When it comes to the hit Starz television series Spartacus, Why So Blu is all over it. Many have come around to appreciating the stylish and blood-soaked action/drama series over the years, as they learned that there was much more to it, beyond the sex and violence, which includes the intriguing story and character arcs, but Why So Blu was among those who cherished the series from the beginning. Now we have the latest season’s release on Blu-ray. Spartacus: Vengeance picks up where the first season left off, but had some big shoes to film, due to the incredibly unfortunate passing of original series lead Andy Whitfield. Fortunately, this tragedy did not set the series back too far, as the show still managed to hold on to its familiar tone, which balances its dynamic and over-the-top action sequences and bloodshed with well-handled characterization and story structure. It only helps that the Blu-ray format is perfect to show off the fantastic video and audio presentation transferred onto the disc, along with a strong selection of extras. Spartacus is now back on Blu, so it is time for everyone to get their vengeance.
The first season of this series was subtitled Blood and Sand, which revolved around the character who would adopt the name Spartacus, after being captured, put into slavery, and forced to participate in the gladiator games. That season ended with a slave revolt, which had Spartacus lead his fellow slaves away from their captors, murdering their owners in the process. Due to Andy Whitfield’s illness, at the time, this first season was followed by a prequel season, Gods of the Arena, which was able to delve more into the history of certain characters, while introducing new ones and further expanding the universe of this series. Spartacus: Vengeance picks up after the first season, with Spartacus (now played by Liam McIntyre) working on turning his gladiator rebels into an army, picking up more slaves/outcasts/etc. along the way, and looking to severely harm the Roman Republic. In addition, Spartacus still has to gain his own personal revenge against the man who took away his wife and put him into slavery to begin with, Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker).
True to the series, the focus is not only on Spartacus’ journey, but several supporting characters as well, on both the sides of the coin, the rebels and the Romans. For the rebels, Mira (Katrina Law) has gone from simple slave to the women closest to Spartacus and a fierce warrior at that. Crixus (Manu Bennett) is no longer Spartacus’ adversary, but his second-in-command, who is in search of his true love, Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), who was previously taken away from their former ludus. Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), the former Doctore (trainer) of the gladiators is facing his own dark issues, which will need to be settled, were he to want to join Spartacus in his revolt. And lastly, legendary gladiator champion Gannicus (Dustin Clare, previously introduced in Gods of the Arena), still has his own affairs to settle with Oenomaus, let alone reasons that could possibly find him teaming up with Spartacus.
On the side of the romans, with former series villain (Batiatus, played wonderfully by John Hannah) now gone, the role of the ultimate big bad now falls to Glaber, who has been tasked with putting down Spartacus’ revolt. Glaber’s duplicitous wife Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) is still involved as well, with a very specific surprise of her own, which continues to tie everyone together. A surprise for these two is the presence of Lucretia (Lucy Lawless). Thought to be dead in the gladiator revolt, the widow of Batiatus survived her injuries (delivered by Crixus), only to lose her unborn child in the process. Now she is back, with an alleged gift of prophecy to help in finding Spartacus, as well as help herself. There are other Romans as well, who all serve in complicating things for Glaber on a political level, but the last person I will mention is the cunning Ashur (Nick E. Tarabay). Having escaped death at the House of Batiatus, Ashur now hopes to serve as Glaber’s personal mercenary, tasked with recruiting whoever he can to stop Spartacus and his army. With all of these characters in play, it will come down to which of these groups is more determined to reach their ultimate goal; though something tells me that Spartacus will learn that gaining vengeance and making sacrifices may need to go hand in hand in order to achieve success.
