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Game Of Thrones (2011,USA)

22/06/2011

Starring: Sean Bean, Jack Gleeson, Lena Headey, Charles Dance, Mark Addy, Jerome Flynn and many, many more…

Epic is a word that gets bandied about rather a lot these days, often without real basis or any respect for its actual definition. When it comes to HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Game Of Throne novels however, epic seems too small a word to cover it. In typical HBO style, its a slickly produced, high budget, highly cinematic affair replete with acting talent and a gripping and complex storyline.

Set in a pseudo medieval world where feudal lords swear fealty to the King of the Seven Kingdoms it follows the fortunes of the various noble houses and the Machiavellian power games that drive them in their pursuit of power and influence. The details of the plot are far too complex to adequately cover here but in a nutshell the current King faces growing opposition from several camps who believe they have their own claim to the throne and will stop at nothing in order to assert it. Growing tensions give way to outright violence and chaos as the various clans make their moves, overshadowed by a growing evil in the far north and the threat of a great tribal army from across the sea.

It’s gripping stuff. From the opening episode it pulls no punches. Dramatic, exciting, brimming with sex and violence and tempered with a solid script and outstanding performances from the cast. And what a cast it is. Sean Bean leads the charge with his gruff, northern Lord Stark, a man of honour and integrity in a realm populated by backstabbing, self serving, politically minded wretches. Stark is the King’s (Mark Addy) closest friend and when called into service as the King’s Hand is obliged to accept the post against his better judgement out of a sense of duty. With a glut of talent on display, including none other than Charles Dance as the primary rival to the King’s power, it’s a rich, character driven experience. Even Jerome Flynn, former Soldier Soldier star and easy listening singer manages to exceed expectations and put in a strong performance.

Although certain elements of the plot flirt with high fantasy stereotypes (primitive magic, legendary dragons, etc) it manages to remain fairly grounded throughout. While it seems clear to me that there is no way a series like this could ever have been made without the success of the Lord Of The Rings movies, it’s rather pleasing that they have refrained from too much giddy fantasy, instead focusing on the devious nature of humankind. I get a feeling this may swing slightly in favour of the fantasy elements as the seasons unfold so we will have to wait and see what happens (unless of course you have read the books – I’m assured that the adaptation is very faithful to the source novels) but it has room to do so without becoming too self conscious about it. It often seems to reflect the machinations of The Sopranos or The Wire or even The West Wing more than the swords and sorcery of other Tolkienesque shenanigans. This is a good thing, as on screen fantasy can often seem pompous and overblown and needs this recognisably human element to maintain a relationship with its audience. The subtle way in which it paints a picture of Martin’s universe, managing to introduce elements of the history of the world and it’s main players without resorting to heavy handed exposition and avoiding patronising and spoonfeeding its audience is also very much a good thing, not to mention a rare treat.

High production values are evident in every frame. From the opening credits, which so far I have not tired of, where clockwork settlements rise up out of a map of the Seven Kingdoms to the simplest of dialogue scenes, great care has been taken to ensure high quality photography, beautifully designed sets and wonderful costumes and armour. Obviously HBO have thrown plenty of money at this project but even more apparent is that the production has squeezed every last ounce of potential from these funds and achieved something truly spectacular. Rarely do you get to see such authenticity on television and the few CGI shots that do appear are justifiable and competently handled. This is definitely one to catch on a blu ray box set when it gets released on home video.

So epic then and truly dramatic to boot. Rarely do I find myself shouting at the telly in a bid to influence proceedings or undo the twists and turns as they unfold but this had me at it at least once an episode. Heavy on the swords, light on the sorcery, this is the sort of fantasy series that transcends the geek fanbase and makes itself accessible to everyone by ditching the wizards and magic rings in favour of betrayal, intrigue, politicking, sex, violence and revenge – all things that make for good drama and exciting viewing. Fingers crossed they can keep this up for the duration as season one is essentially the setup for the action to follow and promises an even more riveting second season to follow.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 22/06/2011 01:40

    As one who has read all the books, I can assure you that the fantastical elements seldom come to the fore at any point in the first 4 books published so far.

    But it IS a fantasy. There are wights, witches, sorceresses and dragons. They do or involve magic. But rarely and sparingly. They are background elements, part of the scenery; hors d’oeuvres, not the main course. The magic is even more understated than it is in LOTR (where the magic is quite understated, relative to typical fantasy, such as found in Harry Potter.)

    I suspect that the dragons and White Walkers may become more prominent and important before the story ends. But based on what’s been written so far, I don’t expect that they will be used as deux ex machina, or as an undeserved way to save or damn characters or quests.

    • 22/06/2011 23:09

      Thanks for the input! So far the high fantasy elements on show have reminded me of something like John Boorman’s Excalibur or the first Conan The Barbarian. The magic is primitive, primal magic harnessing the elements to create the desired effect but at a material cost in energy somewhere else. It’s not that I have anything against wizards in pointy hats shooting fireballs from their fingertips (perfectly fine in the right place) it just wouldn’t be right for Game Of Thrones. I’m glad that these elements don’t grow to overwhelm the distinctly human, grittily real heart of the story. I’m actually looking forward to seeing more of the White Walkers in later seasons.

      I get the feeling I would really enjoy the books but for once (and this is a rarity!) I am slightly reluctant to read them because I don’t want to ruin the tv show by knowing what happens. Its been so successful at sucking me in and building my suspense and anticipation that I would hate to neutralise this with prior knowledge of the plot. Have you watched the show? How do you feel it compared to the books?

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