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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Action > War > Cable TV > Mini-Series > Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena (2011/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)

Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena (2011/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B+     Episodes: B



What do you do when the main star of your talked-about cable TV series contracts non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?  The creators of Spartacus: Blood and Sand faced this terrible question when lead actor Andy Whitfield received his diagnosis.  This delayed season two of the show, and prompted creator Steven S. DeKnight to conceive of a six-part prequel series, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.  In the meantime, Mr. Whitfield seemed to respond well to his treatment, but then tragically succumbed to the cancer in September 2011. 


Gods of the Arena relates the events that led up to Spartacus’ arrival on the scene.  Gladiator lanista (the owner and manager) Batiatus (John Hannah) and his wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) find themselves struggling to gain power and position in the games at Capua.  Batiatus owns a burgeoning stable of skilled and deadly warriors, but he lacks the political connections to get them on the sand for the sort of prestigious matches that will spark a rise to fame and fortune.  With his ailing father convalescing in Sicily, Batiatus attempts to curry favor with an unscrupulous crime lord named Tullius (Stephen Lovatt).  Brilliantly played by Mr. Lovatt, the vicious Tullius seems to only have eyes for Batiatus’ greatest gladiator, the skillful but reckless Gannicus (Dustin Clare). 


When Batiatus spurns Tullius’ offer to buy Gannicus for placement into another lanista’s stable, violence ensues.  Beaten to within an inch of his life by Tullius and his thugs, Batiatus swears revenge.  When his disapproving father, Titus (Jeffrey Thomas) returns, things grow even more complicated.  A frenetic blend of incredible violence, harsh language, sex, and soap opera like plot twists, Gods of the Arena provides engrossing entertainment.  Scenes of extreme violence and wanton debauchery are often juxtaposed and viewers are constantly reminded of the abject cruelty of the Roman slave owners toward fellow human beings who are little more than property.  In spite of this owner-slave relationship, some of the house servants and the gladiators seem maddeningly content with their lot.  The sort of rebellion that will come at the end of Blood and Sand exists only in hints and throwaway lines like those uttered by Batiatus when reviewing a group of slaves: “Not him, he’s a Thracian, they’re trouble.”  Trouble indeed, for you, Spartacus himself was a Thracian. 


Dustin Clare’s Gannicus does well as the handsome hero in Mr. Whitfield’s absence, but he is no leader of men, but rather a directionless marauder seeking only to live through his next day and enjoy what pleasures he earns from bloody victories.  These six episodes really belong to Ms. Lawless and Mr. Hannah.  After all, the series opens with their deaths, and closes with their ascendancy to the pinnacle of the Capuan gladiatorial games.  Plentiful extras help to make this two disc set a winner with a terrific 1.78 X 1 1080p HD picture, impressive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix on every episode, and include featurettes on the making of the series, the weapons used by the gladiators, the training involved to get the actors ready for the physical rigors of their roles, bloopers of the arena, a look at day of filming with Lucy Lawless, and more. 


Gods of the Arena delivers plenty of entertainment value, but the violence and sex will not be for the timid.  Sex, violence, and extreme cruelty were no doubt part of the real-world lives of ancient Romans, and if the creators take a bit of cinematic license with some over-the-top action in the series, so be it.  The end result will leave audiences wanting more. It’s just a shame Andy Whitfield cannot be with us to share more of what the show’s creators had in mind for Spartacus.



-   Scott Pyle


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