Friday, July 15, 2016

Why "Game of Thones" May be the Most Important Show on TV / Doug Pratt REVIEW

The Emmy Nominations were announced yesterday (July 15). To no one’s surprise, GAME OF THRONES received the most of any other show - an astounding 23 Nominations! So its perfect
timing for this blog to feature another Excerpt from the July Issue of Doug Pratt's DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter -- his critical thoughts on GAME OF THONES The Complete Fifth Season .

The TV Academy got a lot of things right if we were to look at the three shows that received the most nominations. Besides GOT, "The People v. O.J. Simpson" received a total of 22 nods and the drama series "Fargo" received 18 noms. Personally, I would rank all three shows in my top 5 list of best TV shows of the year. 
However, it is GAME OF THRONES  that I believe is the most important show in this current Neo-Golden Age of TV. 
Here is a short list of why I believe this to be true – 

GAME OF THRONES has reached the peak of how TV Series often look as glossy as Theatrical films. The penultimate episode of the recently concluded Season Six had a battle sequence worthy of any similar sequence in a major motion picture, with a sizeable matching budget for the episode, and an elongated shooting schedule to achieve the epic quality of the production.  

- The popularity of GOT came after the DVD market had crashed. The show ended up building its audience after its premiere year by being a bridge between the DVD market and the long gestating Streaming technology. Viewers who caught up with the show after the first couple seasons either watched DVD/Blue-rays or saw the show as streaming video. I can even make the case the show (along with HBOgo/and Netflix) were significant factors that helped usher in the “cord cutting” movement that recently swept across the nation. 

- The unique subject matter of GOT – adult-medieval-fantasy-war-genre – ended up crossing over to a main-stream audience, revealing that TV was more than ever before appealing to a diverse and younger set of viewers.  

- The rather complicated storytelling of GOT is a huge reveal of how TV audiences have changed during this neo-golden age. The series features many, many characters; and multiple sub-plots that have tested the creativity of the show's filmmakers. And the main storyline of the show has featured plots which have shockingly killed major characters involved in the series. This is a trend in TV storytelling that GOT largely deserves credit for. Most of all, the complicated storytelling which elicits fan involvement is a significant shift in entertainment. GOT highlights the strengths of long form storytelling vs. the weaknesses of the two-hour screenplay format. 

As I said, this is a short list of why I believe GOT is, and will end up being, a truly significant TV show for the ages. But don’t take my word for it… Read Doug Pratt’s take on Season 5 and why he believes the series keeps on getting better and better.   

THRONES CONTINUES                             Doug Pratt

Having hit its stride, the HBO Home Entertainment release, GAME OF THONES The Complete Fifth Season (UPC#883929482030, $35), is as grand an escapist entertainment as all of the seasons have been, and is probably a little better than most of them.  There are fewer cul-de-sacs in the narrative, and rather than saving the action for just one of the final episodes, all three of the concluding episodes in the five-platter ten-episode set, originally broadcast in 2015, have spectacular battles and amazing effect sequences.  Yes, the filmmakers still don’t know what they are supposed to do with the ‘ghost dogs,’ a too-convenient deus ex machina, and the one time that one of them appears in this season is especially ridiculous, but that
is a very minor and fleeting glitch in what is otherwise absolutely transporting, adult entertainment.  Running 600 minutes, the season can easily be watched in a day and that is pretty much the best way to watch it, to keep track of the multiple storylines that sometimes don’t make it into one episode or another.  
The story is a mix of chamber dramas and road dramas, which then culminate in action conflicts.  To identify the individual plotlines seems unnecessary—some of the characters go to new places while others are trapped where they have been in the past— but it is worth noting that one of those two utterly transfixing final action sequences involves dragons, and another involves a zombie battle.  Fewer major characters die than usual, but a couple of longtime secondary characters are gone for good.  

Filled with nudity, licentious behavior, violence and gore, along with meditations on leadership, survival, negotiation and other life skills, the show is a fairy tale for grownups in the very best sense, and becomes more unique and more important as a work of pantheon cinema with every advancing season.

