Kirk Douglas/Stanley Kubrick 2.0. They had previously done Paths of Glory, another movie in the 501 must-see movies project, and one I will probably watch in the near future.
Spartacus tells the story of a slave who becomes a gladiator, and a gladiator who leads an army against the Romans. It is one of the last of the Biblical-era films that fit into the adventure/epic category (yes it’s set about 50 years or so before the time of Christ). Following other iconic films The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, Spartacus ended up winning 4 Academy Awards, and is probably the first film that comes to mind when Kirk Douglas is mentioned.
Something that intrigues me as far as back-story and an added layer is the perspective Spartacus possesses and how that influences his decisions. He has always been a slave, always been seen as less than human. Upon a second watching (many years after the first), I saw how that played itself out. Spartacus was not so much leading a rebellion as seeking to gain freedom from the Romans. That meant going through armies, though it didn’t necessarily need to.
I tend to be a sucker for good visuals, and this film had good visuals. The costumes, specifically with the large battle scenes, are handled quite well and the film was deserving of the Best Costumes Oscar.
Spartacus’ relationship with Varinia is interesting to see develop throughout the film. As a man of slave birth, Spartacus does not know what to do with her at first, and Douglas does a good job portraying that naivety (for lack of a better word). It’s also nice to see both he and Varinia acknowledge that they are not animals, even though their owners tend to see them as animals. Douglas and Jean Simmons have very good chemistry throughout.
I find it interesting seeing Kirk Douglas in his prime, especially after he presented at the Academy Awards in 2011 and how much 50 years changes a person.
One of the things that makes a movie great is numerous layers of stories and subplots to sort through and mesh together for one coherent story. Whether it’s the various Romans taking their place at the end of the Roman Republic and dealing with Spartacus, Spartacus seeking freedom for himself and his men, the Spartacus/Varinia love story. Stanley Kubrick can be difficult to follow at times, but of the films of his I’ve seen (Spartacus, Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket), he tells a good coherent story.
In summary: This film more than qualifies as a major epic undergoing, and Stanley Kubrick does a great justice to the story. It’s one that everyone should see, but doesn’t need to see more than once or twice.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5