Andy Whitfield of "Spartacus."

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By Jason Apuzzo. • We had some very sad news lately in the Sword & Sandal world with the passing of Spartacus’ Andy Whitfield, who recently succombed to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The intense Whitfield was only 39 years old, and after his first – and only – season as the star of the hit cable series Spartacus on Starz his career really seemed to be on the rise. We extend our condolences to his family and friends and to his colleagues at Starz – and the network will be holding an Andy Whitfield-Spartacus marathon in his honor. Whitfield will be missed; the arena won’t be the same without him.

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• Otherwise, the biggest news of late on the Sword & Sandal front is the long-rumored return of Mel Gibson to the genre with a new film project on the Maccabees story, the freedom-fighting tale of Jewish revolt against Syrian and Hellenic rule in second century B.C. Judea – essentially the story that inspired Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Almost as striking as the fact that Gibson is taking on this material is that the gruff and colorful Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) will apparently be returning from self-exiled Hollywood purgatory to write the screenplay – returning to material with which he is familiar, having previously written about the Holocaust in Hungary.

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How do I react to all this? Twenty years ago this project would’ve sounded great. Today it sounds like two middle-aged guys who want to bond over bottles of Cazadores while auditioning dancing girls. In the wake of Gibson’s distasteful anti-Semitic tirades, this film is feeling like his belated mea culpa, like D.W. Griffith making Intolerance as penance for Birth of a Nation – which is not to imply, incidentally, that Gibson has a fraction of Griffith’s talent or determination.

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Look, Gibson can do whatever he wants to do with his career as far as I’m concerned. Personally, however, I can’t watch his films anymore – even the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon movies I enjoyed so much years ago. His behavior has ruined those films for me; the magic is gone, Gibson’s ‘charm’ eroded away after too many boozy encounters with police, racist and/or paranoid rants, and Russian mistresses. I get very tired of people these days talking about how ‘George Lucas spoiled their childhood’ just because he re-edited a few scenes from Star Wars, or dropped some new digital creatures into the back of Jabba’s palace. You know who’s really spoiled a lot of fond memories from my teenage years? Mel Gibson. I look forward to the day when Gibson’s personal psychodramas are no longer routinely inflicted on us as industry news.

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Concept art for "Fire and Ice."

• A lot of new Sword & Sandal projects are suddenly in the works: a new Spartacus movie is on the way; Warner Brothers has acquired a Viking-related project for Alexander Skarsgard, a project said to be in the Gladiator-Braveheart vein; there’s yet another new Viking project floating around that deals with the Viking slave trade in Irishmen (centuries before the Irish were owned by the USC Trojans); The Rock is in talks to play Goliath in Goliath; Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) is attached to a big new Julius Caesar movie that would apparently cover “Caesar’s Spanish campaign, his formation of the 10th Legion, and the battles that would eventually establish Caesar as ruler of the Roman republic” (this is great history to cover in a film); Justin Lin will now only be producing the Highlander reboot, because a new director has come on board; 300: Battle of Artemisia (which now has a director) will have small roles for Gerard Butler and Lena Headey, meaning that Butler will have to train for 6 months to get his abs in shape for 30 seconds of screen time; and some sweet new concept art (see to the right) is out for the Frank Frazetta-inspired Fire and Ice that Robert Rodriguez wants to do, a film that will hopefully prevent Rodriguez from doing any Machete sequels.

• The Immortals continues to roll down the tracks with a new marketing push, although the film still isn’t looking any better than it did before. Is it the bad dialogue? The trite storyline? Mickey Rourke wearing bunny ears? Hard to say. A lot of eyes will be on the film in November because it stars the new Superman (Henry Cavill), and because Freida Pinto will likely be getting her last chance to make an impression in a major film. Director Tarsem Singh will probably survive, of course, because he can always be hired to do Christian Dior ads.

In any case, The Immortals has a new trailer, a new TV spot, poster, and some new pics.

Mickey Rourke wearing bunny ears in "Immortals."

