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Published: Thursday, 3/8/2012

'Game of Thrones' brings magic to the small screen

BY RICH HELDENFELS
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL

One of the bigger events on TV this spring will be the second season of HBO's Game of Thrones, which begins April 1. You can see why it was cause for celebration Tuesday, when the first season appears in detailed DVD and Blu-ray sets from HBO Home Entertainment.

The first season was based on the book A Game of Thrones from the multi-volume saga A Song of Ice and Fire by the writer George R.R. Martin. A blend of conflict, sex, magic, swordplay, and even dragons, the books draw you into their complex, epic story and ever-surprising characters for page after page. I have read the first two books and have the third standing by; I held off from starting it because I had other commitments looming and knew I would not keep up with them if I let myself get drawn back into Martin's tale.

The first TV season proved largely up to the demands of Martin's text over 10 episodes, both in maintaining his tone and the sense of mystery pervading the novel, and in letting the characters be as flawed as Martin wanted. And the DVD and Blu-ray packages ($59.99 and $79.99, respectively) add to the pleasure by packing in a lot of additional information, including a guide to the families and lands featured in the series, a half-hour making-of piece, a discussion of how the book was adapted for the screen, the actors talking about their characters, and seven audio commentaries.

The content can be raw (this is, after all, HBO) but the storytelling is marvelous.

I wish I could be more positive about Footloose (Paramount, $19.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo pack), the reboot of the Kevin Bacon movie-with-music, also available Tuesday. Writer-director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) looked as if he could bring some grit and freshness to the old material, and he certainly tried to set a different tone at the beginning of his version -- starting with the party and car crash that set in motion the events in both movies.

Overall, Brewer's take has its merits, including Dennis Quaid's performance as the small-town minister upholding a ban on dancing and loud music. (John Lithgow played the role in the 1984 original.) But it did not remotely reach audiences the way the original did.

Kenny Wormald, playing the Bacon role, is not compelling. And his leading lady, Julianne Hough of Dancing With the Stars fame, just is not that strong an actress; she lacks the layers of pain that Lori Singer had in the original.

That's not to suggest the earlier movie was a classic. It's a modest film made memorable by its songs. But it holds up better than the remake.

Extras on the standard DVD include a commentary by Brewer, deleted scenes and a Big & Rich music video. The Blu-ray combo adds more new music videos (by Blake Shelton on the title tune and Ella Mae Bowen), a look at the movie's stars, a making-of piece and other elements.

Elsewhere:

●While completists might want entire runs of series, other fans might be content with just selected episodes. So Paramount had fans vote on Facebook for their favorite shows from seven series: Cheers, Frasier, Happy Days, Hogan's Heroes, The Honeymooners, MacGyver, and The Odd Couple. And it has released the resulting Fan Favorites: Best Of sets of each show on DVD for $14.99; the comedies include eight episodes, while MacGyver has four (one of them a two-parter).

●Adam Sandler is a reliable performer at the box office, and has made me laugh more than once. But the drag comedy Jack & Jill was just too painful to contemplate. Reviews were brutal even by Sandler standards -- 3 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes -- and revenue was less than Sandler usually manages. But I make note of its video release (Sony, $30.99 DVD, $40.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo) if only so you can see whether you find the movie as awful as others did; the Razzie awards for terrible movie work gave it 12 nominations.

●I remember seeing Grace Kelly in a beautifully restored DVD of Rear Window and marveling again at her beauty. Consider, then, the attraction of a Blu-ray release of Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (Paramount, $22.99), which includes not only Kelly but also Cary Grant. They look great, as does the Blu-ray generally. But the extras are recycled from a previous DVD release.

Other titles that made the Blu-ray move on Tuesday include the immortal Monty Python & the Holy Grail (Sony, $19.99), which should be in every comedy lover's collection; and 54 (Lionsgate, $19.99), the ambitious but finally unsuccessful look at the New York disco, with Ryan Philippe. You can also find a "collector's series" version of Out of Africa (Universal, $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD), the Oscar-winning film starring recent Oscar three-peater Meryl Streep, which continues Universal's marking of its 100th anniversary; another anniversary title is a DVD/Blu-ray pack of Oscar winner The Deer Hunter ($19.98).

Down DVD road

Shout! Factory will release the 1983 Diana Ross concert in Central Park on May 15; it will include both the rain-shortened show and the complete televised performance.



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