Based on the pilot, "Spartacus: Blood And Sand" will divide the people that view it. To call the series vastly derivative would be an understatement; the entire thing is nothing more than a long-winded cobbling-together of Gladiator and 300, with even more stylization, sex and violence. This isn't to say I didn't enjoy it or find it promising. In fact, it could prove to be very interesting. But buyer beware: this one won't be for everyone.
Produced by Sam Raimi's company, it's got a certain bit of that atmosphere left over from shows like "Hercules" and "Xena", now moved to their new creation "Legend Of The Seeker". It's a certain cheapness that comes with TV productions of period shows. In this case, their apeing of the style of 300, often to the point of copying shots, may help or hinder the feel of the show, but at least it's more interesting than the standard fare. This is no "Rome"; I don't think anyone will confuse this with a character drama.
The plot is more or less straight from the script of Gladiator. The character to be known as Spartacus goes to war, is betrayed by Romans, heads home to save his wife from murder and saves her only to have her taken from him and to be forced into slavery as a gladiator to fight his way back to freedom. There is the prerequisite amount of conniving douchebag Romans who plot and seek to gain the upper hand on the others. And titties. Lots of tittles. There's almost as much in the way of sex scenes as there are of digital gore. I suppose it helps that all the women are beautiful and the men ripple with muscle. It works for "True Blood".
As mentioned, there's quite a bit of violence, as one would imagine from a show about gladitorial combat. The fact that it's digital and often overly stylized to the point of being artistic is often a bit much and kind of weird-looking. It definitely doesn't look real all of the time, but it does prove to be interesting, even if it is inconsistent in the capacity to which they use it.
There's also a pleasing amount of cursing. It's not every day you hear Romans call someone a "cunt". There's a certain novelty to that, though it often seems a bit silly and anachronistic, like a bunch of Cockney thugs yelling at each other. And the actual dialogue, while not bad, is a bit trite and standard.
One of the interesting things about the writing is that the producers actually seem to want to be historically accurate with the series, at least as much as you can be about these virtually unknown eras of history. No plots here based on Howard Fast novels. No, this tale of Spartacus tacks together all of the various legendary notes and rumors of Spartacus' origin, as well as his name being derived from an ancient king. The way in which the elements are brought together are rather canny on the part of the show's creators. And it's surprising that it's as good as it is, coming from the loins of one of Joss Whedon's acolytes.
Given that the pilot of a series is not always the strongest episode of the series, "Spartacus" does have some promise. It's a very simple story and concept. The character portrayals are also rather simple, but, as I said, it's no character drama. It's all a setup for the sex and violence. Were it not very R-rated material, you'd think it was made for Spike TV instead of Starz.
For those looking to drink more from the font of 300, this may be for you. For those not looking for a bunch of silly violent shit, well, you might want to look elsewhere.