Comic-Con 2009: Don’t mess with Spartacus

By Stacey Harrison

lawlessToday’s highlight was a sneak preview of the upcoming Starz gladiator epic, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Or, as you’ll see as we get closer to the January premiere date, the TV version of 300. In describing the sex and violence quotient, the moderator said, “It’s going to make Rome look like Full House.”

Included on the panel were Lucy Lawless, who plays Lucretia, wife of Spartacus’ master; Erin Cummings, who plays Sura, Spartacus’ long-suffering wife; Peter Mensah — who was actually in 300, as the Persian messenger who gets kicked down that hole by Leonidas — plays Doctore, the trainer of the gladiators; producer (and Lawless’ hubby) Robert Tapert; and writer and producer Steven DeKnight, who looks more like a UFC promoter than a show runner. Spartacus himself was supposed to show up, but newcomer Andy Whitfield had to beg off due to the production schedule.

DeKnight says the story is far different from the one made famous in the 1960 Stanley Kubrick epic that starred Kirk Douglas. There is much more to the historical story of Spartacus than was told there. Yes, Spartacus led a slave revolution that nearly brought the Roman Empire to its knees, but what was his life like before? That is where Blood and Sand spends much of its 13-episode first season, making very good use of the relaxed standards that come with being on a premium network. “Starz told us, push it a little further,” DeKnight said. “When you cross the line, we’ll tell you.”

Lawless said she will not get to make use of the fighting skills she learned during all those years on Xena: Warrior Princess. Instead, she spends a lot of time getting physical in a different way with the gladiators in her husband’s stable. She is desperate to have a baby, and her husband, Batiatus (John Hannah), is unable to give her one, forcing her to look for help elsewhere. That aside, the couple does have a workable relationship, but their push for power drives them to become the Lady and Lord Macbeth of the piece.

A personal note of pride: I made the IMDb! Well, sorta. Check out this picture of Cummings. See the guy standing behind her with the gray shirt with yellow stripes? That would be moi.

caviezelLooking just as intense, but presumably featuring a lot less in the way of decapitations and steamy sex scenes, is AMC’s reimagining of the cult 1960s classic series The Prisoner. Star Jim Caviezel was there, looking no worse the wear after his motorcycle accident last week. Joining him were costars Lennie James and Jamie Campbell Bower, along with screenwriter Bill Gallagher and AMC VP of Production Vlad Wolynetz. They kicked things off with a nine-minute highlight reel of the six-hour miniseries, set to air over three consecutive nights (two episodes per night) in November. Wolynetz said it will air on a Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, but not which ones.

Everyone was compelling enough — with Caviezel getting off a nice line about making sure he has a Breathalyzer in his car, in order to avoid seeing a “Jesus busted for drunk driving” headline — but it all felt a little incomplete without Sir Ian McKellen, who plays 2. In the original series, 2 was played each week by a different actor. But in the update, Gallagher said he thought it would be interesting to explore the character’s inner life, his family, and perhaps his struggles with his own moral code. Caviezel is 6, a man who wakes up one day to find himself in a strange place called The Village, a place where physical escape is impossible. I haven’t seen the original (but that’s going to change soon, if I and Netflix have anything to say about it), but this version has me intrigued. We an only hope it’s not all mystery and no reveal. The word “unfathomable” kept coming up, so those looking for a nice, tidy resolution might want to keep that in mind.

englundThe biggest geek moment for me (and my inner 12-year-old) came at the FEARnet panel, stumping for the October web series Fear Clinic. The cast is a virtual Mount Rushmore of the horror genre, including Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Kane Hodder (Jason in Friday the 13th parts VIIX), and Danielle Harris (Halloween 4, 5, and the two Rob Zombie remakes). Oh, and horror literary god Clive Barker was there, too. He was supposed to moderate, but got caught in traffic (took him six hours to make the two-hour drive from L.A. to San Diego). Taking over for him was a guy named Spider, who is apparently the lead singer in a metal group called Powerman 5000 and Rob Zombie’s kid brother. Yeah, it was that kind of panel.

Fear Clinic is a series of five webisodes, each from four to seven minutes long, focusing on a deranged doctor (Englund) who treats people suffering from phobias by making them confront extreme versions of them in his custom-made Fear Chamber. The special effects are feature-worthy, judging from the quick trailer we saw, and seeing Englund and Hodder in a scene together is truly a kick.

Englund also gave his opinion of the upcoming Nightmare on Elm Street remake, saying he understands it from a financial standpoint, but bemoans the lack of creativity in indicates. At the same time, of the glut of remakes that have populated the horror genre in the past few years, Nightmare may make the most sense dramatically. The possibilities of modern CGI effects in the dream world where Freddy makes his kills have the original Nightmare Man curious. He also applauded the choice of Jackie Earle Haley as the new Krueger, saying he has that same small, tight frame that suits the character well.

Spotted on the street: Kevin Sorbo, Alan Ball, Richard Hatch (BSG, not Survivor), Diedrich Bader

BTW, it was Star Wars Day today
BTW, it was “Star Wars Day” today