Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rome Versus Spartacus

In the words of Monty Python: “And now for something different.”

Rome versus Spartacus: Blood and sand

Not the historical Rome versus Spartacus duel, ultimately won by Rome, but of Spartacus we know little.

HBO had a hit a few years ago with their two year series Rome, centered in history.

Starz is currently showing the series, Spartacus, based on Hollywood fiction. It claims a hit, based on a viewership of 1.1 million, roughly equal to Fox News, and greater than MSNBC or CNN. Spartacus versus Glenn Beck would be a smack-down worth watching.

Rome was a solid, well acted, carefully plotted script with character development. Nudity and Sex were present, but played a peripheral role in the episodes. Sex was often an element of statecraft. The acting though was by sallow British actors with British accents, the low-lives with Cockney accents. Dark complexioned Italians were scarce in the series.

One exception was the British-Indian actress, Indira Varma, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, who played Niobe, a peasant princess from a Roman clan. Her first major role was that of the confused, libidinous servant Maya in The Kama Sutra. Go figure!

Rome gave us historical figures: Julius Caesar, Octavian, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra, Brutus, Pompey, Cato, Cicero, Lepidus. Spartacus gives us Spartacus.

Spartacus though has no plot or character development. Historical accuracy cannot be assured because history tells us little about Spartacus, except that he was probably a Thracian, owned by Batiatus, and though he died in his final battle, his body was never found.

Most of what we know about him comes from Kirk Douglas’ 1960 portrayal in the movie Spartacus.

This series starts with the statement that Spartacus is a “Historical Portrayal of Ancient Roman Society.” It says nothing about the accuracy of Spartacus.

The acting in this production consists of beefcake gladiators in loincloths fighting with wooden swords, full frontal nudity, copious sex (but below the standards of Cinemax), sallow New Zealand actors with British derived accents, and a plethora of blondes. The gladiators could come from Muscle Beach or the Chippendales, New Zealand branch.

The gladiators in the arena fight to the death, illustrated by computer animated decapitations. Rome needed no special effects. Realism in Spartacus comes through choreography and the Foley Stage.

One of the stars is Lucy Lawless, formerly of Xena: Warrior Princess. Her husband is a producer of this series set in the Roman colony of New Zealand. Rome conquered much of Britain, but certainly never colonized New Zealand. The Brits did though.

Great actors and actresses can assume any role. Thus, we have Xena uttering these immortal words:

“Return to his cell now.
I expect his cock in you
Or a sword tomorrow.”

Lucy, who was embarrassed by a nipple showing during a singing of the National Anthem at an Anaheim Mighty Ducks - Detroit Red Wings hockey match in 1997, has no similar embarrassment showing a lot more and screwing a gladiator, while watching slaves service her husband. Beefcake attracts the patricians in Spartacus while cougars seek young boys, perhaps anticipating the depravity of Caligula a half century later.

Kirk Douglas, the real Spartacus, never resorted to total skin in his movies.

Neither did his contemporaries, Charlton Heston, or Victor Mature, although Burt Lancaster sometimes did. Their success was based on skill.

Both Rome and Spartacus are similar in that wives and mistresses often have short life expectancies.

Rome was canceled after two years because of the high cost of production. Spartacus may outlast Rome because of the meager $2 million per episode cost of filming in New Zealand.

Rome might not get to defeat Spartacus this time. Andy Whitfield, who plays Spartacus has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma; production is in hiatus, not to be confused with Hades.

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