Hello there ladies and gentlemen. How are you? Don’t answer that, you’ll look strange. Anyhow, the other day I just saw a very nice remastering of the swords and sandals classic Spartacus from 1960, directed by Stanley Kubrick, though he didn’t have nearly as much input on this film as he did his others. So I thought that it was time I shook things up a little and talked about a film rather then another anime review. As I haven’t quite got a format for film reviews fully worked out I’ll just be winging it for the most part, so bear with me. Right, let’s go.
The story of this film is basically just a highly romanticised version of the tale of Spartacus. For those unaware, the story is that of the young Thracian slave Spartacus, who after being forced to become a gladiator by Romans, incites a rebellion to try and free the slaves from oppression. Like all legends, how much of this is real and how much is fiction is unknown, but the Wikipedia page about it can do a much better job of explaining it then I can. This film also includes a fictional love story. The purpose of this was presumably to make Spartacus a softer and more likable character. But don’t take this is a criticism, as I actually really loved this movie. It’s an exciting, well directed, mostly well acted film, with some super impressive practical effects as well. With the new digital restoration (the one I saw) the film looks crisp and sharp. Not to say that this film looks new. If this film was made today, it would be mostly CGI for the battle scenes, and probably would have nowhere near as big a budget (or be nearly as good). This kind of film could only really work when it was made. Any earlier or later and it would most likely have failed. It’s like a time capsule of the late 50s to early 60s Hollywood film, and for that, I think it’s wonderful.
The characters of this film are simple, there’s no denying that. What makes them work is their execution. This film is full of at the time A-list actors, such as Kirk Douglas as our hero Spartacus, Laurence Olivier as the villain, Crassus, and Jean Simmons as Spartacus’s love interest Varinia. These actors all play their characters with great skill, especially Laurence Olivier, who is kind of the perfect villan. He is appropriately calculating as well as being a little nuts. My only problem with him is not really the character but more a fault of the script. There is one scene in the film that comes off as a little homophobic around the middle of the film, where it is heavily implied that Crassus is homosexual in a scene that is meant to come off as threatening. It tries to make the character come off as alien and deviant, which at the time I’m sure made sense, but now in what I like to think is a more enlightened and less stupid world, it just comes off as silly and unnessacary. This is just an issue of the times and not really a problem with the film itself, but still, it’s worth keeping in mind.
Kirk Douglas plays an appropriately charming freedom fighter in the form of Spartacus. He may not be a paticularly deep and complex character, but that’s not really what he’s supposed to be. He’s supposed to be a likeable and heroic character who fights for freedom and justice. Douglas pulls this off perfectly. There’s not really much else to say about him other then that.
The rest of the supporting cast is great too. Crassus’s fellow senator Gracchus (played by Charles Laughton) is one of the higlights of the movie. Spartacus’s fellow rebels all serve their purpose excellently, and the slave trader Batiatus, played marvellously by Peter Utinov, is incredibly entertaining as the cowardly, money grubbing idiot.
The film’s soundtrack is rather excellent. Most of the songs are quite epic in nature, which suits the tone of the film. There are also some love ballads thrown in there for the romantic scenes, which sound great as well. The other thing I like about the music is that it knows when to be quiet. Certain scenes become all the more intense when there is no music playing in the background.
In conclusion, I absolutely loved Spartacus. It’s the quintessential midcentury Hollywood blockbuster. On a purely technical level, this is one of the most impressive films I have ever seen. The amount of time, effort, and money that must of been spent on this film boggles my mind. It’s worth seeing just for that, but even taking all that away, the film is still tons of fun to watch. It’s nothing paticularly thought provoking or insightful, but it is a really good time. I highly recommend it.
Grade: A (Most excellent)