'Spartacus' leads charge of DVD, Blu-ray titles
Kirk Douglas headlines ‘Spartacus,’ which has been released on Blu-ray in a 50th anniversary edition.

The sweeping epic "Spartacus" leads the lineup of new titles on Blu-ray.

"Spartacus: 50th Anniversary Edition," based on a best seller by Howard Fast, features stunning battle sequences and top-notch performances by Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas and Charles Laughton. Although directed by Stanley Kubrick, it was Douglas who maintained creative control because it was his company that financed the production.

Douglas stars as the title character, a lowly slave who dreams of freedom in the Roman Empire. He is sentenced to death after biting a guard but is rescued by Batiatus (Peter Ustinov), who wants to turn Spartacus into a gladiator.

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Later, at Batiatus' gladiator training camp, Spartacus is forced to fight fellow gladiator Draba (Woody Strode) for the amusement of two wealthy women. Angered by the humbling experience, Spartacus leads a slave revolt that eventually engulfs half of Italy. The Roman army is ordered to hunt them down, but it is no easy task.

Olivier, plays Crassus who hopes to become dictator by eventually overthrowing the easy-going Gracchus (Laughton). When they are not worried about each other or bothered by the slave situation, the two enjoy the decadence of Rome's ruling class. For example, Crassus has an eye for both a male slave (Tony Curtis) and a young slave girl (Jean Simmons). That was considered one of the bold elements of the film when it was released in 1960.

"Spartacus" was nominated for six Academy Awards and won four for art direction, cinematography, costume design and supporting actor (Ustinov). The film is blessed by a terrific music score from Alex North.

'Road' worth traveling

America has been all but destroyed. Cities are piles of rubble. How did it happen? We are never told, although there are few hints along the way but nothing specific. That doesn't matter. This is the story of a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they make a journey across the grey and often barren landscape. Some of their pre-apocalyptic past is shown in flashbacks, so we learn more about them as they travel on. Along the way, they encounter a few people, including a 90-year-old man (wonderfully played by Robert Duvall). Also in the cast are Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce. This is a depressing but riveting film based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote "No Country For Old Men." Directed by John Hillcoat, the movie is one you're not likely to forget.

'Blood' season 2 delivers

This five-disc set contains 12 episodes about the Louisiana swamp town of Bon Temps, where vampires and other things roam. In the second season, new creatures invade the area and things get even bloodier. A woman with her heart ripped out is found in a car. Another serial killer could be on the loose. Barmaid Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) is back with her mind-reading ability. The third season of "True Blood" premieres June 13 on HBO.


Blu-ray, $26.98


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