5 Reasons to Watch Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Spartacus: Blood and Sand is a TV series that very nearly passed me by because I am a man of taste and discrimination and Spartacus is basically the opposite of those things. At first glance it appears to be a sort of cross between the film ’300′ and cut scenes from a terrible 1990s computer game, but in truth there is more to it that meets the eye. I’ve only seen the first series – tragically the star of season one isn’t returning for season two as he is is battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – but it is currently ongoing and I will definitely check it out soon. So here are the top 5 reasons I can think of why you should give Spartacus a chance:

Number 5. It’s endearingly stupid. Most shows these days are clever, maybe even too clever for their own good – they play with audience expectations, they have subtle plot twists and characters that are not what they first appear. There is character development and emotional moments. Spartacus doesn’t bother with that nonsense – there are no anticlimaxes where violence is threatened and then instead people come to a peaceful understanding, there are no shades of grey or subtlety – it’s like a 14 year old’s power fantasy where you can rest assured that the hero is going to go from strength to strength until he kills everyone. It’s like a David Gemmel book. It’s the antithesis to the (excellent) Rome HBO series, where the Romans mostly talked and sure that was interesting but sometimes you just want to see fight scenes against giant monster men where limbs get hacked off. The final episode of the season is called ‘Kill Them All’ and it’s about as subtle as it sounds.

Number 4. It should really be called Blood and Nudity as those are the two things you will take away from it. Sure there is some sand but it’s overshadowed by the constant, constant nudity and blood. It’s ironic that clearly the shows producers have set out to emulate HBO – a network which is famous for including nudity and violence – but they have taken it to such a ridiculous extreme that the small amounts of violence and nudity in say, HBO’s Game of Thrones just seems laughably tame in comparison. Blood goes literally everywhere, at times the (mostly computer generated) blood blots out the entire screen. There are graphic eviscerations, dozens of decapitations and more deaths than you can reasonably count. The computer graphics take a bit of getting used to, but after a while I began to admire this way of doing things – it’s something I’ve seen before in ‘Zatoichi’ and it allows for lots of vicious stabbing, slicing and limb-chopping-off. The violence is a mix of realistic wounds and stylised effects which means it doesn’t feel like you are watching some hideous series of mutilations but just some good old fashioned fun violence.

Number 3.The dialogue may be terrible but you can’t hold it against it. It’s strange but the dialogue in Spartacus has a charm all of it’s own. I grew to enjoy the hilarious attempts at making people sound like they were from Roman times. For example, Romans don’t say ‘thank you’ they say ‘gratitude’ and they don’t say ‘sorry’ they say ‘apologies’. It’s like someone did a find/replace on the script to try and make it sound more period. And at least one person will talk about something being ‘given purpose’ or ‘put to purpose’ per episode. And then there are the metaphors and analogies which are sometimes so terrible that you can’t help but laugh. Oh, or one bit where they threw in some latin to say that someone would be executed ‘ad gladium’ despite the fact that presumably everyone is meant to be talking Latin all the time. At least they tried though, it’s kind of sweet – like a school play where the kids have written their own dialogue. Set in an violent Roman gladiator school.

Number 2. It’s better than 300. Spartacus is obviously designed to appeal to people who enjoyed 300 and it definitely will. But it will probably appeal to people who didn’t like 300 as well. You see, 300 was very pretentious whereas Spartacus KNOWS it is as stupid as a sack full of gladiators. I can imagine the original concept for Spartacus was ‘make it like a HBO series based on 300… except with less body hair’, and it succeeds at those lofty ambitions. It’s more homoerotic than 300 as well, which is quite a feat. In fact it is probably the most homoerotic TV show about burly men in a prison since Oz. While 300 seemed to think it was something better than it was – something I would suggest is common in all Zack Snyder films – Spartacus is just a happy idiot of a show – I think this is probably Sam Raimi’s influence and it’s all the better for it.

