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DVD Shopping Bag: Spartacus Blood and Blu-ray

50 Years for Kubrick’s Classic

By Robert T. Trate     May 25, 2010

Kirk Douglas is Spartacus on Blu-ray
© Universal Studios/ Robert Trate


Last week the DVD Shopping Bag gave you an early look at John Hillcoat’s The Road (see column). This past week I checked out Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. Upon seeing what I thought was an incomplete film I decided to watch Scott’s Gladiator (2000) again. The stars must have aligned because the next day the 50th Anniversary Edition of Spartacus arrived on Blu-ray. It had been ages since I sat down and watched all three VHS tapes one afternoon. Though outside of Kirk Douglas’ chin I wasn’t exactly sure which one of the old school Hollywood Epics this one was. I knew that he was a slave who became a general who became…wait a second. That sounds familiar right? I sat down and got reacquainted with Stanley Kubrick’s 8th film (of 16). 
Spartacus (Kirk Douglas, who was also the executive producer) was born a slave. He knew no other life. Sold to a gladiator school they turn his rebellious spirit into a weapon for the games in Rome. After being forced to fight his fellow students (something that was forbidden) Spartacus leads a rebellion and frees all the slaves in his master’s home. Spartacus then begins to set free all the slaves in Italy by turning his fellow gladiators into soldiers. Their numbers grow and Rome cannot ignore the impact Spartacus is having on the empire. Interestingly enough Spartacus isn’t interested in ruling or revenge. He simply wants to get his people home. As it is with many of these sand and sandal movies Rome’s politicians truly shape the story with back alley deals and undermining schemes. Unbeknownst to Spartacus he is just a pawn in the power battle for Rome.
Spartacus Today:
There aren’t many films made like this today. Ridley Scott may be the very last director to tackle such epics. Robin Hood, Gladiator and more importantly the Kingdom of Heaven (2005) are perfect examples of this kind of modern day film making. Sadly only Gladiator has gotten the proper release as it was the only film that was not re-cut or edited down as Robin Hood appears to be and Kingdom of Heaven was (based on the release of the director’s cut).
In watching Spartacus I saw several things that Hollywood would never do today. The Overture before the film and Entr’acte after the intermission (again something else that would not happen) are nonexistent in modern Hollywood movies. Here Alex North’s music sets a mood and takes us to a place that is outside of the theater’s doors and beyond our everyday worries. I can remember films such as Star Trek 2 the Wrath of Khan (1982) and The Black Hole (1979) having at least an Overture but an Entr’acte? Films such as Avatar (2009) and Robin Hood could pull both of these off today.
Spartacus today would be sexier and bloodier, much like the show Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Instead of these things we see many small characters that Kubrick revisits over and over again to remind the audience what Spartacus is fighting for. Later we will see what happens to these characters but it is something many films now ignore because they aren’t top billed actors. Another completely refreshing break from modern filmmaking was Spartacus’ relationship with Varinia (Jean Simmons). Initially they say all of two sentences to one another and everything else is looks and glances solidifying their relationship for the rest of this film. Today there would have been a sex scene and then probably one more that revealed she was going to have his child.
The blood and violence would have to be upped too. Though I doubt today you would see extras steam rolled by logs actually set on fire going down a hill side. It would all be CGI.
Spartacus on Blu-ray:
The Blu-ray is spectacular in 1080p and a true testament to the film and all the work Kubrick and Douglas did. There was only one moment where I actually had to put on the subtitles because I could not hear what was said. It was for a whisper between Douglas and Simmons but I am willing to overlook it as their characters were not supposed to talk in the scene anyway. Kubrick’s trademark color red has never been made more vibrant than in this film as it everywhere in Rome.
The extras provide an interesting look at two different versions of two different scenes. The first is some taunting done by Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov) of Spartacus that is in the US but not the UK version. The other and more important scene is the 1967 alteration of the film’s original ending. One version we see Simmons and son at the foot of Spartacus’ crucifixion and he is still alive. The 67 re-cut attempts to make it more gruesome by not revealing that Spartacus is alive and in fact dead. This completely rips the entire heartache out of the moment if you already know Spartacus is looking down at his wife and his new born son.
