Reviewer’s State of Mind: I love Kubrick. I wanted to like this movie.
In fact I hated this movie. I will start with a summary:
1. Costumes and hairstyles: ridiculous. Looked 1960 not 73 BC. The clothing styles were too clean, too uniform. In real life, Romans wouldn’t have all had the same clothing styles or even the same military uniforms. Jean Simmons was completely unbelievable as Spartacus’ girlfriend.
2. Filming technique: looked like an attempt capture a Shakespearean style, it failed miserably, the result was very wooden, over-staged scenes.
3. Acting: atrocious, wooden, posed, silly at best. The actors who were any good still made the film look the Roman Scenes from Mel Brooks’ ‘History of the World Part I’
4. Alex North’s atrocious musical score. Utterly horrendous, incongruous. The musical score literally destroys the film. It was an attempt to sound Roman, with silly heraldic trumpets. There is way too much music too often, that often overwhelms much of the dialogue. If the hideous faux-Roman Cecile B. DeMille music overlay could be removed completely, the film would certainly be a bit better and have more dramatic effect. North is like Mahler. He’s the A student. Everyone says we are supposed to think that his work is good, so we don’t say that the Emperor is naked. It’s like Phil Spector. Phil Spector’s work was terrible, but we’re not allowed to say so. This film score is horrendous. The worst I have ever heard in any film.
5. Saving graces: Laurence Olivier as Crassus and Peter Ustinov as Batiatus did their best to save this movie.
6. Battle scenes, impersonal, distant, looked like a staged Hollywood Western fight scene. No nuance, no personal close-ups. A huge waste of extras. Compare for example the very personal battle scenes in Paths of Glory, or the utterly brilliant atomized battle scenes in Full Metal Jacket.
7. The entire film was so impersonal, so scripted and yes so boring, it looked like the actors weren’t very interested in the film and just trying to get a paycheck. Rumor has it that Kubrick was brought in at the end and he was none too happy with what he was given.
The real failure was an attempt to do too much. It wasn’t very deep, there was no soul or pathos from it.
How this film won any Oscars, let alone four, is beyond my imagination.
This film is Kubrick’s worst, second only to the stultifyingly boring Lolita.
If you love the show Spartacus on Starz, you will have to watch this movie. The more times you watch it, the more you will hate it.
Think of the very long, but very suspenseful, sweeping Lawrence of Arabia. That film succeeded in every area that this one failed.
It is a classic Hollywood mega-bomb. An atrocious failure of a movie. Too long, too boring, borderline unwatchable.
Universal Pictures, 1960
Stanley Kubrick, Director
Kirk Douglas, Edward Lewis, Producers