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“Spartacus”- {Blu-Ray} - (Taylor)
Taylor Carlson
Studio: Universal
Release Date:
Special Features:

Interviews, deleted scenes, vintage newsreels, behind the scenes at gladiator school


Spartacus is directed by Stanley Kubrick. The film stars Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, and Woody Strode, Tony Curtis. Alex North composed the musical score. ***

Spartacus is the story of the title gladiator. A slave, condemned to work his life away in in a rock quarry, he is purchased by a man who runs a gladiator school - and aims to add the tough slave to his stable. However, Spartacus isn't a man who is going to just sit back and get killed in the arena. After meeting the beautiful slave Varinia, who he instantly falls for, he leads a revolt spanning hundreds of miles against the Romans, crusading to end slavery once and for all. Of course, the infinitely larger and more massive Roman Empire takes notices and launches a counteroffensive of its own. ***

Spartacus has a ton of interesting stories behind the scenes, but I won't get into any of them here, since so many other reviews already cover all that. I'll be sticking with the movie. ***

Spartacus defines the epic film. Every aspect of this film is BIG. A huge, ensemble cast, massive, elaborate sets, and a cast of hundreds (possibly thousands.) With a run time of nearly 3.5 hours and an elaborate storyline that covers everything from Spartacus' relationship with Varinia to the efforts of his crusade against Rome, it truly is a classic. ***

Kirk Douglas is one of the greatest actors who ever lived. And this film gives him the role of his career. He breathes life into the rebellious gladiator and makes him an interesting character. The film may last over 3 hours, but this a hero I gladly would have spent another 3 with. Douglas had previously worked with Kubrick in the anti-war picture, Paths of Glory (would someone mind telling me when we're going to get THAT film on Blu-Ray?) ***

The ensemble cast is amongst the film's greatest asset. Amongst its ranks are the criminally-underrated Peter Ustinov as the leader of the gladiator school, Woody Strode as a fellow gladiator in the training camp, Jean Simmons as the slave-turned-love-interest, Lawrence Olivier as one of the Roman Empire's leading men, and Tony Curtis as his recently-acquired slave, who runs off to join the Spartacus crusade. ***

The massive set design and gorgeous cinematography would have been worth the price of admission alone, even if the movie itself was lackluster. Fortunately, this is a classic from start to finish thanks to a number of factors. This isn't just a movie. It's an epic amongst epics. ***

Much as I love Spartacus, I am not about to pretend the film is perfect. First and foremost, even as an epic, the movie is far too long. A good 45 minutes could easily have been trimmed from the final product, possibly more. The movie itself gets far too bogged down in Roman politics in its final third, and you will quickly find yourself losing interest in the Roman politicians and caring less about their plights as a result. If the film were more concise and less political in its later scenes, it could very well have been the perfect epic. But that doesn't stop me from loving this classic. ---

Image And Sound:

I was disappointed to see it would be Universal, not Criterion, releasing the film on Blu-Ray. And this Blu-Ray comes off as something of a mixed bag, so my fears weren't entirely unfounded. The image looks cleaner and clearer than ever, no questions asked. But the lack of fine object detail and a few scenes throughout the film seem to strongly suggest that noise reduction and other enhancements have been applied. Fortunately, this is kept to a minimum compared to a lot of other movies. In the end, I say this version of Spartacus is an upgrade over the DVD versions, but not the massive upgrade I was hoping for. Perhaps Criterion will be able to release a version someday, free of enhancements. ***

Audio gets an upgrade to lossless, however the upgrade is hardly noticeable. Dialogue is clear, but sounds and the Alex North musical score lack the punch I was hoping for. I don't have a whole lot of complaints about this audio track, but I can't exactly list a lot of factors in its favor, either.

Special Features:

Some (but not all) of the featurettes from the Criterion disc are featured here. These include a collection of deleted scenes, interviews with the cast and crew, some brief behind-the-scenes footage, and a collection of vintage newsreels. Nothing really worth writing home about, but fans will want to check this stuff out.

Final Words:

Spartacus is the movie that put Stanley Kubrick on the map, and a damn fine epic it is. Universal's Blu-Ray is a good (not great) release of the film, and fans may want to hold out and see if a Criterion disc ever gets released. Nonetheless, I do recommend this disc for fans.


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