Daniel A. (Daniel) from EUGENE, OR Reviewed on 2/8/2010...
A great and complex film on a grand scale, especially for its time. Some of the casting choices are a bit bland and over-typical character cliches for the period, but this does not have much negative bearing on the film. It's always great to look at a film that was highly controversial in its day, even if it seems tame by current standards.
Classic Hollywood epic looks great-Review for Criterion vers
Wayne Klein | My Little Blue Window, USA | 09/06/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"2/22/09-Just a note that amazon has idiotically elected to COMBINED the reviews for the regular edition of "Spartacus" with the Criterion reviews--THIS review is strictly for the Criterion edition of the film on DVD NOT the regular edition. Amazon, I wish you folks would get this stuff straightened out.
If you're a fan of the movie "Spartacus", this is the version to get; the Universal DVD is as bare bones as they get with just the movie. The Criterion version looks great. The facelift the film received help return much of its luster. Kubrick later disowned his version of the epic Hollywood Sword & Sandal genre, but Kubrick brings much of his sensibility to bear; the fight sequences and epic vistas bring to mind Kubrick's work on Paths of Glory and 2001. True, this isn't a complete Kubrick picture; Kubrick had nothing to do with the screenplay and Douglas had all but cast the picture in collaboration with director Anthony Mann (dismissed after butting heads with Douglas one too many times).
Is it Kubrick's finest film? Well, frankly no it isn't. It's an interesting mishmash between Kubrick's detached, ironic style and Hollywood glitz. Spartacus is Kubrick for people who don't care for Kubrick's detached style. It doesn't measure up to Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001 or A Clockwork Orange although it does compare favorable to the much darker Paths of Glory.
Kubrick stated that his intent at the time was to subvert the cliches of the genre. As a result, Kubrick manages to reinvent a genre that was in danger of becoming a parody of itself. As a collaborative effort, Spartacus is a great piece of entertainment and far more sophisticated than almost everything else that came out of Hollywood at the time.
The transfer is beautiful with much of Kubrick's bold use of color restored. The strong acting of most of the cast has always been a virtue of Sparatcus. The soundtrack has been meticulously transferred to 5.1 and Alex North's beatiful score has never sounded so sweet, tragic and powerful before. The audio commentary is the same one that was on the laserdisc version. It provides additional understanding about the complexity of making an independently produced project like Spartacus. Kirk Douglas' bold decision to produce the film himself (with Universal-International distributing)was a leap of faith in both the material and the talented director.
The second disc is stuffed with supplements that are found nowhere else.There's two older interviews with Peter Ustinov, Jean Simmons plus one that Ustinov did in 1992 for the laserdisc edition. It's delightful and he shares a number of funny stories about the picture. There's also a text overview of Kubrick's career and his involvement with the picture. Included also are sketches Kubrick made for the motion picture (artistically they're nothing special but they do provide insight into Kubrick's role in the visualization of the film). Included are some vintage newsreels and a promotional film originally made but unfinished for Spartacus that gives us a glimpse behind the scenes. The promotional film is missing it's soundtrack (in fact, it might have been lost if not for the forsight of a private collector) and has much from North's score. We also get to glimpse at Saul Bass' wonderful title design sequence.
Criterion has been both praised and criticized for their DVDs and laserdiscs before. While they tend to be expensive, this is the complete package. Occasionally Criterion will release a package that isn't up to their usual standards. Spartacus isn't one of them. Robert Harris (Harris restored the film along with Vertigo)evidently was also involved in the transfer to DVD. If you want a spectacular transfer of the film, loads of extras about the making and background of the project from those involved, this is the set to pick up."
The Original "Gladiator" - beautifully restored on DVD!