Each platter has a ‘Play All’ option.  The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The image transfer is sharp and darker sequences are clear.  
The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has a strong dimensionality, a good punch and periodic directional effects.  There is an alternate French track in 5.1 Dolby, a Spanish track in standard stereo, and optional English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Thai subtitles.  Along with 57 minutes of really good production featurettes and 8 minutes of dialog-heavy deleted scenes that were wisely trimmed but are worth having, there is terrific 40-minute segment that includes interviews with author George R. R. Martin and others about the genuine historical events—most specifically, Britain’s ‘War of the Roses’—that Martin 
sort of swirled around and jumbled about to put together his tale.
Additionally, twelve commentary tracks are spread across nine of the episodes.  The two on the first platter are a waste of time, since they feature mostly cast members who are trying way too hard to be carefree.  The rest of the talks, however, featuring other members of the cast and the crew, are very rewarding, sharing many details and production insights.  A cinematographer, for example, explains that while they do attempt to be original with each lighting situation, sometimes when things are rushed, they fall back on what they’ve done before.  For the costumes, texture is as important as color,
especially since different locations are shot with different color styles, some of which are highly monochromatic.  “I think desaturation is perfect when it works where it should.  I sometimes really struggle when places I’ve actually put in an enormous amount of thought to color, which is not on this, is then, people sometimes desaturate.  It’s like, ‘God, I worked hard to make the colors perfect, and you just sucked it all out.’  It’s so frustrating, whereas here, it’s so perfect.”
Sometimes, the talk turns to the story.  “We always kind of envisioned [Fourth Season] is kind of the halfway point, and now a lot of the storylines in [Fifth Season] are disparate characters meeting for the first time or being thrown together.  We’re bringing everything back home.”   Other times, it is about the unexpected requirements that the prop crew has to fulfill.  For a scene where an actress has to lick water off a floor, that section of the floor had to be, well, clean enough to lick.  They also talk about the special effects and the stunts (“It always makes you a little nervous when you’re shooting this kind of thing, because someone is really being lit on fire.  After we did the stunt, I went up to the stuntman and I was concerned for his well being, of course, and I asked him how he was doing, and he was like, ‘Do you need to go again?’  And I was like, ‘No, actually, it was great.  It was fantastic.’  You know, he performed really well.  And he said, ‘Because I’m fine to go again if you want.’  And I was like, ‘Really, we don’t need to go again,’ and then I found out subsequently that they get paid for every time they get lit on fire.”) and the controversies that have accompanied the broadcasts.  
In regard to the wedding night ‘rape’ scene: “It’s an upsetting scene, it’s a horrifying scene.  I guess where I took issue with some of the criticism was the idea that people criticizing were in our heads as to our motives.  Our motives were about telling a powerful story.”
But mostly, the talks are rewarding because of the detail and insight they provide, such as the description of the staging of the arena sequence that served as the grand finale for the ninth episode.  “Every spare moment in, you know, airports, airplanes, non-shooting days, [we] were huddled, going over and over and over and over the order that we were going to do this, and we ended up with, basically, a small phonebook. Everybody was issued one, and you know, we had to shoot a lot of it, quite a bit of it, out of order, and some of it was, you know, actor-logistic driven and so forth, but [the production team] was also indulging my need to try and keep as much of it back lit as we could, because if you do that, then you’re not having to bring in time-consuming equipment to control the sun, to make the actors look good, and you can make a great looking picture rather quickly.  I think it actually worked extremely well, and it was a circular set.  We got the Art Department to make all the entrances more or less the same so that we could clock the action with the sun as the day went on, so we could keep it feeling consistent, and also quite attractive, because, the truth is, to do that volume of work that we had to do, in such a short time, we didn’t have time to even, you know, deal with a flare in the lens, so I removed the usual diffusion filters that we use, because if we even had to fiddle around with the camera for a minute, six or seven times a day, that was potentially a shot we weren’t going to get at the other end of the day when that shadow started to creep across the floor as the sun set down behind the edge of the arena.  
We did use big lighting tools to create some shadow and some modeling on the actors’ faces, because each setup was potentially going to take, in the big scheme, only 5 minutes each, but over the course of the day, you know, if you did ten of them, that was an hour out of the day that could have been done doing shots, so I think what really worked for us was to clock the action and to shoot the action in an order where the natural light could do all the work for us.  Here’s a case where you’re doing a scene that takes place over 10 minutes, but you’re shooting all day long for 10 days, and keeping something the perfect continuity of lighting is next to impossible, so by being able to clock the action with the sun, it’s possible we were able to make it feel very consistent and like it was something that actually did take place in real time over 10 minutes, so you didn’t get thrown out of the story.”