Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Dir: Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey)
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin
USA, 1960

Seen: originally during my first 101 films to see list, then revisited January 7, 2010

Reason to Watch & Review: For the Sword & Sandal Marathon*

Several things come to mind when I think about the film Spartacus, and the first is that it's one of those 'have to see' films if you want to talk film with people which is why it made it onto my original 101 Films I Can't Believe I Haven't Seen List. Second: Kirk Douglas, because he rocks. And Third: It's just fun to say "Spartacus!".

In terms of the Sword & Sandal Marathon, this film falls into the Roman/gladiator category. It's actually quite strange to watch it after Gladiator because of the similarities, although both films have their own stories and message. In Spartacus we follow the character Spartacus, played by Kirk Douglas, who goes from being a slave to being trained to become part of the world of Gladiators who fight, and die, for amusement & entertainment of others. His character feels like a bit of a paradox, being outspoken and stubborn but at the same time rather innocent. Similiar to Clash of the Titans (1981) where both protagonists have very little back story or point of reference and therefore they have a naiveté about them, but with Spartacus is comes across even more because it contrasts to his strong physical prowess and leadership capabilities. In some ways, it feels like they are portraying him as a born leader, but there is also the strong message that everyone can make a difference and everyone has choices.

The film was more political than I would have expected, and there is a lot there in terms of plotting and power which usually I find a little hard to follow but here it was the perfect blend that made any surprizes believeable. But, the heart of the film really does lie in the character Spartacus, and I really enjoyed seeing a character whose really feels like a good person at heart, someone who even though they have lived through hardship believes in doing in the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing as opposed to vengeance for vengeance sake. Kirk Douglas does a great job in this role, making the character very charismatic, believable and accessible. Other strong performances in the film include Laurence Olivier as plotting Crassus, who really is just amazing in anything he's in.

Considering the film is about power imbalance and slavery, it's surprizingly (and refreshingly) very 'G' rated and is a reminder that you can tell a great story about challenging topics without showing all the ugliness in detail. But one place it was extremely 'G' were romantic elements that swerved so sweetly. There is an exception to that rule, a subtle one at the time I'm sure, but I was quite surprized by it.

Overall it's really does feel like 'one of those films you have to see' and you should. It's a great historical epic with a strong story, message and performances. Comparative to films that come out now it can feel very 'G', but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's still a dynamic and powerful film.

When you see it, plan a block of time for it as the remastered version of it is over 3 hours.

Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it
I'll watch it again
I'd recommend it to fans of epic historical films & dramas

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© Shannon Ridler, 2010

* The Sword & Sandal Marathon is a 13 week marathon exploring sword & sandal films in anticipation of the 2010 release of Clash of the Titans (2010)


Univarn said...

I am Spartacus. No I am Spartacus. I AM SPARTACUS!

It's sad but I could probably do a 30 minute podcast just doing that the entire time o.O

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Lol, true - sad, but also would be fun!

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