I stumbled across this on IMDb the other day: a short review I wrote for the show back in 2010, after I'd just watched the first two episodes. There was a lot of negative criticism on IMDb, mostly due to the first episode, and I wanted to chime in with my thoughts. I had no idea how much better the series would get, though!
Are You Not Entertained?
Like the gladiatorial games it draws from, 'Spartacus - Blood and Sand' is a spectacle of violence, gore and sexy naked bodies.
That's why it's such fun.
'Spartacus BaS' definitely has its roots in the Raimi & Tapert school of "fun", though.
Both '300' and 'Gladiator' are often over-rated; like 'Spartacus BaS' they are also "fun" movies that weren't brain-dead yet didn't require much more than simply sitting back and enjoying them. While I rank the likes of 'Rome' VERY highly, it was more of a period drama (like 'I, Claudius' before it) than an action series, and it boasted a far higher budget and attempt at realism than BaS.
Unlike some shows (even many excellent ones) the episodes are extremely well-paced, never feeling overlong yet a lot happens in each; every one almost feels like a mini-movie, and while we are left wanting more, there are so far none of the forced "cliffhangers" shows like 'Lost' and '24' make us suffer through over and over again.
On the casting front, I'm very glad (and not just for the obvious reasons) that Lucy Lawless was so up for this, as she really has fun with her (admittedly Attia-like) role, also proving to mainstream audiences that Xena was not just a "fluke", while John Hannah lends weight to proceedings and Viva Bianca really "gets" what this is about and provides an enormous addition to the sense of fun and enjoyment as she plays the kind of spoiled rich girl that crosses genres. Special note to Craig Parker too, who was so woefully underused in 'Legend of the Seeker' (playing perhaps the most neutered villain of all-time), obviously relishing being the "big bad" and playing a right bastard we love to hate. In fact, fans of Australian and New Zealand made shows will recognize a lot of the cast, and its great to see cameos by some old RenPics favorites.
While the overuse of CGI gets annoying (it reminds my of late 90's "movie" video games like 'Wing Commander III' when ALL the sets were green screens!) I'll take that over NO scope or action (even 'Rome' - though for their own reasons - never went the "huge scale" path with massive Colosseum events or field battles).
Spartacus (played by Andy Whitfield with just the right mix of determination and self-pity) gets on my nerves a bit for being such a blatant idiot at times, making both typical "movie mistakes" ("let the bad guy live", etc.) and very human ones. But it is very nice, on the other hand, to have a "heroic" series/character who is still very flawed and (thankfully) far from the best fighter in the show.
'Spartacus BaS' takes a while to get going, and the pilot definitely visually and stylistically feels more '300' than perhaps it should, but once we get to the training school, we're in much more solid territory.
It isn't original... those who've played the PS2 game 'Colosseum - Road to Freedom' will find a lot of similarities, as will fans of 'Gladiator' of course. But this is something to expect in a genre that is both based in history and has a fairly narrow list of (decent) fellow entries.
So far, I've seen only three episodes, but - for what I understand to be a "startup" network's first big show - I think it succeeds wonderfully and shows great promise... I'm looking forward to where we will be taken next with these characters.
So long as they keep things entertaining, bloody and sexy yet refrain from going so far as to be TOO gratuitous, I think it will be a big hit.
Re-reading this in 2012, long after Blood & Sand concluded, I'm so glad it became much more than I expected, and that I was wrong about a good few things!