The Pillars of the Earth (2010)

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Released 3-Aug-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category TV Historical Drama Main Menu Audio-Score from series.
Featurette-Making Of-(27:37) 1.78:1 and 16x9. Excellent.
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-(9:26) Progression : SFX plus score. 1.78:1 and 16x9.
Featurette-Making Of-Making of the credit animated sequence.
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2010
Running Time 421:15
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (56:34)
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
Studio
Distributor
Tandem Comms
Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Ian McShane
Rufus Sewell
Matthew MacFadyen
Tony Curran
Sarah Parish
David Oakes
Donald Sutherland
Hayley Atwell
Eddie Redmayne
Liam Garrigan
Skye Bennett
Natalia Worner
Robert Bathurst
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $49.95 Music Trevor Morris


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Hindi
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

†††† Prior to 1989 novelist Ken Follett was primarily renowned as a writer of thrillers. That year saw the publication of The Pillars of the Earth, a historical novel that became Follettís best-selling work. Featured in 2007 by Oprah Winfey in her Book Club, the thousand page work has had a legion of adoring readers. In 2009 filming began on a forty million dollar adaptation for television. The mammoth undertaking was a joint production of Tandem Communications and Muse Entertainment, in conjunction with Scott Free Films, the production company formed by Tony and Ridley Scott. Tandem and Scott Free have just started filming in Hungary for Follettís sequel novel Without End, to be released in 2012. Networks in the U.S. were, however, hesitant to pick up The Pillars of the Earthh until the success of other historical series such as Rome, The Tudors and Spartacus : Blood and Sand. I suspect that some of the comic book blood splatters to be seen in Pillars were added to spice things up after the success of the excessively gory Spartacus.

†††† The Pillars of the Earth is a big entertainment by any standards. It is big in time frame, in geographical sweep, in subject matter and human drama, with violent action, sex, religion and politics all vying for screen time. Although I have not read the original novel, it seems obvious that the adaptation by John Pielmeier is an excellent piece of work. The screenplay gives many modern nuances to the dialogue, without ever overstepping into jarring anachronism. I found this element of the writing particularly refreshing. Although the see-sawing politics may be a trifle confusing at times, the numerous strands of the plot are generally woven together with concise clarity.

†††† The eight-hour drama is set in 12th century England during the reign of King Stephen (Tony Curran), a period of civil war and church-and-state intrigue. The prologue presents the sinking of The White Ship, which involves murder and a regal ring which pops up throughout the plot. Amongst those who escape a watery grave is Jack Shareburg, later the lover of Ellen (Natalia Worner) and father of Jack Jackson (Eddie Redmayne). Poor Jack beds Ellen, has his tongue removed and is hanged, and all in the Prologue. Spanning several decades, Follettís tale goes on to cleverly weave the strands of intrigue, conspiracy, religion and sex over a solid foundation of historical events and the development of architectural style and methods of construction. Central to the plot is the continuous construction of Kingsbridge Cathedral, a fictitious building in a fictitious town. The prior of Kingsbridge, Philip (Matthew Macfadyen), employs a recently itinerant stonemason, Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell), to undertake the mammoth task. Tom, who has just lost his wife in child birth - what happens to the babe is real soap opera stuff - is assisted by his son, Alfred (Liam Garrigan) and daughter, Martha (Skye Bennett).Recruited along Tom's travels are Ellen and son Jack. There is a ruthlessly evil cleric, Waleran (Ian McShane), the noble Earl Bartholemew (Donald Sutherland), Aliena (Hayley Atwell) and Richard (Sam Claflin), a brother and sister striving to regain their father's lost earldom, Shiring, which has been granted to Lord Percy Hamleigh (Robert Bathurst) and his scheming wife, Regan (Sarah Parish). Their son, the sadist and mommy-loving William Hamleigh (David Oakes), is in love with Aliena.

†††† The above is a ridiculously brief outline of the plot, the characters and their conflicts. I haven't even mentioned Queen Maud (Alison Pill), useless Eustace, the devious castrated homosexual monk or the fate of the abandoned babe. There is murder, rape, incest, beheadings, hangings, mutilation, childbirth, flagellation, bloody battle, collapsing buildings and mild nudity distributed throughout the action. There is never a dull moment, yet despite the incident laden plot, it is character that really holds this together. Rufus Sewell is a commanding presence, seeming to become Tom Builder in speech and action. This is a very underplayed yet dominating performance. The other standout for me is Eddie Redmayne as Jack, giving a very contemporary feel to his dialogue. Redmayne won a Tony Award for Red on Broadway last year, and he is a screen actor to watch. As the chief "baddie" Ian McShane adds another to his growing list of memorable TV performances. He is the epitome of crafty evil, without ever sinking to camp parody. Sarah Parish is an excellent companion in evil and Hayley Atwell's Aliena a charmingly unaffected 12th century feminist. All performances are solid, with Sam Claflin jarring a little with his too handsome looks.

