18/08/2013

Spartacus (1960)

Film: Spartacus
Release: 1960, Theatrical
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin and Tony Curtis
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: In 73 BC, the slave Spartacus is bought by the owner of a gladiator school. However, when a slave starts revolting during a battle in the ring, Spartacus becomes inspired to lead one of the most legendary uprisings in ancient history.

Hans' thoughts:

When Kirk Douglas was denied the role of Ben-Hur, he decided to spit in the faces of the team behind it with his own ancient era epic: Spartacus! Made in a time where Hollywood movies where not only long, one of their main selling points was sheer spectacle this colossus of a movie must've been one of the most expensive movies of it's day. No surprise then, that Douglas hired a young (at the time) unknown director to steer the movie. I'm of course talking about Stanley Kubrick: A man whose directing style would later become one of the most recognizable in the industry. In this movie however, he is kept very much on a leash and he later moved to have his name struck from the movie - though his efforts never bore fruit. Indeed, his name has title billing on my personal copy of it.

Spartacus is a beast of a movie, 3 hours and 17 minutes in length (including overture, intermission and entr'acte) it is quite the overtaking for modern audiences to actually decide to sit down and watch this thing. One might ask if it was entirely necessary to not make the aforementioned three things merely an option rather than the standard on the blu-ray release. But I digress. Actually, in spite of the movie's very long running time, it seems well spent. There's not a single scene that I would've removed.

Watching modern movies for the most part, it's astonishing how much care and detail was put into movies at the time. The sets are HUGE, and much care was put into details that most people probably didn't even see. Things such as making the sets actually look like they were made out of marble. A lot of credit also goes to the outdoor locations, as the beautiful settings combine with an incredible number of walk-ons in costumes makes you wonder about how much patience the director of photography and his crew must've had to pull this off. 

Speaking of photography, it is very refreshing to see the amount of color this movie has. Where as many movies today rely on filters and lighting to help actors convey the emotions to the audience, this movie leaves all the work to the actors signifying (perhaps not on purpose) that the world around doesn't turn dark and gray just because you happen to feel bad. Instead, we have a great bombastic score to help with the connotation on the visuals of the movie. 

Acting wise we have a lot of big names running about. Kirk Douglas as the stalwart Spartacus does a good job to show a man who has seen mostly darkness in his life but nevertheless is able to gather the strength to fight back. Honestly, the movie does a very good job of portraying the legend of Spartacus, bittersweet as it may be. Also, you should probably refrain from using this movie for history studying, as it is less than accurate. Indeed, while most of the names for the characters are taken from real people, they lived at different points in time. Marcus Licinius Crassus died in the 50's BC whereas Gracchus, his rival in the senate in the movie, had died much sooner in the 120's BC. Meaning the two men never met in reality. 

Speaking of Gracchus, I'd like to highlight Charles Laughton as MVP of the movie. Playing an awarely corrupt, yet reserved senator. He knows he has a lot of vices, but doesn't hide by the main villains claim of ultimate patriotism. Instead wanting to enjoy the pleasures in life, while doing his job unambiguously

The weakest actor in the movie, though still very talented in her own right was Jean Simmons as Varinia, the female lead. This is mostly due to her giving completely into the damsel in distress persona. Not trying to add a little fire to a character who was probably written that way in the screenplay. I know that you can't do much against a screenplay and a director, but certain deliveries of lines could've been tweaked in favor of the characters apparent independence. 

Overall I'll say that I was very impressed with this movie, However the long running time and the bittersweet tone of the movie combined with a slow build-up may bore modern audiences used to a more fast-paced version of entertainment. For the rest of us I say: Dedicate an afternoon to this movie, you will likely be entertained. Perhaps a bit richer for the experience.
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