Spartacus War of Damned

Monday, 29 April 2013 00:00
Posted in TV DVDs
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Spartacus - War of the Damned on DVD and Blu-rayAs the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” Thus, after four scintillating and extremely bloody seasons, the Spartacus saga draws to a close. War of the Damned picks up where Season 3’s Vengeance left off, with Roman general Glaber defeated and the slave rebellion rapidly amassing new recruits. Rome appoints Marcus Crassus, a wealthy and very cunning, strategic politician to crush the rabble once and for all.

Crassus is aided by his inexperienced and impetuous son Tiberius, and the daring and very ambitious Julius Caesar. With the backing of countless legions of well-equipped Roman soldiers, Rome must surely, finally seize the day. Meanwhile, Spartacus and his generals Crixus, Gannicus and Agron have a common enemy, but very different priorities. Pressed on all fronts, resources running critically low and with a bitter Winter to contend with, the odds do not look good.

In a relatively short space of time, Spartacus has come such a long way. The first couple of seasons were unabashedly crude but massively entertaining, focusing on sex and gladiatorial violence but with the core strengths of good story-telling and bold characterisation. Although personal freedom has always been the ultimate goal, Vengeance and War of the Damned shifted the focus to more altruistic aims. Not freedom for a single man but for all slaves and an end to oppression.

Over the course of 39 powerful episodes, we have seen immature, self-serving and testosterone-pumped characters grow in ways we never imagined. In this take on the true-life but indeterminate events, Spartacus the man (Liam McIntyre – Rush) always seemed to possess a keener insight into what is just and right, but other gladiators-turned-generals had to be persuaded that there is more to life than death and glory in the amphitheatre.

Crixus (Manu Bennett – Arrow, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again”), Gannicus (Dustin Clare – “The Eye of the Storm”) and Agron (Daniel Feuerriegel – Home and Away), along with a whole cast of wonderful supporting characters – good, evil and somewhere in-between – have left an emphatic stamp on TV history alongside Spartacus’s notoriously gory fight scenes and rampant sexual activity.

It is a shame that Crassus, Caesar and Tiberius only get this one season on screen, as all three characters are fascinating to behold, and their interplay with one-another is also pivotal to the season’s success. Simon Merrells (“The Wolfman”, London’s Burning) is steely and muscular as Crassus, determined not to underestimate Spartacus where others have before him, at the expense of their lives. Todd Lasance (Home and Away) deserves a spin-off series all of his own, such is his wild-eyed ability to immediately settle into the role and rough-it-up with Spartacus and company. Finally, Christian Antidormi (Home and Away – did they get a job lot?!) is horribly conniving and dislikeable as Tiberius, but in a good way!

I had a concern early on in this final season that as the scale of events spiralled, the TV budget would struggle to keep pace and depict them convincingly. As with the previous season, however, the makers (including executive producers Steven S DeKnight, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Joshua Donen) pick their fights wisely and focus tightly on smaller skirmishes most of the time, with some of the larger battles and manoeuvres described in war rooms.

Having said that, there are some amazing, large-scale battles in this final season. Whilst they might not look quite as realistic as those witnessed in mega-budget movies, they work brilliantly in Spartacus’s hyper-realised, “300”-esque world of slo-mo decapitation. From a mountain top or bird’s-eye view, the camera shows us the tens of thousands of warriors on both sides, the Romans neatly organised into phalanxes, the rebels seemingly untidy and disorganised, but perhaps looks can be deceptive! Then, as the sides plough into each other, the action zooms in to capture the combat from a more personal and bone-crunching perspective.

Incredibly, the excellent fight choreographers and special effects crew still manage to come up with horrible new ways of dispatching soldiers. We still get severed heads, legs and arms flying in all directions and those are hilariously gruesome, but the new ‘fatalities’ (to quote video game “Mortal Kombat”) keep things fresh and prevent even the most jaded Spartacus fan from becoming bored (as if they ever could be with a series this entertaining!).

I am very sad to see the series go, but it has definitely gone out at the right time and in such a superb, fitting style. As the final episode’s credits roll through, and the characters get their last roll call, the closing image is an in-memoriam of the original Spartacus actor, Andy Whitfield in all his glory. I already had a big lump in my throat, and it swelled further at that moment. Rest in peace, Andy; Spartacus will live on in the memories of millions of fans.

Video quality in the DVD version reviewed is pretty good but having originally watched the series via an HD TV channel, I have to say that it is worth splashing out the extra money for cutting-edge picture clarity on Blu-ray.

The list of special features included in this release was unavailable at the time of my review, but one hopes it will match those from previous seasons which included commentaries and featurettes aplenty.

Spartacus: War of the Damned (2013) is out now courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The four-disc set has a running time of 9 hours approx, carries an ‘18’ certificate and retails for £39.99 on DVD, £49.99 on Blu-ray, or less from

Last modified on Thursday, 02 May 2013 11:21

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