Pillars Of The Earth

Pillars Of The Earth (2010)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew MacFadyen, Eddie Redmayne, David Oakes
Extras: Featurettes

Based on Ken Follet's best-selling novel of the same name, "Pillars Of The Earth" tells the fictional story of a small rural village in England that rises to power amidst struggles of war. It is an epic novel with a plot line that spans about 30 years and as such it was only adequate to turn the book into a TV mini-series. The result is a wonderfully intimate look at medieval England.

Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell) and his family are trekking across the country, looking for employment for the master stonemason. Times are harsh, however and work is hard to come by. In his mind, tom always dreams of building a cathedral but the odds are stacked against him, as he is fully aware.

After his wife dies in childbed in the middle of the forest, he befriends Ellen (Natalia Wörner) and her son Jack (Eddie Redmayne) and allows them to travel along with them. It soon turns out that Jack is an incredibly talented stone carver, which causes a lot of friction between him and Tom's real son Alfred (Liam Garrigan). The hostility rises as Tom falls in love with Ellen and begins to treat her and Jack as part of the family.

As they settle down in the small village of Kingsbridge to help restore an old church, luck seems to be on Tom Builder's side. The church burns to the ground and Tom Builder has the chance to propose to the prior his concept of a cathedral. Prior Philip (Matthew MacFadyen) is forward-thinking leader with a vision that matches Tom's and together they agree to build a masterpiece of a cathedral.

Bishop Waleran (Ian McShane) meanwhile would rather have his own castle restored instead and through intrigue and politicking he tries to sabotage the cathedral every step of the way. However, Waleran's meddling antics go muc hfurther. As a war ensues between King Stephen and Queen Maud over the rightful ownership of the throne, Walerna plays both sides with bravado, making sure to profit from every little chess move he makes.

As Kingsbridge slowly grows, the threat the village poses to other cities, such as Shiring, becomes more evident and with nefarious plans and villainous schemes, England is trenched in bloodshed and warfare to serve its evil and selfish leaders and every day, it seems, is a day prone with another betrayal, devastating news or even murder.

The series consists of eight one-hour episodes which are presented on three Blu-Ray Discs on this release. From the beginning, it becomes clear that with its high production values and wonderful cinematography, the series sets high standards for itself and never disappoints. Whether covering intimate moments, like the opening of the series and many others during the story, or some of the magnificent epic moments featuring the cathedral later on, or even the battle scenes, the production always looks like a million bucks.Dropping the viewer right into mud-stained and blood-drenched England of the period, there is not a single moment when the illusion is broken or the story falters. Characterizations are wonderful and fleshed out with enough depth to create living and breathing personae that we like or dislike with such gusto that we would easily want to become part of the lynch mob that tries to bring them to justice.

Especially the characters of Tom Builder, Prior Philip and Bishop Waleran – who are at the center of the story – are portrayed so powerfully that they could easily carry the series by themselves. They do not have to, though, because practically all of the other parts are filled with an equally impressive cast that make you forget you are watching a TV production. I found that the longer the series ran, the better it became, and the more I rooted for certain characters and wanted to see others fall. However, what might seem like a straight-forward proposition, rest assured that the plot also contains a good number of surprises that may catch you off-guard.

PResenting the show in 1080p high definition is the way to go, honestly. I have previously mentioned the series' wonderful cinematography and in order to appreciate it at its fullest, a high definition presentation is a must. With glorious detail and spectacular definition, the Blu-Ray version is every bit as great as the story. Deep black levels make sure the image has depth and dimensionality, while also making sure shadows are rendered properly to produce a natural-looking image at al times.
Color reproduction is also very strong, bringing out the best of the earthen tones and the colorful costumes without oversaturating the viewer with glitz.

The 5.1 DTS HD MAster Audio track further adds to the presentation, ensuring that you can experience the epic story with all its impact, including the saber rattling and battle sounds, along with more subtle moments where ambient sound effects are used to best effect.

The release comes with a look at the making of the series, including the special effects, that helps further appreciate the production as a whole.

"Pillars Of The Earth" is truly standing out in many ways. It is an epic TV production that never looks like a TV production. In fact there have been many major movies recently that looked so much worse with their inept use of digital camera work, that "Pillars Of The Earth" has more in common with the Golden Era monumental films than it has with modern-day productions. It captures the charm, the elegance and the ferocity of the times with all of its splendor along with its blood drenched ugliness with ease. This is a must-buy release!