Entertainment :: Television

Spartacus: War of the Damned

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Sep 3, 2013
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All ten episodes of the complete third and final season of the Starz original sword-and-sandals-and-slaughter epic are present and accounted for in their full hi-def glory on this Blu-ray edition. Even better, all ten episodes of the season are presented in fully completed extended versions, so that the additional content looks and sounds as good as the originally aired material; so seamless is the inclusion of the new stuff, you won’t even notice it’s been added in.

"Spartacus: War of the Damned" brings the saga of Spartacus, a former slave turned liberator, to the conclusion dictated by history. The history of the series is almost as full of twists as the re-imagined legend itself: After Andy Whitfield, who originally filled the title character’s sandals, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma following the first season’s production, a six-episode mini-series prequel bridged the ensuing gap. Despite the time this bought, Whitfield was unable to return to the show (he later died), and Liam McIntyre was cast.

McIntyre honors Whitfield, and the historical figure of Spartacus as well, with a commanding performance that’s equal measures intelligent intensity and pop-culture color. This show has always been over the top, presented as a kind of moving, digitally painted diorama complete with absurdly copious fountains of blood and in-your-face torrents of spilled guts, dashed brains, and flying heads, all the work of heated battle that crosses iron-age swordplay with modern mixed martial arts (not to mention lots of loud battle-cries). The men are muscular and bloodthirsty; the women are just as tough as the men; there are even gay and lesbian fighters of unparalleled ferocity among the ranks of Spartacus’ once-enslaved rebels.

Season Three pits Spartacus against one of Rome’s wealthiest, smartest, and most dogged patriots, Imperator Crassus (Simon Merrills). The dialogue remains true to the show’s signature style (I’m pretty sure Latin was not spoken in the ancient world with quite so many f-bombs as are hurled here), and the visual style is even more refined than in earlier seasons (fantastical CGI backgrounds, slo-mo panoramic arterial spray presented in an almost three-dimensional manner, dynamic editing, clever visual transitions). This is gore and costume porn that makes high art of trashy material (the sex and glamor as just as heightened as the violence and cussing), but this is true only on one level: Underneath the surface there’s a careful craftsmanship that makes every detail seem both larger than life and grimily authentic.

The set comes complete with a half-dozen fun special features. "The Spoils of War Revealed" delves into how the show’s producers and artisans achieve its look (unmatched on TV, with only the move "300" an apt comparison); "Adorning the Damned" looks at (and sometimes under) the Comic-Con-style togs the cast wear; "The Mind Behind Spartacus" sees series creator Steven s. DeKnight interviewed; "Spartacus: The Legend Retold" is a retrospective of the series that lays out, in just a few minutes, the huge and intricate epic that comprise the three seasons and mini-series; "The Price of Being A Gladiator" gives us a glimpse of the physical conditioning the actors endured (a regimen they call "The Spartacus Workout"); and "A Bloody Farewell" is a sentimental, but well-earned, goodbye from the cast.

But if it’s a farewell, it’s going to be along one; This is one of those shows destined to enjoy a fan-driven, DVD / Blu-ray/ streaming enabled afterlife, if for no other reason than that you have to watch the episodes at least twice just to take in everything that’s going on.

"Spartacus"
Blu-ray
$59.99
http://www.starz.com/originals/spartacus/shop

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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