Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blood and Sand

So I've started watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Of course. It's both exactly what I'd expected - a bit of a 300 retread with enormous beer-commercial/frat-boy-rock-concert pandering hooks - and occasionally well written and even acted. This is more than I'd have expected, which is why it's taken me so long to get around to streaming it off Netflix. But it's at least engaging, in between the hilariously macho-slash-intensely-homoerotic posturing and declaiming. And I do like some of the actors.

Spartacus himself, Andy Whitfield, I learn, has been diagnosed with early cancer. May he be well.

It's complicated for me, watching a story like this one. This version posits the relationship between Spartacus and his wife, Sura, as the central driving force of all his ambitions, and depicts a man so committed to the depth of his feeling that nothing can ever come between him and his love. It is the basis of his honor, his valor, his violence and passion - and his ultimate goals.

For those who know, it's terribly difficult for me to deal with stories of this sort, given that my own relationship has been stymied time and again merely by distance (and time, but that has been the product of fear and distance). The bond is every bit as indelible as that between this putative Spartacus and his wife. But the man, as similar as he is in some ways to this rarefied character, is very unlike.

I find it both reaffirming and disappointing, when I encounter "anything for my love" stories, because in my life the roles are always reversed. In literature and movies, the "No matter how far, no matter how long" role is generally occupied by the man, who must fight his way to the reward of his love's hand and presence. In plain old Virginia - I'm the one stuck with the "steadfast" role. And the fight is against only chimeras. Even if I had a sword, what kind would work on that?

But the series is entertaining, if a bit heavy on what I must only assume are CG graphics intensely indebted to video game aesthetics. Whitfield is exactly as he should be, and reassuringly thicker than most pretty-boys cast in lead roles these days (if still Californiacally telegenic and completely hairless below the chin). Xena's always fun. Doctore is remarkably good. John Hannah is a reliably entertaining presence, finally given enough to do here, interestingly enough. So it goes.

The language - well, it works well enough. The cursing isn't anachronistic in concept, but its execution is often so modern in expression it distracts me in that guitarist-at-the-back-of-the-bar-scoffing-at-the-band-on-stage way, leaving me sniffing a bit: "I could do better" (... and have ...). The extras are encouraged at all times to behave as if they're performing in some bizarro-world softcore crowd scene set at the worlds filthiest and most violent American football game. At times the video game transitions get really boring in the not-rare case of their overuse.

But there is substance here. So I'm marking this "entertaining" because it's worth giving a chance - and it's certainly market research worth absorbing right now. In a world which is happy to consume this brand of "Roman decadence" and barbarian warriors, I've got a book to appeal to some of this audience. (I won't use the "recommended" tag, though; because this is pungent stuff - and certainly NOT for all audiences ... nor even most ... but, for me, it's awright.)

On to episode three, with hope the next nine will not disappoint. If they do, I'll be back to report as to why-so.

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