All 10 Episodes of this season are included in this Blu-ray set:
2. “A Place in This World
3. “The Greater Good”
4. “Empty Hands”
6. “Chosen Path”
10. “Wrath of the Gods”
Spartacus: Vengeance was faced with a number of difficulties right from the start. The biggest challenge, of course, was to find an actor who would be able to live up to the bar set by Andy Whitfield. Liam McIntyre certainly tries his hardest to fill these large shoes, but I cannot say I was every able to fully shake the feeling that this remained an issue for the series. To his credit, McIntrye does a lot with what he is given to do, but it was hard not to notice a lack in the same sort of charisma, let alone the muscle mass, in comparison to Whitfield’s performance and appearance. By the end of the season, I would say that I found McIntyre to be compelling enough, as it seemed like he felt more comfortable in the role at that point in filming, but he did not quite ascend to the level that Whifield firmly established. With that said, the joy of Spartacus comes from the ensemble cast, which features a number of characters who I tend to enjoy watching more anyway.
Since the series began, I have been a fan of Manu Bennett’s performance as Crixus, which I found to be incredibly interesting, given his dual relationships with the women in the House of Batiatus. Bennett is still strong here, but I became more intrigued by Oenomaus and Gannicus this time around. For being set during Roman times, their story in Gods of the Arena wound up serving as a Greek tragedy and is thankfully given more to play out in Vengeance. I was also quite into the development of Mira as the lover of Spartacus, but also a strong warrior in her own right.
On the villain’s side of things, the show faced its other challenge by no longer having Batiatus present. John Hannah’s wonderful performance really created an incredibly watchable villain, which is something I never quite saw in Craig Paker’s work as Glaber. The man is a strong antagonist, yes, but it really took a few episodes, before we got to see him shine. Fortunately, having the always wonderfully tricky relationship between Lucretia and Ilithyia back was a good way to make the evil Romans interesting. Getting to understand Lucretia, given her constant switches involving motive, kept things moving along, not to mention the new dimensions added to her character, following the events of last season. Lastly, everyone loves to hate Ashur, which Nick Tarabay is quite capable of making happen.
Regarding the show’s direction this season, it was certainly interesting to see how Spartacus would function outside the realm of the House of Batiatus. Even if the writers did find a way to keep that location in heavy use, with regards to where Glaber, Ilithyia, and Lucretia would be spending a majority of their time, the show still had to deal heavily with Spartacus and his rebels constantly on the run and arriving in different locations. It of course helps that the show’s signature style is still very much intact. While the practical production and costume design is commendable, the show of course strives to be, for lack of a better word, as awesome as possible. The dynamic action sequences are here in full, with plenty of slo-mo bloodshed, graphic dismemberment, and all the other stuff the kids love about this show, not to mention the plentiful sexy scenes as well (and leave it to Spartacus to find ways to merge the two).
Now as cool as the stylized vision of the series is, what I would like to think made the series such the success that it is regarded as is the way it creates a story that is complex and intriguing, while adding plenty of shades to all of the players involved. ‘Vengeance’ continues that pattern by not only expanding on who we see as the heroes of the series, but by delving into the lives of the villains as well. Spartacus, as a series, could have very easily been a pure action series, with bland plotting used as an excuse to get to the stylized bloodshed, but series creator Steven S. DeKnight has had bigger things in mind, crafting a story structure that he has described as “historically adjacent” to reality; which has led to ways where he can have the drama and political intrigue as well as the blood-soaked action sequences. As a result, it has led to making the strength of the stories being told just as compelling as the action.
Sparatcus: Vengeance is still a strong show. It faced a number of challenges, due to a tragedy and the fact the series is only growing larger in scope. While there is still a lot to be said for the surprise breakout that was ‘Blood and Sand’ and the continued awesomeness that was ‘God of the Arena’, Vengeance does a pretty solid job of continuing in the same direction. I would go as far to say as at least two of the series best episodes are in this season (one of them is easily “Libertus”). I did find issue with some of the pacing of this season and I have already addressed McIntyre doing the best he can, but still finding difficulty as the new lead of the series; however, Spartacus is still a pretty fantastic show that is just as enjoyable for its sex and violence as it is for its strong characterization and story arcs. With Season 3 (dubbed War of the Damned) on the way, I am still incredibly interested as to how this whole epic television series will come to a close.
