| DVD |
Dolby Digital 5.1
| Blu-Ray |
Dolby TrueHD 5.1
MPEG4-AVC 1080P CODEC
I have to admit, it's a bit sad going through this review given the so recent death of Andy Whitfield, the original "Spartacus" of StarZ series. When Whitfield was diagnosed with Lymphoma, the second season of Spartacus was delayed, resulting in a 6 episode mini-season, a prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.
Spartacus, the series turned from a questionable opening into one of those shows I found myself absolutely glued to the set waiting for the last 6 episodes. If you haven't seen the original Spartacus series you owe it to yourself to watch that series BEFORE seeing the prequel.
The Story 4.5 / 5
Set prior to the events of Spartacus, Gods of the Arena is the tale of the way the House of Batiatus came to be, and give us a guide to what creates a legend in the Arena. As with it's predecessor, a lot of attention is paid to the sex, violence and camera work which at time mirrors something like the theatrical '300'. But I think the focus on those moments sorely misses how deftly written and handled Spartacus Gods of the Arena was.
It's hard to make a TV show focusing on slave traders who make their owned property fight to the death palatable. In the past, approaches to these events have been relatively bloodless, minus the gore, the horror. It's also difficult to take a culture renowned for it's worship of baser pleasures and simply pass it by. Outside of near porn Caligula, most attempts to portray the nature of sex & power in the Roman era as a matter behind closed doors.
Spartacus Gods of the Arena is a heavy TV-MA. The violence, sex, and attitudes here are brutal, but in my viewpoint are never so gratuitous that they disrupt the narrative of the story teller. We begin with a humble owner trying to come into his own. And through means of manipulation, battles, and some great political work they manage to change their small house into one with a constant seat at the table.
Lucy Lawless and John Hannah reprise their roles and again provide truly solid performances. Lawless is fearless in her portrayal of Lucretia, burning up the screen when she's present.
But even with solid acting, good scripts and an interesting look, can Gods of the Arena overcome the prequel problem? That's a question I really wondered about before I sat down to watch Gods of the Arena. With so many factors already known thanks to the first series, can you weave a prequel that works. I thought about this more with the current release of the Star Wars series - can you pull off a prequel without in some way changing the original?
Gods of the Arena keeps us in the Arena, where the action happens - but it really gives us sharp detail on what happens to make a house rise in Capua.
The backstory of Crixus didn't harm the original series, in fact I found it added a great deal of depth to his actions. Lucretia and Doctore also received storylines that gave us a more compelling reason to root for and against them in the original series. Lucretia's rung climbing storyline was fantastically well played and the removal of Doctore from the Arena was the kind of juicy details that the audience wanted.
Video Quality: DVD 4.5 / 5, Blu-ray 5 / 5
I'm glad I had the chance to go through both titles. The DVD, presented in 1.78 Widescreen gives us the look and feel of Gods of the Arena. Blacks are rich and deep, and the colors and focus are bright and vivid.
But the DVD struggles in some scenes, especially in the Arena where jaggies and artifacts are noticeable. Because this title was originally films in 1080P, the transfer to DVD looks about as good as it ever will, and as a value edition or if DVD is your only option, the DVD is good. If you've seen the original series on TV, however, the loss of some of the detail will be noticeable and the artifacts which seem to occur most in the battle sequences will prove an annoyance.
The Blu Ray, on the other hand features one of the best transfers from TV I've ever seen. Details are incredibly rich and sharp. The use of effect camera shots help bring the audience into the story. Even better then the DVR'd recordings from StarzHD I've kept, the focus to detail is at times awe inspiring. From trickles of blood running down a combatant to a flash of sand in the air; the Blu Ray features the crisp sharp image you expect from an HD filmed title with tons of special effects work.
Yes, some of the effects are not of the same level as a major blockbuster production, but delivered in HD in this format they are just as enjoyable as anything I've seen. This transfer is crisp, colors are very bright, vibrant - and the blacks are inky black. It moves up into the list of titles I would show people if I was demonstrating what's great about Blu-Ray.
Audio Quality DVD : 4.5 / 5 Blu-Ray 4.5 / 5
The DVD release audio quality is about as good as you can get from DVD. The dialog is crisp and clear, the effects are realized. LFE shakes your room as the warriors crash to the ground and the shrill screams from the bystanders fills your rear channels. It's an effective use of Dolby Digital. Dialog is placed clearly in the front center, but the use of surround gives a very open feel to the Arena.
The Blu-Ray audio is presented in TrueHD audio and the dialog is fantastic. LFE is more pronounced then the DVD, which I'm unsure of whether is a good or a bad thing. Definitely enjoyable, but some may find the extra "oomph" to be more then they are after. The dialog is crisp and clear and the performance is a natural extension of everything on the DVD.
Extras: DVD 4 / 5 Bluray 5 /5
The extras present on both titles are:
StarZ Presents: Gods of the Arena: 14:35. The stars of the series discuss the series, the abscence of Whitfield, including wishing him well, the production of the series and a typical behind the scenes look.
Weapons of Mass Disruption: 2:53. Prop master discusses the development of weapons for the series.
Battle Royale Anatomy of a Scene: 5:58 - Here we go behind the scenes of the creation of fight sequences for the series.
On the Set with Lucy Lawless: 6:29 - We follow Lucy Lawless around the set.... quite a bit of good fun actually.
10 Easy steps for dismemberment - 2:58 - a look at some of the best death sequences and destruction given in the arena.
Post Production The Final Execution 7:17 - The post production work on the series is put to the screen, showing us how they take live action and turn it into the footage of the series.
Enter the Arena - 3:39 - a look at set design and construction of the arena for the series.
Dressed to Kill 6:28 - costume design and makeup for the series
Arena Bloopers - 5:13 - a fairly standard (though occassionally quite funny) blooper real of the series
Blu-Ray Exclusive Feature:
3D Ring of Fire - a Blu-Ray 3D Extra - If you have a 3D Blu-ray player and 3D TV (Just installed mine in time), this is a real treat. This feature is the final battle sequence of the series rendered in Blu-Ray 3D. The only issue I have is that it's rendered in DD 2.0, but it's a great extra.
Final Conclusion: BUY
There will be those who will say a 6-episode season delivered on Blu-Ray or DVD might not be worth the cost. But frankly the series provides you everything you'd want from a release and the price is quite justified. The series works far better then I expected and the cast really hits on almost every level. This is a fun, engrossing title with some great extras. The visual look and style as presented on the Blu-Ray make it a great buy.
If you enjoyed the series on StarZ, then this is a good title. Even the packaging is well done with great artwork and it's book format gives it that collector item style.
It's truly sad that Whitfield has passed and cannot continue this series. That makes the touching wishes well and some of the extra content here a true treasure for the collector.
StarZ managed to present a fun and engrossing title, and whether you grab it in Blu-Ray or DVD, it's a solid buy.