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55 of 69 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Decent History. Good Screenplay. Bad Acting. Poor Script., February 24, 2005
This review is from: Spartacus (DVD)
This new rendition of 'Spartacus' provides a more accurate depiction of the Roman Slave Revolt that took place between 73-71 B.C. but is horribly lacking in script and acting: something to be expected from a TV miniseries I suppose.

Goran Visnjic as Spartacus simply fails to leave any memorable impression. His voice is so passive and unengaging, and his face so placid, that he hardly passes for a charismatic leader who commanded over 100,000 people. The character follows the positive comments by classical sources on the real Spartacus as having been a skilled commander and humane leader. There is little information on Spartacus however and really no information on his origins. Rome had been in an ongoing civil and foreign wars in which slaves were routinely used as auxillaries. Such auxillaries were commonly used to carry out indiscriminate massacres by their leaders such as Sulla or Marius because they were more expendable if popular sentiment became too hostile. Being an adult in these times, Spartacus may have been among such groups of men and not so much the saintly Marxist hero fighting for the laborer portrayed by Fast. As for Crassus, Angus Macfadyen is diappointing but the fault lies more with the screenplay and script. He plays Crassus as if he were a rich snob who's obsessed with power. Marcus Licinius Crassus was very rich but hardly a snob. Plutarch describes Crassus as affable and modest: a man who would talk to persons high and low with tact and politeness. Generous to others, he acquired influence by his vast wealth, being a court advocate, and giving loans without interest to important upstarts like Caesar from whom he could also ask for payment on demand (a traditional Roman practice seen as normal.) This often allowed Crassus to get political favors from the debtor instead of money: a valuable political advantage. Although he was avaricious, he was not a miser and kept his home open to any one who was in need. He was very much the precursor to the modern professional banker/bailbondsman all rolled into one: tactful, polite, generous, and accomodating enough to make you want to come back and do business again. As in the original 'Spartacus', Crassus' motives for accepting the command against Spartacus are portrayed as a sinister attempt at undermining the Republic whereas the historical facts do not support that conclusion. Crassus was ambitious just like every other patrician noble and, although his popular politics were akin to some of Caesar's, he was generally a conservative populist and his desire to crush the slave revolt was compelled by a true sense of duty. Historical sources give no indication that he sought to establish himself as a dictator such as with Caesar crossing the Rubicon. The primary motivation for his politics was his desire to outmaneuver Pompey the Great, his arch-rival, in the military and political spheres. Unlike Caesar who eventually shought permanent dictatorship, Crassus prefered a republican oligarchy as a political system and so was the main party in forming the First Triumvirate with Pompey and Caesar. All historical records show that the policies of Crassus at the time were typical of other moderate populists (e.g. restoring the power of the tribunes; including the equestrian order in jury selections; and later seeking to enfranchise northern Italy.) The film instead portrays the character as a dictatorial megalomaniac with a personal grudge against Spartacus.

The depiction of the campaign is pretty accurate in comparison with the original film. As the film shows, Crassus had encircled the slave army near Rhegium with an extensive rampart and Spartacus was able to flee only after a desperate and hard fought breach of the pallisade. Crassus then caught up with Spartacus' army north of Brundisium and finished off most of it including Spartacus. Pompey's arrival and gloating over the capture of 6000 fugitive slaves infuriated Crassus because he claimed that he had won the war while Crassus had only won the battle. As with his relative Lucius Licinius Lucullus who was commanding the Mithridatic War in Asia Minor, Crassus thought of Pompey as nothing more than a carrion bird who cirles safely above to later swoop down and feed on prey killed by others. His loathing for Pompey was probably another reason why he had 6000 slaves crucified from Capua to Rome along the Appian way. Spartacus' crucifixion and sight of his child is poetic license: Spartacus' body was never retrieved from the final battle and all accounts indicate that he died fighting. Another error is the presumption that Spartacus was from Thrace because he was nicknamed 'The Thracian.' This nickname most probably came from his training as a 'Thracian' gladiator where he wore limited armor using a short Thracian sword and a small circular shield. The book making him a son of Thracian slaves is pure fiction. The name Spartacus indicates instead that he was from Greece (probably Sparta) and perhaps even taken as a slave or auxilliary by Sulla in his wars against the Greek city states in the Mithridatic War 20 years before. He may later have been taken by Sulla to fight as an auxillary against Marius before the Servile War depicted in the film only to be enslaved/re-enslaved after Sulla had surpressed the Marian plebiscite. Such a scenario would explain his hatred for Rome and his keen knowledge of the sophisticated infantry tactics used by the Roman legions. His defeat of the Italian legions had also more to do with his skilled command of a large host fighting an ill-trained enemy with poor logistics. The Roman forces Spartacus initially fought were principally raw legionaires who had remained in Italy while all of the seasoned legions were committed to extended wars in Spain and Asia Minor under the command of Rome's best generals. At the same time, Italy was barely recovering from civil war and economically devastated. Under these circumstances, Spartacus' probable service as an auxilliary, the size of his army, and the poor military logistics in Italy would explain why he fought so triumphantly against antiquity's most powerful army for almost 3 years.

