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Reviewing the Game of Thrones Blu-ray

The arrival of the Game of Thrones season 1 DVD & Blu-ray sets (Pre-order: UK DVD, UK Blu-ray, US DVD, US Blu-ray) is a pretty big event, given the buzz we’ve seen on the internet. And not without cause: one of the most celebrated new shows of 2011, adapting one of the most popular novel series in the fantasy or, indeed, any other genre, with a host of award nominations and a few wins, which is pretty good for a show in its freshman year. And HBO has started to turn up the buzz for season 2 with photos, teasers, posters. It goes without saying that Linda and I were well-primed to be excited when a special delivery arrived at our doorstep, containing within it the Season 1 Blu-ray set. We’ve now taken a few days to rewatch a few episodes, listen to commentaries, explore the bonus features, and hunt dragon eggs… and we figure we can now share some of our thoughts on it.

But before going long-winded, lets just say this: if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, if you want to show HBO just how much love and appreciation there is for the series, get this set. The show? It’s terrific, but you know this. The extras? Some of them are mind-blowingly good if you’re prone to geeking out over the show. The quality? Start to finish, this is one of the most handsome, well-produced sets we’ve seen for a TV series, right up there with ... well, with some of HBO’s other past offerings, such as their Deadwood boxed set. Before we get into the meat of the review, though, credit has to be given to Bryan Cogman for writing the entirety of one of our favorite features (Histories & Lore), giving people unfamiliar with the novels a great overview of ancient and recent history (and giving those who are familiar a thrill to see it articulated on screen), and Herzog and Company, the company involved with putting the package together. In particular, I’m not sure who they hired or who came up with it, but there are some segments in the In-Episode Guides that left my jaw on the floor. But more about those later!

ther digital download services.

The Basics

We received the set intended for Europe, or the UK in any case. Lets get the basic stats out of the way:

  • Audio: 5.1 Digital Surround Sond in English, French, Spanish, and Castilian, as well as 2.0 Digital Sound in Polish.
  • Subtitles: English, French, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish
  • Video: 1080p High Definition 16:9 1.78
  • Run time: Approximately 600 minutes.

Exclusive Blu-Ray features

  • Blu-Ray Complete Guide to Westeros: An interactive compendium of the noble houses and lands featured in Season One, PLUS 24 exclusive histories of the Seven Kingdoms as told by the characters themselves.
  • Anatomy of an Episode: An in-episode experience that explores the creative minds and colossal efforts behind episode six, “A Golden Crown”.
  • In-Episode Guide: In-feature resource that provides background information about on-screen characters, locations, and relevant histories while each episode plays.
  • Hidden Dragon Eggs: Find the hidden dragon eggs to uncover even more never-before-seen content.

Also Included:

  • Making Game of Thrones: An exclusive 30-minute feature including never-before-seen footage from the set and interview from the cast and crew.
  • Creating the Show Open: An inside look at the creation of the Emmy-winning opening title sequence for Game of Thrones
  • From the Book to the Screen: Executive producers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, and author George R.R. Martin talk about the challenge of bringing Martin’s epic fantasy novel to life on HBO.
  • Character Profiles: Profiles of 15 major characters as described by the actors portraying them.
  • The Night’s Watch: An in-depth look at the unique order of men who patrol and protect the Wall, a 700-foot ice structure that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the darkness beyond.
  • Creating the Dothraki Language: An insightful glance into the comprehensive language created for the Dothraki people in Game of Thrones.
  • Audio Commentaries: Seven audio commentaries with Cast and Crew including David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin, Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, and more.

The Episodes

I’d say how amazing the show looks at 1080p—higher definition than the 720p broadcasts—but alas, I’ve only a 720p TV on hand. But it does look good, thanks to some terrific cinematography and editing and color grading. At 720p, some of the subtles textures Michele Clapton and the costuming department made use of become clearer and richer, and details in the sets that were lost at standard definition pop out quite nicely. And the sound? Superb, especially with surround sound—every meaty whack of a sword into flesh, every clop of a hoof, ever sound of chain links scraping against leather comes out crystal-clear.

The DVD Extras

Linda and I sampelled a few of these, as they’re present on the Blu-ray as well. Some of them—the Character Profiles, the Night’s Watch, and the Creating the Dothraki Language—segments are not new, but I believe they were only released to Comcast’s Xfinity digital streaming service as an exclusive to them. They’re nice segments, however, with the Character Profiles featuring the various actors speaking about their characters, as well as some examples of their performances. I believe the Creating the Show Open segment is also from Xfinity, but I’m less sure about that. However, the Making Game of Thrones item is fairly new, though I do believe it does includes snippets of previously-aired segments with some new material mixed in. All in all, these are solid and enjoyable, especially for fans who didn’t have XFinity or didn’t go exhaustively over every production video that they released.