• I don’t want to do it, but we have to talk about the Conan disaster. To date the film’s made only $48 million worldwide on a budget of $90 million (pre-advertising). As if that wasn’t bad enough, Stan Lee media is suing to regain the rights to the Conan character. Ouch. In the meantime, Jason Momoa claims to be writing a Conan sequel, although he might first want to read a sad new piece by Conan screenwriter Sean Hood, called “What’s it like to have your film flop at the box office?” Here’s an excerpt, in which Hood talks about how he felt after Conan’s disastrous opening weekend:

“For the next couple of days, you walk in a daze, and your friends and family offer kind words, but mostly avoid the subject. Since you had planned (ardently believed, despite it all) that success would propel you to new appointments and opportunities, you find yourself at a loss about what to do next. It can all seem very grim.

You make light of it, of course. You joke and shrug. But the blow to your ego and reputation can’t be brushed off. Reviewers, even when they were positive, mocked Conan The Barbarian for its lack of story, lack of characterization, and lack of wit. This doesn’t speak well of the screenwriting – and any filmmaker who tells you s/he ‘doesn’t read reviews’ just doesn’t want to admit how much they sting.”

It’s hard not to feel for this guy. Those of you who read my review of the film know I didn’t think the film was that bad, although it certainly was a far cry from the Schwarzenegger-Milius version. Oh, well. If you want to feel better about this whole mess you can always check out Conan’s Rachel Nichols in Maxim.

All 13 dwarves from Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Game of Thrones’ second season is a ways off, but it’s still all over the news: George R.R. Martin just give a new interview, the series’ showrunners are talking about the second season (see here, here and here); Jason Momoa talks about his participation in the series; there’s casting news (see here and here); the series is shooting in Iceland and Croatia; a Game of Thrones video game is also in the works; and one actress has already dropped out of the second season due to the show’s nudity demands. Impressive.

• Something there definitely won’t be nudity in is Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit – probably for the better. You can see a group photo of all the dwarves together (see above); you can learn more about Andy Serkis’ work on the film (here, here and here); see a behind-the-scenes video; and Evangeline Lilly talks about her work on the film here.

Katrina Law of "Spartacus: Vengeance."

• A brief shout-out to a blog I really like, and easily the best Sword & Sandal site out there: Peplum. Peplum unearths treasures (rare photos, posters, comics, etc.) from Sword & Sandal cinema from its heyday in the 50s-60s, and also uploads a lot of hard-to-find films to the blog’s various YouTube Channels. If you love this stuff the way I do, be sure to check out Peplum.

• With a heavy heart Spartacus moves on without Andy Whitfield – the star who was so instrumental to the show’s success. New photos are out of Liam McIntyre, the new star of Spartacus: Vengeance; you can also read about the casting of the new series, and the series has a great new trailer out.

• In other Sword & Sandal News: both Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan seem to be setting aside Red Sonja (see here and here); there is a new picture out of Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman; and Sam Worthington talks about Wrath of the Titans here and here, as does Edgar Ramirez.

• And in today’s most important news … we thought we’d take a look at Katrina Law, who will be returning as the newly freed house servant Mira in Starz’ Spartacus: Vengeance. Speaking on a recent panel about the series, Law said of Spartacus: “I think this is a great series for women to be on because we do get a lot of range. We do get to express a lot of our sensuality, our power, and get to explore that side, and we don’t have to stand in the background.”

Looking like she does, I doubt she’ll ever be standing in the background.

And that’s what’s happening today in the world of Sword & Sandals!

Posted on September 23rd, 2011 at 12:22pm.

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21 Responses to “Sword & Sandal Report: Andy Whitfield, Immortals, Spartans, Vikings + Mel Gibson Goes Old Testament”

  1. K says:

    some sweet new concept art

    That Frazetta dude was the best bikini armor designer, EVAH.

  2. johngaltjkt says:

    I thought Andy was superb in Spartacus. Truly was sad that he passed away from such a terrible illness just when it appeared he was poised to take the next step in his career. My condolences to his family.
    I also want to applaud Sean Hood for his honesty and soul searching after his Conan disaster.
    As far as a Highlander reboot is concerned….well I’m all for it. I recently watch the original film again and it still stinks. I’ve never understand the appeal of this franchise and that’s the point, it’s a franchise. A franchise which has a built in fan base. I believe you only remake bad movies….hopefully better. Thus this is a remake that makes sense.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      I agree with you about Highlander – I never understood the appeal of that film. I had a friend in college who was obsessed with it, but I still think that had to do with the concept of being able to marry an endless number of women over a lifetime.

