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Anchor Bay / 340 Minutes / 2011 / Unrated / Street Date: September 13, 2011
Human beings are naked all the time - even lowly movie reviewers are known to adhere to a daily bathing schedule - but when it comes to on-screen movie skin, why does it always seem to come as such a surprise? I'm not talking about the occasional side-boob view or a once-in-a-while bare ass: What is tricky for any television or cinematic endeavor is handling the full monty - sometimes it works exceptionally well (in my mind, I go straight to Tilda Swinton in Othello or, for that matter, Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant), but whether it's simply a Puritanical American perspective or not, as far as a widespread audience is concerned, it's typically a bit...weird.
I bring this up because Spartacus: Gods of the Arena – a prequel to 2010’s Blood and Sand - is literally wall-to-wall ween and hoo-ha. Artistically, I'm all for it - brazen physicality (not even sexuality, for that matter) has a distinct effect on an audience, and I’m all for a comfort and pride in the human form, but the kicker is that this flesh display is really all that Gods of the Arena has to offer.
This reimagining of gladiator warfare and decadent Roman hedonism is basically Oz without the prison bars - as men fight to save their own lives and loyalty is tested, subverted and often fully dissolved, we're given the impression that this ain't Kirk Douglas' ancient Rome: This is Spartacus sans pants - but while the tentpoles (no pun intended) of the storyline work fine, the actual show itself is surprisingly thin.
More intent on presenting a constant barrage of blood, guts and bathing-suit-area reveals than actually concocting a plausibly understandable season-long story arc, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena is loud and empty. Once the novelty of nude undercarriages wears off, this collection of episodes plays like a duller, longer 300 without the dramatic buildup or action-sequence savvy.