Spartacus – restored in 4K at Film Forum, November 4 – 12, 2015

Stanley Kubrick’s SPARTACUS (1960). Courtesy Film Forum via Photofest. Playing November 4-12.

Stanley Kubrick’s SPARTACUS (1960). Courtesy Film Forum via Photofest. Playing November 4-12 at Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St.

November 4, 2015. From November 4 – 12 Film Forum will present a new, 4K restoration of director Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 masterpiece, “Spartacus” starring Kirk Douglas. “Spartacus” is an all out big budget Hollywood “sword and sandals” epic that more than holds up. Its battle scenes are nothing short of spectacular and its political maneuvering just as relevant as ever.

It boasts a magnificent cast, the likes of which we will never see again. In addition to Douglas the cast includes Lawrence Olivier, Charles Laughton (incapable of giving an even remotely bad performance), Peter Ustinov (who won an Oscar for his role in “Spartacus”), Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons and John Gavin.

I remember seeing the 1991 70mm restoration of “Spartacus” at the Ziegfeld theater. I actually snuck into its premiere and was so struck by this 197 minute long Hollywood epic about a slave revolt in ancient Rome, that I returned a week later to see the film again. Prior to this I had attempted to watch “Spartacus” on a VHS cassette and found it unwatchable. Therefore the 1991 restoration was, for me, a revelation and I have been a fan ever since. The 1991 restoration, done prior to the strides that we now have in digital technology was done photochemically by film restorer Robert Harris, who also restored “Lawrence of Arabia,” among other films.

So, the question is, how does this new, digitally restored “Spartacus,” which builds upon the 1991 restoration, compare to the photo chemical restoration that I saw 24 years ago? Who can remember? I will say that the 4K restoration is spectacular and eye popping. Most important, what an opportunity to see it on the big screen at Film Forum before it is consigned to the world of home video.

In addition to cleaning up the negative and fixing some of the effects shots to make them look more realistic than they had previously, the “Spartacus” restorations put back scenes which had been cut from the film. The most famous of these is what has become known as the “snails and oysters” scene between Olivier’s character Crassus and Curtis’ character Antoninus. While the scene’s picture was found, for the 1991 restoration, its soundtrack had been lost. Fortunately Curtis was still living and able to re-record his missing lines. However, Olivier had died in 1989. Anthony Hopkins, who was known for doing imitations of Olivier at Hollywood parties, was brought in to dub Olivier.

“Spartacus” also achieved its place in history when Douglas (who was both star and producer) hired and gave on screen credit to, blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, who penned the screenplay. His gesture proved to be a crucial blow to the Hollywood blacklist. I actually saw Douglas speak about this at the 2012 Turner Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. He was 95 at the time and is, today, the only surviving major cast member of the film.

Director Kubrick, a notorious perfectionist, was a “gun for hire” on “Spartacus.” He replaced the film’s original director, Anthony Mann. Douglas fired Mann after Mann criticized Douglas for over acting. Kubrick, who needed to fulfill a contractual obligation to Douglas, who had starred in Kubrick’s brilliant 1957 film “Paths of Glory,” was only too happy to sign on.

Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street. For more information visit


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on November 5, 2015, in Classics, Film Forum and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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