Tuesday, November 23, 2010
After directing the complicated yet surprisingly short The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957), Stanley Kubrick took a major leap forward with Spartacus, a three hour plus true epic. At the time, 1960, Kubrick may or may not have had the creative instincts that drove his later projects. Regardless, he directs the film with little stylistic flares, instead opting for a straightforward approach in the tradition of the great epics. And there's nothing wrong with this at all, as Spartacus appears to us in marvelous, grandiose fashion, full of rich color, stunning widescreen photography, and vast, picturesque landscapes. And the story is equally majestic, as Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) starts his life as a meager slave and ends it as a hero (or perhaps, as the ending might suggest, a savior). Spartacus is chosen to be a gladiator, but it proves to be a short trial, as he soon leads a rebellion and escapes the harsh confines of the camp. From there he gathers as many slaves as possible with the intention of joining up with pirates and sailing to a free country. Yet he's completely prepared to go to war against the angry Romans, who are infuriated and in constant discussion over this embarrassing situation. Despite having Kubrick at the helm, Spartacus is a very risk free motion picture. And to me it seemed like he was intentionally keeping it that way, though there are some instances, such as when he cuts back and forth between speeches from Spartacus and the Roman leader, that are clearly the product of a genius of this medium. Spartacus is a strong movie with moments of greatness, but to me it mostly offered entertainment. While that's not a bad thing, and usually the goal of movies, this is a Stanley Kubrick film. Enough said.