Game of Thrones - The Complete First Season (Steelbook Edition)

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday November 4, 2015

Steelbook editions are all the rage right now, and when taken together with the intricate, extravagantly done storytelling of HBO's fantasy series "Game of Thrones," plus a set of collectible magnets modeled after the sigils of various noble houses from the world concocted by George R.R. Martin, you'd think that the re-releases of the show's first two seasons in Blu-ray steelbook editions would be as thrilling as the show itself.

In the event, the ten episodes of "Game of Thrones -- The Complete First Season" steelbook edition far outshine the packaging gimmick. The set's five Blu-ray discs are arranged in two stacks, with three discs on top of each other on one side and, on the opposite face of the opened steelbook package, the other two discs similarly stacked.

The discs are so tight on the spindles that you have to worry and finesse them to get them loose -- with the exception of Disc One, which was rattling around loose in the package before opening. (If you know anything about how Blu-rays, DVDs, and CDs are made, you know that it's a really bad idea to flex and bow the discs -- this causes the clear plastic layers to separate slightly, allowing the thin metal coating within to corrode. This destroys audio and video discs, so if you want your Blu-rays to keep playing for year after year, it's best to keep them flat as possible when taking them our of their packaging.)

Your results may vary, but once I had liberated my discs from the spindles and put them into my Oppo Blu-ray player (far from a cheap or unreliable brand), I found the discs refused to play. Not just one disc, but all of them.

For a time I wondered if I would simply have to base a review on the Ultraviolet streaming version (an access code to the Ultraviolet version is included). Repeated reloading finally produced results, and I'm happy to report that once the tough nut was cracked, the meat within was sweet and nourishing. The episodes look and sound fantastic; they ought to sound special, since a new Dolby system called Atmos is in use on this release. (I don't have the equipment to make full use of this new technology, but the system is fully backwards compatible, and sounds great on my admittedly mid-level system. As the press notes have it: "With the new Steelbook set, fans can hear Daenerys's dragons swoop past them and feel the soaring score rise and fall around them." Even on my limited system, the new sound mix's dimensionality jumped out.)

This set is aimed right at hardcore fans, so I don't need to tell you about the episodes themselves. (Let me just note that the writing and production remain extraordinary, and the locations, sets, costumes, action, and cinematography don't just hold up to the hi-def Blu-ray platform, they are positively enhanced by it.) What you will want to know about are the extras -- and there are plenty, including Episode Commentaries, Character Profiles, a "Making Of" featurette, and an in-depth "Anatomy of An Episode" featurette.

A narrative this complex -- the first and second seasons each translated an entire book from Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga -- can best be appreciated by those familiar with the source material. Even bibliophiles with an extensive knowledge of Martin's literary series are going to appreciate how the In-Episode Guide and the "Complete Guide to Westeros" round out the experience; the latter comprises a number of subsections that present the history, myths, cultural reference points, and political situations of Martin's intricately imagined world. using simple animation and narration by members of the cast (who are evidently reading the informative text in character).

One more technical snafu: None of the commentaries would play. I doubt it has anything to do with the Atmos audio, since the episodes and the rest of the features sounded terrific.

A final note: Fans will be eager to collect the entire set of magnets. (More are forthcoming, since the first four seasons are scheduled for holiday season release in this steelbook edition series.) The fact that these magnets come as a special incentive to purchase the steelbook editions might make you assume that the magnets, too, are made of metal (and the steelbooks themselves are really thin metal shells over plastic, so if you haven't seen steelbooks before just know this in advance). However, the magnets are plastic -- which makes sense cost-wise, as well as given that plastic weighs less and a plastic magnet is less likely to slide off your refrigerator than a metal one. Still, the plastic magnet seems bit cheap, so be prepared for this and you won't be disappointed. (By the way, the first season set's magnet is the sigil for House Stark.)

Audiophiles, tech-heads and completists will absolutely have to have these steelbook editions. If you have not yet begun a "Game of Thrones" collection of home viewing, this is the place to start one. If you already have the series on Blu-ray and you're a casual viewer, this might not be for you -- but it will be for at least on "GoT" die-hard on your holiday gift list.

"Game of Thrones - The Compete First Season" (Steelbook Edition)

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.