Prepare to be immersed in Westeros!
Season One Review
HBO's adaptation of George R. R. Martin's literary saga A Song of Fire and Ice was, dare we say it, a game changer.The series not only changed how people looked at fantasy, delivering a completely realistic world that was populated by characters we could identify with but it also changed how people looked at television, delivering the kind production values normally associated with the big screen. However thanks to HBO's more adult approach to drama, the series eschewed the PG-13 approach of most fantasy movies. So the politics and intrigue are suitably believable, grounded in a sense of historical accuracy, even if it isn't necessarily our history. Yes there are elements of magic and even dragons - eventually - but the visceral nature of the show gave life to Martin's carefully created world. The success of Game of Thrones centres on memorable characters and the realisation that no one is safe and even favourites can die.The debut season is based entirely on the first novel in Martin's saga, also called A Game of Thrones. To the joy of fans' of the books, the series stays surprisingly close to the novel, aside from some simplification of characters. However the writers, who include Martin, also manage to add new scenes and dialogue that often surpass even the novel. In fact some of the best scenes aren't even in the novel, making Game of Thrones a rare marriage of series and source. The writing is superbly interpreted by a wonderful cast of new talent and established British and Irish character actors. However it's token American Peter Dinklage who nearly steals the show as the dwarf Tryion Lannister. The series was an unprecedented success, creating a worldwide phenomenon and making fantasy stories cool again.
Picture QualityHBO have set the bar very high indeed with their production values and it should, therefore, come as no surprise to discover that their shows transfer to Blu-ray with absolutely top-grade and consistently jaw-dropping success. Game of Thrones is presented in the correct 1.78:1 aspect ratio and comes via AVC encode. Quite simply, Westeros lives and breathes its way out of the screen. Colours are scintillating and betray not one trace of banding or smearing. Contrast is also faultless and you have to admire the icy-blue clarity of the scenes set at the Wall, with the crystal-clear frigid air exceptionally detailed. Elsewhere, there is similar accuracy and realism for the more dour and rain-sodden look of Winterfell, the golden glow of the exterior sets in Malta for Kingslanding and across the sea to Esteros.
Game of Thrones boasts one of the best video transfers we have seen for a TV series.
The photography is sublime, and the transfer perfectly captures it with astonishing detail. Whites never bloom, from the frozen lands of Jon Snow’s crusade to the light shining through the silver-blonde hair of the Targaryens. There is no crushing going on with the blacks, which are tremendously deep and utterly natural-looking at all times. Shadow-play is finely defined and submerged detail penetrates wherever necessary. And to complement all this, there is no edge enhancement, aliasing, overt noise reduction, signs of compression or other digital tomfoolery to spoil the lovely transfer. Quite simply, HBO's Blu-ray release of Game of Thrones has one of the very best video transfers we have seen.
Sound QualityGames of Thrones was originally released with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. The original mix doesn't ask for an over-abundance of surround effects and, as such, it can often be quite a frontally based piece of engineering. When violence does occur and the activities require some immersive bolstering, then you can be sure that the mix provides it. It does what it has to and, rest assured, it does it extremely well. Dialogue, which this show simply thrives upon, is exceptionally well presented. Action comes thick and fast too. From the clanging of swords and the air-swishing thwap of arrows, to the thunderous charging of jousting horses, the impacts of tumbling bodies and the sound of armour on the move, the hewing-off of limbs and the crackling of flames, this is expertly rendered and steered with an emphasis on clarity and realism.
The sub gets lots of welcome attention but it also supplies a reliable foundation throughout, grounding the aural environment with a solid and always believable weight. Even the less physical episodes carry a substantial heft to them. There is no problem with the surround activity either which ensures movement around the channels is smooth and natural. Voices can also be directionally brought into play, from shouting off-camera to the murmurings of amassed onlookers. Ambience comes in many flavours, from crowded streets and market-places, the rolling of waves, the susurration of the wind through long grass and howling over the frozen tundra on the wrong side of the Wall, to birdsong and moans of pleasure that also emanate with immaculate placement, meaning that spatial dimensionality is acute and viewer immersion is always at a premium.
The new Dolby Atmos soundtrack is nothing short of a revelation.
Game of Thrones has been breaking records since it was first aired but with it's steelbook re-release on Blu-ray it passes a new milestone by becoming the first TV series ever to be mixed in Dolby Atmos. If you don't have Dolby Atmos capabilities then don't worry because you can still enjoy the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack, although for some reason the discs default to their Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack when first loaded. We tested the new soundtrack using a full Dolby Atmos setup with a 7.2.4 speaker configuration that consisted of three front speakers, four surrounds, four overhead speakers and two subwoofers. From the very first scene, as members of the Night's Watch leave the safety of the Wall and head out into the frozen north the new sound design makes itself heard. As the portcullis is drawn up the noises surround you and echo from above and when a White Walker appears later the whole soundstage is filled with the sound of cracking ice. It's as though the entire room is freezing and this is before we'd even got to the opening credits! From then on, it's simply more of the same with the added overhead channels creating a greater sense of realism and giving environments far more spatial dimension.
