I, like many other fans of this excellent 'swords and sand' (well 'Italian grass' really) classic film from 1960, bought the 50th Anniversary 'Restored' Blu-ray back in 2011 as it offered the chance to see it at it's best - it rightly won 4 Oscars....
Well, again perhaps like many, I was a little disappointed with the release as it was certainly cleaned-up, but a little dark and occasionally weirdly-'coloured'; I really should have heeded the reviews I had read beforehand !
Happily, this more recent 55th Anniversary 'Restored' Blu-ray release is what should have been on offer those few years ago - the picture is massively improved in colour and (most significantly) sharpness AND brightness PLUS we get some additional extras and a UV copy (unfortunately of the original 1991 restoration, NOT this 2015 version). For those with the audio capability, the English DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is now 7.1, instead of 'just' 5.1....
I got it in the Amazon '2 for £10' offer, late Jan 2016 - the apparent popularity of this release has made the latest offer for it appear in the worse-value '3 for £20' offer....
The film is well explained on the Amazon synopsis, EXCEPT there's no mention of the fact that initially (about the first week apparently !) the film was directed by Anthony Mann - but he was summarily sacked by Kirk Douglas, the film's 'star' and ultimate producer (since he owned the production company).....
So, Stanley Kubrick was then employed and I think many might not realise this is a film of his, as it's quite different from the other classics he went on to produce...
For me, most of the notable aspects of this film are to do with the gladiator training scenes and then of course the marvellous 'finale' battle which involved a cast of some 8000 - nowadays it's all CGI, here the clinking of armour/weapons as masses of soldiers march forwards towards their likely doom is real and sounds magnificent, along with the spectacle of seeing them en masse moving around to change formation etc.
Another notable aspect is the the lead cast, and their exceptional/totally committed performances, which is (aside from Douglas) essentially British: Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) Jean Simmons and Charles Laughton are all on top form, confirming how accomplished they were at their profession.
Just a few minutes into watching the film it was clear this Blu-ray was a justified purchase (and upgrade from the one I'd bought just a couple of years ago !).
The early scene where the purchased slaves arrive at the gladiator training school owned by Lentulus Batiatus (Ustinov) demonstrates all the improvements - as the cart carrying them is wheeled into the central area of the school we see Batiatus move towards a balcony to make a 'welcome' address to his new 'purchases'. His form and surroundings are no longer shrouded in murk of varying grades as he moves forward, but instead look completely natural - the distant cart/slaves below him are sharply defined and bathed in the obviously present 'sunlight', where previously they were of 'mushy' appearance and similarly bathed in murk.
The improvement/difference is staggering and happily it's like that for the whole film.
Don't believe me ? I've provided a link to a comprehensive review with comparison screencaps in the Amazon discussion section for this Blu-ray; it's entitled 'Comparison Review with Screencaps' and dated 6 Feb 16.
I've also attached photos of the box back and interior, as Amazon omit them - you can see the info is a little misleading/sparse as the added footage is nothing new, the restoration details vague (when they are very significant !) and the audio spec is devoid of any detail whatsoever ! Finally, owners of the '50th' disc can see that this new '55th' disc is similar, but not exactly the same and continues the oddity of not stating the film title !!!
So, an essential acquisition for fans of this film, whether it's a first or 'repeat' purchase, to enjoy this classic at it's best - and how it should have been in the first place !!!
on 27 January 2016
At last SPARTACUS gets the restoration it so richly deserves on this new 55th anniversary edition. It is such a vast improvement on the 50th anniversary edition and you have to wonder why they released it in the first place when with time and effort they are able to produce such a marvellous transfer.Anyone who did buy the 50th anniversary edition has every right to feel they have been ripped off because we all expect the best possible transfer when we by a Blu ray otherwise whats the point you may as well buy the cheaper dvd.Nevertheless I would highly recommend they buy this latest version and discard the older blu ray, they wont be sorry.
