Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spartacus (1960)

The first thing that surprised me about this movie was that it was directed by Stanley Kubrick. I watch it now with that in mind and you can see his storytelling fingerprints all over this picture especially the way he uses silence and the smallest gestures to convey emotion. Usually when Kubrick uses that technique (like in 2001 A Space Odyssey) I hate the result. Here I don't.

He is a genius at casting and both Kirk Douglas and Jene Simmons are excellent in their roles as Spartacus and Varinia. It is easy to forget that Douglas was a great action star in his day.

Also how can anyone do a Roman themed film without Peter Ustinov? He plays Batiatus, the owner of the 'ludis' where Spartacus is trained to be a gladiator. I enjoyed the way Ustinov plays Batiatus as a suck-up. How he kisses ass and find a hundred different ways to compliment his wealthy patrons is a joy to watch.

Sir Lawrence Olivier and Charles Laughton (who NEVER lets me down) also have strong roles in the picture.

The action scenes are as spectacular as you would imagine they would be. In a time before CGI you truly had a 'cast of thousands' acting out some of the greatest battle scenes Hollywood has ever attempted. From the gladiator school to the Roman Senate, the set design leaves nothing to the imagination. It is all there in front of you to see. The look just screams 'blockbuster'.

There is a point before the final battle between the Roman army and the slave army where Kubrick just sets his camera on a distant hill and for about 15 minutes you see the entire Roman Army move in unison and set up their formations. It's as fantastic piece of filmmaking that has ever been done. I imagine it took weeks to set up and maybe just as long to get right. Ambition? Kubrick fears nothing.

The film also isn't in any hurry to tell it's story. It allows each character and each subplot to play itself out in it's own time. You would be hard pressed to find a film these days (with the exception of The Dark Knight) that isn't racing to get to the 90 minute mark. We forget how great it was to see an epic like this on the big screen. Thank god that theatres like 'The Princess' exist (It's in Edmonton near the University of Alberta) to show these old school features.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Dudes in underwear fighting.

M. D. Jackson said...

Now did you see the restored version?

This is one of Kubrick's films that is most unlike a Kubrick film During the production he butted heads with Kirk Douglas and was forced to make a lot of compromises that he did not like. It's an amazing film, but not truly a Kubrick film

DrGoat said...

My parents took me to see this at the movies in 61. I was 11, so you can bet, I was a gladiator for the next year, thrashing my way thru the back yard and fighting Romans.

Pat Tillett said...

I know this comment ages me greatly. But I saw Spartacus when I was 10, when it first came out.
We loved it...

For 25 cents it was part of a double feature.

Artman2112 said...

fwiw Kubrick had nothing to do with the casting of that film. the players and production team were all in place including a diff director (Anthony Mann i think) but Kirk, who was producer of the picture, replaced him with Kubrick very soon after production began. more than anything, Spartacus is a Kirk Douglas film. he bankrolled it, he over saw all aspects of production, casting, writing etc etc and was even the one who decided to give blacklisted Dalton Trumbo credit for the screenplay after Kubrick said he had no problem taking credit for it.

Gloria said...

"Charles Laughton (who NEVER lets me down)"

Laughton never lets down *anybody* ;D