Spartacus: Gore and Bums

June 13th, 2011

Alright, so it’s called Spartacus: Blood and Sand, really  but I feel Gore and Bums would have been a more accurate subtitle for this ultra-lurid, feverish re-imagining of the gladiatorial legend.  To get the negatives out of the way, for they are many, and could easily destroy your enjoyment, the sex and violence levels are ridiculous, the acting can veer towards the wooden, the dialogue is occasionally risible in its scattergun fusing of olde constructions and latin terms with anachronisms like, ‘we’ll handle it,’ and ‘okay’, the smorgasbord of accents ranges from antipodean to scottish to american – and is it my imagination or does Crixus the Gaul occasionally go a bit cockney?  On the upside?  It’s frakking ACE.  The absurd splatter and macho posturing, the deadly sexual politics and twisting plot, the breakneck pace, the savage ruthlessness with characters, the occasional interesting musing on the nature of slavery.  Plus you have some neat film making, editing especially, not to mention Lucy Lawless and John Hannah are excellent as Spartacus’ treacherous, social-climbing owners.  I mean, yes, you could say its portrayal of the Roman Republic is not entirely historically accurate, and the action occasionally deviates from the realistic.  But it’s better seen as fantasy with a Roman vibe.  Like those sugar foam prawns you get in pick ‘n mix.  They look a bit like prawns, but only an idiot would complain that they don’t really taste like seafood…

It’s strange, because I saw the first episode of one of Starz’ other offerings, Camelot, the other night.  And though you could make a lot of the very same criticisms about that show, Spartacus is triumphant regardless while Camelot, I thought, sucked.  HARD.  Go figure.

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on June 13th, 2011.

41 comments so far

  • Eric says:

    My favorite dialogue gem from the prequel season: “At last the gods remove cock from fucking ass!” John Hannah is made of so much win.

  • Eddwigg says:

    The final episode is awesome…

  • murf99 says:

    I agree the final episode is awesome. The six episode prequel season is really good too.

  • Dan says:

    Loved all episodes. Looking forward to next season but nervous about a new actor taking the lead.

  • ColinJ says:

    Never seen the show. Sounds like enjoyable trash, kind of like what TRUE BLOOD is.

    Right now I’m still traumatised by last night’s GAME OF THRONES. Man, I want to kill that young king so bad. Kill him right in the face!!

  • BC Woods says:

    I think I felt the same way about the swearing. I found it awkward and not very genuine. It was rather like someone had written dialogue with no swearing, and then a producer or somebody else had gone back to “gritty it up” by inserting references to sodomy in random places even when it didn’t, if you’ll pardon the pun, fit as the original creator intended. For the first few episodes, every time someone said the word “fuck” it felt like there was just a heartbeat long pause where they turn to look at the camera as if to say “you’re fuckin’ A right I just said fuck.”

    I like your description of it as shrimp-like food, because despite all of its flaws it is very palatable. Like cotton candy at a carnival it’s spot on perfect for what it’s supposed to do. I saw it about six months ago on Netflix and found myself wishing there was a way to rate it as “horrible, but the kind of horrible I’m very interested in watching.” Like the Toxic Avenger or Big Trouble in Little China.

  • ColinJ says:

    Dude, there is NOTHING horrible about BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. That movie is a masterpiece.

  • Liam says:

    I’ve been hearing about Spartacus and keep meaning to watch it. Currently I’ve had time for nothing but Community and Game of Thrones. Fuck those shows are great.

    Speaking of which, are we going to hear your thoughts on Game of Thrones after the season finale next Sunday, Joe? It would be very interesting to hear what another “gritty fantasy” author has to say about the adaptation of one of the sub-genre’s staples.

  • Robb says:

    I loved Spartacus. Not because I thought it was great, but rather that it was so outrageously ridiculous and over the top with its violence that I just busted out laughing in many of the fight scenes. I swear, it was like Spartacus would punch a guy in the face and his head would explode in a grand slow motion of blood.

    That’s why I liked it. So over the top and yet I kept watching till the season ended.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Real shame about Andy Whitfield. That is some shitty luck right there. What particularly concerns me is that Whitfield is mid 30s and the new guy is in his early 20s, as I understand it, which is quite the change of vibe. I suppose more of an issue though is whether they can make it work without some of the ahem key characters laid to waste in the last episode…

    I didn’t mind the swearing when it was done with gusto – as Hannah did. When he was talking it never felt false, Crixus’ or Spartacus’ dialogue often felt a bit clumsy, clunkily constructred.