on 9 July 2011
The transfer isn't great, it's acceptable but not quite what you'd expect for a film of this magnitude! There is a lot of softness to some scenes and the blacks are poor. It states that it is a restoration that was done in 1991...maybe it's time they did a new one! This is a 5 star movie, let down by an average (out of date!) transfer. On the plus side Kirks chin dimple is generally sharp and well detailed. ;)
Like other epics such as 'Lawrence of Arabia' and 'Ben Hur', Spartacus is a movie that has gone through an interesting series of home releases. I say interesting because as is always the way with classic movies, they are often compromised to such a degree that you would wonder how they could ever get away being released in such an un-authentic state. Of course, it was astounding to see what can be achieved with a modern 8K restoration (Ben-Hur) and for 'Lawrence...' fans, the good news is that Sony are rereleasing the film this year with a similar 8K restoration. These are only two examples of the correct treatment such classics deserve, yet Spartacus appears to have gone unnoticed.
What we have here is a transfer from the 1991 print - what was at it's a time a seven figure sum paid to reconstruct the film in the most accurate way. The bulk of the work was done from black and white negative separations which don't fade, so the colours should be pretty much spot on to how the film looked originally. The problem with this Blu-ray, however, is that Universal have for some reason not invested a new digital restoration. This is just the 1991 print with some waxy and often careless DNR applied, meaning the resulting picture is incredibly soft and simply doesn't represent the Technirama format the movie was shot on. On top of this, little effort has gone in to using current technology for removing artefacts and colour fading throughout the film.
I focus on these technicalities because a movie as good as Spartacus deserves the same - if not better - kind of treatment that even lesser films have had on Blu-ray.
As a step up from the DVD release then you are going to notice more consistency in this viewing experience, but you certainly won't be overwhelmed. What a pity Universal will not be digitally restoring this film as part of its '100th Anniversary' releases.
'Spartacus' (Kirk Douglas) had spent his childhood, youth, into manhood as a working as a slave for
his 'Roman' masters.
He is chosen by the visiting 'Batiatus' (Peter Ustinov) a visiting official for purchase as a a slave to be
trained at his Gladiatorial-Academy.
There he meets the woman who he'll eventually take for his wife 'Varinia' (Jean Simmons) who task as
a slave at the Academy was to both please chosen Gladiators and serve.
When an important 'Roman' General 'Crassus' (Laurence Olivier) visits the Academy he insists on a
Gladiator show, two pairs a fight to the death one on one.
'Spartacus' and three others are chosen, the Academy previously only training Gladiators to be sold on
to places such as 'Rome' never to fight and die at the Academy.
'Spartacus' is paired to fight 'Draba' (Woody Strode) an Ethiopian, the powerful 'Draba' chooses not to
kill 'Spartacus' but turn his 'Trident' toward 'Crassus' obviously losing his own life.
The enforced exhibition causes unrest among the Gladiators at the Academy so much so it triggers a
revolution led by 'Spartacus' who had always craved freedom.
'Varinia' had been seen leaving the compound earlier with 'Batiatus' who had sold her to 'Crassus'
Back in 'Rome' slave 'Antoninus' (Tony Curtis) has become a man-servant to 'Crassus' an educated man
who read poetry and sung songs.
'Spartacus' has many well-trained followers who have now set about freeing slaves and sacking 'Roman'
towns, this action has now got the attention of the 'Roman-Senate'
'Senator' Gracchus' (Charles Laughton) who is a sworn apponent of 'General Crassus' goads 'Marcus
Publius Glabrus' (John Dall) who 'Crassus' had appointed Commander of the 'Garrison of Rome' to take
two Cohorts of the Garrison to face and destroy the uprising of Slaves, he accepts the task.
'Spartacus' has continued to gather more slaves which now includes story-teller 'Anitoninus' who has escaped
'Crassus' he has also freed 'Varinia' who he learns had never reached 'Rome' and had run from the overweight
'Batiatus' with little effort, 'Spartacus' and 'Varinia' could now be together.
'Spartacus' has negotiated a price with the 'Silesian Pirates' to take his thousands of followers away from the
shores of Italy and feedom in seven months time.