  3. Eric Johnson says:

    Two points: 1) IMMORTALS looks awesome! I can’t wait to see it. 2) CONAN was THAT BAD! Honestly, come on dude, you can’t even argue that point. It was terrible and I wanted to like it.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Eric, I love your enthusiasm here – and no, I won’t make any special effort to defend Conan – but what in the world is making Immortals look ‘awesome’ to you? Please explain.

  4. Al Harron says:

    Stan Lee Media has no legal ground to stand on whatsoever. It’s a complete non-story. It has no more right to the Conan character than it has the rights to Transformers.

  5. Vince says:

    Okay, yes — Mel Gibson has made it VERY hard — if not impossible — to like him.

    However, I do think he’s a uniquely talented filmmaker, and I think the Maccabees project sounds fascinating — even if it is Mel’s big apology. I can’t think of a better way to say “I’m sorry” than to make such a film that would DEFINITELY be relevant today.

    And my excitement for “300: Battle of Artemisia” is a matter of record — can’t wait to see Themistocles on screen.

    Jason, THANK you for helping to disarm the “George Lucas stole my childhood” mantra. Than was old in May of 1999.

    Awesome piece — LOVE these updates.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Vince, thanks so much – I appreciate it.

      On the Gibson thing, I don’t doubt that he and Eszterhas are up to this material; in fact, I’m sure that if their film actually gets made it will probably be better than 100% of the other projects covered in this post. I’m just tired of Gibson personally, and in fairness I should also add that I’ve had some unpleasant encounters with him and his posse behind the scenes that probably color my attitude.

      On the whole Lucas thing, the haters out there must really be stewing in their juices after the Blu-ray’s $84 million opening. So much for that ‘boycott’!

      What I enjoy most about this, though, is that Star Wars will be blowing Avatar right off the map in Blu-ray sales. ;) Expect me to lord over that fact in my next Invasion Alert

      • Raf says:

        Wow, your love for Lucas knows no bounds, huh?

        • Jason Apuzzo says:

          Sure, Raf, that must be it! It must be that because I refuse to participate in the ongoing internet gang-tackle of one of our great filmmakers, that my admiration ‘knows no bounds.’ You must be on to something there!

          Just so that we’re clear, let me tell you what the ‘bounds’ are with me with respect to my attitude toward Lucas. Back when his Revenge of the Sith suggested parallels between Vader and Bush, I criticized him for it in USA Today – even though I’ve met Lucas on several occasions, including up at Skywalker Ranch, and he’s been perfectly nice to me. So please don’t suggest that I’m not able to be objective here.

      • Curtin/Dobbs says:

        Jason…Speaking of Lucas and Star Wars-iana–see,this won’t bed off topic at all, I purchased a laser disc of Return of the Jedi at a garage sale and there’s a small scratch on it that makes side 2 unplayabe after one minute. (Jason, are you old enough to remember laser discs?). What’s your “recipe” for repairing a scratch on a laser disc and making it playable? Thanx.

        • Jason Apuzzo says:

          Sure, C/D, I’m certainly old enough to remember laserdiscs! My sense, though, is that the solution to your problem should be the same as with any repair of a CD or DVD or Blu-ray: that you apply a store-bought fluid polish to it (which you can buy at any Radio Shack or Fry’s) and then buff/polish the scratches away with a soft cloth to whatever extent that’s possible. If the scratch is especially deep, you may not be able to polish it away to the point that the disc will be playable, so results may vary here. So my recommendation is that you head straightaway to Radio Shack and get yourself an inexpensive polishing kit.

          More handy service here from Libertas.

  6. John says:

    Thanks for mentioning my blog. I appreciate your glowing comments. Nice place here as well. Any blog/website dedicated to the PEPLUM genre is greatly regarded.


    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      John, you really do great work – and I’ve personally spent many an hour on your various YouTube channels, watching the peplum rarities you’ve unearthed. Bravo on your efforts, and keep up the great work!

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