Wayne Klein | 07/08/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Long before Russell Crowe picked up his sword and battled corrupt Roman emperors, Kirk Douglas showed him the way in "Spartacus". This epic 1960 film still ranks as one of the best performances in Douglas's distinguished career, and it marked his second collaboration with famed director Stanley Kubrick. Even more than "Gladiator", "Spartacus" is based on a real historical event, although it greatly exaggerates the actual history. Spartacus was a Roman slave in the first century AD who became a gladiator for the Romans, but then escaped and formed an enormous army (estimated at anywhere from 50,000 to 75,000) of freed slaves and gladiators. For the next year this army, under Spartacus's leadership, terrorized the Italian countryside, until they were finally trapped and destroyed in battle with the still-powerful Roman Army. As an old-fashioned Hollywood epic, "Spartacus" doesn't disappoint the viewer - there are epic battle scenes, high drama, and some great acting by several Hollywood legends. Interestingly, the film's producers felt that the contrast between the slave-gladiators and their corrupt Roman masters would be given greater contrast if they cast British actors (Sir Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton) as the leading Roman characters, and American actors as the slaves (Douglas, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons). All of the actors listed above shine in this film - Olivier simply drips with menace and hypocrisy as the great Roman General Crassus, who will stop at nothing to crush the slave revolt and bring the entire Roman Empire under his personal control. Laughton is delightful as Gracchus, a fat and somewhat corrupt, but also clever and freedom-loving, Roman Senator who loathes Crassus. Gracchus tries desperately to keep Crassus from becoming a dictator and destroying the freedoms of the Roman Republic. He fails, but nonetheless emerges as the sole Roman hero of the movie. Peter Ustinov steals every scene as the bumbling and craven owner of a gladiator training school who rescues Spartacus from certain death and makes him into a gladiator, then reluctantly helps Gracchus gain one last "victory" over Crassus by stealing Crassus's new love interest (and Spartacus's former wife) and taking her to freedom. As for the slaves, Douglas is superb as Spartacus - if the real Spartacus had been as noble and heroic as Douglas's character, then Roman history might have been very different! (Historically, the real Spartacus and his slave army could have escaped from Italy, but instead went on a wild looting and stealing spree across the Italian countryside, thus eliminating any moral advantage they had over their corrupt Roman masters, and also throwing away their chance to gain permanent freedom. This led many sympathetic Romans to join the fight to crush the slave revolt, which was done, brutally). Jean Simmons portrays Spartacus's "wife" (they're never legally married) as a strong and honorable woman; and Tony Curtis is the cultured and well-educated, but also tragic slave of Crassus who escapes and becomes like a son to Spartacus. The scene near the end of the movie where Crassus forces the two men to fight to the death is especially poignant. In many ways this is a movie ahead of its' time - it delicately but still decisively suggests that Crassus was bisexual and had a strong sexual interest in Tony Curtis's character (which caused his character to escape from Crassus' estate). In terms of scope, emotional impact, and visual splendor it's hard to top this film. Anyone who's interested in the golden age of Hollywood films and enjoys watching some legendary actors in their prime will love "Spartacus"!"
A MOVIE OF EPIC PROPORTIONS...
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 09/30/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Spartacus is a wonderful, bigger than life film, about a slave who led a revolt against the Roman Empire. Directed by Stanley Kubrick in a most unKubrickesque way, it is an epic about a struggle for freedom against great odds. It is a film that explores many themes, such as, love, power, freedom, hate, sexuality, political intrigue, loyalty, and friendship.
This is, first and foremost, the story of Spartacus, a slave and the son of a slave, a man who never knew freedom, until one day he was mad as hell and not going to take it any more. Kirk Douglas stars in the title role and plays Spartacus with manly fortitude, yet, at the same, with great tenderness, as demonstrated in his dealings with his friends and his wife, cooly played by the beautiful Jean Simmons.
It is also the story of the Roman Empire and the backroom political intrigues that would pit two wily roman senators against each other, the Patrician, played with malevolent exquisiteness by Laurence Olivier, and the Senatorial Proponent for the Roman Mob, played with droll slyness by Charles Laughton. These two manipulate those with whom they come in contact, as if they were chess grand masters.
Spartacus is toiling as a slave when, struck once too often, he fights back. Sentenced to die for his actions, a slave trader comes along who buys him, with the thought of turning him into a gladiator, as he is a fine, physical specimen. The slave trader, unctiously and obsequiously played by Peter Ustinov, who does a star turn with an often funny and drolly turned phrase and gives a wonderful performance, places Spartacus in his gladiator school, where he is trained to fight. There, he meets the woman of his dreams and future wife.
As the fates would have it, the Patrician Senator arrives at the gladiator school with an entourage, and for their pleasure it has been arranged that two pairs of gladiators would fight to the death. This is the beginning of the end for Spartacus, as the seeds would begin to be sown for the man he would one day become. Treated like an animal, he finds succor in his tender love for the woman who would soon be his wife.