In the meantime 'Spartacus' and his followers have trained the many slaves to be of Gladiatorial Quality to fight
their way to the coast if necessary,
The 'Cohorts' led by 'Glabrus' are now close by however because they ave underestimated the 'Slave-Army' they
have not followed protocol in defending their camp, they are easy prey for 'Spartacus' and his Army.
The 'Silesian-Pirates' have been paid by 'Crassus' to betray the 'Slaves' leaving 'Spartacus' no choice but to march
upon 'Rome' itself.......playing into the trap 'Crassus' has set for them.
A true 'epic' with a cast of thousands and without the benefits of the technology afforded to today's movies, 'Sets'
back then had to e built to create a level of reality.
The film tells of the 'Historical' tale of the slave uprising that came so close to achieving their desire to be free, had
the large slave force not separated as History tells us they had done before the final battle portrayed in the film, would
the outcome of been different, would History have told of a different outcome ?
I have noticed some earlier reviewers have been critical of the upgrade to this format, i myself think considering this is
a film released in '1960' the upgrade is pretty acceptable (I've seen films released during the 80's and 90's with poorer
picture quality in the upgrade than this)
* Deleted Scenes
* Archival Interviews with 'Peter Ustinov' and 'Jean Simmons'
* Behind the scenes footage
* 5 Vintage Newsreels
* Image Galleries
on 31 January 2016
The definitive restoration of an epic masterpiece. This new 4k scan delivers levels of detail which are exceptional as well as colours which vibrant and contrast that is distinct. The Colour palettes for the slave costumes consist largely of dull greys, browns emphasizing the more earthy quality of the slave rebellion over the imperial red of Rome.
The story follows Spartacus, a slave being trained as a gladiator for the pleasure of his roman masters, however when he escapes he leads a revolt which threatens the foundations of the entire Roman Empire.
Spartacus is no beast out to butcher however, following his escape from slavery, but rather a leader of fellow slaves striving to secure their freedom. The opposition opposing him is made up of slightly frisky effeminate roman leaders who are contrasted with the wholesome masculine Spartacus, I couldn't help but feel this would have gone down well with the US audience of the time.
Booming scores burst out of the speakers as we follow our rag tag rebels across Italy in some sweeping cinematography involving thousands of extras, the sort of thing you rarely if ever see on the big screen these days without it being CGI.
I cannot recommend the 55th anniversary restored addition Blu Ray enough, you get the combination of a great story presented with a restored picture that must rank among some of the finest film restoration ever undertaken.
Spartacus is the Thracian slave who refused to be a Roman plaything, breaking out of their clutches he led the slave revolt that panicked the Roman Rebublic in circa BC 73, this film is based on that period in history.
Spartacus got off to a troubled start, original director Anthony Mann was fired by leading man Kirk Douglas (Spartacus) after a falling out, some of Mann's work does remain in the final picture, tho, notably some of the early scenes in the desert are thought to be at Mann's direction. In came then director for hire Stanley Kubrick, who along with Douglas crafted arguably the greatest sword and sandal epic to have ever been made. One that holds up today as the one any prospective new viewers to the genre should seek out. Adapted by Dalton Trumbo from Howard Fast's novel (whilst also tapping from Arthur Koestler's novel, The Gladiators), Spartacus is a stirring experience highlighting the power of unity when faced in opposition to a tyrannical force. It's also boasting a number of intelligent and firmly engaging strands that are a credit to the excellent writing from the once blacklisted Trumbo. Politics figure prominently, whilst the story has a pulsing romantic heart beating amongst the blood and power struggles that are unfolding. Brotherhood bonds within the slave army are firmly established, and the love story axis between Spartacus and Varinia is very fully formed. We are in short set up perfectly for when the film shifts its emphasis in the second half.
