protect while waging his war against the empire. Yet as events unfold and things become much more complicated than first thought, he eventually is captured by the Romans and is taken to be trained in combat as a gladiator for entertainment.
Sura becomes a slave and both are left without power in a world run by the powerful empire running rampant against the people - and the only hope he has left is the thought of one-day reuniting with his wife. Over the course of the story, many characters weave in and out but things remain focused on the gladiator aspect during the first season. Eventually, the young warrior becomes known as Spartacus to all through his gladiatorial power and fights to wage a battle against Rome and the oppressors by season's end, against those who took his wife and later killed her. Now Spartacus fights for all the people who were enslaved and the rebellion begins its early stages.
The prequel series Gods of the Arena mainly focused on the pre-Spartacus establishment of the gladiator battles and the double-crosses and political entanglements between Roman houses; a significant portion of which focused upon the House of Capua and ruler Batiatus (John Hanah), who was the person to purchase Spartacus and turn him into a gladiator in season one. The short prequel also focuses heavily on the character Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), who will return in the 3rd season, Vegeance, before bowing out of the story.
In what would be an uncommon move for a television series, Gods of the Arena was designed as the second season while being a prequel storyline because lead actor Andy Whitfield developed cancer and faced a huge struggle in battling it while the network hoped he would find his way back to good health and be on future seasons of the show, picking up where season one had left off. Whitfield passed away on September 11th, 2011. The network later announced it would be bringing back the Spartacus series despite Whitfield's passing and that the role would be re-cast with another actor performing the same part.
Liam McIntyre became the new actor playing the Spartacus character for this Starz production, and started performing in the primary role with season 3's Vengeance. He would continue the part for the final season, War of the Damned. In Vengeance, Spartacus faces dealing with his desire for revenge against those who contributed to the death of his beloved wife or managing the survival of the rebellion and the freed slaves who are helping him to wage a new battle for freedom and salvation from the Roman empire. In this part of the story, the war is beginning to ensue and Roman elites who are part of the Republic are believed capable of stopping the new Spartacus led rebellion from forming too great an army and they aim to squash the process of these warriors before it becomes too large for them to handle.
In the final segment, Spartacus: War of the Damned, the last parts of a giant battle are staged and a series of won battles have a wave effect towards the continuing efforts to stop Crassus (Simon Merrells) , who has become a main antagonist, which leads to the final culminating battle of the series between these two very different and opposing characters, with Spartacus leading the last struggle for the freedom of the people with their war effort - to be finalized as they break away from the entirety of the corrupt Roman empire.
Spartacus is a series that has some strong production merits that should be noted including a strong score which is composed by Jospeh LoDuca (Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Hercules), frequently breathtaking cinematography largely done by cinematographers Aaron Morton (Orphan Black) and John Cavill (The Lord of the Rings - Second Unit Director of Cinematography), an impressive art direction which involves a immensely high-production budget which showcases vast sets, props and background artwork which was handled by the head art director Nick Bassett (who was the Art Director for James Cameron's Avatar).
The series also has a plethora of impressive visual effects in CGI backdrops and implementation (in this regard, the series is more impressively mounted than Zack Snyder's 300 was; a film from which this series undoubtedly drew some inspiration). The largely filmed green-screen effects are surprisingly well implemented in most regards and are more convincing than special effects found in many Hollywood films. The series production budget is one of the more impressive elements of the series, which is why some of the individuals involved in the production crew offer good merit to their respective roles.
The series is a hodgepodge as far as acting performances go - while the series does seem to have many competent performers involved, the ones that stand out the most are Andy Whitfield, John Hanah, and Lucy Lawless. Whitfield is the actor who arguably brought the most attention to the series performance-wise as a lot of viewers favored his performance and realization of the main character Spartacus. Starz's executive decision to keep producing following his passing seems to be an oversight or determination from the network to continue a series that probably would have benefited from a faster resolve. Instead, the actor was replaced, and two more seasons were made as a result. John Hanah and Lucy Lawless are the two best performers though, and anytime these actors are on screen the show benefits from their addition in a way that can't be as easily said for some of the other cast members. While many of the actors are competent, few hold the kind of performance-quality merits that these skilled actors can carry.
Even despite some impressive production and performance merits, the series does find ways to disappoint and divide audiences. The writing and directing is certainly consistent for the most part but the way in which it is consistent begins to grate on one's nerves: characters delve into battles, double-crosses, political scheming, and physical embraces for a overwhelming part of Spartacus.
The series seemed impressive storytelling-wise compared to the likes of 300 (which seemed to be made up of gigantic battles almost exclusively), as this series had an actual plot-line and mechanics suggesting more dramatic undertones (including political hierarchy and its role in Rome). However, the series largely finds ways to miss the mark by its insistence to continually be focused more on the sheer volume of violence and sex on the series. This element is one that overshadows a lot of the other production aspects. After a while, one wonders just how much of the series is really bent on telling as good of a story as possible as opposed to simply being over-the-top and excessive as a creation - a series that relies on simple cable-television excess for the ratings and that loses focus on the qualities of storytelling that truly matter.