    I’ve come to kick ass or chew gum…

    Enjoyable Trash is an interesting term. Not that I necessarily deny it, but what makes a thing enjoyable and what makes it trash? I don’t know if I’d call Spartacus trash. No doubt it has its weak points, but I wouldn’t put it in a so-bad-it’s-good category. Lurid and over-the-top, certainly, but there’s some really clever editing in there, some strong performances, some neat plotting, the styling and general feel is good. And though there’s masses of sex it isn’t necessarily gratuitous – the various jealousies, obsessions and rivalries are central to the plot.

    You’ll laugh, but I don’t have Sky TV, so I haven’t seen any of Game of Thrones yet…

  • chris upton says:

    The show has an energy and narrative pace that I really enjoyed. However the visual aspect of the show gave me a headache(not the copius amount of claret though, that was hilarious)It was like a 9 year old Tony Scott on a sugar rush.
    As for enjoyable trash…Thats a term I’ve used to describe something like TrueBlood and Spartacus as well but I feel it may be a little inacurate. Something like Vampire Diaries might suite the term better. Saw the first couple of episodes the other night and was pissing myself it was so bad. Unitentionally awful dialogue (I actually think the writers are bad on purpose but haven’t let the poor actors in on the joke) and a cast that resembles a GQ cover shoot with fangs.

  • chris upton says:

    Oh and don’t diss Big Trouble In Little China. Its the GOAT.

  • Pete says:

    I recently watched Spartacus on dvd and can highly recommend listening to the audio commnentary, especially where they discus some of the gladiator bath house scenes. They clearly had a lot of fun making this show.
    Worth noting that some of the scenes are beautifully shot, they are easy to miss amongst the violence. Those by Michael Hurst (Hercules’ old side kick) are especially good, he has a real feel for lighting and framing of actors. The scene later on (not sure if this has aired on sky) where Lucy Lawless realises Crixus has been unfaithful is very powerful.

  • Jan says:

    And have you seen the prequel? There were a lot of parts which looked “over the top” – especially how they took a new approach to all the violence (its more dirty – YES it is possible – , there are more close ups and the main character is mostly just showing off), but I think it had /much/ better story.

    Spartacus was nice. The whole revenge stuff always (if done with a little concentration) hits the right spot. (Hence BSC, Joe :D). But the story of Gannicus in the prequel is just amazing. Starz really surprised me with the finale and I thought that Ive seen everything they can give me.

  • Sedulo says:

    The new Sparticus Liam McIntyre is 29.I think everything will be okay…in the show but not um…in the rebellion portrayed in the show.

    Blood and Sand was mighty fun!

    I agree about the sucktastic and boring Camelot with Eva Green and Joseph Fiennes, is it me or is the kid who plays Arthur totally wrong for the part? The whole thing is a mess excepting Sinead Cusack. On the other hand, I love the stone age “balconies” in Camelot! Very fine living that.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    As someone of the same age and level of physical attractiveness as Andy Whitfield, I can assure you that 36 and 29 are significantly different ages. And I remain convinced that Spartacus can successfully liberate the slaves this time around.

  • Sedulo says:

    So sorry Joe, I had no idea you’d auditioned for the role! I am sure you’d have landed the part if you hadn’t insisted that you would only play Spartacus if he freed the slaves forever as written in your radical new screenplay.
    Tsk tsk…you are such an auteur.
    Better luck next time.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    In fact I think it was my refusal to shave my luxuriant chest hair which was the deal breaker.

  • Sedulo says:

    I am certain they loved your interpretation but were looking for something more 73 B.C. rather than 1973.

  • SwindonNick says:

    I watched Camelot and it might have been okay were it not for that spotty youthful twat they had playing Arthur…..

  • Andy says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed both series, mostly due to John Hannah. I don’t care if he makes no attempt to change his accent, his character was the absolute highlight for me.

    Sad to hear Camelot was such a disappointment, I was going to save up a couple of episodes for a fun day sunday.

    Also Joe, just re-read The Heroes. Whirrun sandwich moment made me laugh just as much the second time 🙂

  • Eddwigg says:

    Joe Abercrombie as Spartacus…. why is he wearing a Suit Jacket ?

  • Sedulo says:

    Suit Jackets were the native wear of Thracians. Something about modesty and chest hair.

  • Jacob says:

    I tried to entertain myself one evening and watch the show, but I did it in the presence of “one of those guys”. You know. The guy who seems to think that is has to be the intellectual equivalent of [insert an artsy fartsy film here]. Completely ruined my immersion and ability to get into the show. Later on enjoyed it while I was drinking with my parents, who are a much better audience around these sort of things.

