Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011, Steven S. DeKnight)
The six episode prequel to 2010’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand series explores the House of Batiatus prior to the arrival of the gladitorial champion, Spartacus (the late Andy Whitfield). We follow Batiatus (John Hannah) as he attempts to overthrow his father and take control of the gladiator business. Corruption, murder and betrayal become standard practises as he ensures his fighters are in high demand and aims to make Gannicus (Dustin Clare) champion.
Straight away, Spartacus: GOTA lives up to the franchise’s ‘mature’ reputation. Blood, dismemberment, nudity and excessive profanity all grace the screen within the first 5 minutes. Linked to this is the production’s general aesthetic and atmosphere. Set and costume design are top notch, creating a gritty and immersive tone. There’s a visible contrast between the highs of Roman society and the lows which are beautifully designed, if not historically accurate. The franchise being based around gladiators means that sword fights are plentiful. Well choreographed and directed, there’s a definite stylistic approach similar to Zack Synder’s 300 (so lots of slow motion). It’s over-the-top but bloody fun.
Everything else. The story is shallow, relying on fight scenes and sex scenes to add substance and context, meaning every episode appears the same. Meanwhile the script is all over the place as the writers attempt to add sophistication into the dialogue but then introduce the word ‘cock’ in every conversation. The acting ranges from pretty good to over-exaggerated, Shakespearean hilarity. John Hannah puts in an entertaining performance, as he swears his way through the majority of his scenes, but the barrage of emotionless gladiators and slaves become very visible and distracting. The CGI backgrounds, obvious use of green screen and stupid transitions also attempt to give the series even more style and visual flair, but quickly become eyesores.
It is clear that Spartacus: GOTA was filmed with HD in mind. The video quality is impressive with pristine clarity, dusty colours and textures. Human skin is ‘revealing’: scars and wrinkles are clearly visible, whilst other ‘areas’ of the body are too defined and intimate. From the specks of sand to the scratches/ cracks on armour, it’s visually flawless. The TrueHD 5.1 audio is also top-notch with sound effects being crisp and the dialogue sounding clean. It’s definitely a HD experience.
Both the Blu-ray and DVD are packed with special features. Each episode contains a commentary track featuring members of the crew and cast. Meanwhile various featurettes are included from bloopers to behind-the-scenes videos. Anchor Bay Entertainment have also added a ‘3D Battle Sequence’ for all those who can afford a 3D TV. But probably the most worthwhile inclusion is that all the episodes are ‘Extended’ versions, which will please the fans of the series.