Friday, January 25, 2013

Spartacus Back For A Final Season

When Star Andy Whitfield announced he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma after the first season of the surprise TV smash Spartacus many of us assumed the show could not come back.
Whitfield had attracted quite a following --he was both good looking and sincere. Producers rushed in a six episode substitute as Season Two hoping that Whitfield would somehow recover but he relapsed and had to resign.
The hunt was on for a new sincere hunk and Liam McIntyre was hustled onstage --he talked to Whitfield on the phone but the two never met.
With Whitfioeld's shocking death it was plain McIntyre had quite a job in persuading the fans to stick with the series.
Taking over from a deceased star is mostly unsuccessful. But McIntyre soldiered on --he wasn't as heroic as figure of Whitfield but he could perform the battlefield stuff with ease.
The result was a third season titled Vengeance that some of us felt faltered in the story department while remaining visually splendid.
Critics have called it a low rent sex 'n scandals epic and that's precisely who so many fans are tuning in.
Battle scenes open this latest season with lots of simulated gore. Each time a Roman centurion gets decapitated the blood spurts right at the camera.
But success on the battlefield means Spartacus has now gotten 30,000 rabid followers who must be fed three times a day. And what about shelter and other needs such as sex?
The spectacle is a feast of special effects that take up where the film 300 left off. And many viewers see it all as post-apocalyptic --in the story Rome is burning because of over commitments just as America is struggling in the present to maintain its world order view.
In the first new episode Spartacus continues to attract a growing army of rebels --the Senate decides only wealthy Marcus Crassus can stop him at this stage. The new season is titled War Of The Damned.
Although the U.S. originating cable network Starz announced cancellation after this season already there are press reports about a possible sequel of some sorts.
Creator Steven DeKnight says the decision to end it was thought out and based on a desire to end on a high note.
And about the last story arc DeKnight says "The scope of it multiplies many times as Crassius battles Spartacus across the country."
In the first new hour I was struck by the brilliant acting of  Simon Merrells as Marcus Crassus and lean, young Christian Antidormi as his son Tiberius Crassus  -- together they join the seasoned cast of Manu Bennett (Crixus), Dustin Clare (Gannicus), Dan Feuirregel (Agron), Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Naevia) and Ellen Hollman (Saxa).
The key scene has Crassus killing off his most loyal servant to prove he is ruthless in his desire for victory. But Crassus also respects the other side. While his son rants that all slaves are unworthy Crassus does not make the mistake of under estimating his foe.
The first new hour called Enemes Of Rome makes us wonder if all Romans can possibly be completely terrible. And how has success changed the rebels --at what point in their carnage do they become equally uncaring killers?
Airing in over 100 countries, this one has been a huge moneymaker spawning off a global frenzy in prop replicas, comic books, even trading cards.
I kept watching and wondering how it can possibly end.  But I'm also remembering the huge contribution of original star Whitfield which can never be surpassed.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

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