Blu-ray Review: Game of Thrones: Season 1

Game of Thrones Blu-raySTUDIO: HBO/Warner | DIRECTORS: Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Alan Taylor, Tim Van Patten, David Nutter, David Petrarca | CAST: Mark Addy, Alfie Allen, Sean Bean, Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Jack Gleeson, Lena Headey, Aidan Gillen
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 3/6/2012 | PRICE: Blu-ray $79.98, DVD $59.99
BONUSES: commentaries, featurettes, interactive guides, character profiles, more; BD adds exclusive histories, hidden content, more
SPECS: NR | 600 min. | Fantasy adventure | 1.78:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish and Swedish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Based upon George R.R. Martin’s wildly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series of epic fantasy novels, HBO’s wildly popular television show Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season arrived on Blu-ray several weeks before the premiere of the TV show’s second season.

And though it’s only March, the HBO release can already be considered one of the finest Blu-ray releases of the year.

Game of Thrones scene

Sean Bean sits atop the Iron Throne--for now--in HBO's Game of Thrones.

A fully rigged, sweeping fantasy saga, Game of Thrones is set in the land of Westeros — a mythical place that initially feels like a mash-up of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, King Arthur’s Camelot and the Byzantine Empire. A closer examination reveals it’s comprised of a handful of kingdoms teetering on the brink of war, each populated by a number of kings, queens, princes, princesses, knights, noblemen, renegades and warriors. More foreboding than the inhabitants is a mysterious mystical underscore that pulses throughout the world, a force that slowly takes on a role as Westeros approaches what appears to be a long, long winter of war following years of generally peaceful warmth.

The television series is filled with action, romance, love, lust, betrayal, intrigue, violence, gore — all of it served up as a fantastical, long-form story told on a colossal scale. An epic that’s occasionally difficult to follow (so many names!) and frequently frustrating (what was that character doing/thinking in the previous episode?), the series ultimately rewards viewers who invest their eyes and ears in its world, where intriguing and accessible human drama plays out on the most amazing of landscapes.

The series’ large cast of players — which notably includes Sean Bean (Black Death), Lena Headey (The Red Baron), Peter Dinklage (Saint John of Las Vegas) and Mark Addy (Barney’s Version), Alfie Allen (Atonement) — is excellent, as are the directors and artisans that brought the show to life.

Of course, that landscape looks and sounds positively dazzling in HBO’s razzle-dazzle Blu-ray presentation. But don’t all HBO original programs look and sound great?

The premium cable giant has always been a leader in producing outstanding bonus content for their original programming, and Game of Thrones is no exception. Indeed, the season one set contains one of the finest collections of supplements — well over 10 hours of material — I’ve ever seen for a television series. And all of it enriches an already sumptuous story and presentation.

All the bonuses are top notch, even those that would be considered the most “standard,” such as the half-hour making-of featurette and a handful of shorter ones, the 15 character profiles presented by the actors who portray them, and the picture-in-picture “Anatomy of an Episode” function that utilizes cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage to break down the series’ sixth installment, “A Golden Crown.”

Taking it to the next level is the “In-Episode Guide” that appears on every episode, a nice-looking pop-up feature that provides information on virtually everything that’s happening on screen that might warrant further attention. In addition to a trove of character, location and historical info, viewers are also presented with factoids on everything from Valyrian steel (a magical metal used to forge the greatest swords in Westeros) to the carnivorous dire wolves that roam the countryside to the bronze medallions worn by the Dorthraki, a nomadic warrior tribe that always seems to be gearing up for battle.

Then, there’s “The Complete Guide to Westeros,” an even more comprehensive (really comprehensive!) interactive examination of the Game of Thrones universe and all the characters, kingdoms, geography, religions, languages and history it encompasses. Divided into three sections — “Lands,” “Houses,” and “Histories and Lore” — the guide is comprised of maps, artwork, texts, featurettes and stories, told by the cast members while in character, that details everything viewers might want to know about Westeros. It’s arguably the Blu-ray’s most ambitious and successful supplement and the one that’s best suited for those who haven’t read Martin’s books and may want to fill in the blanks on subjects they’re unclear about or may have missed while watching the show.

Finally, there are the Blu-ray’s commentary tracks. Seven of the 10 episodes contain commentaries, each featuring an assortment of the show’s performers, writers, producers and directors. The only installment having only a single commentator is the eighth one, which is helmed by author/co-exec producer Martin. And while all the other commentaries are excellent, Martin’s is, not surprisingly, the most engrossing, particularly when he discusses how he conceived the scenes onscreen when he originally penned them years earlier. Many of the “adjustments” made to adapt the novels to the small screen take financial considerations into account, an inevitability that Martin anticipated during his initial writing process.

“There was always a joke during my 10 years that I worked in Hollywood that my scripts, especially my first drafts, were always too long and too expensive — and I maintained that tradition,” Martin dryly remarks (with a smile, maybe?). “In subsequent drafts, I cut and trim and eliminated things and make it produce-able.”


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.