Gratuitous blood, gratuitous nudity, gratuitous sex, and a gratuitous lack of prepositions and pronouns. Ah, another season of Starz's over-the-top gladiator drama 'Spartacus.' For all its sword-wielding and softcore porn sex, somehow 'Spartacus' fits in some intriguing political intrigue. Don't get me wrong. This isn't the type of historical thinky plotting that filled HBO's ' Rome.' Instead it works as an interesting, yet superficial backdrop for the real purpose of 'Spartacus': fitting in as much blood and boobs as possible within an hour of television.
As the previous chapters of 'Spartacus' have played out it's hard not to think of it as an extremely guilty pleasure. I'll admit that on some base level I enjoy the preposterous level of excessive violence and impossible sexual situations. Oh, and then there's the gratuitous (hey there's that word again!) use of slow motion. 'Spartacus' loves slo-mo even more than it loves sex and death, which is probably why every scene containing either sex or death inevitably is presented in slow motion.
'Spartacus: War of the Damned' takes on a heavier political and sociological stance as past seasons. That's not to say one should watch the show's fourth season to bone up (yes, I laughed as I typed that) on one's sociological outlook. I'm just merely stating a fact. See, Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) and his band of blood-thirsty bandits have formed a proper army. Culling Rome of their disgruntled slave population, the ranks of Spartacus' military of swelled. He's laying waste to the Roman countryside and defeating any Roman army that dare stand in his way. Of course there's an endless line of Roman soldiers waiting to meet the cold steel of Spartacus' bloodlust. The slo-mo action scenes play out like a '300' wet dream. Waves of thick red blood bathe the frame as Spartacus pummels his enemies into submission. Everything is going swimmingly for the leader of the rebellion. That is, until he realizes that leading a group of violent thugs thirsty for Roman blood isn't an easy task. Once Spartacus takes hold of a nearby Roman city, bickering and politicking soon take hold. The lofty ideal of "Kill All Romans" is replaced with trying to feed and clothe an army of destitute slaves. All the while trying to fit in the requisite amount of nudity allotted to each episode.
As Spartacus marches his own brand of death around the Roman countryside his legend grows to God-like status. While most of Rome fears even the very mention of his name, Marcus Licinius Crassus (Simon Merrells) isn't fazed. The richest man in Rome is also its most cunning. Crassus accepts an invitation to help quell the rebellion. He admires Spartacus' mind for war and relishes in the idea of beating him. A young and deviant Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance) joins Crassus' forces, forming a formidable duo of rippling six-packs.
'Spartacus' has no illusions of being a better show than it is. It knows exactly what it is and revels in it. It gloriously embraces every melodramatic twist and slo-mo foursome. There's something to be admired in how self-aware the show is. Sure, its dialogue is frustratingly devoid of pronouns and prepositions. Yes, the sex scenes are overblown Old World versions of Penthouse letters, but there's an interestingly satisfying aspect to the show.
I don't go out of my way to tune in to new episodes of 'Spartacus' when they air. I don't even seek it out before the Blu-rays come out. However, when the Blu-rays do get released there isn't many shows out there that are more enjoyable to binge-watch.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Spartacus' comes in Digi-book packaging like the previous season releases. Inside are three 50GB Blu-rays. The Digi-book offers some nicely done artwork along with a clear slipcover that matches previous slipcovers. The discs are house inside cardboard slips.
Like its predecessors, 'Spartacus: War of the Damned' features a nearly perfect video transfer. Starz/Anchor Bay offers up a richly detailed bloodied version of the Roman Empire. Everything from the dirt that constantly covers the faces and bodies of the warring slaves to the sleekly clean skin of the numerous unclothed slave girls, is evidence of a near spotless high-def transfer.
Colors are deeply varied and always attention-grabbing. Long, brutal bursts of outrageous red ooze and spatter over most scenes. Blood is clearly defined and contains a macabre blast of crimson. Facial features such as cuts, bruises, scars, stubble, and perpetual face-dirt are equally well-defined.
There are a few times that the added scrutiny of 1080p calls unwanted attention to the hokier green screen effects. It enhances the phoniness of a few of the show's needlessly drawn out slow-motion action scenes. There are also instances where darker backgrounds harbor noticeably heavier amount of noise. That said, shadows are nicely delineated. Crushing is a minor occurrence that barely requires mentioning. Aliasing and banding are nowhere to be found. Starz has, again, produced a near-perfect video presentation of its most beloved show.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 does nothing but slice and dice its way to the realm of demo-quality sounding television. The excess that lives in the script bleeds over into the sound design. Everything is so dramatic, ridiculously so. Knives and swords are accompanied with a metallic shiiiiiiing as they fly through the air for no other reason than that's what knives and swords do on film. The show's music is outrageously laden with low-end drum beats, which accompany the litany of blood-soaked action scenes.
No matter how over-the-top the sound design is, at least the presentation of it is as clear as a bell. The show's overly verbose dialogue is presented clearly. You may cringe at some of the writing, but you'll hear it all the same. Yells, screams, shrieks, and growls are all heard in equal measure. Grotesque sound effects of skulls caving in and skin getting slashed (which, yes, actually has a sound in the world of 'Spartacus') are presented with a particular oomph.
The rear channels are alive with the sounds of battle. The cries of soldiers dying on the battlefield are met with equal measure by the climatic shrieks of whores during one of the many debauched parties, as all of it is captured in the rear speakers. The clarity of the ambiance adds to the overall experience, which is extremely solid.
'Spartacus: War of the Damned' is a satisfying farewell to a show that can truly say it pushed the envelope, for better or worse (that's certainly up to you to decide). It always took itself seriously enough, but not too seriously that it became self-important. It started out as an excessive tongue-in-cheek pseudo-historical drama and never wavered. It certainly had its detractors, and I can see why. But, the people reading this review are the people who were most likely planning on buying this and rounding out their 'Spartacus' collection anyway. In that case, know you're getting more the same – great audio and video presentations. While the overall score is high, this is still a "For Fans Only" type of purchase.