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Stanley Kubrick
Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons
Writing Credits:
Dalton Trumbo

The slave Spartacus leads a violent revolt against the decadent Roman Republic.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
Dolby Vision
English DTS X
Spanish DTS 5.1
Japanese DTS 5.1
Japanese DTS Monaural
Portuguese DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

197 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 7/21/2020

• “I Am Spartacus” Featurette
• “Restoring Spartacus” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
• Archival Interviews
• Behind the Scenes Footage
• Vintage Newsreels
• Trailer
• Image Galleries
• Blu-ray Copy


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Dolby Vision Blu-ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Spartacus [4K UHD] (1960)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 8, 2021)

Among Stanley Kubrick’s films, 1960’s Spartacus enjoys a lackluster reputation, partially because he acted as a “hired hand” for the film. Kubrick came onto the picture late as a replacement director and he failed to bring as much of his cinematic personality to the film.

This was my fifth or sixth screening of the film, but it did nothing to change my opinions of it. As in the past, I found Spartacus to be an uneven but generally solid film.

Set in the final century BC, Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) grows up a slave. Despite that status, he maintains his pride, and he finds himself often punished for his independent streak.

Batiatus uses slaves as “entertainers” who fight each other to the death. When he discovers Spartacus, he brings him into his business.

While Spartacus excels as a gladiator, he finds his true calling in life. This leads him to eventually push for a rebellion to earn his freedom and that of other slaves.

It definitely appears to be less strongly a "Kubrick" piece than any other work of his I've seen. The director's signature style - described as cinematic cynicism at times - doesn't really seem to be on display.

Actually, I really didn't see much that differentiated it from other "epics" that were so popular in that time period. Spartacus stands up nicely when compared to pictures like Ben-Hur or Cleopatra, but it doesn't outdo them, and it never approaches the heights of Lawrence of Arabia.

Spartacus does manage to offer some parts that ate nicely done and fairly emotional. Its best scenes appeared during the final third or so of the picture.

One large battle and the movie's emotional conclusion both work tremendously well and stand out as the picture's high points. Other than that, however, I simply don't see much that makes the film stand out from the other movies typical of the era and the genre.

One interesting aspect of the film stems how strongly the "good guys" differentiate from the "bad guys." Overall, our heroes - mainly Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, and Tony Curtis – feel dull and wooden.

All of them make for pretty and attractive presences, but their acting isn't terribly effective, especially in the case of the ridiculously-miscast Curtis, who offers some terrible "singing" in his role. I don’t mind his accent too much, but he seems woefully unconvincing as a “singuh of sawngs”.

Simmons appears beautiful but bland, and Douglas can do little more than stick out his prominent chin and snarl. His attempts to provide other emotions seem thin and lifeless to me.

The villains of the piece, however, all become well-acted and vibrant. This is mainly because our chief bad guys were played by Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov - who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor - and Charles Laughton.

That's an awfully high-powered trio, and they acquit themselves well. There's simply a subtlety to their work that I find lacking among the protagonists. Those characters seem to be cartoons whereas our villains appear as much more full-blooded people.

Ustinov may have won the Oscar - thankfully, he kept the occasionally-overwhelming mannerisms that mar some of his work in check here - but I think Laughton provides the best performance. His Gracchus really straddles the line between good and bad and makes for a very interesting character despite limited screen time.

Olivier also seems effectively oily and powerful, and the trio create personalities that provide a great deal of life to Spartacus.

Overall, the scenes that featured our antagonists really turn into the only ones that keep me going. It's a looong movie, and the parts that feature Spartacus, et al., frankly seem pretty dull.

Some of this may have been by design - you never really know with Kubrick - but I think most of the responsibility falls with the actors. Douglas and company simply couldn't keep up with Olivier and crew.

As a whole, Spartacus provides an interesting but erratic experience. It can become something of an endurance test at times.

I love the scenes with Olivier, Ustinov and/or Laughton, but most of the rest of the film bores me somewhat. Ultimately, it's a good film, but I don’t think it's particularly special.

The Disc Grades: Picture A/ Audio B/ Bonus C

Spartacus appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. This Dolby Vision release gave us a terrific take on the film.

Sharpness worked well. Virtually no issues with softness materialized, so this became a tight, well-defined presentation.

Neither jagged edges nor moiré effects impacted the image, and edge haloes remained absent. With a light layer of grain, I suspected no issues with noise reduction, and print flaws also failed to occur.

Spartacus went with a largely natural palette, and the hues excelled. The colors seemed vibrant and lively, so they provided an appealing aspect of the transfer. The disc’s HDR gave the tones greater punch and range.

Blacks felt deep and dense, while shadows appeared smooth and clear. HDR brought added impact and power to whites and contrast. This turned into a simply wonderful image.

Downconverted to DTS-HD MA 7.1, the DTS X soundtrack of Spartacus offered a generally positive but dated experience. The soundfield seemed to be pretty weighted toward the forward channels.

I felt that the front soundstage seemed to be nicely delineated for a film of this era. Sounds panned across the front three channels very neatly and added greatly to the film's ambiance.