Perhaps the best example of this is when Tyrion is held captive in the dungeons of The Eyrie, these fiendish cells have no outside wall, just a sheer drop. As the wind whistles around Tyrion, the sound design creates a real sense of height and you genuinely fear for his safety. However all the different environments in the show benefit from the new Atmos mix, whether it's the echoing castle halls, the bustling streets of King's Landing or the wind blowing through grass plains of the Dothraki. The scenes set in the north and especially the frozen wastes beyond the Wall feel colder and certainly believe 'winter is coming'. Although there actually is that much action in the first season, when it does happen the Atmos mix takes full advantage of the extras channels to place you in the melee, whether it's at the jousting tournament of Ned and Jamie's fight outside a brothel. Unlike many TV show's, Game of Thrones also makes full use of the LFE channel to deliver plenty of bass to proceedings and the wonderful score fills the front soundstage. However crucially for a series where what someone says can be as important as what they do, the dialogue remains clear and centred throughout. Quite simply the best soundtrack for a TV series that we've ever heard.
ExtrasThe steelbook re-release of the first season features brand new box art designed by Elastic, the agency responsible for the series’ Emmy Award-winning opening credits, and includes useable magnets on the packaging. The design features Winterfell, ancestral home of the Stark family and the magnet is the direwolf sigil of House Stark.
In terms of extras there is a veritable wealth of material here. And you should keep your eyes peeled for some little hidden extras too – not Easter Eggs this time, but Dragon Eggs!
For a start seven out of the ten episodes has a set of commentaries that are unique unto it, delivering all the backgrounds and the anecdotes that you could wish for. The line-up of participents is stunning … and a little brave, as well. Although it is sad to report that we don’t get to hear from Sean Bean, Aiden Gillen or Jason Momoa, this is a wild and hugely impressive gathering of cast members, writers and directors.
In-episode Guides allow you to select from pop-up options to learn about various elements of the story as it progresses through the series, from locations to characters to histories, fleshing out the intricacies of the onscreen drama.
Character Profiles is not as iffy as it might sound. This is actually half and hour spent in the company of fifteen of the major players as they discuss their character in the show. From kids and imps to Dothraki warlords and kings, this is fine stuff from the people in the know.
But the major deal is the Complete Guide to Westeros, which covers, well, everything that makes up the painstakingly detailed dramas of Martin’s fantastical world. There are maps and charts and dynasties and a surprisingly generous helping of featurettes, all narrated by various members of the cast who deliver them in-character, that explore religions, ancestries, folklore and legend, turbulent times, the various factions and the dark events that have led up to what we see in the story. This is excellent stuff, folks and really worth taking the time to devour.
The Anatomy Of An Episode is actually an interactive PiP track that delves behind the making of episode 6, “The Golden Crown”. This is great stuff that will make you wish every episode had such a feature.
The Making of Game of Thrones is a detailed half-hour look at the mammoth undertaking that brings in Martin and various cast and crew members to reveal the commitment to getting it right.
Some of this is then regurgitated in From the Book to the Screen which focuses, as you can tell, upon how the show’s writers adapted Martin’s leviathan work for live-action drama and spectacle.
The Night’s Watch is a brief meeting with those courageous warriors who man the Wall, with cast and Martin in attendance.
We get a great little overview into that stunning and award-winning opening title sequence in Creating the Show Open.
And finally, we get to learn a little about how the production went about Creating the Dothraki Language.
Blu-ray VerdictGame of Thrones is simply staggering in its wealth of intimately drawn characters, its addictive plot, its provocative and varied tones, both visually and psychologically, and its completely immersive atmosphere and intricate layers of intrigue. As an adaptation of a much-loved literary fantasy, it is a triumph. Its magic lies in its ability to spread so many rich and varied stories across a vast and dangerous, yet utterly alluring world with absolute sincerity, power and wit.
“When you play the game of thrones, you win … or you die. There is no middle ground.”
The Blu-ray release of the first season of Game of Thrones is a near-perfect example of how to release a series on disc, with a wonderful transfer that captures all the detail of the marvellous photography and intricate production design. The colours are accurate, the blacks deep and the shadows detailed, whilst the The new steelbook is beautifully designed and the wealth of extras are excellent, allowing fans to delve deeper into Martin's intricately designed fictional history. The original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack was superb but, with its steelbook re-issue, Game of Thrones becomes the first TV series to be mixed in Dolby Atmos. The results are spectacular, completely immersing the viewer and adding another layer of realism to this perfectly realised world. Game of Thrones is more than just a TV series it's a cultural phenomenon, so if you haven't seen it yet you owe it to yourself to start watching. But of course, if you're already a fan then you don't need our recommendation.
You can buy Game of Thrones Season 1 on Blu-ray here
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