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Blu Tuesday: Gladiators and Fairy Tales

There are some pretty big Blu-ray releases coming up over the next few weeks, but unfortunately, that only makes this week’s offerings look lackluster in comparison. To be fair, the pickings would be slim regardless, but there are a couple titles that should help pass the time until you can dig into the awesomeness that September holds.

“Spartacus: Vengeance – The Complete Second Season”

The bloody, sweaty and sex-drenched historical drama “Spartacus” may be unlike anything else on TV, but no one could have anticipated the roller coaster journey that the show has taken over the last few years. After Starz delayed production on a second season (filling its place with the prequel miniseries “Gods of the Arena”) in order for star Andy Whitfield to recover from leukemia, the lead role was ultimately recast after Whitfield sadly passed away. Newcomer Liam McIntyre does his best to make you forget that a different actor is playing the title character, but while his version of Spartacus isn’t necessarily bad, it just doesn’t feel like the same show. The absence of John Hannah’s Quintus Batiatus is perhaps felt even more strongly than the loss of Whitfield, while Lucy Lawless’ Lucretia isn’t nearly as interesting without her better half. Though Season Two gets off to a pretty rocky start, it eventually finds its groove midway through as the war between the rebel slaves and Roman army heats up. But while the action scenes are bigger and better this time around, “Spartacus” is no longer the pulpy guilty pleasure that it used to be.

Blu-ray Highlight: Anchor Bay may have chosen quantity over quality in the special features department, but there are a few extras worth watching, including a featurette on the “Legend of Spartacus” with the show’s historical consultants, and another one aptly titled “Famous Last Words” where the actors talk about their characters’ deaths.

“Snow White and the Huntsman”

All the commotion surrounding Hollywood’s dueling Snow White movies seems to have been all for naught, because the two films couldn’t be more different. Whereas Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” was a light and comical take on the classic fairy tale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is a much darker adaptation with some revisionist twists. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t work quite as well as you’d hope. Though Charlize Theron delivers a great performance as the Evil Queen, playing the iconic villain as a raging psychopath, she goes missing for large portions of the film, while Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman isn’t given enough to do to warrant his top billing. And then there’s Kristen Stewart, who’s not only a terrible choice to play Snow White, but fails to prove that she has the talent to carry such a big movie, especially one as disjointed as this. The troupe of British character actors that play the dwarfs inject some much-needed humor and energy into the story, and there’s some truly stunning visuals on display, but the sum is quite equal to the parts.

Blu-ray Highlight: The making-of featurette “A New Legend is Born” contains some good bits about the film’s production (including Colleen Atwood’s fantastic costumes), although it’s a little awkward to listen to Kristen Stewart fawn over director Rupert Sanders in light of recent events. There’s also a great featurette on the dwarfs that covers everything from casting to the visual effects used to make the actors look small.

  

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