HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Spartacus: Restored Edition
HTS Overall Score:93
After all these years, it’s amazing how much Kirk and Michael Douglas look so much alike. Father and son share that same incredibly sharp chin and chiseled facial features, but that voice. Oh my goodness, Kirk has the voice. While his son Michael has that soft spoken way about him, Kirk can command respect with that harsh and deep throated voice of his. I remember being a kid and watching “Spartacus” on VHS, enthralled at the ferocity and simple power of a softly spoken word from the man’s mouth. Fast forward almost 30 years, and I still am in awe of the actor. It didn’t help that the legendary actor (who’s still alive and kicking I might add), was paired up with esteemed actor Stanley Kubrick, and heart throb Jean Simmons and Tony Curtis for the film. Hindsight is always 20/20, but from our point of view, it was like the stars were aligning and bringing some of the greatest actors and one of the best directors into the same path. Those stars certainly did seem to align, as “Spartacus” has become of the most well-loved and revered as timeless as “Ben Hur” or “Lawrence of Arabia”. There has been several TV shows and movies that also detail the life of the great slave who almost toppled Rome, and it’s amazing to see how many queues they took from the original movie. Despite the obvious names and places, the little things that Kirk Douglass did to cement the character into the memories of the public, and then replicated by others years later (well, add in a bit more sex and gore and you could say that “Spatacus”, the he TV show was almost an homage to its predecessor).
Based upon the real life slave uprising of 73-71 BC in the Roman Empire, we see the tale of a lone gladiator struggling against the power structure of Rome. The film opens with a narrative about a slave living in captivity since his birth date. Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), proud and resolute, is sentenced to death in the mines after ticking off a guard one too many times. Saved by the bell, he’s bought by Batiatus (Pete Ustinov), to be trained as a gladiator for the pleasure of Rome. Feeding off of anger and hatred, Spartacus rises from the lowest ranks of the warriors, to their greatest soldier.
Not satisfied with living as a gladiator, Spartacus throws off his chains and leads an uprising of the captives, setting out as some of the first guerilla warriors that we know of. Out in the desert, they wage war against the empire, along with his friend and comrade Crixus (John Ireland), the love of his life, Varina ( Jean Simmons). History can unfortunately not be rewritten, and we all know that the Roman Empire did not fall at this time. In fact we know that Spartacus was crucified for his crimes against Rome, but not before he inspired the Roman people to take a long, hard look at the entertainment and “sport” they called human trafficking and death for fun. It was not to be taken down that day, but soon, VERY soon, Rome was to realize what they were actually doing thanks to Spartacus and a young priest who would stand in the Arena and get cut down.
Commonly referred to as an intelligent epic, “Spartacus” isn’t as far reaching as other epics are. Surprisingly intimate and heartfelt, it manages to span over 3 hours without twitching, yet we really don’t have any of the major battles and giant set pieces that others of its ilk have. It revolves around the main characters we all love and know from Showtime’s “Spartacus”, but deal a lot more with characters and Spartacus’s change from bitter and hateful slave, to a man who just wants to see freedom from Rome’s yoke. In fact, the whole “slave” bit is over and done with in the first hour. The rest of the 2 hours and 20 minutes left deal with healing and firm resolution to never give up one’s honor and self.
The film has a bit of a rocky history to it as well. Kirk Douglas was the mastermind behind the production, as he was a bit miffed that he wasn’t cast in “Ben Hur” in years past. Having his own production company and the money to really finance it, Kirk put everything in motion long before Stanley Kubrick came into the picture. The film famously fired their first director, Anthony Mann, within weeks of the first starting filming. The only scene that Mann is actually credited with in the film is the opening shot out in Libya, with Spartacus getting his famous voiceover. Despite this, “Spartacus” is a distinct stylistic change from his other works, with some wild camera angle and shots that really stand out from his normal repertoire. That makes me wonder just how much pressure Douglas put on the director and how much corporate involvement was going on behind the scenes to alter Kubrick’s core style so much.
