Game of Thrones Season One Blu-Ray Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, February 27, 2012
Let me start by saying I’ve never read any of George R.R. Martin’s books that this TV show is based upon. That’s a positive for one very important reason…it means I won’t be one of those wise guys who bitches about how much a series or film differs from books. The Tolkien purists still haven’t shut up about the fact that it was Arwen and not Glorfindel who rescued the hobbits from the Nazgul as they made their way to Rivendell.
The first season of the series adapts the first book of Martin’s epic A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy series, which is rife with plot complexities and a cast so large it makes “Lost” look like it was a one-man show. The series follows several intertwining plotlines in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. These various kingdoms are each governed over by a predominant house and ruling over them all is Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) the King of the Seven Kingdoms who was crowned after leading a rebellion against Mad King Aerys II Targaryen.
Trying to describe all the multi-layers of plots and sub-plots would take up far more space than I have in this review but there are three main threads. Eddard Stark (Bean) is ruler of House Stark and close friend of the King. The King chooses Stark to become Hand of the King, essentially like a Vice President’s role (or is that Vice King?) There he is caught between the loyalty to his friend and the schemes of Queen Cersei (Headey) and her twin brother Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
To the north, The Night’s Watch guards The Wall is a massive 700’ tall wall of ice on the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms. According to legends in the series it was made 8000 years ago by Brandon the Builder, in order to protect the Seven Kingdoms from a threat from the north. The Night's Watch guards the wall, but has decreased in numbers in recent times. Eddard’s bastard son John Stark volunteers for a lifelong commitment to join the watch and guard it from the Wildings who would invade. Across the Narrow Sea, the last two children of Mad King Aerys II Targaryen, Viserys Targaryen lives in exile with his sister Daenerys. Viserys who believes he is the true heir to the throne, arranges to sell his sister in marriage to Khal Drogo, warlord of nomadic Dothraki horse warriors, planning to use Drogo's army to reclaim the Iron Throne of Westeros.
Well that’s the basics. A Game of Thrones has been described as The Sopranos meets Lord of the Rings and it’s an apt description. The various Houses of rule are not unlike mob families, each with their own boss and underlings, each with their own motivations and ambitions. Game of Thrones in a nutshell is a story of powerful and ambitious personalities, each who either wants to claim the throne or supports someone who wants the throne.
Characters come in an out at a rapid pace and if like me you have not read the books you can find yourself dizzied by sheer size of the cast. Fortunately the fine folks at HBO had you in mind when they produced this blu-ray set. You can watch the episodes with an optional guide. At any time you can use your controller to click the onscreen icons to get a quick bio of the characters in any particular scene, a history of a certain region or landmark, and even get a history of events in a characters own words. The bios come us a text pieces (I suggest you pause the scene) and the histories take you to a short, usually 2 – 3 minute extra that dumps you back into the episode right where you left off. This is an invaluable tool if its your first exposure to Game of Thrones.
The cast in Game of Thrones is one of the finest ever assembled in a TV series and I don’t make that claim lightly. It’s hard to find a performance that seems out of place or ill-fitting. Sean Bean shines with dutiful nobility as Eddard Stark. He takes the role of Hand of the King knowing it will lead to no good but he is loyal to his friend and King. Headly and Coster-Waldau shine with evil vanity as Cersei and Jaime Lannister who believe themselves superior to all because of their wealth. Stealing every scene he is in is Peter Dinklage as the dwarf brother to Cersei and Jaime, who spends most of his time drinking and carousing with women but who is sharp of wit.
The production is based mainly in Belfast, Ireland, but has also filmed in Malta, Croatia and Iceland. Stunning cinematography is a highlight of the series. The producers have spared little expense at bringing this mythical medieval period to life in dazzling glory. The costuming, the props, the fight choreography, all immerse you into a fully realized world so completely that you can’t wait to enter it again, and thankfully we only have about another month until season two begins. Game of Thrones is one of the best series to hit TV, cable or network, in many years. The gold standard!
As mentioned one of the primary Blu-Ray extras is the Guide to Westeros which can be viewed while watching the episodes or as separate features from the menu. Other extras include:
Audio Commentary on seven of the ten episodes including the first and season finale episodes
Making of Game of Thrones (30:00) – The featurette includes interviews with the shows producers, episode directors, cast, and George R.R. Martin. Covers casting, filming locales, set design, and visual FX.
Anatomy of an Episode (1:00:00) A closer look at episode six which the producers consider the key episode of season one. It’s the full episode with behind the scenes interviews.
From the Book to the Screen (5:14) – Adapting the book for TV. Martin discusses his apprehension about a film adaptation, as he knew the story was too big for a feature film.
Creating the Show Open (5:07) – A Look at the creation of the shows opening map sequence
Creating the Dothraki Language (5:27) – The producers hired a linguistics professor to actually create a full Dothraki language in order to make it that much more authentic.
The Nightswatch (8:07) – A look at the lore of the Nightswatch, those rangers of the North who guard the Wall.
Mania Grade: A
Blu-ray: Game of Thrones Season One
Rating: R (Mature)
Starring: : Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Mark Addy, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Michelle Fairley
Written By: George R.R. Martin (original story)
Directed By: Various
Distributor: HBO Home Entertainment
Original Year of Release: 2011
Extras: See Below