Spartacus appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. After a poor initial Blu-ray release, this “restored” version became a vast improvement.
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.
Blacks felt deep and dense, while shadows appeared smooth and clear. This turned into a simply terrific image.
The DTS-HD MA 7.1 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 litt;e 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 2015 “Restored” Blu-ray compare to the original BD from 2010? Audio showed mild improvements, as this disc’s mix came across as a bit clearer and smoother.
Visuals became a massive upgrade, though. The 2010 disc suffered from lots of processing and other problems, all of which disappeared for the 2015 BD. This became a huge improvement over the awful 2010 release.
New to the 2015 Blu-ray, 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.
Another addition to the 2015 disc, 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 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 Blu-ray 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