"Spartacus" a bloody spectacle

Thu Jan 21, 2010 8:39pm EST
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By Barry Garron

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Appropriately enough, "Blood" gets top billing over "Sand" in Starz's "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," which premieres on Friday night.

During each episode, so much red fluid gushes and squirts that one might find themselves checking the carpet in front of the TV for spatter stains.

In truth, sand probably comes in third place, behind sex. However, had this series been given the more truthful title, "Spartacus: Blood and Sex," it would sound too much like an admission of the primacy of the elements used to shore up a story that worked better in film than as a TV series.

It can be argued that, because sex and violence were a big part of Roman lives, they should be a big part of a series set during the height of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, "Spartacus" is a TV series, not a historical re-enactment. As such, writer, creator and executive producer Steven S. DeKnight was not obliged to order fake blood by the gallons, even to the point of using the billowing red liquid as transition between scenes.

What little is known about the real Spartacus is that he was a Roman slave trained as a gladiator. He also was a good enough tactician to organize and lead a slave revolt that took the empire two years to crush.

The story became a book by Howard Fast and then a Stanley Kubrick film in 1960 starring Kirk Douglas. It was retold in 2004 in a USA film starring Goran Visnjic. Unlike those efforts, a TV series requires a lot more story.

So, one gets an episode about Spartacus' lessons at gladiator school and another episode about his fights in "the pit," a place brutal enough to make professional wrestling look like ballet. With such thin stories each week, it's small wonder that sex and violence are used to take up the slack.

Not that violence and sex, both simulated and of the frontal-nudity variety, can't be relied upon to return good ratings. The series was renewed for a second season even before the first breast has been bared and the first head has been lobbed off.   Continued...

<p>Actors Lucy Lawless (L) and Peter Mensah (C), stars of the STARZ channel series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand", listen as executive producer Rod Tapert talks about the show at the Television Critics Association Cable summer press tour in Pasadena, California July 29, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>