Spartacus: Blood and Sand is maybe the most painful and boring TV pilot I’ve ever seen — and before I go any further, I’d like to add “confounding” and “juvenile” to my list of adjectives. I can only imagine that this show came to be when one producer said to another, “we need to make 300: The TV Series.” If you can imagine the story of Spartacus being told in the style of 300, then you know exactly what you are in for.
The combat (and there’s a lot of it) is filmed exactly the same way, except it doesn’t quite work here. Zack Snyder was somehow able to hide his lack of budget while making his movie. Every time Spartacus goes outside or goes into combat, it becomes abundantly clear that the green screen is just a foot behind our hero. The image is flat and lifeless. Interesting things happen from time to time (they’ll slow the frame to a halt to make sure you catch it), but when it’s so obviously fake, it’s just inappreciable.
Maybe part of 300‘s success was Gerard Butler and Lena Headey’s performances. When either of them are on the screen, I’m not paying attention to the background. Their performances bring you in or make you laugh or just entertain you silly. Only John Hannah (of The Mummy movies and Four Weddings and a Funeral) comes out of this unscathed. No-one else does anything to help the series. I feel the worst for the women. They show up only to get naked, scream in slow motion, or recreate the love scenes from 300 — it’s even edited the same way.
The script is so bad, it’s not laughable, it’s cringe-worthy. The men don’t sound like men. They sound like what twelve year-old boys imagine men to be. The women aren’t women. They’re Greco-Roman fantasies. There’s a re-occurring theme/joke/insult that I can’t even type here, because this is a family website, but every time I heard it, I could only imagine the characters winking at the screen, as if to say, “see? We’re edgy. There’s no way we could be on basic cable.”
There’s nothing original or intriguing about the series. If you’ve seen 300, Rome, Gladiator, or Ben-Hur, you’ve already seen better versions of this. I’d like to be open and say, “well, I’ve only seen the pilot. It could get better.” But it offered nothing to bring me back for more. Perhaps it pales in comparison to HBO’s phenomal Rome, which explored so many nuanced characters as they tumbled through history. Its characters were believable and leapt off the screen. They entertained you, disgusted you, and made you think. Every episode ended with me wondering, “what’s going to happen next week?” The only thing Spartacus has me wondering is “who hired what thirteen year-old to write this?” Which segues into my confoundment.
This show can’t be intended for adults. Yet, due to its violence, full frontal nudity, and constant F- and C-Bombs, it’ll only ever be shown on cable. Is there really an audience for something like this? Are parents who subscribe to cable going to let their teenage sons watch this? The only adult I can imagine being interested in this would be some perpetually immature thirty year-old who still thinks 300 is a better movie than Gladiator. The only problem with that is, that’s an adult I had to imagine. I don’t think they actually exist.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand premiers on Starz Friday, January 22nd, at 10pm.
But don’t worry. You’re not missing anything.