LOS ANGELES -- Editor's note:
Sentinel television critic Hal Boedeker reports from the Television
Critics Association winter tour, where networks preview their
director Robert Dornhelm remembers seeing the 1960 version, directed
by Stanley Kubrick, as a teenager in Romania. "When the
offer came to re-do it, I was, of course, first very intimidated,"
he says. "But then I revisited the movie and, as much as
I adore and respect Kubrick, I do not think that this is one
of his better movies."
USA Network will explore the slave leader's
story in a four-hour miniseries April 18 and 19. The new version
returns to the source material, Howard Fast's novel, and depicts
some characters that were not in the original film.
Executive producer Angela Mancuso defends
the remake for exploring the same political themes, such as personal
freedom and segregation, that were pertinent more than 40 years
ago. "I think it's more relevant today to look at the fact
that we haven't maybe progressed as far as we think we have,"
By revisiting familiar titles, programmers
can be assured they'll gain attention in the crowded television
landscape. They frequently defend their remakes by saying that
younger viewers haven't seen the earlier versions or that new
technology and more modern attitudes can re-energize the stories.
Yet a new Spartacus will be a tough
sell to viewers who know the 1960 film and its strong cast, including
Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov
in an Oscar-winning performance. The miniseries features Angus
MacFadyen in the Olivier role, Rhona Mitra of The Practice in
the Simmons part and Alan Bates, who died last month, in his
final screen performance.
Visnjic, who plays Dr. Luka Kovac on
ER, acknowledged the risk of assuming a role so linked to another
actor. "Kirk Douglas is my father's favorite actor,"
he says. "So when I told my father I'm going to be doing
Spartacus and I've made my decision, he was like, 'Better be
Beyond his personal challenge, Visnjic
says the story of slavery in 72 B.C. and rebellion against the
Roman Empire needs to be told again. "For Spartacus to create
the uprising and to do something was so extraordinary,"
he says. "I would compare it with inventing the theory of
relativity. It was such a huge issue."
'Spartacus' sparks mini
USA skeds $20m gladiator event with 'ER' star
By MICHAEL FLEMING
Goran Visnjic will trade scalpel and scrubs for sword and sandals
to topline in "Spartacus," a four-hour USA Network
mini based on the Howard Fast novel that Stanley Kubrick turned
into the 1960 Kirk Douglas drama.
Robert Dornhelm has committed to the project after directing
USA's recent James Woods starrer "Rudy."
While best known for playing the brooding hunk doctor Luka
Kovac on "ER," Visnjic has been making headway in films
like "The Deep End" and the upcoming thriller "Hypnotic."
"He was suggested to me as the right type, and he had
all the physicality needed for the role, plus this sad, somewhat
despairing Eastern European look," said Dornhelm.
Alan Bates has been cast to play Agrippa, the role played
by Charles Laughton in the Kubrick classic.
Dornhelm said his version of the epic will be quite different
from the one done by Kubrick. He just arrived in Bulgaria, where
the pic will shoot on a $20 million budget.
"They say Rome wasn't built in a day, but six weeks isn't
a long time to accomplish it either," Dornhelm said. "We've
got 400 people here, and we'll build the gladiator school, the
Senate, the streets of Rome and the underground Roman baths.
It's big stuff, and the people here are very excited to build
our version of the revolt by slaves." He added that the
Bulgarians are working cheaply to re-create ancient Rome.
Dornhelm has made socially conscious TV films like "RFK"
and "Sins of the Father," but "Spartacus"
is his first period pic.
Still, it has relevance to current events, Dornhelm said.
"There are interesting parallels about power and evildoers."
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