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August 19, 2009

Spartacus

by Franz Patrick


Spartacus (1960)
★★★ / ★★★★

After watching the film, admittedly not knowing much about it prior, I looked it up and was at total awe that Stanley Kubrick, the director, made this film in the 1950’s. I was completely aware that he made beautiful films but I had no idea that he could blow other historical epics out of the water which came before and after “Spartacus.” Kirk Douglas stars as the title character, a half-slave-turned-gladiator after being purchased by the hilarious Peter Ustinov. In the gladiator school, Douglas met Jean Simmons, another slave, and the two fall in love. When Simmons was purchased by a rich Roman senator (Laurence Olivier) after an unexpected visit, the slaves/gladiators broke out of the school and they made it their mission to free every slave in the Roman Empire. Everything about this picture felt big: the romance between Douglas and Simmons, the battle scenes between the slaves and the Roman soldiers, and the political strife between Olivier and Charles Laughton. I also enjoyed the side characters such as the poetic Antoninus (Tony Curtis) and Julius Caesar (John Gavin) who made the story that much more compelling. While each scene was or close to excellent, there were some definite standouts such as the bath scene between Olivier and Curtis (not included in the original release). It was so funny (and revealing) due to the homosexual undertones regarding their conversation about preferring to eat oysters or snails. It was taken out in its original release but I’m glad that added it back in the later editions because it made the characters that much richer. Nevertheless, I felt like there was something missing–a special shine that made most of Kubrick’s films so memorable. Perhaps it’s some of the overly simplistic (sometimes downright pointless) dialogue between characters, especially in the earlier scenes, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Still, this picture is definitely worth watching for the ravishing aesthetics, some strong acting and scope even though the script/story could have been stronger. I couldn’t help but be impressed with the number of people that were hired as extras, especially during the battle sequences, knowing the fact that computers did not much have capability to enhance the movie back then as much as it can nowadays. Ultimately, I say see it because its willingness to take risks is something to be commended.

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