Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Weeks Too Late: A Game Of Thrones-Winter Is Coming

A Game of Thrones-Winter is Coming. Directed by Tim Van Patten & Written by (big breath) George R.R. Martin, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss.

Preconceptions: I know, I set a dangerous precedent reviewing the Walking Dead pilot, because now I'm going watch and review TV whenever it catches my fancy. Well, let me promise you I'll only do it when something really gets stuck in my head and is damned cinematic. And not at all because I was gone for the weekend. And Portal 2 came out. Ahem.

Self mockery aside, I was particularly worried about reviewing this because I feared I'd come off fan-girlish. Either I'd end up gushing in a vomit inducing fashion about the beauty of the settings and the sublime casting - barf. Or, worse yet railing until I was apoplectic because my favourite book had been strung up, desecrated and violated by revolting TV types. How tedious would either of those options be? Still, there was also the whole aforementioned Portal 2 release and utterly no free time this weekend...so I'll endeavour not to nauseate the lot of you.

General Review: For those of you who haven't already read the staggering number of reviews, essays and tweets: the pilot didn't rip the book up into tiny pieces and then piss on the remains (this metaphor may have gotten away from me). However, it isn't the second coming of the BBC's Pride and Prejudice either (no wet Colin Firth for one). I know that narrating is considered to be a cheap trick used by directors who can't show rather than tell, but losing the inner voice of the characters was jarring. Ned Stark, in particular, lost a lot of his charm when you don't realize all that he's feeling and can't articulate. Sean Bean was an excellent choice to play him and he may yet rise above the handicap of no monologue, but the strong silent type he's playing is way less interesting than the complicated, twisted up Ned that I came to know and love. Really, while there are a lot of strong casting choices (I already have a soft spot for Maisie Williams as the ready to fight, even in skirts, Arya Stark - big surprise there), the pilot misses a lot of the hard ruthlessness and catch you off guard kindness of the book.

Not surprisingly, the setting is impressive. The budget was well used in showing us the vastness of the Wall, white emptiness of the North and the vibrant colours of the southern towns. The castles never feel small or sound stage-y and there is never the disbelief shattering revelation that the actors are clearly not riding horses, but are sort of bouncing on chairs (even now, this comes up more often than you'd think). It was more than cool to see the fantasy setting be epic and huge rather than hoping to pass off a few rooms as a magical kingdom.

Lets get shallow for a minute and then I'll be back to sensible critiques (probably not). I know that writers of good novels don't go into them thinking of the practicalities of turning their character and settings into TV and movies and they shouldn't. But damn, the bad blonde dye jobs demanded by fantasy settings is painful, PAINFUL to watch. Draco Malfoy, Legolas and now these crimes upon hair dressing:

Ugh. Seriously. And while I'm being shallow (for just a bit longer) sometimes it felt like a "choose your own vaguely British accent" party. I know that we've all decided by social contract that medieval-ish settings are filled with the English...but there were a lot of people from the same towns (and even the same families) speaking very differently from each other. Oh and Jon Snow should have been at least 50% more handsome. Alright, I'm done.

Surface complaints aside, Winter is Coming was a good effort. There were a lot of things I liked, Mark Addy (as King Baratheon) and Sean Bean had great chemistry. Their connection was obvious and the choice to only have Ned smile when he was talking to Baratheon or his wife was a subtle and well thought out touch. As a fan of puppies, I obviously enjoyed the Dire Wolves and I've already begun to love to hate Sansa. Also, very like in the book series, we got to know everyone and their place in the kingdom quickly. We weren't bogged down in recitations of so and so son of so and so of the house of so and so (I'm looking at you Dune). And, despite the size of the cast, we didn't need constant recitations of names to remember who the important characters are. That is not an easy thing to do.

But I suppose you've come here looking for a recommendation (you and your demands) so I'll have to stop squirming around and give one. As much as I would love to gush on and on (and I did utterly adore seeing my favourite characters come to life) this wasn't great. Oh, it was alright, there weren't huge flaws and it certainly wasn't painful to watch. I'm just afraid it falls into the all too common Watchmen-Pit (I know 300-Pit would have been wittier, but that movie didn't have the depth to merit this complain, alright, alright, I'll stop). This show is the best adaptation possible, it does an excellent job of giving us as much detail and character development as it can. but the source material is so dense, rich and filled with compelling characters it's just nigh impossible to portray it with the same meticulousness and care as in the book. I know I'm veering into "oh the book was better" territory, but sometimes books and comics just can't make the media transfer and come out whole. Winter is Coming is certainly competent and I enjoyed seeing it, but the meatiness of the first act of the book just didn't come across. Basically, my main worry is that this won't really bowl over anyone. I think that fans of the books will like it alright, but won't feel any more than the lukewarm enjoyment of seeing their favourite characters and scenes up and moving. But worse yet, I think people coming in blind won't get what the big deal about the series is and as a rabid fan, I want very much for them to enjoy it as much as I do. I'm afraid I'm going to have to be cliche and tell you to read the book first (or at least the first act).

Aside: While I'm sure I'll come to love Daenerys as much as I did in the book, the actor playing her needs to learn that her mouth doesn't ALWAYS need to be hanging half open. Sexy or dullard, only time will tell.


  1. as some one who has never read the books, i am hooked on this television series. i know, there is only two episodes so far, so that is nothing to base recommendations on but i am really hooked. i think the acting is superb, especially the dwarf and boromir. the visuals are stunning, the story engrossing. trying to guess character motives is hella fun. losts of nudity...
    although i have to admit im having a hard time keeping track of who is related to who.
    i mean just the way the first episode ending, i actually yelled "WTF" i didn't see it happening. then seeing how much of a douche bag the prince is...
    i really to look forward to each episode.

  2. I too have not read the books and i'm really digging the show so far. I've already begun to yell at the TV whenever Sansa comes along. Funnily enough my favourite character is Tyrion Lannister. Not sure why. But there you have it. Great review.

  3. @bairdduvessa Ahh I'm glad, I was very afraid that this would do that thing that a lot of long running series do when they're compressed: only be fun to people in the club.

    Tyrion is absolutely my favourite and I was so glad that he was well cast, the guy has got stage presence.

    And I was a bit surprised by how much nudity there was in the pilot. I love HBO.

    Yeeeeah George R.R. Martin did a rocking job of keeping the families straight without droning on and on, but it's harder to do that in an hour long TV show.

  4. @DanFromAus Hehe as I said above, I'm a bit Tyrion flag waver as well. He's amazingly great and if you ever get around to reading the books you'll see why: funny, brilliant and more than a little tragic. And naturally, I love Arya.

    I've never really warmed up to Sansa, I just want to smack her upside the head.


  5. Sunday cannot come quickly enough :)