†††† Remarkably the entire eight hour production was directed by one man, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, hailing from television, with shows like Battlestar Galactica, Heroes and Terminator : The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The director handles the huge material, cast and settings magnificently. Happily Mimica-Gezzan is set for the sequel, as is writer John Pielmeier. Great admiration must also go to the Director of Photography for the production, Attila Szalay (Smallville). Also contributing much is the varied score from Trevor Jones (The Tudors), who seems to excel in music with a historical flavour.

†††† This is a big, sprawling epic, with lavish sets and very good special effects, apart from the obvious model ships. A measure of its success has to be that as soon as it ended I headed for reference books to check on incident and character. It is a big plus for today's television that our historical past is being used as the basis for intelligent, informative and entertaining drama. Cecil B. De Mille used to spice up his epics with sex and violence, the only difference being that today it is considerably more graphic.

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Transfer Quality

Video

†††† As one would expect, these three discs present eight hours of dramatic material with not one apparent flaw. The making-of featurette reveals that the entire filming was carried out digitally with high definition cameras. All material is presented at the ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

†††† The image is extremely sharp, with great detail in costumes and settings. The scenes which include a large number of extras - real or digital - also benefit from excellent sharpness and clarity. There is a great deal of dark, "natural" lighting, and these scenes are also rendered beautifully, with excellent shadow detail without any low level noise. The colour is excellent, with an abundance of muted browns and greys, but brilliant flashes of vibrant colour when appropriate. The blood is particularly red. Skin tones are generally extremely pleasing and natural, although there is a little too much laying on of facial pancake on Hayley Atwell in early exterior scenes.

†††† The three discs are dual layer. The first disc has the layer change mid-episode, while discs two and three place the change in the middle of the fourth and seventh episodes. The changes are barely noticeable.

†††† The English Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired were sampled and found to be excellent.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

†††† There are two audio streams, English and English Audio Descriptive Service for the vision impaired. Both streams are Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 384 Kbps.

†††† The soundtrack is as dynamic as the visuals of this very impressive epic production. There is a huge speaking cast, and every word of dialogue is crystal clear. Unusual for such a big production, particularly one filmed in Europe, I was not aware of any sync problems. There is considerable action and movement across the front field, and the surround channels were used aggressively for ambience, the period flavoured music composed by Trevor Jones and a multitude of special effects - battles, fires, collapsing cathedrals and such. There is also plenty of opportunity for sub-woofer action, and that is there aplenty.

†††† This is an eight hour display of pretty terrific sound.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

†††† Although few in number, the extras are of very high quality and interest. The episodes are organised as follows:

Main Menu

†††† The menu is presented over a graphic of the six principals, with music from the score but no animation.

Disc One :

Featurette : The Making of The Pillars of the Earth (27:37)

†††† Presented 1.78:1 and with a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtrack, this is an excellent documentary of the making of the film. Organised into three segments, Adapting, Preparing and Shooting, there are interviews with just about everyone involved in the production, beginning with Ken Follett himself. This is one of the most comprehensive and enjoyable "making-of" featurettes I have seen. The size of this production is astonishing, as is the meticulous care taken with the production.

Disc Two

Featurette :Progression (9:26)

†††† Presented 1.78:1 and again with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this beautifully edited featurettes reveals the digital wizardry which is seen on the screen. Without narration and presented with the impressive orchestral score, this really is an eye-opener as to the technical expertise which is involved in such a production.

Disc Three

Featurette: Main Titles Progression (5:41)

†††† Again widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this featurette is introduced by Ron Diamond, executive producer of Acme Filmworks, creators of the Scott Free logo. Diamondís company was approached by the producers when they were looking for an animator for the opening credits of their production. Diamond believed he had the man, one Michal Socha from Warsaw. Here is a fascinating glimpse into how the opening credits of the series were created.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

†††† The Region 1 release has a French audio stream and French subtitles.

Summary

†††† This is big entertainment. Eight hours of history, sex, religion, warfare and cathedral building that never falters. Astonishing in the scale of the production, and vivid in its violence and bloodshed, it is however the characters and their personal conflicts that dominates. It is easy to be glib and cynical about popular entertainment on television, but I found this one emotionally involving and moving. This is eight hours well spent and I am eagerly looking forward to the sequel. There is also about forty-five minutes of excellent making-of material.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Friday, August 19, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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