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Why I Don’t Like “Spartacus: Sludge and Bland”

The below is based on a careful study of the first two episodes; I’ve long thought that if you can’t get your act together in two hours, get the hell out of my television.

Why write a blog complaining loudly about an non-mandatory entertainment?  Because this dude at work is convinced that this show is a freaking religion.  I keep telling him: it’ll NEVER replace Spongebob.

Here are the problems with Spartacus:

The Obvious

All the characters are unambiguously good or bad.  Hopefully, more nuances are added as the stories develop, but even in the first two episodes, there are things that an actor can do to add a little dramatic vibrato to several of these painfully monotone character types.  Ilithyia and Spartacus himself come to mind.

The accents waver and fade like flags in the sun.  The Doctore and Lucretia Batiatus each routinely pronounce the letter “0” three different ways in the same sentence.

The writing is bad, although I’m not the first to say it.  What precisely is the Latin equivalent of “You’re the pig-fucker that everyone’s been pissing about”?  Who not on Starz talks like that?

The Slow-Mo

In 300, slow-motion photography was used exclusively to punctuate moments of high emotion.  Spartacus uses it to provide the audiences with stunning tableau’s, slow-moving visual snapshots showcasing its “master production design”.  (Watchmen is somewhere in between on this point.)

But this kind of showboating sets my teeth on edge.  At a certain point you’re no longer serving the story; you’re serving the spectacle.  And that’s not good dramatic practice.

The sin is deepened in scenes like the first battle in episode 1, when slow-motion is intercut arrhythmically with Gladiator-style gritty, jerky “handheld” footage.  This combined with the weird grainy tone of the whole piece produces a kind of visual whiplash as the viewer’s eyes and hearts aren’t given time to acclimate to one style long enough to enjoy it before being slapped with the other.

The Fake Blood

Eh, it’s not for me.  In The Mutant Chronicles, this same digital technique was used to give the blood a sharp contrast to the gray, dirty context of war.  Again, this served the story: the violence that produced the blood was the heroes’ only hope for relieving the circumstances of the war.

My feeling in Spartacus is that, again, we’re being pummeled with “technique porn”.  Blood is important to the story of a gladiator, nay, any story of ancient Rome at all.  But when you make a big fucking digital deal about the blood, then it only provides a wow-factor.  And that for only the first few uses.  Then it wears.

The Grunts

Take a drink every time a character grunts, barks, or yells wordlessly.  You’ll be dead within an hour.

Oh, and ludus members?  Laughter does not sound like the word “ha” repeated over and over.  It sounds like laughter.  Remember?  Laughter?  The sound you made when you found out that the most pivotal fight of the second episode would be won by the hero only through dumb luck and a tiny piece of fabric that was strong enough to overcome the standing friction of a 300-pound behemoth?

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