    Anachronisms aside…it’s mindless violence with intrigue “based” on Roman culture. The fight scenes are straight out of 300, but given the massive popularity and (somewhat bonehead) appeal of that film…it’s hard to argue against it when trying to appeal to the masses.

  • The Other Peter says:

    Huh. I rather like Camelot. I mean it’s no Game of Thrones but the far from cliched casting for Merlin and Arthur I thought was superb. Alright. Maybe it’s the dark undertones that sold me, but Fiennes as an ever plotting sorcerer rubs me in all the right ways.

  • Nate says:

    Seconding a positive vote for Camelot. I found it kind of funny that you mention the show because I conceptualize what they do with Merlin as “Bayaz-ing” him up. (Granted, not too much but it is at least the direction they take it.)

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Well I only saw the first episode of Camelot and just found it very silly. Dialogue, costume, geography, and some of the most incomprehensible action sequences I’ve ever seen. But maybe it gets better. As for Bayazing Merlin, I didn’t see anything I didn’t see a whole, whole lot better in John Boorman’s Excalibur from Nicol Williamson, which has to be THE definitive crazy ass untrustworthy wizard.

  • Bloody Nine says:

    ^Agreed with this. Some of the dialogue and “clever plotting” bits were just ridiculous. I laughed out loud a few times during scenes that were meant to be dramatic. I stopped watching after the first episode. Still watching GoT. Though nowhere near as good as the books, it’s still better than a lot of the other garbage on tv.

    Unfortunately, I also hated Blood and Sand. Perhaps I took it a bit too seriously, having taken a truckload of Roman civilization courses in university, but I didn’t like the plotting and twists that seemed to be done for effect and not because of believable character motivations. Ah well.

  • Dan says:

    So Joe, since were talking about Starz and HBO tv series…has anyone from networks such as these approached you yet?? I’m sure you’d tell us if so, but still wanted to ask. I’m sure you would prefer the big money from a feature film, but I think to do the story right, TFL would need the series treatment.

  • Brad Nieder says:

    I’m only about half way through the Season 1 of Spartacus, but I didn’t find the actor who played Sparatcus all that compelling. I feel terrible that the guy has some serious heatlth issues, but I don’t think I’ll have a problem with another actor taking over the role.

    I do love the show and it’s blatant, uh, homage to 300. It has also inspired me to use the word “cock” more often in everyday conversation.

  • Tim says:

    I knew you’d enjoy it, there is so much fun hiding behind boobs and swearing, and indeed within the boobs and swearing. It can take a little bit of prompting to get someone far enough to spot it or at least several strong drinks. Gods of the Arena was magnificent, everything they learned about making the first series into something so entertaining condensed. I am very worried they won’t be able to top that.

  • Some Jackass says:

    Really? Can’t believe people enjoy this show. Lurid battle scenes where blood spurts out like… best not mentioned. Besides, the fighting scenes look totally unreal and the graphics looks very dated.
    Want boobs and swearing and gratuitous sex then go watch some porn films. There is a lot of them about.
    And whats the point of all the violence, all the killing?
    One person’s angst and that seems just so cool. (pathetic really)
    After watching a television series like The Wire, you can’t help but find all these other ‘grown up’ dramas contrived and cliched… basically shite.
    In the entire series of Wire, the police guys actually fire the gun only two times… (Pryzbylewski both times)
    No television series can match the level of suspense or the dialogue…In any way.
    The dialogue in Spartacus is laugh out funny. Who talks like that?
    And Camelot’s another level of shit.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Some Jackass,
    Absolutely magnificent though I found The Wire, it finished. A while ago. And even if it hadn’t, I’m not sure I’d want everything I watched to be hyper-realistic crime drama. I love a single malt but it doesn’t mean there’s no place in my life any longer for the odd milkshake. I’ve always found it weird when people say, ‘X was so good I can no longer experience anything vaguely similar to X without a sense of crushing disappointment.’ When drinking a milkshake I enjoy the creamy sweetness without cursing the fact that it has not the character and complexity of a thirty year old Dalmore. Your comment about ‘want boobs and swearing and gratuitous sex watch porn’ is as silly as saying about the Wire, ‘want grime and swearing and corrupt politicians watch the news.’ Which I pretty much have heard people say about The Wire, in fact. Opinions will always differ. As I said at the top, I can totally believe people wouldn’t enjoy Spartacus. Why can’t you believe people would enjoy it?

