Nine Weeks of Kubrick, Week Nine – Andy Burns on Spartacus

I started Nine Week of Kubrick with a look at Eyes Wide Shut, the final film in the Stanley Kubrick Collectors Edition blu-ray set. Nine movies later, I conclude the series with the first movie in the set, one of the defining epics of our time and a film that, amazingly, I had never seen before this weekend. But Saturday afternoon, with the Queen beside me, I was most tempted to yell out “I am…watching Spartacus!”


What the film is about: set in pre-Christianity Rome, Spartacus is the story of the title character (Kirk Douglas), a slave who becomes a gladiator and leads a revolution against and Rome and General Crassus (Laurence Olivier). The film is a mixture of politics, romance and action and features a cast of nearly 10,000.

What I liked about Spartacus: I was genuinely cautious about watching Spartacus. Three hour epics that don’t involve mobsters or Viet Nam are not usually my cup of tea, and the last Kubrick film I watched that ran long was the disappointing Barry Lyndon. However, my fears of potential boredom were completely unfounded as I watched Spartacus. While I wouldn’t say that it moved along at a brisk pace, I was never bored. In fact, I was engaged and impressed by what I was watching. I was floored by just how much of an epic the movie is, especially having been released in 1960. Without CGI, you know you’re actually seeing thousands of extras line up for battle and go to war. The majesty of the scenery wasn’t created post-production, which makes Spartacus all the more stunning.

Along with it’s great storytelling and visuals, Spartacus has solid performances from every actor on screen. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen too many Kirk Douglas films, but after watching him as Spartacus I’m determined to track down more of his work. The same goes for Laurence Olivier as Crassus, Tony Curtis as Antonitus and the brilliant (and Oscar-winning) Peter Ustinov as gladiator owner and seller Batiatus.

What I didn’t like about the film: while Spartacus is big and bold and epic in style and nature, it never quite feels like a Stanley Kubrick film to me. At least, not the Kubrick who would make 2001: A Space Odyssey or even Lolita. Now, obviously Kubrick tried to not repeat himself, but because he was essentially a director for hire on the picture (brought in by Kirk Douglas to replace original director Anthony Mann, who was let go one week intro shooting), Spartacus doesn’t altogether resonate like the other work of the great director. Apart from a few brilliant moments, I just didn’t feel like Kubrick’s stamp was evident, no matter how great the film is.

Should you watch Spartacus: absolutely, 100% you should see Spartacus. Not because it’s a great Stanley Kubrick film, but because it’s simply great moviemaking. It’s one of those movies that all film fans have to see at some point, and I glad doing my Nine Weeks of Kubrick feature finally led me to viewing it. While it’s far from being my favourite Kubrick film, it is still a certifiable classic.

Final thoughts: Here endeth my look at one of the greatest directors of all time. I hope you enjoyed reading my take on the films contained in the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition blu-ray box set. Personally, I loved watching and writing about every single movie (yes, even Barry Lyndon). The series has inspired me to do more features along these lines, to explore great filmmakers and pictures I may never have seen before. On that note, be on the lookout for the next director to get the in-depth, Biff Bam Pop treatment.

He’ll make your day.

Week One – Eyes Wide Shut

Week Two – The Shining

Week Seven – Full Metal Jacket 

Week Eight – Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

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