Posted: 06 Jul 2011 03:06 AM PDT
The prequel gives viewers a background on the history of the House of Batiatus and introduces us to the indestructible Gannicus.
WHEN Starz television series, Spartacus: Blood And Sand, premiered in January last year, little did the producers expect to be at crossroads just after season one, throwing a gladiator-sized challenge to its team of writers.
Like many of its fans I was hooked from the first series of this rather bloody historical drama.
It was visually appetising from the mood of the set, the way it was shot, its attention to detail from scars to blood splatters, and of course, the fabulous designs of the women's ethereal Roman gowns. Even the lack of material used for the pitiable female slaves had a fashionable edge of its own!
Shot in a similar style to that of the film 300 and with the look of the Gladiator, the set was surreal and it captured the intensity of the characters and the era with all its plots, blood and gore.
When the show was renewed for a second season, production was suddenly delayed as the lead actor, Andy Whitfield – who plays a Thracian gladiator in ancient Rome and becomes the historical figure of Spartacus – was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The producers wanted to buy time for Whitfield to undergo treatment and to recover, and to resume his role. As such, the prequel, Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena, was dreamed up.
The storyline for this highly anticipated prequel was skillfully manoeuvred to give its hungry audience something to chew on, after having offered a titillating first season.
It gives viewers a background on the history of the House of Batiatus and the Roman city of Capua before the legendary Spartacus arrives. What a clever time-buying idea!
It includes all the main characters from the original series and introduces the indestructible Gannicus (Dustin Clare), the first gladiator to become Champion of Capua, who was bought by the House of Batiatus; Gaia (Jaime Murray) as Capua's sexy social climber and Melitta (Marisa Ramirez), a beautiful slave who plays the wife of one of the gladiators, Oenomaus (Peter Mensah).
As in season one, the prequel anchors around Quintus Batiatus (John Hannah) who aspires to political power and prestige in Capua, but it also introduces the story of Gannicus, the charismatic gladiator.
In the class-conscious world of ancient Rome, the House of Batiatus must first earn the respect of politicians and the socialites before being granted the right for its gladiators to fight in the much-revered championship bouts called the Primus.
At the start of the prequel, while his father is on an extended visit to Sicilia, Quintus Batiatus becomes the acting Lanista (manager of a team of gladiators).
In the first season, Batiatus has won the rights for his gladiators to fight in the Primus, but in the prequel you see what he goes through to earn his fight rights.
Hannah is rarely cast in lead roles but he doesn't disappoint as Quintus Batiatus – giving us a man whose ambition and greed will lead him to make tough choices. It is in making hard-hitting decisions that he habitually flinches for a second, then quickly recovers, making you want to believe he has a conscience, which he ignores.
When the champion gladiator is introduced in the form of the hulking Gannicus, he portrays a very unusual gladiator – one who smiles a lot which is very unbecoming of a serious gladiator – but his cockiness adds a sense of lightness to the doom and gloom of his fate and that of his fellow gladiators in training.
In one scene, Gannicus is forced into a precarious position with Melitta, who is the wife of his best friend, Oenomaus, and being slaves to the house of Batiatus, their fates are sealed and they are bound to serve Batiatus at all costs.
Interestingly, we also get to see Crixus (Manu Bennett) in his pre-season one look – long-haired and hungry – who has to start at the bottom of the gladiator food chain and how he develops into a more prominent role in season one.
Batiatus' equally ambitious wife, Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), didn't seem as ambitious in these earlier days, and her toned down version takes some getting used to.
A newcomer in the form of the stunning social climber Gaia (Jaime Murray) makes Lucretia look harmless, and it wouldn't be a bad idea if they develop her feisty character in season two.
Even after watching only two episodes of this six-parter, the prequel is highly addictive.
Meanwhile, Whitfield (whose cancer recurred) had decided not to return for season two and had given his blessings for his role to be re-casted.
Whitfield's sandals will be tough to fill, especially after his remarkable performance – he is not extraordinarily handsome to the point of being intimidating and all his emotions seem to have a conversation with you just through his eyes. As I whine about the loss the series will feel with the absence of Whitfield, I am hopeful – with so much success after the casting of the first season's characters – to see Spartacus rise again, to keep us as loyal as slaves to this highly entertaining drama series.
Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena airs every Friday at 11pm on MAX (Astro Ch 412).Full Feed Generated by Get Full RSS, sponsored by USA Best Price.
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