Spartacus, an Essential Kubrick?
When the film was finished I marveled at the early work of Stanley Kubrick but didn’t feel as if this was an essential Kubrick film. Many of his films are essential viewing to film aficionados and new film students alike. A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shinning (1980) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1986) are three must see Kubrick films. Though with only 16 films to Kubrick’s credit, 17 if you count Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001), Spartacus is required viewing, at least once.
Clash of the Titans [Blu-ray] ~ Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith, and Harry Hamlin
Django [Blu-ray] ~ Franco Nero, Loredana Nusciak, Jose Bodalo, and Angel Alvarez
Escape To Grizzly Mountain/The Man From Snowy River ~ Dan Haggerty, Miko Hughes, and Cody McMains
Rain Fall ~ Gary Oldman, Kippei Shiina, Kyoko Hasegawa, and Misa Shimizu
Samurai Princess [Blu-ray] ~ Aino Kishi
Sandok ~ Richard Harrison
Seven Swords [Blu-ray] ~ Donnie Yen, Master Lau Kar-Leung, and Leon Laui
Silver Lode (1954) (Rstr Dol Amar)
Silver Lode - Special Edition
Spartacus (50th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray] ~ Kirk Douglas, Laurence Oliver, Jean Simmons, and Charles Laughton
Air Gear: The Complete Series ~ Chris Patton, Iliac Guardiola, Greg Ayres, and Christine Auten
Ah My Buddha: Complete Collection
Bleach, Vol. 28
The Crimson Mask ~ Robert Clohessy, Josh Burrow, Chrishell Stause, and Lee Sellars
Digimon Data Squad Collection Two (3pc)
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Part 1 [Blu-ray] ~ Vic Mignona, Maxey Whitehead, J. Michael Tatum, and Travis Willingham
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Part 1
Gaogaigar: Season 2 (5pc) LiteBox ~ Yoshitomo Kometani
Goth (Sub Ocrd) ~ Kanata Hongo
Hell Girl: Complete Series S.A.V.E. ~ Brina Palencia, John Burgmeier, Jennifer Seman, and Luci Christian
Hell Girl: Two Mirrors
Kanokon - The Girl Who Cried Fox: Sexy Like a Fox Vol. 1, Eps. 1-4 ~ Steve Cannon
Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple - Season One ~ Josh Grelle, Jason Liebrecht, Carrie Savage, and Kent Williams
Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple - Season Two, Part 2 ~ Josh Grelle, Jason Liebrecht, Christopher R. Sabat, and Sonny Strait
Tweeny Witches: Core Collection (6pc) (Ws Dub)
Justice League: The Complete Series
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog [Blu-ray] ~ Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day, and Simon Helberg
Criterion Collection
Stagecoach (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] ~ John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, and John Carradine
Stagecoach (The Criterion Collection)
Babysitter Wanted ~ Bill Moseley, Matt Dallas, and Bruce Thompson
City of the Living Dead [Blu-ray] ~ Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, and Giovanni Lombardo Radice
City of the Living Dead (Special Edition)
Class of Nuke 'Em High [Blu-ray] ~ Janelle Brady, Gil Brenton, and Robert Prichard
Dark Nature [Blu-ray] ~ Niall Greig Fulton, Imogen Toner, and James Bryce
Hell Girl: Complete Series S.A.V.E. ~ Brina Palencia, John Burgmeier, Jennifer Seman, and Luci Christian
Hell Girl: Two Mirrors
It Waits [Blu-ray] ~ Dominic Zamprogna
Ultimate Machine Girl: Collectors Tin (3pc) (Ws) ~ Minase Yashiro
Someone's Knocking at the Door ~ Noah Segan, Andrea Rueda, and Ezra Buzzington
Tell Tale ~ Josh Lucas, Lena Headey, and Brian Cox
Tell Tale [Blu-ray]
The Shadow Within ~ Laurence Belcher, Hayley J Williams, and Beth Winslet
The Shortcut [Blu-ray] ~ Andrew Seeley
The 7 Adventures of Sinbad ~ Patrick Muldoon
Beyond Sherwood Forest [Blu-ray] ~ Robin Dunne, Julian Sands, and Erica Durance
Merlin and the Book of Beasts [Blu-ray] ~ James Callis
The Road ~ Viggo Mortensen (see last week’s column)
The Road [Blu-ray]
PROBED:signals ~ Kevin Herrmann, Leslie Wall, Owen Virgin, and Nichole Nance
White Wall [Blu-ray] ~ James Boss
White Wall
Leverage: The Complete Second Season ~ Timothy Hutton
Manhunt - The Complete Series ~ Alfred Lynch, Peter Barkworth, Cyd Hayman, and Robert Hardy
True Blood: The Complete Second Season (HBO Series) ~ Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, and Ryan Kwanten
True Blood: The Complete Second Season (HBO Series) [Blu-ray]
The Virginian - Complete First Season on 10 DVDs - Limited Edition Embossed Collector's Tin! Plus Bonus Interview DVD!
Robert Trate writes two weekly columns for Mania the DVD Shopping Bag and the Toy Maniac. Robert also participates in a pod cast that reviews movies, comics and celebrates all things geek. Check it out at You’ve Got Geek on You.com.


