Excessive doesn't even begin to describe the amount of excess in Starz's 'Spartacus.' The show revels in its over-done violence and glories in its slow-mo shots of sexily tanned bodies humping other sexily tanned bodies in various positions. You have to give it to the show though, it knows exactly what it is even if that means over-indulging in just about every piece of excess known to humankind. It's like each episode tries to one-up the previous episode in graphic content. Am I complaining? Not really. It's actually pretty enjoyable to see how far the writers will go in any given scenario.
Writer 1: "We need to torture this guy in this scene. His belly has been slashed and he's bleeding out."
Writer 2: "Well, what if Crixus sticks his hand in the gaping stomach wound and wiggles his finger around? That would make people squirm."
Writer 1: "I like where you're going with that idea, but I'm pretty sure I've seen that done on '24'. Screw it, let's go for broke. How about while Crixus is torturing the guy, trying to get vital information, he begins pulling the dude's intestines out of the wound? Now that's pretty badass, right?"
If you were wondering, yes this scene does actually take place although its origins may have been embellished (or outright fabricated) on my part. The fact remains though, that the showrunners behind 'Spartacus' are never satisfied unless the show has cranked up its sex and gore to 11 (even scene transitions consist of spurting blood dropping onto the camera, glopping and oozing until the scene is sufficiently covered). The thing that saves the show from turning into a farce of itself is that the storylines and the acting are actually pretty well done. Even with main actor Andy Whitfield passing away, Liam McIntyre has provided a satisfying substitute for the renegade slave. If the show didn't have those two things bolstering it up it comes dangerously close to being 'Caligula: The Series.'
Fresh off 'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' which was a prequel to 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' the story turns back to Spartacus and his now band of escaped gladiators as they look to free themselves from the oppressive Roman society. The title of this season of the show, 'Spartacus: Vengeance' makes it perfectly clear that revenge is a high priority this time around.
The season picks up with Spartacus and his band of not-so-merry men wreaking havoc with the Roman Empire. The Romans have dispatched mercenaries to deal with this nuisance and they're routinely astonished when news returns that Spartacus and his men have killed them all. Finally, Glaber (Craig Parker) is sent into the fray to deal with Spartacus once and for all. Whilst making trouble for Rome, Spartacus and Crixus are determined to find out what happened to Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt).
Complicating matters is the realization that (SPOILER ALERT) Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) survived the horrific scene of carnage at the end of 'Blood and Sand.' She's found wandering the House of Batiatus in a daze, her mind almost completely gone.
The first episode sets the stage quite nicely for a season that is just as full of political intrigue as it is wet brutality and even wetter sex. 'Spartacus' will continue to push the limits because that's what the show measures itself against its own limit pushing. If you can overlook it blatant attempts of shock at every turn with its overly graphic content there is a story in there. A story about a lone man who united a band of slaves and plotted to overthrow their decadent oppressors.
I never felt all that taken with 'Gods of the Arena.' For much of the season it felt like filler as we patiently waited for Whitfield to overcome his illness. When he tragically passed away, Starz had to move on with the series. McIntyre replaced him as Spartacus and they finally got back to telling the worthwhile story that they told in the first season.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Spartacus: Vengeance' comes in Digi-book form like the other seasons of 'Sparatcus' have. This season has 10 episodes spread across three 50GB Blu-ray Discs. The discs are packaged in the Digi-book in simple slip-in sleeves that are just as flimsy as most slip-in cardboard disc sleeves are. There is no way to remove the discs without getting full or partial finger prints on the disc's underside. The Digi-book comes complete with a clear, plastic slipcover like the other seasons.
'Spartacus' has always looked great in high definition. Its hyper-stylized photography is richly detailed from start to finish. The entire season mirrors the previous seasons, in that each scene is full of intricate detail which seems to leap off the screen. Dirt, blood, pores, and sweat are all superbly rendered in close-ups. Tiny flecks of mud and soil leap from the ground as horses thunder through the scene. Each granule is detectable as it flies up into the sky and back down again. There is an immense level of fine detail here and you'll see it in every scene. The crispness of the image doesn't feel all that cinematic. Instead it has a slick sheen to it that may put some people off if they're looking for something with a more filmic look.
Color is impressive, especially the crimson red that drapes just about every scene as blood flies, spurts, and gushes from open wounds. If there's one complaint it's that the blood seems far too CG for its own good, but much of that is the show's intended look. It may appear a little more "fake" in HD, however, its saturation of color does indeed make it pop. Nighttime scenes are replete with inky blacks and nicely delineated shadows. I didn't notice any banding or crushing to report. The image does sport some flatness simply because of the digital filming. That's really the only caveat I have for this rather splendidly brutal looking Blu-ray.
'Vengeance' has an identical sounding audio mix as its predecessors did. It's been given a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix that truly transports the watcher back to Rome's bloodiest times. Battles are a chaotic cacophony of shrieks, yells, and the sound of tearing flesh. The front and center speakers harbor most of the show's sound effects. As Spartacus and his men take on Roman soldiers and mercenaries, clashing swords can be heard clanging steel against steel independently. Right and left speakers harness the activity on their sides and dishes it out with clarity. Dialogue is up front and resolute. In the more chaotic fight scenes characters can be heard yelling orders just out of frame as fighting is taking place right in the middle.
The rear speakers are full of screaming, blood-thirsty Romans as they watch gladiators battle to the death. They also get plenty of brutal ambient sound during the show's countless swordfights. Low-end frequencies are a constant presence throughout the show, whether it be the booming of a fist connecting to a face or the emphasis put on the slow-mo scenes as time slows down and all that can be heard is a low rumbling before time speeds back up again.
The past seasons have displayed technical prowess when it comes to audio and video and 'Vengeance' delivers the same. This is a very engaging track full of power, oomph, and clarity.
If you're not a fan of excessively excessive excess then 'Spartacus' just isn't for you. It brutally violent and is this close to being a full-on porno in some scenes. Still, buried beneath the blatant blood, guts, and boobs is a story worth investing your time in, and an actor in McIntyre who filled the shoes of Whitfield rather seamlessly if I do say so myself. 'Spartacus' is a whole lot of fun if you allow yourself the indulgence. The spectacular audio and video should further entice you of its worth. This is a recommended set.