Number 1. John Hannah is basically a Roman version of Malcolm Tucker from The Thick Of It, a little angry Scottish despot who shouts and swears at anyone and everyone. He’s great and clearly having the time of his life, and though the swearing is never quite up to Malcolm’s level of ingenuity it’s still pretty hilarious: ‘Jupiter’s cock!’ is my new favourite exclamation. John Hannah never even bothers trying to act like a Roman and really steals every scene he is in, largely because most of the other characters in the film are barely even capable of speaking, let alone acting. In fairness to them though they do all try their best and it’s quite endearing watching them frowning and stumbling over the hilariously bad dialogue. ‘You smell of piss’ remarks one gladiator. ‘You smell of piss AND shit’ comes the retort from another, demonstrating his rapier wit and looking pleased with himself. Lucy Lawless is not too bad either I suppose though her scenes, which are mainly about the treachery and backstabbing that Romans are famous for really just serve as interludes between people getting chopped to bits.

I did think that the first couple of episodes were notably worse than the rest – they are set outside the gladiator school and the CGI budget is clearly stretched trying to do outdoor scenes. Once they chop off Spartacus’ hair, things get better and the series becomes more interesting.

12 Comments on “5 Reasons to Watch Spartacus: Blood and Sand

  1. You cock sucking piece of shit, I would have a sword carved deep in between your cheeks for proferring such unflattering, deceiving words from your foul smelling mouth!

      • No. Otherwise it would go more like: Cocksucking Shit! Feel sword carved deep between cheeks of false foul mouth!

        So it’s not a simple matter of find and replace as you suggested. There is a particular style. They may not adhere to it 100%, but it’s consistent and distinct enough. It’s not a mere Google Translate English to Latin to English either (try it and see).

        As such I don’t find the dialogue terrible at all. It’s close to using another language but without requiring me to read subtitles.

        • Yeah fair enough. I still think the dialogue is occasionally hilarious but I really miss the strange, almost poetic pseudo-Roman now Spartacus is finished (this post was written a long time ago!).

          I am sure it is not done with any Google tools, but it definitely does seem like it on occasion, the way people are always ‘set to purpose’ always cracked me up.

          It’s very hard to describe Spartacus to other people in a way that will make it sound as good as it is. This post was meant to be a way to encourage more people to watch it. For me the language is a major selling point, but I don’t really know how to describe it to others, it’s like nothing else out there. ‘Occasionally hilarious’ might be better than ‘terrible’.

          I should really write another post about Spartacus now it is all over, one of my favourite shows.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you anymore.

    Yet I like the show and want to see more of it – Spartacus: Vengance

    Spartacus can be classified as a Grindhouse 2.0 TV-series. Exploitation at its best

  3. Ya…um…u do realize this show is based on the factual. character Spartacus right? They didn’t just make it up. And the reasoning for the dialogue is more deep than you obviously understand. People back then talked in ways that was melodic and had more meaning. Sim ply put, a picture is worth a thousand words and Spartacus truly delivers more meaning in a common language, not trying to sound more authentic. But you would need to be a true Spartacus fan to appreciate that :)

    • Spartacus is an historical character obviously, but it is far from a factual programme. Most of it is a complete fabrication, including the hilarious way that everyone speaks. I am not sure how you got ‘melodic’ and ‘had more meaning’ from watching Spartacus but each to their own.

  4. Ehm Jake? Gratitude (ars gratium) is just an example of your lack of latin. Do a bit of research before yiu make your statements. Moratori te salutant.

    • I don’t know Latin (and Google translate can’t seem to help me with ‘gratium’ or either) but my point is that it sounds ridiculous in the show where they are not speaking Latin, they are speaking English with an attempt to make things sound authentic with this half-hearted attempt at period accuracy. Plus they occasionally DO speak Latin which is even more confused (execute them ‘ad gladium’). And then they seem to speak made up Latin on occasion as well (Mors Indecepta – is that right?)

      I love Spartacus (might have to have a new write up now the series has finished) but lets not pretend it has much in the way of period authenticity. I didn’t realise that Romans may well have been saying gratitude to each other all the time, but I stand by my argument that it all sounds funny.

  5. A good review. The show is fun. It is very much like my 15 year old self got the budget to make a television show, and decided to get the hottest chicks I could find to be naked all the time, and the badass warriors to just hack shit to pieces.

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