The film was originally a good bit shorter and was theatrically shown that way, but a mildly extended cut was released on home video. Robert Harris and the restoration crew have fleshed it out to the original 197 minute cut, and while I think some of the stuff should have been left on the drawing room floor, the 3+ hour long epic is simply fantastic in this length. The direction is amazing, Douglas, Curtis, Olivier, and Simmons do an amazing job at endearing you to the characters and the final culmination of the movie is enough to leave you crying on the floor. I have to say that “Braveheart” is about the only epic film that I’ve seen that comes close to the intensity and raw, ragged emotion that is filmed in the final scenes. Visceral, tight and well done, “Spartacus” still stands as one of history’s greatest epic films
Rated PG-13 By the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=55898[/img]I feel like a giddy schoolboy after watching this restored edition of “Spartacus”. The DVD always looked rather weak, but the HD DVD and the resulting Blu-ray were just YUUUUUUUUUUUUCK in terms of picture quality. DNR’d to death, smeary as all get out, with a red push that just made everything look like it was baked out of Terra Cotta. Film preservationist, Robert Harris, has been feeding tidbits to fans for the last year or so, hinting at the restoration process that was being done to “Spartacus”, and after watching the special features describing the process, I am still flabbergasted at what I’m seeing. The skin tones and color grading is back to normal, and the 4K restoration process makes the resulting image look nothing short of breathtaking! Fine detail abounds everywhere, with every crack and seam on the gladiator costumes showing through with razor sharp clarity, and colors looking wonderfully dusty and natural. Black levels are deep and inky, and show no signs of crush. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the costumes that give away the decade it was filmed in, I would have thought it was filmed yesterday. The grain structure is well defined, yet finely layered, and clarity and resolution of the disc left me in awe. Universal has been known for their poor catalog titles in the past, but with the recent changeup in management, and the titles like “Apollo 13”, “Breakfast Club” and now this, I’m very happy with what they’re doing for the home video community.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=55906[/img]Not only was the video restored meticulously, but the audio track was given a face lift as well. Raised up from the 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio of the original release, this disc has given us a wonderful 7.1 remix to add to the fun. Full of life and energy, the studio has cleaned up a few of the hisses and cracks that the older track was plagued with and opened up the back soundstage a bit with the new remix. Dialog is still spot on perfect, with good localization in the center channel. Surrounds are really REALLY active, as dialog is NOT the mainstay of this production. The score by Alex North just permeates every aspect of the movie, laying the groundwork and tone for all that is to come. If winning an academy award for the score wasn’t enough, the 7.1 remix actually makes it feel that much more immersive and full. I would have liked the original audio to be included as a memento, for purists, but the 7.1 experience is fantastic enough that I will forgive them that faux paus. LFE is tight and punchy, adding some nice kick to the percussion instruments of the score, as well as adding some weight to the battle scenes. The ONLY issue that I can even remotely complain about is the background noise in a couple of scenes. I can’t categorize it as a hiss or digital noise, as I’m almost certain it is background noise in the recording. Still it’s barely noticeable and not enough for me to actually knock the score down any.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=55914[/img]• I Am Spartacus: A Conversation with Kirk Douglas
• Restoring Spartacus
• Deleted Scenes
• Archival Interviews
• Behind the Scenes Footage
• Vintage Newsreels
• Image Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
“Spartacus” is a legendary film, and it’s a crying shame that it has taken this long to get a definitive edition of the movie. However, this IS a definitive edition of the film. The restoration work is nothing short of divine, with audio and video that truly are on par with the film itself. Universal has outdone themselves with the restorative work done on “Spartacus” and have persevered it for generations to come. If you haven’t seen this, then understand that it is on a completely different level than other films and TV shows that depict the life of Spartacus, the slave who almost toppled a nation, and those of you who HAVE seen it. It is most definitely worth the upgrade from your older versions. Like “Apollo 13” there really is no comparison. MUST BUY!
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Dalton Trumbo
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS-HD MA 7.1, French DTS 5.1
Runtime: 197 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: October 6th 2015
Buy Spartacus: Restored Edition Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Must Buy
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