Game of Thrones: The Com­plete First Sea­son, The Ma­trix, Black Pan­ther, Die Hard, A col­lec­tion of Cri­te­rion discs, and more.

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - AL GRIF­FIN

Re­watch­ing Game of Thrones, this time on Ul­tra HD Blu-ray, so many years af­ter first en­ter­ing Wes­teros, that fic­tional realm con­jured up by fan­tasy writer Ge­orge R.R. Martin, is an ex­pe­ri­ence akin to vis­it­ing an old friend—and a crime scene. As the se­ries un­folds, and its ex­ten­sive cast of char­ac­ters get in­tro­duced, there’s an un­com­fort­able pang that comes from know­ing what hellish cir­cum­stances these men, women, and chil­dren are about to en­dure. The first episode marks the first time you hear “win­ter is com­ing” ut­tered. The state­ment is tossed off ca­su­ally and doesn’t land with much im­pact. But it does leave a cer­tain chill in its wake. These poor folks don’t know the half of it.

As a fan of the orig­i­nal books, I waited un­til each sea­son was is­sued on Blu-ray in­stead of watch­ing the episodes via an HBO sub­scrip­tion. Why? Be­cause as dis­tin­guished as the HBO se­ries is, I knew then it couldn’t hope to match the books in por­tray­ing the seven king­doms of Wes­teros in all its bru­tal, de­bauched de­tail. If I were to view at all, I could wait to ex­pe­ri­ence it in the best pos­si­ble for­mat. The orig­i­nal Blu-ray re­lease was a beau­ti­fully pack­aged, deluxe edi­tion, with por­traits of the key char­ac­ters and a poster-size map of Wes­teros. This new edi­tion sim­ply con­tains the discs in a ba­sic keep­sake case with no fancy ex­tras.

Orig­i­nally shot in a dig­i­tal 2K for­mat, the first sea­son of Game of Thrones has been up­con­verted here to 4K and given a Dolby Vi­sion high dy­namic range gloss. Sea­son One first ap­peared on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Mas­ter Au­dio 5.1 sound­track, and then saw a reis­sue in 2017 with Dolby Atmos sound. This new ver­sion fea­tures the same Atmos track with a Truehd 7.1 core.

Al­though the source for the 4K re­lease is 2K video, there’s still a no­tice­able boost in qual­ity: im­ages look more solid, and there’s slightly less noise. Watched in Dolby Vi­sion, the en­hanced dy­namic range also serves to im­prove shadow de­tail in the many dark scenes that take place in forests, cas­tles, dun­geons, and broth­els. Oth­er­wise, the mostly muted color pal­ette ap­pears about the same in both the reg­u­lar and 4K Blu-ray ver­sions. Watch­ing in 4K also has the ef­fect of call­ing at­ten­tion to the lim­ited bud­get of Sea­son One as com­pared to the show’s later sea­sons: Af­ter HBO re­al­ized what a mon­ster hit it had on its hands with Game of Thrones, the bud­get for sets and spe­cial ef­fects shot up con­sid­er­ably. Still, the show man­ages to con­vey a fully formed, vis­ually im­mer­sive world from the first episode on.

Hav­ing never ex­pe­ri­enced the sound­track in Atmos, I was in for a def­i­nite treat. In the scenes that take place in cav­ernous halls where mur­der­ous pro­nounce­ments are made, or ag­grieved res­i­dents of the seven king­doms plead with the var­i­ous mon­archs for jus­tice or vengeance, voices echo off the ceil­ing and fill up the room in a nat­u­ral­is­tic way. The sounds of clash­ing swords and gal­lop­ing horses have a full, dy­namic im­pact, and even sub­tle el­e­ments like wind and rush­ing wa­ter come through clearly. Com­pared with new re­lease’s Atmos sound­track, the 5.1 DTS-HD Mas­ter Au­dio track from the orig­i­nal Sea­son One Blu-ray box has a flat­ter, more re­strained, and less spa­tially com­pelling pre­sen­ta­tion.

On the ex­tras front, all of the key bonus materials in­cluded on the Blu-rays have been ported over to the new 4K pack­age. The list in­cludes com­men­taries, cast au­di­tions, and an­i­mated his­to­ries and char­ac­ter pro­files, both of which are use­ful for keep­ing track of the many char­ac­ters and places that you’ll en­counter in Sea­son One. There are also in­ter­views with the se­ries’ ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers and writer Ge­orge R.R. Martin that fo­cus on the dif­fi­cul­ties of trans­lat­ing such a mas­sive fan­tasy tome to the screen. Yet another com­pelling ex­tra is a seg­ment on the cre­ation of the Dothraki lan­guage used by the horse-wor­ship­ping denizens of that king­dom.

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