So many great sequences are in this picture, the gladiator training school as Spartacus and his fellow slaves find that they have dignity within themselves; forced thru a tough regime designed to set them up for blood sport entertainment to the watching republic hierarchy. The break out itself is tremendous for its potency, but even that is playing second fiddle to the main battle sequence that Kubrick excellently put together. The Roman legions forming in military precision is memorable in the extreme (this before CGI, with Kubrick's directing of all those extras being worthy of extra praise from us). Then with the battle itself raging one can only say it's breath taking and definitely a genre high point. Then of course there is the sentimental aspects of Spartacus. Kubrick of course was never known for his warmness, but with the aid of Douglas they get it right and manage to pull the heart strings whilst simultaneously pumping stirring the blood via the action. Right up to the incredibly poignant and classical ending that stands the test of time as being cinematic gold. The cast are wonderfully put together, Douglas is fabulous as Spartacus, big, lean and brooding with emotion, very much a career highlight as far as I'm concerned. Laurence Olivier takes up chief bad guy villainy duties as Marcus Crassus, just about the right amount of sneering camp required for such a dislikable character. Peter Ustinov (Best Supporting Actor Winner) is in his pomp as Batiatus, Jean Simmons (perfectly bone structured face) plays off Douglas expertly as Varinia, with Tony Curtis (Antoninus), John Gavin (Julius Caesar) and Charles Laughton (Graccus) adding impetus to this wonderful picture.
Spartacus also won Academy Awards for Best Color Cinematography, Best Art and Set Direction and Best Costume Design, with nominations rightly going to Alex North for his score and Robert Lawrence for his editing. It's a special film is Spartacus, excellently put together and thematically dynamite. Which while also being technically adroit, it's ultimately with the story itself that it truly wins out. Even allowing for some standard Hollywood additions to the real story (Spartacus most certainly didn't meet his maker the way the film says), it's emotionally charged and as inspiring as it is as sadly tragic. 10/10
on 1 April 2012
Spartacus was one of a host of epics made in the early sixties. These epics were either about Romans or the Bible: Spartacus is a Roman epic with a bit of Biblical imagery.
Kirk Douglas is sturdy as slave-turned-gladiator-turned soldier Spartacus who despite being blessed with brawn rather than brains gathers together an army of slaves to defeat tyrannical Crassus (Laurence Olivier). Olivier gives as good a performance as he did in the prime of his career, making Crassus a pathetic figure who cannot comprehend the idealism that Spartacus has. Jean Simmons is good as beautiful slave Varinia, and Varinia and Spartacus' Love Theme is one of the most moving scores you will ever hear. It drew me back in at a point where my attention was flagging (the film is just over three hours- it's bound to be slow in parts).
There are some melodramatic moments (such as the oft-parodied "I am Spartacus" scene) but these parts are always entertaining. It's also unafraid to not look pretty- whilst epics like Cleopatra are extravagantly designed and shot, Spartacus is all red and brown. Rome is a harsh world.
The supporting actors, particularly Peter Ustinov as the gladiator trainer, are humorous. The funniest part of the film has to be the restored "snails and oysters" scene (Olivier's dialogue dubbed by Anthony Hopkins). It serves no real purpose, apart from scaring off Antoninus, but it's quite funny how shocked the film studios were.
Get a Special Edition version because an epic film like this, whatever its flaws, needs a bit of context to fully appreciate it.
Spartacus is that genuine rarity, an epic that successfully combines the intellectual with the emotional, giving it an edge on almost all of its contemporaries - even Anthony Mann's superb Fall of the Roman Empire, which is never able to fully reconcile the two in its leading characters.
It was Mann who shot the striking opening sequences in the Libyan salt mines before being replaced by Kubrick, allegedly for losing his grip on the gladiator school sequences (though it seems everyone involved offers a different reason), and his trademark use of landscape to define character is very much in evidence. Spartacus begins the film as a virtual animal, mute, biting his guard, a creature of pure instinct. Yet through his fight for his freedom, he learns dignity and becomes more of a human being than his civilised masters.
