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review dvd: Spartacus (2004)

PostPosted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 1:01 am
by Quintus Aurelius Orcus
Salvete I recently rented the miniseries "Spartacus" on dvd and here is what I thought of it.

Review: Spartacus
Release year: 2004
Directed by Robert Dornhelm
Based on the novel Spartacus by Howard Fast, screenplay written by Robert Schenkkan
Starring: Goran Visnjic, Rhona Mitra, ….

When most people think of Spartacus, they usually think of the movie with the same title, released in the 60’s starring Kirk Douglas, where slaves rebel against their Roman oppressors. One notoriously scene where its asked who among the slaves is Spartacus, one by one, stand up saying that they are Spartacus. A scene that went down in infamy. Its used on multiple occasions in other movies and tv shows. Its usually used when the protagonist is accused of something and allot of people stand up stating that they are that person.
The miniseries produced by USA network which has produced several well known miniseries and tv shows like the 4400, JAG, Law and Order, Walker Texas Ranger, Attila the Hun and many others. The duration of the miniseries is about 3hours, just as with Attila the Hun.
For those who aren’t familiar with the story, I will recap.
The story of Spartacus is one of a man who breaks free with his fellow gladiators and slaves and ran rampant through Italy, with his slave army growing increasingly. He defeated several legions of the Romans, mostly cohorts who stayed to control the provinces and maintain order. Spartacus and his army even defeated couple of legions, real soldiers. Spartacus stroke fear in the hearts of Romans, because he became something they feared: a free man. His freedom wasn’t given to him, he took it by force and that was something the Romans feared, but inspired gladiators and slaves alike across the Roman Empire. He defeated couple of legions under Marcus Licinius Crassus, even broke through his blockade. But at Lucania, Spartacus and his forces were intercepted by Crassus’ army and subsequently killed. Spartacus died in that battle, although his body was never found. Those slaves who did escape that battle were slaughtered by the forces of Pompey who along with Luculles was called back by the Senate to deal with the menace. Pompey returned to Rome, claiming victory of the battle, Crassus actually won.
In the adaptation for tv, the miniseries resemble that of Attila the Hun where the lines of good and evil are not so clear with both the protagonist and the antagonist. Actually, with both miniseries, it is not so clear who the real protagonists and antagonists are. Both characters (Spartacus and Crassus) are neither good not evil: they stand within the grey area. In fact, the writer tries hard to convince the viewer that both men are human and have human strengths and weaknesses. Spartacus is however portrayed in a more fashionable sense, which means that he is supposed to be the good guy. At times, you don’t get that feeling that he’s the good guy. He’s more or less portrayed as an early communist, who fights against the wealthy Roman establishment by liberating the slaves. With Crassus, you can clearly see that he’s a sadistic son of a bitch with his own agenda, but the writer will never try to make him come over as the stereotypical villain. No, he’s a man of flesh and blood, with strengths and weaknesses. This whole minseries is about those two men. Ofcourse it wouldn’t be Hollywood if they didn’t put in a romance in the storyline. On numerous occasions, this doesn’t really work: Pearl Harbor, Titanic, to name a few. It usually ends destroying the whole storyline, but here it does work. Just as it did in Attila the Hun. There are scenes which didn’t come of as believeble and look like pure Hollywoodism at its worst. I don’t know everything there is to know on gladiators, but I seriously doubt that when a woman is given to a gladiator, the night before he went to the arena, he would not have refused sex with that woman. That is what Spartacus does when he first met Varinia We do know that Spartacus will live on, so we see that those two fall in love. This is to be expected from any Hollywood. Varinia, played by Rhona Mitra, does play her part wel. All actors in the miniseries come of as genuine. There are characters in the miniseries not throughly worked out, as they are background characters. So long as they are believeble, that is what matters. There are some things I find truly Hollywoodism. Like everyone believes in the Gods, just not the main character. I find that strange, for a Thracian, not to believe in a deity or deities. Also what’s up with the reference, that the God of Israelites and Christians is better than any other deity? That didn’t sit well with me, just blunt out stating that the God of the Jews is a deity of the individual and might be better suited for the people than the Gods his people, and the rest of the world worshipped. Well that’s typical Hollywood for you. The other thing that bothered me, are the customs of the Thracians that are described in the movie regarding sex. Spartacus says that in his culture, its custom for a man and a woman to be together when they are wed, not before. That’s so damn frustrating. Like a gladiator of any culture would hold on to that custom, when he knows that he will most likely die the next day. Jewish gladiators, that I can believe, but not of Thracian gladiators. We already know not that much to say that this is true. It also reiks of the abstinence doctrine of the Bush administration to counter the spread of sexuall transmitted diseases. I would say that this miniseries is more than 90% historical accurate. At first sight, it does appear to be soo. It is shown in the miniseries that the only way for slaves to become free, is for their masters signing documents stating that they were legally free. In light of having heard of the recently published book of a journalist who went undercover to find out how it is like to live like she was part of the lower class US citizens. Since workers in the US are more or less treated as slaves, this movie could be seen as a another way of saying; step up for yourself and what you believe in. Freedom is not only threated by foreign powers or terrorists, but also by corporate companies trying to squeeze everything out of you until you are of no use for them. Than they fire you.
Personally, I really enjoyed watching this movie and it made me wanna watch the original, to compare them with eachother, even though I have a strong feeling that both movies are not based on the same novel.
All in all, I give this miniseries a 9 out of 10.