Although the film is more faithful to the historical events involving Spartacus' slave revolt, I found the original film to have a better script, superior actors (Douglass, Ustinov, Olivier, Laughton, McGraw, and Simmons), and a far more talented director (Kubrick). Finally, although claiming to be more faithful to the book, this min-series' communist undertones are interestingly far less pervasive than those Fast's novel or the original film.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 18, 2008, 6:08:59 AM PST
What do you mean by communist undertones?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2008, 10:30:10 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2009, 3:24:59 AM PST
Octavius says:
Both the original 'Spartacus' and this film are based on Howard Fast's novel of the same title.

Compared to other authors of classical historical fiction such as Graves, Pressfield, or Breem, Howard Fast sought to generalize the historical events to emphasize a communist political theme as opposed to just adding life to the historical characters or events in their proper context. As a result, the historical background and the characters come out as little more than marionettes to parade Fast's political beliefs of Marxist historicism. His view of how the proletariat is in a perpetual historical struggle with the bourgeoisie to control the means of production. The only reason Fast chose the Servile War for his story is because Marx had called Spartacus 'The first champion of the proletariat.'

Fast was never a historian and was not interested in objective historical fact or anthropology. Fast was a fervent communist who believed in Marx's theory of historical determinism and interpreted historical events under that model: that the history of humanity and all its conflicts demonstrates only a perpetual struggle between the working class (i.e. the slaves) and those who control the means of production (i.e. the Romans.) Fast's depiction of Rome and Roman culture is therefore presented with the industrialist and socialist values and beliefs prevalent in the 19th-20th centuries as opposed to those of antiquity's pagan agrarian societies such as Greece or Rome. To accentuate the antagonism between the classes, Fast further dilutes the history of his narrative by making the Romans depraved homosexuals and cannibals. Homosexuality or even pedophelia were not accepted values in the Late Roman Republic and the Romans never practiced cannibalism other than in rare disasters involving sieges and famine. Spartacus' Slave Revolt was not an effort at seizing control to the means of production as with the Bolshevik revolution nor was it even a crusade of universal emancipation such as advocated by the Union government throughout the US Civil War. The Servile War was not really a planned revolt such as the Communist revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries in which members of lower classes organized and planned a takeover of a society's institutions and its economic resources for redistribution. Instead, Spartacus' revolt was a rather spontaneous event that never had any clear purpose other than fleeing Italy en masse with as much raping and plundering along the way as possible. The politics of the revolt were therefore rather vague and his army's cohesion was tentative at best. It was more akin to a prison break gone out of control than a social revolution. Fast's depiction of Spartacus having been a poor son of Thracian slaves is also gross poetic license. Spartacus was called 'Thracian' because of his gladiatorial role as a Thracian fighter and he was instead most probably an enslaved auxilliary or mercenary from Greece who got embroiled in Rome's civil wars and fell out of favor with its leaders such as Sulla or Marius. The depiction of Crassus as a factory-owning arch-conservative elitist with dictatorial ambitions is equally absurd and completely at odds with the historical character. Lastly, the character of Graccus is nothing more than a ficitional composite of the Gracchi brothers who were populist agitators over 50 years before the context of this story. If anything, the real Crassus was a lot more like the character of Graccus portrayed in Fast's book than that of Fast's Crassus who comes out more as Sulla or Caesar.

Historically, Fast's book is nothing more than an absurd depiction of the society, events, and peoples of the Late Roman Republic. The book is nothing more than Marx's 'Communist Manifesto' disguised as historical fiction. The original film sought to portray Fast's themes and followed in its absurd distortions of historical events to a much greater degree than this version in terms of the movitvations of the protagonists and antagonists. It is because of Fast's communist theme that the movies followed the character depictions and motivations of Spartacus and Crassus as antagonists. The title theme itself in the original film by Alex North is a variation of the 'Internationale'/the National anthem of the USSR. North was a fervent communist like Fast as was the man who wrote the screenplay for the film. In effect, the original 1960 film was an open defiance against the black-listing of communist/socialist American intellectuals by Congress during the 1950s. I hope this answers your question.
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