The STARZ channel is attempting to branch out into dramatic shows, mirroring their competitors at HBO and Showtime. Their second dramatic series is Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a film that is being touted as the next Rome, a show their competition at HBO championed to great acclaim. The first episode, Red Serpent, is entertaining and shows potential, but STARZ is trying to far too hard to grab fans of 300 and Troy causing the pilot to look like a cheap imitation.
Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) is a Thracian soldier who has recently aligned himself with the Romans in order to rid his village of ravaging warriors. When the Roman commander Claudius (Craig Parker) decides to ignore his promise to the Thracians and leave the town to slaughter, Spartacus and his soldiers mutiny and abandon ship. Attempting to flee the town with his wife, Spartacus is captured and forced into slavery, meant to die in the arena as a gift to Claudius’ father-in-law. When the gladiator wins by chance a competitive gladiator trainer and his wife (John Hannah, Lucy Lawless), buy Spartacus in an attempt to gain goodwill with Claudius who assumes the man will die.
There’s no doubt Spartacus: Blood and Sand will find fans as the story is great and engaging. Fans of the obvious Rome and 300 will eat the violence and story of Rome, gladiators and politics up. The show also seems to be following a route seen in Gladiator, especially as the pilot ends with Spartacus being trained and attempting to find his wife. With luscious sets and costumes hopefully the series won’t fall into the same plight as the HBO series that had problems with budget, but it’s fantastic because all the locations look gorgeous. Andy Whitfield is a perfect Spartacus, with numerous comparisons to actor Sam Worthington in terms of looks, although Whitfield seems to be a stronger fighter. The fighting is intense and complex and the actor pulls off all the moves without making it look effortless. Ladies will also enjoy the new leading man as there’s a copious amount of nudity from him. The show is attempting to gain fans of any show on HBO so there’s a heavy amount of graphic violence, nudity and sexual content but the joys of watching a show on a premium channel is the ability to take risks with content.
With a new show the need to gain a following is hard, and the greatest fault that comes with Spartacus is how heavily the show borrows from other areas. The slow-motion used in this episode is ridiculous. All the violence is done in slow-motion the point where it becomes mundane and fights go on too long. Every fall from a horse, flying arrow and severed head has to be slowed down, making fans laugh at how blatantly they seem to be following 300. The blood spatter is also overused as even a bonk on the head is followed by a spurting deluge of blood. With so much time spent on slow-motion fighting, fans only connect with Spartacus this episode leaving all the other characters to be stock figure and caricatures. Hannah and Lawless have a few lines and so far we know very little about who they are as characters. Erin Cummings is beautiful as Spartacus’ wife Sura but she tries so hard to channel Lena Headey, not only in looks but in the way she seems to be speaking her lines as if they’re voice-over narration. Parker’s character is seen as the soldier villain and nothing more.
There’s no doubt that Spartacus will land on its feet but in trying so hard to attract an audience there’s little originality or story. The second episode will prove whether the show has a voice and staying power, it’s worth checking out but it needs to try to separate from the pack.