PostPosted: Sun Mar 06, 2005 2:21 pm
by Cleopatra Aelia
Salve Orce,

Sounds interesting. Do you know where to get it, maybe via amazon? Since you are from Belgica I assume that you have the region 2 DVD, right?

PostPosted: Sun Mar 06, 2005 2:27 pm
by Quintus Aurelius Orcus
Salve Cleopatra Germany has also the dvd:
So you might perhaps order it from there, or look at any store that sells dvd's in your area.


PostPosted: Sun Mar 06, 2005 2:37 pm
by Cleopatra Aelia
Salve iterum Quinte,

Thanks for your swift answer and the link. I put it straight onto my "Wunschzettel", so I won't forget it. The price of EUR 9,97 is actually pretty good. Maybe I find at a local DVD store that would safe me the freight charges.

Review: I, Claudius

PostPosted: Wed Aug 30, 2006 9:31 pm
by Quintus Aurelius Orcus
I, Claudius, directed by Herbert Wise and written by Robert Graves (books) and Jack Pulman

miniseries first shown in 1976

Reviewed by Quintus Aurelius Orcus

Well what is there to say about a classic like I, Claudius. I haven’t seen Quo Vadis, but looking at I, Claudius, it can’t be bad. Anyway, from the moment it starts to show, you are sucked into the world at the time of Claudius. The viewer isn’t here the objectiv party here. No, they see the world through the eyes of Claudius himself as he writes his own biography, detailing the most important events of his life and how he witnessed the death of Augustus, the rise of Tiberius, Tiberius’ death and the rise of Caligula. I haven’t read the book it was based upon, but knowing it was written by Robert Graves made me suspicious about the quality of the miniseries.
However, Graves had impressed me here. I knew that he was a succesful novelist and he demonstrated it here. Robert Graves didn’t wrote the screenplay. That job was done by Jack Pulman. From beginning to end, it captures you and sucks you in the world of the Roman imperial family, their intrigues, their rise and fall,…. What I found annoying was the theme song they used to open and end every episode. I hated it. I suspect that younger viewers, people used to today type of tv shows, might find it dull. I did find it dull in the beginning, but sitting through it was worth it. Why, because it starts to become interesting after a few episodes.
What makes it stand out from any modern tv show is that every character has its flaws and no one is perfect, and there is no real hero here. Usually there is a hero of which the show is centred around. Although it is centred around Claudius, it tends to show both his strengths and weaknesses. I wish there were more shows like this still around.
I was somewhat worried what they were going to do about Caligula. Considering what we know of this person, I was worried that they weren’t going show how it must have been to live under his rule and what he all did. Of course, they couldn’t show everything due to lenght, but they did do a good job at capturing a real Caligula as we might expect him to be. John Hurt did a terrific job at portraying Caligula as we think he might have been. His performance is chilling and humerous at the same time. You never know how he might react to a certain situation.
The first few episodes deal with Augustus and his death, than moves on to Tiberius followed by Caligula and ultimately Claudius as emperor.
About the acting. All I can say the acting superior. They gave their everything they got and it doesn’t come of as forced or anything. A co-worker told me that all these actors were shakespearean and he’s probably right. If you pay attention, you will notice some famous faces in it like Patrick Stewart, Bernard Hill and John Rhys-Davies. I was truly amazed at the high level of acting shown here. It is a real treat to see such a performance on tv. I think most actors in Hollywood today might learn from them. If you get the chance to watch this miniseries, do it. It is worth every minute you spend watching it.
Overall I give it a 9,5 out of 10. I enjoyed every moment of it, there were moments that weren’t so fun to sit through, but that can be found everywhere. I highly recommend this to every person who loves historical movies and movies about ancient Rome.