The real highlight for fans of the show are, of course, the audio commentaries. There’s a great collection here: executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss on episode 1, and again on episode 10 joined by director Alan Taylor (who’ll direct 4 episodes in the 2nd season, and is now also a co-executive producer). Episode 2 features Mark Addy, Lena Headey, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Episode 3 features the Stark children: Issac Hempstead Wright, Maisie Williams, and Sophie Turner. Episode 4 features Kit Harington and writer Bryan Cogman. Episode 6 is a particularly funny one, featuring Peter Dinklage, Harry Lloyd, and Emilia Clarke along with director Dan Minahan. And last, but certainly not least, George R.R. Martin on the episode he wrote, “The Pointy End”. As I suggested, my favorite probably was the episode 6 commentary—such charming actors (Minahan’s not too shabby, either—he gives a great anecdote about Natalia Tena), and Emilia Clarke does a mean Jason Momoa impression that had us in stitches—but all of them are very much worth listening to. David and Dan are particularly informative about the production (as they would be!) George delves into the process of adapting his own writing to the screen, touching on some of his favorite moments, revealing lines added by David and Dan, and of course lamenting his massive (and expensive) “Gathering of the Banners” sequence that had to be cut form his first draft.

Blu-ray Extras

After the commentaries, it’s the Blu-ray extras which are most impressive. I’ve already raved about the Histories & Lore section, with its “motion comic” stylings and actors lending their voices. Great writing from Bryan Cogman, great reading from actors such as Mark Addy, Harry Lloyd, Charles Dance, Michelle Fairley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, and others (Richard Madden giving a perspective on Aegon’s conquest and the Field of Fire was particularly interesting—both because he ends on Torrhen Stark, the King who Knelt, and because the military events of 300 years ago would surely have been the subject of Robb’s boyhood studies and, doubtless, his interests). The art comes in part from storyboard and concept artist Will Simpson, but I’m told other artists were brought in to help out—it’s a pretty monumental task, providing art for 24 separate segments, although in some cases art was re-used between sections. Here’s a preview of one of the segments:

What was the most pleasant and wonderful discovery, however, was when I dug into the In-Episode Guides. I hadn’t thought these would be all that interesting forus—we know the characters and locations just a bit, after all—but each episode also comes with special video features that will “unlock” at certain points. Some of these are just reprises of the Histories and Lore sections, such as Tywin and Robert discussing the Mad King and the Sack of King’s Landing… but some are unique. Really unique. Again done in a motion-comic style, instead of black-and-white, these are stylized, full-color imagery. Harry Lloyd recounting the Doom of Valyria and the rise and fall of the Targaryens, with scenes of dragons, volcanoes, ships crossing the sea, the single combat in the ruby ford(the depiction of which I’m fairly sure was inspired a little bit by Mike S. Miller’s depiction, particularly in regards to Rhaegar’s armor) and more—gorgeous!

And then I came across Tywin discussing the history of the Lannisters, and that one in particular blew us away: not only is Dance channeling Tywin with his particularly phlegmatic, assured delivery, not only is there a terrific reference to a certain song about Castamere, but the art is simply brilliant; I wish I knew who specifically to credit, but I expect it’s someone at Herzog & Co., or someone they brought in to do it. It basically pans across a depiction of vibrantly-colored stained glass window depicting the Lannister history, each pane matching up nicely to what Dance is narrating as Lord Tywin. Simply gorgeous. Maybe you need to be a special kind of geek to enjoy touches like this so much, but then I guess I am that special kind of geek, and I suspect there are quite a few of you out there as well. Top-notch work, in any case, and not something made on the cheap, that’s a fact!

The other special feature that’s being advertised is the “Anatomy of an Episode” for episode 6, “A Golden Crown”, which sometimes does a fancy picture-in-picture thing where an actor, producer, director, or other member of the production crew comments on various aspects of making the episode. Sometimes the action stops entirely to go into a longer recorded segment, before the episode smoothly restarts. We’ve already seen a preview of part of this feature, and the rest is very much along these lines. Good stuff.

The Dragon eggs…

Ah. One last feature: the hidden dragon eggs, promising never-before-seen content. Six eggs, six videos. They’re certainly pretty well hidden, and it’ll take a bit of hunting to figure where they are—but HBO has hinted that there’ll be clues to help those hungry to see them. And, well, by a bit of sheer luck, I discovered one of the keys to finding them… which means we’ve seen 4 of the 6 segments. Speculation has been rampant that the extras are excerpts from audition tapes… and that’s spot on, at least for the ones we’ve found. Speculation also ran that since the producers suggested we might see it, that Jason Momoa’s audition tape where he famously performed a Hawaiian version of the haka would be on the Blu-ray. That, too, is spot on; Momoa is fierce. What’s great about the other segments is that they all feature lengthy dialog taken almost word-for-word from the books, so we’re seeing things that weren’t even necessarily in the shooting scripts, much less filmed. There’s one particular audition that Sansa and Sandor fans will particularly love… and which made us both nearly jump out of our skin at a certain point!

How do you find them? That, I can’t say. In the fullness of time, folks! And I do wonder if there’s some particular trick to finding those last two that have so far escaped us, and what secrets lie within them…

Summary

Get it. It’s good. You won’t regret it!

The DVD and Blu-ray sets are to be released March 5th in the UK (DVD, Blu-ray) and March 6th in the US (DVD, Blu-ray). March 6th will also see the release of Game of Thrones to iTunes (in 720p only, I believe) and possibly other digital download services.

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