When Starz announced that the second season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand would be delayed, many fans were upset. One of television’s best new shows was going to be taking quite a break before returning for a sophomore outing. Knowing that we needed a little something to tide us over, Starz released Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, a prequel to the events that took place in Blood and Sand.
Almost identical, aside from a new main character, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena gives us a look at the House of Batiatus before the titular hero arrived. We’re taken back to a time where Asher is still trying to prove his worth as a gladiator, where Crixus is still a long way off from being champion and where a new character named Gannicus is the Ludus’ best hope for glory and fame. It’s not going to be easy though as not only does Gannicus have to face challenges in the arena, but Batiatus’ rival Tullius hopes to acquire the warrior for himself.
Of course, there are all the necessary/expected plot elements as well. More politics, more betrayals, more bloody gladiator fights and more wild yet intriguing side stories. Furthermore, Gods of the Arena is also pretty close to Blood and Sand in its content and how extreme it is. In fact, it probably pushes the boundaries even a little further than its predecessor did. This is definitely not one for the kiddies!
As a prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena works pretty well. And that’s a huge compliment seeing as a lot of prequels don’t turn out too well. None of the events or situations feel forced and the story as a whole has a really great flow to it.
That being said, if you’ve seen Blood and Sand, a lot of the suspense and mystery is gone since you know how everything plays out. It’s not an entirely satisfying storyline but there are still a couple surprises and it was quite interesting to see how everyone ends up in the position they’re in when Blood and Sand begins.
Visually (effects, production design, costumes etc) and thematically (manipulation, backstabbing, corruption, excessive sexuality, gratuitous violence etc) it’s all the same here. Like I said, the show is nearly identical to its predecessor and so, fans of Spartacus: Blood and Sand shouldn’t have a problem feeling right at home with this one.
Acting is once again very strong, making everything more compelling, and the excitement and thrills are plentiful, especially in the gladiator arena. There are some downright fantastic fight scenes here that put films like Gladiator to shame.
In fact, Spartacus: Blood and Sand works well on just about every count and fans of the series should most definitely check this out. If you haven’t yet seen Blood and Sand, this may be a better place to start. Just know that this is boundary pushing TV in every sense of the term, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t thrilling and exciting with each and every episode.
On Blu-Ray, the show sparkles as the lavish production values and crimson red blood dazzle before your eyes. The sharpness and clarity here are tremendous and while they do reveal the somewhat sub-par at times effects, it’s never a huge issue. Strong black levels and extraordinary detail on things like armour and weapons are a real treat and the odd flatness here and there isn’t enough to stop an otherwise impressive transfer.
Aurally, the disc delights. Every chink and chang from the weapons and armour ring out through the speakers as crystal clear dialogue fills the room. Potent and strong, it’s a well balanced track with immersive sound effects and pleasing battle sequences. Like its video counterpart, this is a well done transfer and shouldn’t let anyone down.
The Blu-Ray continues on a high note with the special features, giving us the following.
- Audio Commentaries: A number of participants here, from writers to directors to actors, all hopping on various episodes to discuss various production tidbits, trivia and interesting points, all of which combine for enjoyable listens.
- 3D “Ring of Fire” Battle Sequence: A neat 3D rendition of an important scene from the show and a rather impressive scene. If you have a 3D TV, you’re in for a MASSIVE treat.
- Starz Studios: Gods of the Arena: A run of the mill behind the scenes piece that is pretty much your typical making of doc.
- Weapons of Mass Disruption: Property Master Rob Bavin gives us a look at some of the neat weapons.
- Battle Royale: Anatomy of a Scene: Quick look at the boot camp the actors had to go through
- On Set with Lucy Lawless: A somewhat pointless piece on Lucy Lawless.
- 10 Easy Steps to Dismemberment: A look at some of the show’s cooler kills.
- Post Production: The Final Execution: A look at the post production
- Enter the Arena: Production Design: A look at the set design
- Dressed to Kill: Costume Designer Barbara Darragh talks about the clothing used for the show.
- Convention Panel: The Comic-Con panel
- Arena Bloopers
In conclusion, this is a must buy for fans of Spartacus. Even for non fans, this is a great place to jump in on one of television’s best shows. It’s full of adrenaline, pushes the boundaries of television and never fails to excite. The characters are well written, the stories deep and interesting and the fighting well choreographed and intense. Complemented by an excellent Blu-Ray package, this is a show I’m happy to own and I think you will too.
The characters are well written, the stories deep and interesting and the fighting well choreographed and intense. Spartacus: Gods of the Arena emerges victorious!