The timeless overclass/underclass struggle was never more memorably explored than in Spartacus, a film adapted from Howard Fast's fact-based, heavily dramatized book. Directed by young up-and-comer Stanley Kubrick and starring old-school movie idol Kirk Douglas in the title role, it's the sort of epic spectacle often aspired to but seldom achieved. (Its influence on Mel Gibson's Braveheart is undeniable.) Born into slavery, later sold into the arena to fight and die, Spartacus was pushed too far and came to lead a revolt, first alongside his fellow gladiators and later liberating thousands of slaves of the Roman Republic. Increasingly humiliated, Rome dispatched a mighty army not only to defeat these troublemakers but to send a brutal message that would prevent future uprisings.

Now 60 years old, the movie is compromised by a few dated foibles, largely sonic (canned screams, some unconvincing clanking of swords), as well as the avoidance and in some cases the depiction of the violence. But in the end, the great elements of Spartacus—its heart, ambition, power, and beauty—continue to enthrall.


This 4K disc release is the culmination of both the 1991 reconstruction of the movie to its 197-minute glory and a 2015 digital restoration of the picture and sound. Spartacus was shot in Super Technirama 70, a process that exposed two times as much film surface area as standard 35mm for a sharper, less grainy image optimized for large-format 70mm exhibition. The film elements here were scanned at 6K, and the extensive work was ultimately output at true 4K. The depth of focus in the many wide shots is simply breathtaking, all the more so for the precise orchestration of thousands of extras in certain scenes. Closeups can be crystal-clear, although appreciably softer on co-star Jean Simmons, with ample, welcome film grain. Dolby Vision HDR reveals a warm, nuanced palette, with a more naturalistic balance of light and shadow for different times of day than in previous versions.


The Spartacus soundtrack excites in its own way, notably through a bombastic Alex North score that's mixed big with outstanding fidelity across all speakers. The overture hooks us from the very beginning, and in one early scene we can hear picks and shovels all around working a vast outdoor mine. Dialogue, much of it re-recorded, is dependably clear.


The fine complement of extras—some recent, none new—dates all the way back to the original publicity for the film. One true gem: an aged Douglas recounting how he and Spartacus broke the notorious Hollywood blacklist.

Ultra HD Blu-ray
Studio: Universal Studios, 1960
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
HDR Format: Dolby Vision, HDR10
Audio Format: DTS:X with DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 core
Length: 197 mins.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, Tony Curtis

brenro's picture

Do you like movies about gladiators?