Friday, August 17, 2012

367. SPARTACUS (1960)

Running Time: 196 minutes
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Dalton Trumbo, from novel by Howard Fast
Main Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov
Click here to view the trailer


When most of us hear the name Stanley Kubrick we picture certain, unmistakable images. Perhaps the image of an ape throwing a bone into the air or Malcolm McDowell sporting a bowler and drinking a glass of milk. At least those are a few of the images that pop into MY head when I hear the name Kubrick mentioned. What I don't envision is a movie as "by the book" as "Spartacus", which took me by surprise and left me craving some of that "Kubrickian" originality.

Spartacus (Douglas) is a Thracian turned unruly slave who, early on in the picture, is sold to Batiatus (Ustinov), the proprietor of a gladiator school who peruses slaves and purchases them in an attempt to transform them into gladiators. Along with several other new recruits, Spartacus soon finds himself in the gladiator training camp, where former slaves will now be offered certain luxuries, including a woman all their own. It is here that Spartacus meets Varinia (Simmons), a female slave who is initially assigned to be his and whom he becomes infatuated with and later, learns to love. Spartacus trains under the tutelage of former slave, turned gladiator trainer, Marcellus. Marcellus has it out for Spartacus and to say the least, the two just don't get along. One day, when Spartacus notices Varinia leaving the camp, having been informed that she's been sold to Crassus (Olivier), he goes on a rampage and kills Marcellus, prompting the other slaves to follow suit, resulting in a full scale riot where all of the slaves are able to escape the grounds. From there, it's the slaves against the Roman Senate, as Spartacus and his men plan to march to the sea, board boats and return to their home. The Roman Senate, however, has other plans, as they send army after army to oppose Spartacus and his army of slaves, but each battalion falls to the slaves. It all boils down to a big battle when Spartacus and his crew realize they're trapped and will be forced to either return to Rome and fight or be cornered by the armies Lucullus and Pompey and face a sure defeat.

Like I said, I really didn't expect THIS type of film to come from Stanley Kubrick. I'm not the biggest Kubrick fan in the world, but when I think of the guy, I have a certain picture in mind and it doesn't include a big budget Roman epic. On one hand the film wasn't THAT bad. I had no expectations going in, as I know from personal experiences that epics like this are usually a win or lose type of situation, as far as my personal tastes are concerned. As the film got underway, I thought that it wasn't going to be that bad. I had enjoyed Kirk Douglas well enough in "Paths of Glory" and I was totally digging the idea of slave turned gladiator and the whole gladiator training school thing. Peter Ustinov was hilarious and I had even spotted John Dall, an old favorite of mine from movies like "Rope" and "Gun Crazy". Then the slaves escaped and it all went downhill from there...

Beyond that early part of the picture, the running time started to slowly become more of a nuisance than a pleasure and I found myself really wanting this film to end. I mean, beyond the escape, what's really happening for those remaining two hours and change? The slaves escape gladiator school, we spend a good ninety minutes doing absolutely nothing but hearing the Roman Senate debate and seeing Spartacus and his men prosper. It all boils down to the big battle scene and I'll admit, it was a pretty decent little battle scene, but it was also quite short and I'm pretty sure that the soldiers actually marching to battle lasted longer than the actual battle itself.


Beyond that, there's a few key scenes. You've got your "I Am Spartacus" scene, you've got a nice little scene where Spartacus is forced to battle Antoninus and you've got the final moments with Spartacus hanging on a cross and being shown his newborn son for the first and last time. If I would've been able to get more emotionally invested in the picture, then I'm sure the combination of those three scenes would have caused me to squirt a few tears of my own, but in reality I was just really excited to disembark the Spartacus train. Not that it was all bad, it's just that it was far too long, with not enough going on in the middle and by the time it ended, I really wanted it to end.

RATING: 6.5/10  I feel like a '7' would just be going a little too high. It's not a terrible picture by any means and Roman historians and people who are interested in the time period are going to love it, but it's certainly not for everyone. Next up in "Kubrick Week": "Lolita".


August 17, 2012  5:54pm

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