Shiny Shelf

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

By Mark Clapham on 08 June 2010

Introducing John Hannah at this year’s BAFTA awards, Graham Norton described ‘Spartacus: Blood and Sand’ as being like ‘Gladiator’ without Russell Crowe: “Better.”


It’s probably more accurate to say that ‘Spartacus’ is like ‘Gladiator’ with the handbrake of Ridley Scott’s (ridiculous) artistic pretensions taken off. For all its symbolic cornfields ‘Gladiator’ was, most importantly, a film where the spinning blades on a chariot wheel cut some dude’s legs off in the arena.

Oh, how I laughed.

And oh, how I’m no longer welcome in the Salisbury Odeon because of that insane, gleeful laughter.


Towards the end of the first episode of ‘Spartacus’, our (at that point nameless) hero cuts one dude’s arm off, a massive splash of digital blood splooshing over the ‘camera’, which almost made me laugh, but that first, minor giggle was superseded when, a few seconds after the arm loss, a low sword swipe cut right through another dude’s legs.

What does this all mean? Well, three things:

1. I am a sick bastard.

2. I should stop saying dude, even ironically. I’m from Yorkshire, not California.

3. Most importantly of all, ‘Spartacus’ is a show made just for me, and the rest of you should feel grateful you’re allowed to watch it too.

I’m not terribly surprised that I like ‘Spartacus’ so much. It’s produced by Robert Tapert and shot in New Zealand, putting it in the same line of entertainment as ‘Xena’, ‘Hercules’ and ‘Jack of All Trades’, fantasy shows that knew to throw in a fight scene every act to keep the audience awake.

Tapert’s most recent NZ-based show, ‘Legend of the Seeker’, adapted Terry Goodkind’s fantasy books as a similar family friendly, cheap and cheerful, mainstream fantasy series, but lacked the playfulness that made Tapert’s earlier shows so much fun.

‘Spartacus’ aims for a different audience to any of these previous efforts, instead aiming squarely at the ‘300′ crowd. Actually, it’s pretty much ‘300′: The Series, taking that film’s style and battering it into a TV budget, as well as replicating the general theme of doomed macho men defending their homes and families against a rich, decadent empire, and doing so with a huge amount of bloody violence.

Rather than romping around the Kiwi countryside, ‘Spartacus’ is shot ‘300′ style, entirely in studio with every sky or background dropped in with CG. Virtually every shot is colour graded to within an inch of its life, and blood splatters and the like are ridiculously extreme cartoon overlays. The ‘graphic novel’ stylings stop just short of doing ‘Batman’ style sound effect captions, in this case SLICE, HACK, and GRROORRRNCCCHHHH.

The end result is a show that somehow manages to be more stylised than ‘Pushing Daisies’, with a persistent unreality that pretty much invalidates any rough edges: it’s not supposed to look real, so if there’s a particularly fake looking backdrop or an effect doesn’t match up, so what?

‘Spartacus: Blood and Sand’ is a violent, silly, sexy live-action cartoon for adults. It’s macho well beyond the point of turning into camp, and then loads more camp on top of that with John Hannah and Lucy Lawless hamming it up something chronic. It’s on three or four times a week on Bravo, and really you don’t need to go back to the start to catch-up, it’s not that complicated.

‘Spartacus’ certainly won’t be for all tastes (and no doubt many people will really, really hate it), but it’s well worth a try: it’s slick, but a bit rough around the edges, and most of all great fun.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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