(On Cable TV, April-June 2014) As a promise for this season of Game of Thrones, “adapting the second half of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords” couldn’t have been a more enticing prospect given the book’s sheer density of high narrative points. What we got was a bit more than that: a restructured narrative thread that mostly stuck to the book, but went cherry-picking plot threads from latter book in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series in an effort to even out the pacing and even added subplots and a crucial bit of information not found anywhere in the books so far. Not that the additions were all required: simply telling the story as written was crazy enough, with plenty of role reversals, character deaths and sweeping set-pieces. As an adaptation, you can see the TV show slowly becoming its own thing, trying to keep order over the increasingly out-of-control sweep of the book series. But it’s still remaining broadly faithful to the books, enough so that fans should be pleased with the results. Peter Dinklage and Lena Headley once again steal the show as the lead actors, although new actors such as Pedro Pascal shine by fully incarnating minor characters with a great deal of skill and charm. Otherwise, it’s continuity in action, as the level of quality of the series remains constant and there are few major tonal shifts in what’s on-screen. The budgets are either getting bigger or the production team is getting better, because it seems as if the visual aspect of the show gets more impressive each season. Still, it’s the writing that remains so interesting, especially the way the screenwriters are wrestling a massive thousand-page epic into a format digestible and enjoyable by TV audiences. There’s no watching this series casually now: with the number of characters, the convoluted back-story and the multiplicity of sub-plots, it takes dedicated effort to watch Game of Thrones, and to its credit HBO isn’t even trying to dumb it down to network-TV standards. Even hitting its fourth season, Game of Thrones is more impressive than ever. Of course, the real challenge begins next year, as the adaptation hits what is widely acknowledged as the weakest/dullest book of the series, and the plot lines start venturing past what has been published to date. But it’s been a solid series so far –let’s give the benefit of the doubt to the show-runners for the rest.
(Video on Demand, April 2013) One thing is for sure: As a take on the British comic-book character Judge Dredd, this is quite a bit better than the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film. Dredd dispenses with its protagonist’s origin story, overt character development and even heroically refuses to show his entire face: the result is quite a bit closer to the intention of the original comic book material. It helps that producer Alex Garland has been able to put together a day-in-the-life action film that stands alone absent any connections to the wider Dredd mythology: Pete Travis’ direction shows occasional flourishes, and the action cleverly focuses on a single megaskyscraper taken over by criminals. It falls to Judge Dredd (Thanklessly played by Karl Urban, who never removes his eye-obscuring helmet) and trainee Cassandra Anderson (adorably chimpmunk-faced Olivia Thirlby) to clean up the mess, even as they go against a powerful drug lord (Lena Headley, faaaar from her Game of Thrones role) and entire floors of hardened criminals. Other than the dystopian setting, the film’s biggest SF device is a “Slo-Mo” drug that slows down perception to 1% of current time –visually presented with sparkly ultra-so-motion. The action set-pieces are numerous and decently handled, even often beautiful despite the substantial gore that they portray. If nothing else, Dredd is a fine action film, not flawless (the early scenes outside the apartment building betray a small budget) but stylish enough at a time when there are so many cookie-cutter films of the sort. Fans of the over-the-top comic book series may be disappointed to see that the film doesn’t have the resources to indulge in the universe’s wilder facets, nor the audience familiarity to be as cuttingly sarcastic about its own premise. But Dredd ought to please a wider audience than just the comic book fans, and that’s an honorable result given what happens to most comic-book-inspired films.
(On Cable TV, April-June 2011) The first season of Game of Thrones was an astonishing adaptation of a long and complex epic fantasy novel into an easy-to-digest, well-produced, well-written ten-hours TV series. The second season may not be as groundbreaking, but it, too, manages to adapt a lengthy novel with a cast of hundreds into a fairly successful series of episodes. This time around, though, the changes from George R.R. Martin’s source text are more apparent: Sometimes for cost, sometimes for dramatic balance, sometimes to exploit the talents of the series’ actors, and sometimes to keep fans happy. The result is, despite a few noteworthy weak moments, generally successful. The War of the Five Kings is successfully brought to life despite the limited budget of the series, and the ninth episode, “Blackwater” is noteworthy for dispensing with the story’s multiplicity of subplots to focus exclusively on a spectacular military engagement. The story adds many more characters, but nearly everyone turns in some distinctive work: Peter Dinklage is up to the standards set by his Emmy-winning first-season work, but there’s also some fine work by Maisie Williams as Arya and Lena Headley as Cersei. Story-wise, many subplots hidden in the novel are shown onscreen, Arya’s travels are successfully condensed (something that led to the addition of a few gripping all-new scenes) and Theon’s inner conflicts are made more obvious while Daenerys’ time in Quarth is clumsily altered for greater dramatic suspense. These alterations to the original text are enough to keep readers engrossed in the series, even as they serve to adapt the original material on-screen. It’s unclear whether Game of Thrones will be able to juggle all of the extra subplots to be introduced in the next season, but the adaptation so far is amazingly faithful within the constraints of the production. On to Season 3!