Spartacus: What a difference 50 years makes

Having now watched the first two episodes of the Starz series Spartacus:Gods of the Arena and re-watched last year’s Spartacus:Blood and Sand, I decided to go back and re-watch the 1960 Stanley Kubrik film based on the revolutionary gladiator.  Wow, what a difference half a century makes. I’ve long been a fan of Kubrik’s work and he created some amazing films including Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket.

However, sitting down and watching Spartacus this afternoon I’m reminded that Kubrik also often needed a strong editorial hand on his work. Of course given his reputation as something of a control freak, it’s unlikely that he ever would have accepted such oversight in the final cutting of his films. Despite having won four Oscars, I found the movie to be very uneven and often plodding with long wordless sequences of the camera panning over the camps of escaped slaves or other scenes that really did nothing to move the plot forward or develop the characters.  Both the dialog in many places and the performances also left much to be desired, although the bath scene with Laurence Olivier’s Crassus and Tony Curtis’s Antonius remains a classic.  Don’t even get me started on the This three hour epic could have easily been cut by a third without losing anything of significance.

Aside from being set in a ludus (gladitorial school) in Capua, the modern iteration of this tale couldn’t be more different from the film. In typical modern fashion, the new Spartacus takes advantage (or is that disadvantage?) of lots of digital effects.  Unfortunately, much of it used to produce gratuitous amounts of violence. Despite that, the story telling and character development in this modern iteration is actually quite good and goes well beyond what Kubric achieved 50 years ago.  The back stories of many of the characters are quite fleshed out, especially in this second season which is actually a prequel. Andy Whitfield who played Spartacus was unable to film the second season after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

The full first season and each of the episodes of season two are available for streaming on Netflix and well worth checking out.

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