Monday, May 2, 2011

Spartacus (1960)

You can watch Spartacus in two ways: You can sit down and expect to watch a modern sword & sandal movie, or you can sit down remembering that it is a hollywood movie made in 1960. If you do the first, you can afterwards (if you are so inclined) go to imdb and spam the boards with 'worst movie ever' or just switch off the screen or both. If you do the second you'll end up watching a thouroughly enjoyable epic.
In many ways not what we have come to expect from a Kubrick film, it still bears his fingerprints, mainly in the way the shots are set up: his obsession with symmetry is still there despite all the trouble he had when making the film.
This 3 hour long historical epic follows Spartacus from his time as a slave in the gladiator school in Capua (one of the few things historically correct in the movie) to his death, crucified among the last survivors of his slave-army. Most of us know the ending thanks to our history lessons, but the story (even the real story) is so powerful, one does'nt mind sitting through 3 hours of it. unlike what I expected, battle scenes are scarce except for a few clumsy gladiatorfights in the beginning and one epic-scale battle towards the end that made me wish CGI had'nt made moviemakers and studios so lazy these days. Instead of battle-scenes the focus of the movie is the brotherhood of the slave-army and the political strife in the senate, cut together to show the contrast between the between the greedy few and the many dispossessed.

Of course this is old hollywood, and that's why there is almost bound to be some cringe-worthy moments, like the love story between Spartacus and the weak link in the chain, the terribly acting Jean Simmons as Varinia, a slave like himself.
This is not Kirk Douglas' best acting, but he has his moments, mainly towards the end. No, the ones who steal the whole show are the supporting cast: Lawrence Olivier as the movies main antagonist, the powercraving aristocrat Crassus and his rival Gracchus (superbly played by Charles Laughton) not to mention Peter Ustinov as the owner of the gladiator-school and snake-like coward Batiatus. These three actors are the faces of Rome during the whole movie and are were a joy to watch. Another thing that really bothered me was the fight coordination during the gladiator matches, they were really horrible to watch, both clumsy and artificial, it is clear that they are never actually aming for each other. Even in 1960 they must have been able to do better.

Despite these faults, it is still a gpretty good epic, and quite emotionally effective for a Kubrick-movie, no doubt due to, for better and for worse, Kirk Douglas' constant interfering with the making of it.

Score: 3/6

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