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179 of 197 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic Hollywood epic looks great-Review for Criterion version DVD, September 6, 2003
This review is from: Spartacus (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
If you're a fan of the movie "Spartacus", this is the version to get; the Universal DVD is as bare bones as they get with just the movie. The Criterion version looks great. The facelift the film received help return much of its luster. Kubrick later disowned his version of the epic Hollywood Sword & Sandal genre, but Kubrick brings much of his sensibility to bear; the fight sequences and epic vistas bring to mind Kubrick's work on Paths of Glory and 2001. True, this isn't a complete Kubrick picture; Kubrick had nothing to do with the screenplay and Douglas had all but cast the picture in collaboration with director Anthony Mann (dismissed after butting heads with Douglas one too many times).

Is it Kubrick's finest film? Well, frankly no it isn't. It's an interesting mishmash between Kubrick's detached, ironic style and Hollywood glitz. Spartacus is Kubrick for people who don't care for Kubrick's detached style. It doesn't measure up to Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001 or A Clockwork Orange although it does compare favorable to the much darker Paths of Glory.

Kubrick stated that his intent at the time was to subvert the cliches of the genre. As a result, Kubrick manages to reinvent a genre that was in danger of becoming a parody of itself. As a collaborative effort, Spartacus is a great piece of entertainment and far more sophisticated than almost everything else that came out of Hollywood at the time.

The transfer is beautiful with much of Kubrick's bold use of color restored. The strong acting of most of the cast has always been a virtue of Sparatcus. The soundtrack has been meticulously transferred to 5.1 and Alex North's beatiful score has never sounded so sweet, tragic and powerful before. The audio commentary is the same one that was on the laserdisc version. It provides additional understanding about the complexity of making an independently produced project like Spartacus. Kirk Douglas' bold decision to produce the film himself (with Universal-International distributing)was a leap of faith in both the material and the talented director.

The second disc is stuffed with supplements that are found nowhere else.There's two older interviews with Peter Ustinov, Jean Simmons plus one that Ustinov did in 1992 for the laserdisc edition. It's delightful and he shares a number of funny stories about the picture. There's also a text overview of Kubrick's career and his involvement with the picture. Included also are sketches Kubrick made for the motion picture (artistically they're nothing special but they do provide insight into Kubrick's role in the visualization of the film). Included are some vintage newsreels and a promotional film originally made but unfinished for Spartacus that gives us a glimpse behind the scenes. The promotional film is missing it's soundtrack (in fact, it might have been lost if not for the forsight of a private collector) and has much from North's score. We also get to glimpse at Saul Bass' wonderful title design sequence.

Criterion has been both praised and criticized for their DVDs and laserdiscs before. While they tend to be expensive, this is the complete package. Occasionally Criterion will release a package that isn't up to their usual standards. Spartacus isn't one of them. Robert Harris (Harris restored the film along with Vertigo)evidently was also involved in the transfer to DVD. If you want a spectacular transfer of the film, loads of extras about the making and background of the project from those involved, this is the set to pick up.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 22, 2009 8:23:54 AM PST
C. Otsuki says:
comment is for criterion version! the wrong version! this is terribly misleading for the customers. amazon move this to the criterion listing!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 22, 2009 12:44:12 PM PST
Wayne Klein says:
Thanks. I hate when amazon combines reviews without checking them.

Posted on Mar 6, 2009 1:12:57 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Dec 28, 2014 9:03:13 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2009 9:08:34 AM PST
Cal Engime says:
Spartacus was filmed in an aspect ratio of 2.20:1; a widescreen display is 1.78:1. Letterboxed it should be.

