SPARTACUS BLOOD AND SAND The Complete First Season BLU-RAY Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment Year: 2010 Rated: Not Rated Film Length: 11 hours, 32 minutes Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish Release Date: September 21, 2010 The Series Spartacus: Blood and Sand is the story of the titular hero, Spartacus(Andy Whitfield), a Thracian gladiator who, according to historical records, will eventually lead an uprising against the Roman Empire. His beloved wife Sura is played by Erin Cummings(Dollhouse). The master of Spartacus the slave gladiator is Batiatus(John Hannah), who is married to Lucretia(Lucy Lawless). Spartacus: Blood and Sand began airing on the Starz Network in January 2010 to great acclaim. The series is produced by Sam Raimi(Evil Dead) and Robert Tapert(Xena: Warrior Princess). Until this series premiered on the Starz Network, Spartacus was probably best remembered as the hero of the 1960 film starring Kirk Douglas and directed by Stanley Kubrick. That film was based on the historical novel Spartacus written by Howard Fast. Spartacus: Blood and Sand is not based on any single historical record; instead, the writers and producers of this series have loosely adapted the story from various historical records, and they make it clear in some of the special features that they are less concerned about historical accuracy so much as with telling an interesting story. Spartacus: Blood and Sand is not influenced so much by the Kubrick film as it is by more recent influences, particularly Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300. This inspiration is apparent in the extensive use of CGI and green screen special effects in the series to recreate a very stylized version of ancient Rome. The episodes are not shy about sex, violence, and profanity which is perhaps appropriate given its subject matter. The result is a very entertaining series that has been referred to elsewhere as the "not-at-all guilty pleasure of the season."(Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly). All 13 episodes from the first season are included. Four of the episodes are extended director’s cut versions with footage that did not air on television, as well as a couple of episodes with special effects enhanced, as indicated: The Red Serpent(Extended)(54:56) Sacramentum Gladiatorum(Extended)(52:48) Legends(55:10) The Thing In The Pit(49:09) Shadow Games(Enhanced)(55:15) Delicate Things(Extended)(54:13) Great and Unfortunate Things(50:54) Mark of the Brotherhood(Extended)(50:50) Whore(50:22) Party Favor(51:47) Old Wounds(51:39) Revelation(55:17) Kill Them All(Enhanced)(54:03) Video Spartacus: Blood and Sand appears on Blu-Ray in 1080p in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio as originally filmed and broadcast on Starz. Since a large portion of this production involves green screen effects and digital manipulation, it pretty much goes without saying that DNR and edge enhancement are present. Given the stylish intentions of this production, and the influence by the film 300, it likewise goes without saying that the creators of this series are not going for a realistic look so much as a unique, graphic novel-style presentation with garish colors and spectacular special effects. If there is anything that does not look right in the video presentation, it is attributable merely to the special effects or color scheme selected, and is not a flaw in the transfer to disc. These Blu-ray discs present an excellent video presentation of the series that surpasses anything that you might have seen of this series on cable television, even in high definition. Audio The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks deserve credit for the immersive experience created to augment the excellent video presentation. The high points in the audio occur during any of the battle scenes with the discreet clashing of metal weapons over the vibrant roars of the crowds. The sound mix is well done with dialogue appropriately audible over music and special effects. Special Features There is a wealth of special features which include all of the following: Spartacus Historicus Pop-Up History: When selected, a scroll pops up periodically during the episodes with historical information pertinent to the story and the time period. Commentaries: Nine of the thirteen episodes have commentaries included as follows: The Red Serpent(Director Rick Jacobson and Executive Producers Robert Tapert, Joshua Donen, and Steven S. DeKnight) Sacramentum Gladiatorum(Director Rick Jacobson and Executive Producers Robert Tapert and Steven S. DeKnight) The Thing In The Pit(Director Jesse Warn and Actor Andy Whitfield) Shadow Games(Director Michael Hurst and Actors Andy Whitfield and Lucy Lawless) Delicate Things(Director Rick Jacobson, Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight, and Actress Erin Cummings) Whore(Actors Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless, and Viva Bianca) Party Favor(Actors Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless, and Viva Bianca) Revelation(Writer Brent Fletcher, Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight, and Actor Nick E. Tarabay) Kill Them All(Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight and Actors Peter Mensah and Katrina Law) The following featurettes are also included in high definition on disc 4: Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Behind the Scenes(14:50): This is a promotional trailer with interviews, episode footage, and behind the scenes footage that aired originally on Starz to advertise the series. Spartacus: Battle Royale(7:26): This is a montage of fight scenes from various episodes edited together into one sequence. Gladiator Boot Camp(4:21): Andy Whitfield and the other gladiators are interviewed at "boot camp" where they trained in various weapons before filming the series. Grime and Punishment: The Hole(4:54): Behind the scenes footage regarding the arduous task of filming the actors after their characters are thrown into a mud pit. Andy Gets Plastered(2:44): Behind the scenes footage of Andy Whitfield’s body molds being made out of plaster. Legend Re-Imagined(4:00): Writers and producers comment on their efforts (or deliberate lack thereof) to maintain historical accuracy on the series. Oh, Those Randy Romans(6:14): Actors are interviewed regarding the sex scenes in the series with some episode footage. Shooting Green: The Shadow Of Death(4:48): The actors are shown filming on green screen and provide interviews regarding the process. Exposing Your Ludos(5:21): This is a blooper reel. Spartacus: Blood and Sand "Vengeance" Trailer(1:31): Series trailer. The discs come enclosed in an illustrated digi-book style case consisting of 4 pages with each "page" being a sleeve for each disc. Disc 1 also includes the following trailers prior to the main menu: Brooklyn’s Finest(2:32), Law Abiding Citizen(2:38), The Crazies(2:32), and Ultimate Fighting Championship on DVD(0:31). Conclusion Spartacus: Blood and Sand Season 1 on Blu-ray is a terrific collection of the series to date. The video and audio presentation are excellent and the set is chock full of special features, all in high definition, for fans of the series. The future of this entertaining series is unfortunately unclear as of the date of this review. Series star Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma when these episodes were in their first run. Since this created a delay in production of the second season, a prequel entitled Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, with most of the series regulars and with minor appearance by Andy Whitfield, is now in production and is set to air on Starz in January 2011. Regardless of the future of this series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand is a fascinating and fun series full of battle and court intrigue, and the complete season 1 stands on its own as a very pleasant diversion and is highly recommended. Let the games begin!