nzheraldNZ Herald 19 August 2010 - Blood, sweat and sex

Pick of the week SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND When: Sunday, 9.30pm Where: The Box What: Action on the bed and battlefield

Even before he gets his heroic nickname in the first episode of this much talked about New Zealand-filmed TV series, Spartacus shows his form both in bed and on the battlefield. He sure is a lover, a winner, and a fighter.

HEAVY-GOING: Wedged between the blood and guts of the battlefield are love scenes galore.

Based on the life of the Thracian warrior, slave, gladiator and revolutionary from the 1st century BC,

Blood and Sand, starts as Spartacus and his fellow Thracian fighters align with Rome to help protect their homelands. But when ruthless and obnoxious Roman army leader Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) changes his battle plans, leaving Thracian villages vulnerable, Spartacus leads a rebellion and deserts the Roman army to return to his village and wife Sura.

But after a night of hot and heavy lovemaking Glaber and his cronies capture them and separate the pair. And so Spartacus’ fight for survival, and his desperate search for Sura, begins.

Welsh actor Andy Whitfield stars as Spartacus, who, while powerful, rebellious and charismatic, also looks a little bit of a batamweight beside some of the other beefier galdiators.

Shot in glamorous Mt Wellington using green-screen and CGI technology, it is visually similar to the graphic novel style of Zack Snyder’s 2006 film 300. So there’s lots of slow-motion whiplash, sprays of blood, gaping wounds and a mood that blends hyper-realism and epic fantasy.
As well as the much-publicised naughty bits and full frontal male and female nudity, there’s plenty of colourful language (had the ‘‘c’’ word even been invented back in the 1st century BC?).

Filming of a follow up series — prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena— was initially delayed as Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer but he has since been given a clean bill of health and production of the second season is under way.

The executive producers include Sam Raimi ( Spider-Man) and Rob Tapert (the creator of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena), the latter of whom happens to be married to Lucy Lawless who plays Lucretia (the wife of Batiatus (John Hannah) who owns a troop of gladiators). Lawless says Tappert told her: ‘‘Look, there is this role that might be right for you. But there is some nudity.’’ Told it was not gratuitous, Lawless agreed, saying: ‘‘I’m there.’’ She sure is, you can’t miss the 41-year-old who admits to not being used to ‘‘getting my kit off in front of all those people — and pretending to like it’’.

Lawless wanted to do the show because it heralds a new kind of television, bringing in the technology and scale of modern cinema, but on a budget and schedule that works for TV.