Spartacus, the genre-defining epic from director Stanley Kubrick, is the legendary tale of a bold gladiator (Kirk Douglas) who led a triumphant Roman slave revolt. Newly restored from large format 35MM original film elements, the action-packed spectacle won four Academy Awards including Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Featuring a cast of screen legends such as Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, Jean Simmons, John Gavin and Tony Curtis, this uncut and fully restored masterpiece is an inspirational true account of man's eternal struggle for freedom.
I wasn't alive yet to see 'Spartacus' when it came out in theaters, which somehow always bothered me, because I wasn't able to see the sheer brilliance and beauty of that film on the big screen. The first time I watched it was on VHS on an old tube television. I was in awe of course, even though I didn't understand a lot of what was going on, but was still one of those defining movies that got me heavily interested in film, which led me to discover the genius that was Stanley Kubrick, one of my all time favorite filmmakers.
Back in 1960, Kirk Douglas and his production company backed this movie, which had Douglas himself, mostly calling the shots from start to finish. This was a passion project of his, and he wanted his hands on every aspect of filmmaking, which basically led to him firing the first director a week or two into the movie shoot. That's when his friend and former director Stanley Kubrick was asked to come on board.
Prior to 'Spartacus', Kubrick was a relatively small filmmaker, who made low budget, yet amazing movies, which were all mostly all under his creative control. When Kubrick came aboard this film, he was stuck in the middle of studio execs and Douglas, trying to make this big budget epic with too many people's inputs and decisions, clouding the creative process. Kubrick never went on to make something of this magnitude again, although his films after this release are highly critically acclaimed and thought as some of the best looking and made films ever to come out.
In fact, Kubrick mostly disowned this film, which is why it isn't in most of the 'Kubrick' box sets. I've owned a bunch of different versions of this film, and it wasn't until now that I saw the pure and sheer beauty that is 'Spartacus' in full force. Not only that, I could see every bit of detail on actors Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, and Peter Ustinov. Seeing them in this newly remastered film, gave a whole new look and experience to 'Spartacus', which is wholly satisfying. I think even Kubrick himself would be impressed.
If you're unfamiliar with 'Spartacus', the film is based on the 1951 book of the same name by Howard Fast, which was adapted into screenplay form by the controversial, yet brilliant writer Dalton Trumbo. The movie focuses on the Roman slaves in the very early years of B.C., before their uprising against the Roman upperclass. These slaves were normally men, who were forced to compete to the death in gladiator matches, as a form of brutal entertainment for Roman citizens. The film follows one of these slave gladiators named Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), as he fights his way through battles and out of loyalty and friendship, entrusts his fellow slaves into standing up for themselves fighting against the evil Romans.
The beautiful Jean Simmons plays the love interest Varinia, a slave girl who is sold to the Roman General Crassus (Laurence Olivier). Crassus has sinister plans in his political arena and clashes with Gracchus (Laughton) and Julius Caesar (John Gavin) to try and make their land what they think it should be. Then there is Tony Curtis as fellow slave Antoninus who becomes the go to guy for Spartacus. During this three hour film, there is a slow build of suspense and tension on all sides that gives each character enough time to bond and show us their true colors, which are mostly that of loyalty, friendship, and honor to the death as we tragically see in the final scenes of the movie.
I'm sure you've seen some iteration of these scenes, particularly when the soldiers stand up and exclaim, "I'm Spartacus", to show unity against their oppressors. It's really an iconic and beautiful scene, one that might even cause the strongest of men to shed a tear or two. Each actor here is amazing, showing their depth and range as human beings as well their characters in this brutal and tragic story. Trumbo's script, Kubrick's direction, and everyone's performances make 'Spartacus' one of the great classics of American cinema, that might never be replicated in this fashion. This is what filmmaking is all about.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Spartacus', the "Restored Edition' comes from Universal in a 50GB Blu-ray Disc and a digital copy of the movie. The Blu-ray is cased in a blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve. No insert is included here
This video presentation knocked my body armor and socks clean off. I've seen this movie many times over the years in various forms, whether it be VHS, DVD, or Laserdisc, all of which have looked decent enough. 'Spartacus' came out in 1960, which makes this film 55 years old, and never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would look this gorgeous. I couldn't believe how great every aspect of this video presentation looks.
There is even a bonus feature listed below that details how Universal cleaned up the image. If you have purchased this release before, you might have been somewhat disappointed in the video and audio presentations, due to some annoying problems with the image that didn't make this eye popping film look as good as it should have. Well, I'm here to tell you that this "Restored Edition" of 'Spartacus' is the absolute version you need. While keeping with an excellent filmic look, the detail is impeccable.
There is a well-defined layer of grain that never fluctuates are looks rough. Instead, it brings out the image's greatest qualities. Detail is extremely sharp and vivid in both closeups and wide shots. Not even will you see each individual hair, makeup blemish, bead of sweat, and facial line easily, but you will see individual grains of sand in the background shots as well as imperfections in the sets and dents in the armor of background characters. That's how excellent this video presentation is. Colors pop right off screen as well and are very well-balanced and saturated at all times.
Each color shines vibrantly, more so here than in any other previous release. Black levels are always deep and inky and the skin tones are natural. There were zero signs of any compression issues or any other problems that have plagued prior releases of this film. 'Spartacus' has finally received the video presentation it deserved.
This release comes with an equally impressive brand new lossless DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix, and I couldn't be happier. In prior releases, the soundtrack to 'Spartacus' always seemed a bit muted to me and never really delivered the full immersive experience I've always wanted. That is until now with this 7.1 audio track that is beyond magnificent. Again, in the new bonus feature below, this audio remaster is discussed.
Each speaker sounds amazing here. The rear speakers pour out sound as well as the front ones at all times, delivering every large and small ambient noise and sound effect perfectly. Whether they be nature sounds or in the midst of a big battle with tons of swords and screams, the sound effects are robust and pack a good punch. Each sound is layered with great directionality. The score is incredible and might just be one of the high points of this audio presentation. Each note is soaring and is balanced with precision to hit every emotional action.
The bass rumbles when the orchestra hits the low notes, which is very satisfying. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, and shrills. The LFE is excellent here and the dynamic range is very wide. This audio presentation is simply outstanding.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 8 Mins.) - A few deleted scenes that are worth watching, including when Spartacus meets Varinia.
Archival Interview (SD, 7 Mins.) - A couple of old interviews that don't have much weight to them.
Behind the Scenes Footage (SD, 6 Mins.) - Here we see Douglas and fellow actors learning to fight with swords.
Vintage Newsreels (SD, 5 Mins.) - Promo and news reels from when the movie came out.
Image Gallery (HD) - Stills from production, promos, storyboards, and artwork.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
This "restored edition" of 'Spartacus' is simply phenomenal. The movie itself is fantastic on just about every level. From the story, to the acting and script, to the camerawork, 'Spartacus' is one of those golden films from Hollywood that will never be forgotten. In addition to the film itself, this long overdue restoration of this classic film is just outstanding. The video and audio presentations here are award worthy. It's like watching the movie for the first time. Most of the extras were ported over from the previous release, but there are two new extras, including a new interview with Kirk Douglas. This restored 'Spartacus' Blu-ray is a Must-Own.