Taunted once too often by his gladiator trainer, Spartacus leads a slave revolt for freedom, sweeping the countryside and gathering thousands under his banner. Meanwhile in Rome, the Senate is in a quandary, as the two rival Senators jockey for positions. Initially, Charles Laughton seems to have the edge, but as Spartacus seemingly succeeds in the field, Laurence Olivier himself takes command of the situation and trumps Laughton.
What happens, as the story unfolds, will keep the vewer riveted to the screen. The entire cast is magnificent and the ending is stunning and moving. They don't make them like they used to."
Get hold of this for the extras!
John A. Nesbit | Phoenix, Az USA | 05/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have reviewed this film at length, with links available under external reviews at the IMDB; however, I want to encourage readers to check out the Criterion Special Edition for the extras. The best feature on the 2nd disk is an interview with Peter Ustinov where he tells some of the background "dirt" behind Sparatus--hilariously scrunching up his face and immitating the great Charles Laughton to tell us about the ego wars that Laughton conducted with Sir Laurence Olivier.Then by all means turn on the main commentary to hear original author Howard Fast (fired from writing the screenplay by Douglas for being too slow) absolutely rip into Douglas for his acting. I had to recue it to make sure I heard some of these criticisms correctly--far different fare than the usual promotional tone of most commentaries. The others offering commentaries are uncensored in their criticism as well, so count this as the most honest and refreshing commentaries on the market!"
Defiance to the End!
Archmaker | California | 07/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Well, call me a romantic but I still love this picture. Yes, it's a bit dated in technique, and it was restrained in its depictions of sex and violence and adult themes by the Hays office (the official Hollywood censor board). And it has a bit of Hollywoodness in its love story and presentation (music etc.), but it also had heart and it strived to evoke a spirit of rebellion and defiance of oppression that moved me way back when and still does today.And I don't give a tinker's damn what Howard Fast's, Dalton Trumbo's, or Kirk Douglas's for that matter, politics were...it's a helluva an entertaining movie!Stanley Kubrick replaced Anthony Mann after production began. He had decried the film and script because it wasn't the one he would have written, but I think he did a good job just bringing this effort off and he was able to tone down or eliminate much of the Hollywoodisms. The matter-of-factness of Varinia's having to offer herself, the icily calm and detached way Olivier dispatches Woody Strode like an animal, though he is unnerved by the meaning of the attack. These are Kubrickian touches.In the extra goodies in this Criterion effort, we discover that it was a very difficult shoot with everyone fighting with everyone. You had 4 major egos at battle: Kubrick, Douglas, Olivier & Laughton...each with his own ideas about what was or wasn't important. Would have been nice to have Stanley's comments, but we do get Douglas, Fast, & (most amusingly) Peter Ustinov's recollections.All that is interesting, but beside the point. Why I love Spartacus is: the great Gladiator school sequence; the genuine warmth and relaxed sexiness of Douglas & Jean Simmons (lovely & luscious)together; the depiction of Rome at its height of power and the nice interplay between the corrupt but true democrat Laughton and the haughty and superior Olivier, whose lust for order and power is a far more sinister corruption; the wonderfully flawed & human Ustinov and the affection and warmth of his scenes with Laughton (much of which he wrote and they worked out together); great battles; and finally, the haunting image of the road to Rome decorated with the crucified remnants of Spartacus's slave army.This last is why I return to this movie again and again. When the slaves lose, as they had to lose fighting against the awsome power of Rome, and the defeated remaining men standup and claim they are Spartacus knowing crucifixion will follow their gesture; and, Spartacus too goes to the cross but swears to Crassus over the dead body of Antoninus (Tony Curtis) "he'll be back and he'll be thousands"....well, it gets the blood moving. I love defiance in defeat.And the last scene, with Varinia holding up his son to the silently dieing Spartacus saying "he's free" may be Hollywood corn to some, but it was just that small note of hope that makes movies emotional experiences rather than academic exercises to me. You can have the razzle dazzle of Gladiator, I will take the emotional heart of Spartacus any day. There is still something thrilling & uplifting in watching someone go down to defeat with chin raised (cleft and all) in defiance. Probably 4 to 4-1/2 stars, but will always be 5 to me for sheer entertainment."