Ironically, it is his doomed slave revolt that provides the spark to turn Rome into a totalitarian dictatorship, a development hinted at in his gladiatorial combat with Woody Strode, where their duel to the death is simply a background for the political backbiting of its noble Roman audience. Even after the rebellion is brutally crushed, the seeds for further change and disruption are sown in the shifting allegiance of a young Gaius Julius Caesar (Gavin), who moves from the side of Laughton's populist Plebian to Olivier's ruthless Patrician.
Despite this, Spartacus is an incredibly hopeful film. Its belief in the value of life and in people may be frowned upon as naive now, yet through its portrayal of the Romans' ignorance of the responsibilities of their civilisation in their endless manipulations and power plays remains painfully aware of reality. In hindsight, it seems impossible to separate it from the civil rights movement of the late fifties-sixties (JFK was a great admirer of the film), with Spartacus a Thracian composite of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The solidarity of the slaves in refusing to identify Spartacus to the victorious Romans and choosing crucifixion over their chains is an image at once universal myth and very much of its time.
Most unusual within the constraints of the genre is that it makes us feel its concerns rather than just think about them. The fight to the death between Spartacus and Antoninus (Curtis) is played as a personal scene rather than an action set piece, each trying to kill the other to Spain them the pain of crucifixion. And when he takes his place on the last of the crosses that pave the road to the gates of Rome, the final scene where his freed wife (Jean Simmons) shows him the son he has never seen for the first time and begs him to "Die, please die!", is one of the most intensely moving moments in cinema and carries an emotional charge that Kubrick's work never again attained or even attempted.
Despite his genuinely imaginative direction, Kubrick's erratic attitude towards the film is well documented (although Douglas claims the director originally wanted to take blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's screen credit, he subsequently vociferously disowned the film). Unfortunately, the 1990s cinema re-issue of this original restored version met with some of the worst reviews in recent memory: Douglas' reputation had faded while Kubrick's had soared, rendering it an act of critical blasphemy to disagree with him.
Nonetheless, the film endures even if its reputation has not. Trumbo's script is both intelligent and involving and filled with memorable and beautifully constructed scenes, the cast uniformly excellent, with Olivier giving one of his last great performances before he turned to intermittent silly voices and self-parody. Aside from the now infamous attempted bathtime seduction of Tony Curtis (far less explicit than the subsequent speech about `debasing yourself' before Rome), the extra footage in this restored version is largely violence - more crucifixions, the burial of a baby in the snow, gladiator Woody Strode's blood squirting onto Olivier's face as he slits his throat and a lot more of the climactic battle (itself shot as an afterthought after an unsatisfactory rough-cut).
Sadly, it is here that one of the film's most visually powerful moments, when the Roman Legion stops to a man in their advance on the slave army, just does not work even on the largest of small screens. Whereas in 70mm on the giant screen you could feel them approach foot by foot, here they barely seem to be moving, rendering the jolting shock and ominous dread of their sudden halt (actually achieved via freeze frame) barely noticeable. The prelude to the main battle does remain an incredible musical tour de force by North, however, predicting both the savagery and hollow victory of the coming carnage with brief, brutal crescendos on vicious sharp cuts. Even in a strong field that year, it is amazing that North did not win an Oscar for his contribution.
Of the various versions available, the Criterion NTSC disc is the best, though most of the extras are carried over for the PAL special edition - but avoid the standard film-only edition. Unfortunately Universal's Blu-ray is a disappointment - it may contain some of the extras but the transfer is riddled with DNR that softens the image and loses detail. A remastered version has been rumoured for some time and it's worth holding out for that.
on 3 May 2014
This is my favourite film. I love just about everything Kirk Douglas has ever done from Champion right through his briliant career. This film has one of the best casts ever assembled. Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton. Peter Ustinov,an award winning score by Alex North and directed by Stanley Kubrick. What more could you ask for ? A great epic film with lots of pace and action. Typical of course of Hollywood, the facts are wrong....Spartacus was not born a slave. He was in the Roman Army and after desertion was given the choice of becoming a gladiator or something worse. .....and as he loved to kill he became a gladiator. But that aside it's a great movie, action packed from start to finish.