Showing items 1 - 8 of 8
StarlightGuard 5/25/2010 4:01:51 AM

So True Blood S2 is out today.

I had planned on  getting it...on Blu, as I already have S1. And the more I watched it, the less interested I became. It isn't a matter of hating it., etc. it  just couldn't hold my interest.

I sat down yesterday with it at the beginning to see if I could capture my original interest in it....but I just ended up shutting it off.

So Fullmetal Alchemist is where my intention lay today.

jppintar326 5/25/2010 4:27:21 AM

I'm Spartacus!                                                                                                                                                          

I'm Spartacus!

I'm Spartacus!

I'm Spartacus!

I'm Spartacus!

Note:  It was Star Trek:  The Motion Picture that had an overture, not Wrath of Khan.

Good to hear some love for Kingdom of Heaven.  A wildly underrated movie. 

marcd30319 5/25/2010 4:39:39 AM

Actually, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Black Hole, both 1979 releases, were the last American films to have a musical overture. 

As noted, Entr’acte music were associated with intermissions on road show version of epic films like 1960's The Alamo , they were often dropped when a shorter version of the film opened after its road show run.  The last two American films to have intermissions were 1982's Gandhi and 1993's Gettysburg although without entr’acte music.  Fox wanted 1997's Titanic to have an intermission, but director James Cameron rejected this.

Overture and entr’acte music reflect a different era, artistic sensibilities, and film-going experience that has been lost in this era of multiplexes and weekend blockbuster totals.

redhairs99 5/25/2010 7:30:16 AM

Kingdom of Heaven was a pretty good film and I like the extended cut even more.  Very disappointed in how Robin Hood turned out.  It wasn't a bad film (far from it) but it was a terrible Robin Hood film.  Mostly disappointing were the abundance of historical inaccuracies that the myth of Robin Hood was built around first and foremost the film opens saying "At the turn of the 12th Century" when it should have been "At the turn of the 13th Century..."

Enough of Robin Hood now...

So, I caved and ordered a blu-ray player yesterday.  Any suggestions on what should be my first Blu-Ray DVD purchase?  Spartacus, perhaps?  Please no suggestions that include Avatar or Transformers 2.  I have no interest in ever seeing those films again after seeing them in the theater.

jppintar326 5/25/2010 12:45:38 PM

How about Close Encounters of the Third Kind?  A classic that still holds up.  That would be my pick for first Blu-ray. 

themovielord 5/25/2010 12:49:17 PM


The Blu-ray list for first time buyers:

1. North by Northwest (hands down the best blu-ray)

2. Up

3. Dark Knight

4. Distirct 9

5. Sin City!

redhairs99 5/25/2010 2:54:09 PM

Bob, I like your picks.  Dark Knight and District 9 were on my short list.  I was wondering last night if Sin City had been released on Blu-Ray.  Is it just the regular edition or the Uncut one?  I have the 2 or 3 disc Uncut version on regular DVD. Didn't think about North by Northwest.  It's good though.  Is Vertigo on Blu-Ray?  It's by far my favorite Hitchcock film...A masterpiece in my mind.

Close Encounters could be cool too.

Oh and Bob, you could say, "The Shining."  I don't think you have to be worried about sued like Grounds-keeper Willie on The Simpsons and say "The Shinning" rather than "The Shining." :)

themovielord 5/25/2010 3:45:12 PM

At least somebody caught the joke!

No Vertigo yet but Psycho is slated for 10-18-10 (got the official word from Universal). The other Hitchcocks should follow after that!

Sin City has everything the uncut version had but you can watch some of it side by side. The comparison from comic, to green screen to film is awesome.

Close Encounters has all three versions! Totally worth it!



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