Check out a gladiator battle that took place about 45 minutes into the film. Because it was presented from Spartacus' point of view, we actually saw almost none of the fight, but we heard the combatants tussle across the three front speakers. That’s a solid presentation that added to the effectiveness of the film.

In regard to surround performance, the rear channels seemed reserved for musical reinforcement and some rare effects. The forward spectrum really was the primary focus of this track, which was fine with me, since the front channels added such a solid layer of involvement.

Audio quality showed its age but still seemed adequate. Of all the different components, Alex North’s score definitely fared best, as the music seemed crisp and dynamic.

Effects were less consistent, as they seemed to be a little thin and lackluster, and at times they could become somewhat strident. This wasn’t a concern, though, as the effects reflected the limitations of the source.

Much of Spartacus came from looped dialogue, and some of this dubbing took place for the original shoot, while some was performed for the 1991 restoration. For example, Anthony Hopkins redid some of Laurence Olivier’s lines because the original stems were lost.

Whatever the source, dialogue occasionally felt a bit brittle, but the lines always remained intelligible, and they usually seemed reasonably concise. This turned into a track that reflected its era but nonetheless one that suited the film.

How did this 4K UHD disc compare to the restored BD from 2015? Audio showed mild improvements, as this disc’s mix came across as a bit clearer and smoother.

The Dolby Vision presentation benefited from the format’s superior capabilities, and that meant the 4K showed stronger delineation, blacks and colors. While the 2015 BD looked terrific on its own, the 4K turned into an upgrade.

Note that Spartacus first appeared on Blu-ray in 2010. That version was a catastrophe, as it suffered from a slew of problems.

The 4K repeats the 2015 disc’s extras, and we get I Am Spartacus, a nine-minute, 39-second chat with actor Kirk Douglas. He discusses aspects of the production in this reasonably interesting discussion.

Restoring Spartacus runs nine minutes and features NBCUniversal Content Management VP Peter Schade, NBCUniversal Restoration Project Manager Seanine Bird, re-recording mixer John Blum,

As expected, we learn about the work done to bring this new transfer up to snuff. Some good insights occur, but a lot of this feels self-congratulatory.

Four Deleted Scenes last a total of seven minutes, 41 seconds and include “Spartacus Meets Varinia (UK Version)” (2:07), “Spartacus Meets Varinia (US Version)” (2:25), “1967 Finale” (2:26), and “Gracchus’ Suicide (Audio Recording)” (0:59).

The US “Varinia” already appears in the film found here, so I’m not sure why it also appears as a deleted scene. The UK cut alters it a little.

The “Finale” demonstrates edits. Due to complaints from religious groups, the 1967 reissue removed most of the shots of Spartacus on the cross at the end, so this clip shows how poorly the cut version worked.

Finally, “Suicide” adds a little of a scene shot but lost, so we mostly just find an audio take. It’s mildly interesting.

Under Archival Interviews, we find notes from actors Peter Ustinov (2:57) and Jean Simmons (3:43). In the former, Ustinov discusses his character, research, and his experiences in the US as well as some funny impressions. Ustinov was always a fun interview subject, and this short clip amuses.

For the latter, it uses a format popular back in the Sixties: it’s an “open-ended” interview in which blank spots are left in the track so that your local TV personality can make it appear as if he/she actually speaks with Simmons. While I wish they’d provided the questions as well, this was still a fun little clip.

A reel of Behind the Scenes Footage goes for five minutes, 10 seconds. It takes us to “gladiator school” and shows some shots of the principals as they interact, and there’s a fair amount of views of the appropriate performers as they trained.

None of the audio from the original film remains, so instead, North’s score appears over the top of the footage. It’s too bad the audio no longer exists, but this is still an enjoyable clip.

Five Vintage Newsreels occupy a total of four minutes, 59 seconds. These cover “London Ovation” (1:44), “Tony Curtis Honored” (1:12), “Sir Laurence Olivier Returns to Hollywood” (0:35), “Kirk Douglas Honored” (0:51) and “Kirk Douglas Arrives in New York” (0:35).

As usual, these are pretty fluffy, but they’re interesting. I most enjoyed the first one, which shows one of the film’s premieres. I found it oddly entertaining that during one long shot of some obscure royalty, Kubrick walked right past the camera, apparently unnoticed.

In addition to the film’s Trailer, we find a Blu-ray copy. This replicates the 2015 release, and it comes with one feature not on the 4K: an Image Gallery.

This presents “Production Stills” (26 shots), “Concept Art” (7), “Costume Designs” (23), “Saul Bass Storyboards” (64) and “Posters and Print Ads” (18). All offer interesting elements and deserve a look.

As a film, Spartacus seems erratic and occasionally wearying, but it offers quite a few solid moments, most of which came due to some terrific supporting performances from the film’s antagonists. The movie also picks up as it progressed, and much of its most satisfying material takes place during its final act. The 4K UHD provides excellent visuals as well as mostly positive audio and a decent set of supplements. While I don’t love the movie, I feel impressed with this terrific release.

To rate this film, visit the prior review of SPARTACUS

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