Never much of a fan of the sword and sandal epics Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus” has always been one of those films I was torn about. At a rather lengthy 196 minutes (that’s 3 hours and 16 minutes to you and I) it takes the better part of your viewing day to take this one in. Having seem it several times on television (though never all the way through) the film never really hit me as being all that it was cracked up to be.
Once again last year with the chariot induced hype generated by best picture winner “Gladiator” I was left sort of scratching my head. What is it about the gladiator film that appeals so damn much to film-goers? Upon seeing “Gladiator” I was again extremely unimpressed with what was going on up on the screen. I kept hoping they would go to the shot of the People’s Front of Judea (copliments of the Monty Python boys) in the stands… “SPLITTERS!”
Having not seen the film in some time I was intrigued with the Criterion’s release of “Spartacus” on DVD with all the bells and whistles. Perhaps it was time for me to reassess my thoughts on this classic film. So there I sat and watched and watched, and I actually got to watch the whole thing for once. And what did I learn? Well, “Spartacus” is one hell of a movie. If the word epic was ever appropriate to describe a movie this is it epic in length, story and certainly visually. Where “Gladiator” was made up largely of distracting computer hyjinx dispersed around intermittent gore and violence, “Spartacus” is the real deal. This is one of those films that remind you every minute how good those old Hollywood all star, giganto-productions could be when they worked. Then there is the Kubrick factor. Even though he was pretty much a director for hire on this one he uses every inch of the screen along with every second of the three plus hours to present the viewer with something, well… epic. Like all of Kubrick’s films, it is not always an easy ride for the viewer, “Spartacus” is long and not quite so action packed as “Gladiator”, but it is also a far better and more rewarding telling of the rise of a slave to greatness in the arena of battle.
As has become the norm, Criterion has included a ton-o-fun little gems for us film geeks. Two DVD’s chock full with commentaries by Kirk Douglas, Peter Ustinov, screenwrier Dalton Trumbo’s scene by scene analysis, deleted scenes, storyboards, sketches by Stanley Kubrick, etc. In short, this is one hell of set.
All said “Spartacus” was then and still remains granddaddy and reigning king of gladiator flicks. I know now that if Russell Crowe as Maximus were to wind up in the arena with Kirk Douglas as Spartacus, Spartacus would walk out of that joint carrying Maximus’ head in one hand and his Oscars in the other.