The series makes one think about its gigantic success despite some of its repetitiveness exuded, and one can't help but think of other series that found more success on originality and brilliant storytelling, such as my television favorite Lost, which is celebrating creation 10 years ago on the date of my writing (September 22nd).
Lost was one series which will never get old for me and that could be watched over again with a element of depth further explored in each viewing largely because of its thematic richness and character-study focus. On the flip-side is a cable production series like Spartacus, which despite its ability to show and do things not possible on network television, is lacking in depth and characterization, which is what makes a dramatic series truly great. I had to ask myself: are these characters really ones that provide enough room for exploration in the fullest and are the characters ones that I could be entirely capable of connecting to or rooting for? Even the heroes of the show aren't going to be able to capture that level of connection or enthusiasm and that is a huge detriment to the show. It's a program that would rather rely on cynicism, violence, and sex for its goals rather than follow through with more depth for the audience. Some might be able to get by on its abundantly over-the-top excessiveness, but this series shouldn't have ever been one to be stretched out to four seasons. While the show has some technical production merits and it contains a few standout performances, the series writers and director's could learn a few things from finer television creations like Lost, Treme, Homeland, and Battlestar Galactica: characters, storytelling depth, and deeper explorations of humanity are the kinds of things that make a show truly great and one for the ages.
Each of the four seasons of Spartacus contained herein contain near-reference quality 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1.78:1 widescreen presentations (preserving the original broadcast aspect ratio). The only real drawback during the presentation is occasional minor banding. Otherwise, there is as close to a perfect video presentation as one might expect to find for anything done in television. The colors are the most impressive thing: color is accurately rendered, artistically the use of color is handled in a completely surreal way, and the high production budget values are able to be well presented here. Blacks levels are strong and accuracy of contrast is abundant. Clarity is very good, with strong detail in every facet of production.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless surround sound presentation is a uproariously detailed one, featuring a dynamic and enveloping surround quality that bests most television series (and arguably many films). The production work here is akin to that of high budget Hollywood films especially and every action-packed scene has an intense amount of speaker separation and detail. Clarity is also good and is efficient for dialogue, the music score by Jospeh LoDuca, and the high volume of sound effects.
An optional Dolby Digital 2.0/Mono Spanish audio presentation is also included. Subtitles are available in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing) and Spanish.
Fellow DVDTalk.com reviewer Ian Jane has already written a lengthy piece on the topic of this series here and he did such an excellent job breaking down the supplements of the release that I wish to refer readers to his review for more details on the season by season details.
This complete set contains ALL of the supplements that were previously made available on the individual Blu-ray season sets - in fact, the discs are the same for the bulk of this release, but a new bonus features disc containing the following new high definition extras is included (and three episodes commentaries are new to the season one discs contained in the complete set editions):
Spartacus: Fan Favorites with Liam McIntyre (10 min.) is a brief run-down of ten favorite episodes and/or moments contained in the series based on fan responses. Where they got responses for this featurette I have no idea, but this piece features clips from these listed moments alongside a "guided tour" style session with the actor introducing them.
Scoring a Hit: Composer Jospeh LoDuca (3 min.) is a brief rundown of some of the series composers favorite pieces introduced in the show. LoDuca also discusses how he felt the production offered him a lot of opportunities for radically different musical styles in one surprising swoop (from choral melodies to electronic grunge -- depending on the scene).
An Eye Full: Roger Murray (4 min.) is a look at some of the aesthetic prosthetic and prop materials utilized for the show with the design supervisor, Roger Murray, delivering his commentary on what it took to bring these effects to reality. (He details these elaborate production necessities known as 'blood bags' that are filled with artificial blood for many sequences (noting the degree to which scenes would feature the blood-bags or CGI blood).
Spartacus: Paul Grinder (3 min.) is a short rundown of the work done on the series from the second unit director department and what a typical day of production is like for them. This featurette is of course abundantly brief and mainly focuses on the effort of Grinder.
The Last Word: John Hannah (8 min.) is essentially a free-talk session with the actor as he discusses his part on the show and why the role was so different for him (as he was used to playing goofy and lovable characters and thought of this part as a big 'departure' artistically). Hannah also explores his favorite moments and aspects of working on the show and why he 'loved it all' in bringing his acting sensibilities to the role.
Spartacus is a series that hit huge success with the Starz network. It's newly available Complete Series release has been produced in both a standalone Digibook style (with a HD Digital Copy code), and as a collector's edition with a statue/figurine display item accompanying a smaller version of the DigiBook set. Many fans already probably own some (or all) of the seasons so repurchasing probably depends largely on the degree of new bonus materials. The new bonus features included only tally up to about 30 minutes of new video-supplements, and a few new episodes commentaries. For most fans, I doubt that's a good enough reason to re-buy. For those who are fans and haven't made a purchase yet, this is the most 'complete' edition available and it would likely cost less to purchase than buying the sets individually.
For newcomers or those on the fence? I suggest renting this first - or perhaps skipping the series altogether - but for any diehard fans of Spartacus, Anchor Bay Home Entertainment has made a impressive collection with good A/V quality and an enormous amount of supplemental material (even if only a smidgen of it is new and exclusive to this set), so there's little doubt that this new release set is as close to being 'definitive' as one will find.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.