  • Some Jackass says:

    About sex, boobs and all, what I don’t like is the fact they advertise it. Your own made up title highlights the fact(Very apt too). The show is about Sex, boobs and shit like that. It doesn’t aspire to tell a story. The dialogue is bad that’s fine, the plot contrived, fine.
    But ultimately what does it say? That people just like lurid battle scenes, bad, over the top gratuitous sex and they’ll be happy? Where has good story telling gone?
    You can have sex, violence. Surely that can be all added together in a good story. Your personal opinion regarding your stories is that you approach it with honesty, your objective is to be truthful.
    Where is that in Spartacus? Add violence, boobs, angst and you got yourself a hit TV series???
    You can say Wire is ‘grime and swearing and corrupt politicians’ but that show has something to tell.
    It has a good story, a social message.
    Spartacus has nothing. that’s my bone.

    Note: Also, I think your the best fantasy writer out there and love reading your books.

  • Sedulo says:

    Maybe this over-the-top story of Spartacus had something to tell about being a slave!
    Initially powerless, but observant enough to manupulate your captors. Add that to gaining the trust of your fellow slaves leading to revenge, escape…? Is this not a story?

    I think movies about gladiators, especially with combat in them, have violence and (gasp) even blood that “spurts out”. I believe the “unreal” and “dated” battle scenes actually spare us from the horror of actual combat by making it cartoonish.

    Even some of the sex was connected to certain key players’ emotions…which ended up being important plot points. What? A plot? Yes!

    @Some Jackass, if you did not like the blood and sex then I am surprised you kept. on. watching. it.

  • Nick says:

    I absolutely loved Blood and Sand, and as others have said Gods of the Arena was awesome too. The Blood and Sand finale reminded me of the Modern Warfare 2 level “No Russian” but with swords and sandals rather than machine guns and grenades.

    I can see how the huge amounts of swearing, shagging and spurts of blood could put some people off, but that kinda thing has never really bothered me. The swearing was, to my mind, absolute genius. Especially John Hannah’s (who was by far the series’ best character, no disrespect to the others but he owned every godsdamn scene in both series). It was like a cross between ‘Deadwood’, ‘The Thick Of It’ and ‘Rome’.

    There was also some surprisingly good character development and plotting to my mind. Over the two series Crixus really emerges as a well thought out character and Ashur is a brilliant villain. Really glad he survived.

    On Andy Whitfield, it is a tragedy but I don’t think it will be TOO detrimental – Spartacus was possibly the least interesting main character in Blood and Sand so the change shouldn’t be too bad so long as the new guy has acting chops.

    What does worry me about the new series is a). No John Hannah. Which is the best thing about the show for me gone. And b). I actually think the limited locations (i.e. the Arena, Ludus and parts of Capua) really helped the show somehow. The gladiators galavanting around Italy might lack some of the claustrophobia of Blood and Sand.

    ‘Camelot’ is not great. It isn’t awful, but I was hardly gripped by it and didn’t really care about many of the characters. Losing the best one, King Lot (the always awesome James Purefoy), will probably not help the show either. Also, if Merlin ever starts sipping tea in a vaguely menancing manner then I think you should give your lawyer a call!

  • Nick says:

    Oh, and does anyone else think that whoever played Solonius (Batiatus’ nemesis) would be a great Mad King for ‘Game of Thrones’ if they ever showed him in a flashback?

  • BCsmith says:

    I guess i’ll be the ‘black sheep’ in that I actually liked Camelot (maybe a bit less than blood and sand, but even so). The actor who plays the wizard would indeed make for a passable Bayaz. Sparticus is INSANE. blood, meat, sex and lots of it. But…its AWESOME at the same time. Basically imagine if Roger corman directed 300, and that’s basically what it is. But as pulpy and corny as it is, like you said joe it has some good things about it. I even liked the so-called plot *straight face*. It’s like fast food: its not good for you, but you crave it anyway.

  • Sedulo says:

    I agree about missing John Hannah. Also Crixus is going to need to obtain 50+ IQ points. Some may think that Spartacus was the least interesting character, but he certainly is charismatic and familiar with strategy. Additionally, I adore his commitment to revenge.

    Glaeber is still running around and I am sure the gladiators will gain a new bunch of increasingly ferocious Romans to swear profusely at them while ordering much stabbing and slicing. I am prepared for gallons of gore galore.

  • Adam Chandler says:

    Loved Game of thrones, devouring the books now, can’t say the same thing for Camelot, Merlin looks like my sword instructor rather than a wizard.
    Prefer the Merlin from Bernard Cornwells ‘warlord’series ( a complex druidy, cheese enthusiast).
    Oh, and i also loved Spartacus but never treated it as a history lesson.

  • Mark Smith says:

    Joe, I saw an ep of Spartacus last night and thought the writers had been reading The Heroes. Long live slice & dice.

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