Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Too much Violence? ....Nah

My housmates and I have had one major (not-so) guilty pleasure this past year, and thats been catching up on Starz' spectacularly bloody period piece, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand"
Most of us know a bit about the story/myth of Spartacus.The Thracian slave is captured and sentenced to death ad gladium, but as it turns out, he's actually pretty good at killing people so he survives. He's then sent to a ludus (gladiatorial school) and gets even better at killing people. Eventually he gets sick of his cruel, pompous masters, so he and his gladiator mates decide to kill their way to freedom and start a servant revolution (the third servile war). This goes well for a bit, but then they all die. Some really touching stuff. The plot of season one leads to the climax of the revolt against their ludus and begging of the war.

I'll be the first to admit that the first handful of episodes are pretty underwhelming. They give the impression of one part 300 ripoff, one part Gladiator wannabe, shaken with a dash of soft core porn. But once the characters become fleshed out and you become invested in them, the drama ramps up big time, leaving you unable to stop watching. That is of course if you can stomach the violence.

I've honestly never seen anything like the gore in "Spartacus". Decapitations and eviscerations are aplenty, gladiators are separated from their limbs more frequently than a Mr. Potato Head doll, faces are filleted off the barely breathing recently defeated and used as masks in upcoming battles (i'm serious, ep. 4). It's a wonder this show can be aired on television, even a premium network. There is a disclaimer at the opening of every episode that states that the violence/ sex is there as an accurate depiction of roman culture. Call me skeptical, but it's there for ratings. I'd imagine it is difficult to write and produce a compelling television show. Not only must they create appropriate story archs to drive single episodes, but also fit those into an overarching story that propels the season onward. Isn't it easier to throw a bunch of money at CGI guys and models to get some awesome blood and boobies to attract viewers? You bet. To tell the truth, I likely would not have made it through the first episodes if not for my morbid curiosity of seeing a mans head lobed off in slow motion backed by some hard rock. But to my surprise the drama suddenly upstaged the violence and now we have the best of both worlds, story and violence, awesome!

This uber violence remains, but it's not the only reason for watching the show anymore. It becomes almost common place, while only slightly shocking, and acts as a punctuation to the drama back at the ludus that you really care about. It's kind of scary that when a we see a mans face crushed by the heel of a boot, the only reaction my housmates and I have is a squirm and giggle.

You can catch all episodes of "Spartacus" on Netflix and even the prequel airing now, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" which forgoes the slow start of the previous season and therefore highly recommend.

Really, watch it, the only complaint I have is on some of the hilarious "period specific" dialog. My personal favorite, which I unsuccessfully try to incorporate into my daily vocab, is the phrase "Jupiter's cock!"


  1. Great review-- I've never seen Spartacus before, but I'd really enjoyed 300 so I figured I would give it a shot. I just watched Ep 4 "The Thing in the Pit" on Netflix to see the mask, and it did not disappoint! Even though the whole affair gave off the air of a low-budget Gladiator, the acting was comically over-the-top and dialogue was awkward, it was still extremely entertaining. The men were meant to be beasts fighting for their lives in the pits of the Underworld, but the fights were filmed in such a way that their brutal violence seemed graceful. I loved the slow motion visual effects that showed congealed drops of blood floating in the air synchronized with the buildup of the background music. I'll definitely start watching Gods of the Arena.

  2. Violence that is excessively gory or grotesque in its depiction takes on a uniquely entertaining and sometimes humorous depiction. Once violence occurs so frequently or involves so much gore that it no longer can be taken seriously its as if the violence shown no longer involves living humans or other creatures.

    One of my favorite ultraviolent movies is the 1991 Hong Kong martial arts film Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (ex: this clip The movie is an hour and half spectacle of over the top martial arts stunts and gore. The violence is so excessive that the viewer can in no way perceive it as real. Scenes such as the fight seen I linked to is the norm, and reach into the realm of fantasy.

    I find more toned down displays of violence to have a stronger, or at least more serious effect. Torture scenes, where the focus of the scene is on pain being experienced rather than a display of blood and guts, can be almost painful to watch. For example everyone who has seen the 2003 film Oldboy can clearly remember the scene where the protagonist tortures a man by removing teeth with the claw of a hammer ( The closeup shots of teeth being pulled are, for me, absolutely unbearable to watch, but involve only a small volume of blood compared to the fight scenes in, for example, The Story of Ricky.


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