When Starz dipped their feet into the ultra-competitive market of original cable dramas, they found their biggest success in Spartacus, a highly stylized take on the swords-and-sandals epic. Debuting in 2010, Spartacus had little in common with the classic film starring Kirk Douglas in the title role. Instead, it heavily relied on green screen and digital effects with an emphasis on sex and violence ala 300. The minds behind the show include series creator Steven S. DeKnight, a former producer and writer on shows like Angel and Smallville, as well as executive producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert.
In the first season entitled Blood and Sand, Andy Whitfield stars as an unnamed Thracian warrior who is betrayed by Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker), a ruthlessly ambitious general in the Roman Legion. Our hero and his wife, Sura (Erin Cummings), are separated and sold into slavery. Renamed Spartacus by his new masters Quintus Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah) and his wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), he is forced to do battle in the gladiatorial arena in exchange for Batiatus rescuing his wife. Instead, the treacherous Batiatus has Sura killed and sets off a series of events that culminates in a bloody rebellion as Spartacus leads his fellow slaves to slaughter their former masters.
Sadly, Whitfield would pass away from non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011. During his battle with the illness, the producers put the second season on hiatus and aired a six-episode prequel, Gods of the Arena. Capua is still a growing city and Batiatus is an ambitious nobleman living in the shadow of his overbearing father Titus (Jeffrey Thomas). Batiatus desires to achieve higher standing through his school of gladiators and in particular his champion, Gannicus (Dustin Clare). He also hangs hope on a hungry and determined slave he has just purchased named Crixus (Manu Bennett), who would become one of Spartacus’s lieutenants. Gods of the Arena has a slightly different dynamic than Blood and Sand. Batiatus and Lucretia are at the epicenter. While both are manipulative, neither has reached the Machiavellian levels they would later on. As the house champion, Gannicus is a less tortured hero than Spartacus. He is a showy competitor and relishes all the perks and pleasures of being a gladiator.
Before his death, Whitfield gave producers his blessing to recast the role and in stepped Aussie actor Liam McIntyre for season 2, Vengeance. Spartacus and his followers march through the Roman countryside freeing other slaves and bolstering their numbers. Meanwhile, Glaber is sent by the Senate to the ruins of the gladiatorial school where he is shocked to find a lone survivor, Lucretia, who is left in fragile mental state, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t stopped scheming behind the scenes. She secretly works against Glaber by exploiting his pregnant wife Illythia (Viva Bianca), who desires for more power and attention.
The slave rebellion reaches its conclusion in War of the Damned as Spartacus and his forces search for a city to call their home and base of operations. Meanwhile, the Roman Senate has tasked the wealthy and powerful Marcus Licinius Crassus (Simon Merrells) to put down the uprising. Crassus is assisted by a young warrior you might have heard…Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance).
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The presentation is absolutely stunning with gorgeous picture quality and fine details shining through. You’ll see every clump of dirt and bead of sweat on the actors’ faces along with the weathered armor of a Roman soldier and the deep, rich red of blood.
The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The sound is thunderous, as the roar of the crowd and the clanging of swords’ll immerse you into the gladiator arenas.
Wow…this new boxset includes previously released extras along with exclusive new bonus content. Here’s the breakdown:
Disc 1 includes the following commentary tracks: “The Red Serpent” with Director Rick Jacobson, Creator Steven S. DeKnight, Producers Rob Tapert & Joshua Donen, “Sacramentum” with Director Rick Jacobson, Creator Steven S. DeKnight & Producer Rob Tapert, and “The Thing in the Pit” with Director Jesse Warn & Andy Whitfield. Brand new is a commentary track on “Legends” with DeKnight, Viva Bianca, and Lucy Lawless.
Disc 2 includes the following commentary tracks: “Shadow Games” with Director Michael Hurst, Andy Whitfield & Lucy Lawless and “Delicate Things” with Creator Steven S. DeKnight & Erin Cummings. Added to the complete series set: “Great and Unfortunate Things” with Rob Tapert, John Hannah, and Lucy Lawless and “Mark of the Brotherhood” with DeKnight, Manu Bennett, Viva Bianca, and Lucy Lawless.
Disc 3 includes the following commentary tracks: “Whore” and “Party Favors” with Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless & Viva Bianca and “Revelations” with Writer Brent Fletcher, Creator Steven S. DeKnight & Nick E. Taraby.
Rounding out Blood and Sand on Disc 4 is a commentary track for “Kill Them All” with Creator Steven S. DeKnight, Peter Mensah & Katrina Law. You’ll also get all the same featurettes from the previous release.
You’ll find Gods of the Arena on Discs 5 and 6, which replicate all the extras from the previous release.
The same goes for Spartacus: Vengeance, which you’ll find on Discs 7 through 9.
Here’s what you get for War of the Damned. Disc 10 contains the following commentary tracks: “Enemies of Rome” with Rob Tapert, director Mark Beesley, and producer Chloe Smith; “Wolves at the Gate” with Stephen S. DeKnight, Manu Bennett, Liam McIntyre, and Simon Merrells; “Men of Honor” with DeKnight, Dustin Clare, Anna Hutchison, and Todd Lasance; and “Decimation” with DeKnight, Merrells, producer Rick Jacobson, and Christian Antidormi.
Disc 11 features the following commentary tracks: “Blood Brothers” with DeKnight, Manu Bennett, director TJ Scott, and Dan Feuerriegel; “Spoils of War” with Rob Tapert, Mark Beesley, and visual effects director Peter Baustaedter; “Mors Indecepta” with Tapert, director Jesse Warn, and FX supervisor Charlie McClellan; and “Separate Paths” with DeKnight, Manu Bennett, Liam McIntyre, and Rick Jacobson.
Disc 12 comes with the following commentary tracks: “The Dead and the Dying” with DeKnight, Anna Hutchison, Todd Lasance, and Cynthia Addai-Robinson and “Victory” with DeKnight, Tapert, Liam McIntyre, and Rick Jacobson.
Other extras included are: Spartacus: The Legend Retold (9:32), which is a retrospective looking at the entire series; The Price of Being a Gladiator (3:45) takes a look at the training the actors endured to get into fighting shape; members of the cast and crew give their final thoughts on the show’s conclusion in A Bloody Farewell (2:50); The Spoils of War Revealed: Visual Effects (5:21) is a featurette about the use of digital and practical effects; Adorning the Damned (4:04) focuses on the costume work of Spartacus; and finally there’s The Mind Behind Spartacus (7:15), which is an interview with Stephen S. DeKnight.
Disc 13 is an exclusive bonus disc with new material. Here’s what you get:
Spartacus Fan Favorites with Liam McIntyre (10:11) with the actor hosting a top ten countdown of the fans’ picks for the show’s best moments.
Scoring a Hit: Composer Joseph LoDuca (3:12) is a brief look at the composer, how he got his start on Evil Dead, and the music of the series.
An Eye Full: Roger Murray (2:53) is a featurette focusing on some of the show’s more violent sequences along with the visual effects and prosthetics used to bring them to life.
The Last Word: John Hannah (8:03)
Film Value: 7
Spartacus is gratuitously violent, exploitative, and a helluva lot of fun. Fans who already own the individual releases probably won’t be swayed to purchase the complete boxset by three commentary tracks and about twenty minutes of new extras. However, Spartacus: The Complete Series is an easy recommend for newcomers and those who were waiting for just such a release.