March 21st, 2012

A Game Of Thrones, Blu-Ray, Boxed Set

Review by Mervyn Charles

To begin with, I am not going to go into the story, the acting and any divergences between the novel and the television series. This is not going to be a review of the mini- series. After all, the television series was aired close to a year ago and in that time people with a far better memory than mine will have dissected every minute detail of A Game of Thrones (AGOT) raising every difference between the novel and the HBO mini-series in the process.

Instead I am going to look at the box set as a presentation, in particular the little added extras that you would expect to find bundled in with a box set. In other words, does the box set release further expand our knowledge of Westeros and the characters that are central to A Song of Ice and Fire? (ASOIAF).

Initially I was disappointed to find that the box set didn’t include any deleted scenes. I was looking forward to seeing them, as I believed that some of the divergences between the novel and the mini-series could have been explained by some judicious cutting. However the lack of deleted scenes has been explained as a result of HBO using almost all the available footage when the series was aired, leaving next to nothing left on the cutting room floor. One thing did I did notice was that the episodes seemed longer and more vibrant. This may simply be down to the effect of watching the series on Blu-Ray without the usual advertising breaks. With each episode having a run-time of around 55 minutes, it may be a case that HBO had to trim off some of the fat here and there and this extra padding was retained for the box set release. The opening credits certainly feel more elaborate and longer in the box set release. With the shows allocated an hour slot in the television schedule, the usual three advertising breaks would shave around nine minutes off the airtime. Throw in the more detailed opening and closing credits and it may be that the extra footage I hoped for really did not exist or the snippets were small enough to easily blend into the existing scenes.

So, onto the bonus material and what you have is an interactive guide to Westeros, the land across the Narrow Seas, and the great Houses of Westeros. The “Legacy” as this section is called is concise but very good, with the information narrated by cast members. Actually the “Legacy” portion of the box set even revealed some information about the history of Westeros that I, a long-term reader of ASOIAF, either never realised or overlooked at the time when I was first reading the novels.

The character profiles are necessarily brief so they do not give away too much of the plot to anyone who would watch the bonus features of the box set before watching the episodes. Why anyone would do something like that is beyond me and that section of the box set could have been a great chance to expand on the characters and flesh out some of the more minor characters. That could easily have been done without compromising the plot line and as most people I know who watched the mini-series had already read the books or were in the process of reading them, well it’s not like expanding the character profiles could have compromised the plot. I found that quite annoying as not only is the information too brief but it is also misleading and when they describe Jaime and Cersei as “being very close” well we got to see how close the Lannister twins were right in the first episode.

The section containing the maps and a summation of Westeros and the lands across the Narrow Sea is well worth watching. It is a far more informative section than the character profiles and it gives you a better feel for the geography and also the regional political allegiances of Westeros.

The section that deals with the history of Westeros is well illustrated and there is a good explanation of the religion of the region, which is useful as religion plays a bigger part in the story than in initially apparent. The 3-part exploration of the Nights Watch is narrated from the differing perspectives of Jeor Mormont, Tywin Lannister and Maester Lewin. Each section runs for around 3 minutes. The history of Valyria and the Targaryans, which I cannot recall from the books, is well worth watching as it offers a great insight into the background of some of the main characters as well as another perspective of the more recent history of Westeros.

The most enjoyable aspect of the histories of Westeros and the noble houses is that the histories are narrated totally in character and as such are biased depending on the point of view of the narrator. That is a nice touch because one of the things I found enjoyable about ASOIAF is that unlike most fantasy fiction, there is no real sense of a conflict of good verses evil. ASOIAF is about a conflict of people verses people and their concerns are the concerns of ordinary people. As a result people will act according to their personal interests and point of view and that comes across well in the histories of Westeros portion of the box set.

Overall the extras in the box set are like the companion tomes you used to get back in the good old days of the RPG. They will appeal to the diehards as they add a little bit of flesh to the story and the characters, while totally fattening up the world and its history. However the casual viewer probably won't find that portion of the box set too interesting. I would say that you got to be a real fan to go through all the extras but in the end it will be worth the effort.

The box set (5 Blu-Ray discs with the ten episodes oddly portioned haphazardly across the 5 discs) is well-packaged and also comes with the obligatory “a making of” section, offering a 30 minute behind the scenes look at the series with cast and crew interviews, a look at the Dothraki language and a small section with interviews from the author and the screenplay writers. Overall, that portion contained fillers as some of the footage from “a making of” was simply repeated and of course you have the option of watching the episodes with an “in commentary” dialogue. Maybe I will watch that another time but for the moment I’m looking for a clear ten hours on my own where I can watch every episode back to back!

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