Posted on Feb 19, 2010 4:14:55 AM PST
C McGhee says:
It seems that the number one content of reviewers hearts is hate. You could of reviewed this movie without even mentioning the Universal DVD & all your praises for Criterion would still have been readable. How about If your a fan of the movie spartacus then the Criterion Collection is the version to get. Followed by the great pluses of the Criterion DVD. You could then have sent a e-mail to Amazon about the stupidity of their review policy & no one would of known you were inconsiderate & had poor emotional control. I HAVE BEEN THERE & DONE THAT. Now I try to read my reviews & edit them for negative emotions & remove that content or find a positive way to say the same thing. Why display the worst parts of your character when you don't have too? Reviews should contain information not hate & discontent. Save that for E-mail.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2010 7:44:47 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 19, 2010 8:24:02 PM PST
Wayne Klein says:
C. McGhee--Mmmm well you're making a number of assumptions here--1) My "hate" isn't direct towards the Universal release. I was contrasting the two and all I stated was that the Universal version is bare bones. NOT contrasting them does a disservice to anyone reading the review as they won't know which one to get.

2) Reviews provide value via comparison and contrast and there will be criticism of a product as a result. Simple as that.

3) I have emailed amazon asking them NOT to combine reviews (as have many other frustrated readers/reviewers) MANY times. They see all versions of a movie as variations on the same thing (much as different editions of books in their eyes are all the same except for the cover, type face and number of pages. They don't consider the fact that music, DVDs and Blu-rays all have different and variation content even if the movie itself is the same (or that the tranfer in the cases of music and video are variable).

The only information I will remove from a review or revise is if (as I did in 2009 about this film) to note that amazon was unintentinally misleading people by putting my review for the Criterion edition with the Universal edition. They do this a lot and it is a poorly thought out policy that does a disservice and has, frankly, caused some people to buy the wrong product.

Good for you in discovering some sort of zen calm when it comes to reviews. I don't believe that the purpose of reviews are to highlight only the positives. It provides balance and sometimes even insight by discussing both the good and the bad. Clearly you're definition of reviewing is different than mine. Good for you and enjoy doing your version of reviews but, quite frankly, I don't find those type of reviews all that helpful.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2010 12:09:20 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2010 1:24:29 AM PST
C McGhee says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2010 7:20:09 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2010 7:44:39 AM PST
Wayne Klein says:
We can agree to disagree I suppose on how useful my comment from last Feb. was.

There's no doubt my comment was/is directed at amazon and my frustration with their responses is pretty evident in the comment. Interestingly, I added my kick in the pants years after writing the review when I had comments (and a number of emails) sent to me indicating that I written about the wrong edition and that my comments were misleading. Sadly, I (and a number of other reviewers)had to use the same approach over an issue a number of years back related to false voting (having people log in via numerous accounts to vote for themselves).

It took comments in the reviews, an article, a radio show that highlighted the problem and how it could be used as a means to "sell" product to get amazon to revise/change their policy.

Anyhow, I would agree with you regarding Kubrick's film--the love story is central here and it's a terrific movie (it's also the only movie Kubrick ever made with a love story/performances as direct here). That has more to do though with Dalton Trumbo and Kirk Douglas than Kubrick. I'm not surprised that there are those who hate the film because it isn't 100% historically accurate. It's a pity because they're missing out.

Self reflection is a good thing as long as you're not caught gazing into the mirror or water too long. Sadly, you're absolutely on target about needing a dictionary either that or my fingers need to stop trying to match the speed at which I'm whipping out comments.

Here's hoping that Universal (since Criterion's license for the film doesn't include Blu-ray) will eventually release a high def version that's filled with goodies and looks exceptional.

As always thanks for the comment.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2010 1:50:22 AM PST
C McGhee says:
I looked & noticed that the Criterion & HD Dvd reviews are marked as to which version they came from. Seems odd they would track the reviews origin & not use that info to keep things separate.

Rather than wait I'll send my next comments on this to Amazon. After all they already have the data they need to keep things straight. Nice discussion & have an E-beer on me.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 29, 2010 4:39:23 AM PDT
Richard says:
frankly, i and alot of other amazon customers like the way amazon 'lumps' the different versions or formats of a movie together. each customer review refers to the particular format and you need only scan the reviews to find the format you are interested in.
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Wayne Klein

Location: My Little Blue Window, USA

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