It's not like we didn't know...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

It's not like we didn't know... cable Starz "Spartacus" was going to end. For all the liberties the writers took with the ancient narratives of Plutarch and Florus about the Thracian mercenary-turned-gladiator-turned-freedon fighter, Spartacus delenda est!

But I didn't watch it for it's historical accuracy! I followed it because it was a throwback to the R-rated grindhouse flicks of the '70s celebrated by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rod­ríguez in their 2007 film of that name.

(If you're old enough to remember those... but don't, it's because the closest place to regularly show them was a drive-in on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio.)

They were fun; the featured players were semi-attractive... peroxide more in evidence than silicone... and the directors were usually a dozen credits shy of a degree from the Roger Corman School of Film-making.

"Spartacus," while short on souped-up Chevys, blue jeans and a rockabilly soundtrack, was a nostalgic trip through those B (and less) movies of 35-40 years ago.

The content ratings... AC, AL, GV, N and SC... at the start of each episode were a strong indicator of what viewers' sensibilities were in for; in short, it offered it all!

Set in the first century B.C., over four seasons and 39 hour-long episodes, the series covered the years 73 to 71 BCE, from "Spartacus'" forced servitude in the House of Batiatus' gladiatorial school to his escape with a small band of slaves, his surprising victories over sundry Roman forces and sub­sequent rise to lead a 70,000 strong army of slaves, herds­men, mercenaries and disenfranchised others who had suf­fered under the yoke of the Roman Empire.

Was it Stanley Kubrick-quality film-making? Hardly, but I sub­mit that Kirk Douglas was never as buff as either Andy Whit­field (l) or Liam McIntyre (r)!

The two actors who portrayed the title character.

( Whitfield, diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma mid­way through the shooting of the second season, was forced to retire after completing 13 episodes. The role was recast with McIntyre.)

Peter Mensah as "Oenomaus"

One of the features of those '70s 90-minute flicks... and the primary reason for the R-rating... was the copious display of undraped female pulchritude1.

(Ah, there, Claudia Jennings!)

It looked like the casting was done from a select pool of physical culturists, and any who felt that the female bodies were good, the males were even better... Grade A prime, all of them. A perfect example was "Oenomaus" portrayed by Ghana-born Peter Mensah for whom the term "ripped abs" was certainly coined

Some of the females were fairly "buff" as well, none more so than Cynthia Addai-Robinson [r]...

Lesley-Ann Brandt and Cynthia Addai-Robinson

...who assumed the role of the much put-upon slave "Naevia" after Lesley-Ann Brandt quit. (Actor's pique?)

"Spartacus" gave new dimensions to the traditional sword'n'sandal genre. Aside from the rippling, sinewy beef­cake, refreshingly natural boobs of modest proportions, and blood by the jerrycan... the latter of which was digitally added to spurt, spatter and geyse......

A geyser of digitally added blood

...the men all spoke as if Vince McMahon was their voice coach, and I suspect the production retained the services of a throat doctor on the set.

(Rather than attempting some bizarre accents which might suggest how people sounded 2000 years ago, the writers just mercilessly slashed every preposition they could from the script... it worked.)

There were stunts a-plenty, one of the series' stocks-in-trade was advancing and retarding the camera speed, often within the same shot, and great charging leaps toward the lens with upraised gladius or spatha...

Crixus (Manu Bennett) illustrated by Manu Bennett ("Crixus") in the above oft-repeated shot.

(Native New Zealander Bennett has emerged as the break-out star of the series, and has a recurring role in the CW's "Arrow" as well as Peter Jackson's cur­rent "Hobbit" trilogy.)

In fact, with the exception of Lucy Lawless, the series went into production without any "names" recognizable to North American viewers, but thems what tuned in on the chance of finally getting a glimpse of... to borrow from Erskine Caldwell... the luscious rising beauties of Ms. Lawless (and not when she had a star-spangled wardrobe malfunction prior to a Red Wings-Mighty Ducks game) were not disappointed.

Another big contribution throughout was Joseph Loduca's ambitious soundtrack2 which, while it sometimes over­whelmed the action, was top notch.

In the age of the big Hollywood studios and Cecil B. DeMille, a trailer for "Spartacus" would have included the words "three years in the making, featuring a cast of thousands."

Here's a 61-second promo for the final episode:

The producers put almost 40 hours of footage onto TV screens, and through modern technology (CGI) with what only seemed to be a cast of thousands, in some­thing less than four years!

Helluvan accomplishment... its passing leaves a hole in many viewers' Friday nights!


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