The visual style of Spartacus has always been a main draw of the series and a damn good reason to view the show in HD. This essentially means that Blu-ray is the perfect way to view the series. Every episode is presented with a fantastic 1080p transfer. This transfer definitely helps show off all of the visual diversity going on in this series, such as the presence of heavy earth tones, with Spartacus and his men out in the land and forest, or the more colorful times spent with the Romans and their lavish surroundings and costumes. Of course the heavy use of the color red, when it comes to the stylized blood being thrown around, makes its presence quite clear as well, but fortunately the Blu-ray is set to handle these aspects and deliver a gorgeous picture overall. Everything looks really good, with the details, textures, and backgrounds all registering great on screen and matching the epic quality of the series as a whole.
Just as the visual element of the show lends itself well to Blu-ray, the use of sound in Spartacus is the perfect reason to experience the show in this format as well. Presented with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio surround track, Spartacus sounds great on every episode. Combining the towering dialogue with the large amounts of action sound effects, this is a great show to listen to already, only to be aided further by the guitar riff-heavy soundtrack and operatic musical score. The various episodes all have their own great assets as well, whether it is the thunderous sounds taking place in the arena or the isolated actions sequences taking place in the woods. The sound, fury, and music of this series has been wonderfully crafted and greatly mixed and transferred for the sake of this Blu-ray set.
The Spartacus set is divided onto three discs, with the first two having only the first eight episodes, while the last disc contains the final two episodes and a collection of special features (all presented in HD). Fortunately a great joy comes from having many of these episodes feature extended versions and optional commentaries, which are Blu-ray exclusives. I should also note that the packaging is quite nice, with a colorful book format that is compact, but assembled well.
Audio Commentaries for -
“Fugitivus” with Writer/Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight and Actors Viva Bianca, Lucy Lawless, and Liam McIntyre.
“A Place in This World” with Writer/Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight and Actors Lucy Lawless, Liam McIntyre, and Peter Mensah.
“The Greater Good” with Executive Producer Rob Tapert and Actors Lucy Lawless and Craig Parker.
“Empty Hands” with Executive Producer Rob Tapert, Director Mark Beesley, VFX Art Director Peter Baustaedter, and Actor Viva Bianca.
Audio Commentaries for –
“Libertus” with Director Rick Jacobson and Actor Liam McIntyre.
“Chosen Path” with Writer/Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight and Actors Viva Bianca, Lucy Lawless, and Nick Tarabay.
“Sacramentum” with Executive Producer Rob Tapert, Director Jesse Warn, and Actor Dustin Clare.
Audio Commentary for –
“Wrath of the Gods” with Writer/Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight and Actors Viva Bianca, Lucy Lawless, and Liam McIntyre.
Starz Studios – Spartacus: Vengeance – A large preview of this season of the show.
The Making of Spartacus: Vengeance – A brief look at some of the cast and technical aspects of the season.
Behind the Camera: Directing the Rebellion – A look at the director’s process in filming the series.
On Set with Liam McIntyre – A brief look at the work done by the show’s lead actor.
Bringing Down the House: The VFX of Episode 205 – A breakdown of a pivotal sequence in this episode of the show.
The Legend of Spartacus – An analysis of the true history of Spartacus.
Famous Last Words – A fun featurette interviewing the actors who will not be making their return.
Bloopers – Fun and games on the set.
Spartacus: War of the Damned Teaser – A look at the next and final season of the series.
This season of Spartacus manages to overcome a lot of its challenges and continues to deliver a lot of the blood-soaked fun that is great to watch, given the stylish nature of the series, with that nice amount of drama and strong writing that keeps the show compelling. Yes, some changes were harder to accept than others, but the spirit of the show lives on. It is of course a great benefit that the Blu-ray is great, properly showing off the solid production values of the series with its fantastic audio and video presentations. The collection of bonus features is pretty great as well, providing extended episodes and lots of fun commentaries to enjoy. Spartacus may not be a subtle show, but it is a damn fun series to enjoy and full of style and absorbing drama. By the Gods it is.
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