- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A review of a trio of recent Blu-ray sets featuring some of the best mature shows television has to offer.

Game of Thrones: The Complete Fifth Season (HBO Home Entertainment, Rated TV-MA, $79.98, 559 minutes) — Last year’s season of HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s epic sword-and-sorcery tale arrives on Blu-ray to deliver the definitive viewing experience for fans of the mature show.

Winner of a dozen Emmy awards for the season, “Game of Thrones” took viewers back to the lands of Westeros to explore the fate of Night’s Watch commander Jon Snow (in the battle for his life against an army of wights), the humiliating demise of Cercei Lannister, the insurrection against dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen and the enslavement of Tyrion Lannister, to name just a few of the ever-evolving and amassing story arcs.

Packed into a 4-disc set are not only the spectacular digital transfer of all 10 episodes (complimented by a mighty Dolby Atmos surrounding soundtrack) but also a selection of excellent interactive multimedia resources to dig deeper into the mythology.

Best extras: Most fans would be fine with optional commentary tracks on nine of the 10 episodes (three separate tracks alone on episode eight) featuring words from actors Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) and show co-creators David Benioff and D.B Weiss.



Yet, as consistent with a “Game of Thrones” Blu-ray release, HBO dives much deeper and is led by an onscreen episode guide. During each show, viewers can click on their player’s remote to open up a tapestry on the side of the screen to open up an image and text-driven encyclopedia tied to the episode’s characters, locations and history for every scene.

I’ll also mention a featurette offering a beautifully illustrated, 20-minute, motion-comic style, animated look at the Targaryen civil war that led to the downfall of the dragons with narration from the show’s characters.

Extras are rounded out with over 90-minutes worth of other featurettes looking at the production of the show (with a few interviews with Mr. Martin) and six brief (under 5 minutes each), narrated motion comic cartoons looking at some key history and lore of the fantasy drama.

Fargo: Tear Two (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Rated G, $39.99, 572 minutes) — Viewers got another potent dose of black comedy via the return of the critically acclaimed, FX television series offering a new adventure of true crime in the Midwest in the spirit of the Coen brothers’ 1996 film.

All 10 episodes of the second season arrive in high-definition glory on three disks to relay an engaging story arc set in 1979 and tied to the early adventures of state Trooper Lou Solverson.

Specifically, the plot presented the same level of quirky characters with wonderful regional accents, eye-squinting violence and devilish plot twists while turning a small Minnesota town into a war zone.

The stellar cast included Patrick Wilson as Mr. Solverson, Ted Danson as Sheriff Hank Larsson, Kirsten Dunst as Peggy Blumquist, Jesse Plemons as her husband Ed, Jean Smart as crime family head Floyd Gerhardt and Bruce Campbell occasionally showing up as Ronald Reagan on the presidential campaign trail.

Best extras: Sure, one should watch the 44-minute, two-part documentary on the season featuring interviews with all of the principal actors and production staff including maestro Noah Hawley (writer, director and producer) and even the storyboard artist Al Berg.

However, I enjoyed Mr. Campbell delivering an optional, tongue-in-cheek commentary track in the voice and persona of Mr. Reagan as he takes an 8-minute look at his classic movies “Massacre at Sioux Falls,” “Operation: Eagle’s Nest and “Moonbase Freedom.”

“It was so cold that there was no glue to keep the arrows connected to my body,” he says at one point reflecting on his 1950s western adventure. Well, those were the days in early Hollywood.

Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season Special Edition (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Not Rated, $49.98, 291 minutes) — The spinoff of AMC’s popular horror show “The Walking Dead” moves to Blu-ray to provide a potent, albeit too-brief, look at the origins of a zombie apocalypse.

Through a meager six episodes packed on a pair of Blu-ray discs, viewers learn about the lives of widow Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), mother to teenagers Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and drug addict Nick (Frank Dillane), and her current boyfriend, the divorced Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), father to teenager Christopher (Lorenzo James Henrie) but still in touch with his ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez).

Yeah, viewers are in the middle of a dysfunctional family soap opera set in Los Angeles until the unthinkable occurs. After a mysterious infection begins to engulf the city (that brings the dead back to life and hungry for human flesh), our complex clan must now work together to survive.

Best extras: Despite the lack of shows, the package makes up for it with a set of optional commentary tracks, one for each episode, offering plenty of information including behind- the-scene minutia; and the story and characters, all relayed by the soothing, low-key narration of executive producer David Alpert, David Wiener and Adam Davidson with occasional help from Miss Dickens.

Conspicuously missing is the maestro of the zombie apocalypse, creator of “The Walking Dead” and co-creator of the show, Robert Kirkman. It would have been nice to hear from him on the inaugural episode and get a bit more explanation on the evolution of a world pandemic.

Owners also get about an hour of production featurettes covering the story, characters, locations, make-up, special effects and a 5-minute background specific to each episode.

Additionally, viewers can watch a widescreen version of the first episode (black bars on top and below of screen) that was not as impactful for me as the original, screen-filling (1.78:1 aspect ratio) versions of the episodes.

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