HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Marco Polo: Season 1
HTS Overall Score:88
The Adult “Mature” TV market has pretty much reached saturation point in my opinion. It used to be that there was your standard fare TV shoes and then there were these rare gems called “adult” television that were much more rare and tempting to those who were fed up with decades and decades of watered down shows meant to appeal to the widest audience humanly possible. HBO, and the like, were originally seen as a weird niche with an almost perverse appeal, but that soon morphed into making some of the best TV shows in the last 20 years. Now once “Dexter”, “Game of Thrones” and other adult shows blasted world records the other TV stations have been falling all over themselves to make the equivalent of R-rated shows to the point where you can’t throw a remote at your TV without hitting one. Now even Netflix and Amazon are getting in on the action with exclusive shows like “Marco Polo”, “Hemlock Grove” and the like. “Marco Polo” rises above some of the rest with the fun of being a period piece drama, but unfortunately just goes through the motions, as it can’t seem to find any other facet to shine brighter than the rest. Falling into a sea of adult programming it struggles to rise above the rest and call attention to itself in a way that would make it the next “great” show.
Set in Ancient Mongolia/China, the show revolves around a young Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy), who is thrown into the court of the great Khan of Mongolia, Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong), and is forced to become the Khan’s manservant after being bartered by his father. Stuck in ancient Mongolia under the command of the feared grandson of Genghis Khan, Marco is forced to adapt to a new culture. Raised as a young Italian, he is not used to the man rigors that he will face in the Khan’s court and has to decide whether he will sink or swim. Court Intrigue is high, as Kublai Khan is in the midst of trying to conquer the world, and his eye is set upon the great wall that is China. However, he has to battle inside his own court as well as the enemies without. Betrayal, sacrifice and scheming by his family, his court, and his loves all keep the king of kings (by his own admission) on the tips of his toes, and as a result, so must Marco.
“Marco Polo” is NOT a bad show at all. In fact it’s rather good most of the time. Marco is played well by Lorenzo, and Benedict Wong is completely unrecognizable as Kublai Khan. I recognized his voice, but under all that gear and royal trappings I couldn’t really see the veteran actor until he was out of makeup. Production values are really high (as is the norm for a modern Cable TV show), and there is nothing that would make one feel like they weren’t across the sea in the Orient. I enjoyed the martial arts, the action, the romance and even the intrigue at times. However, the downfall to the show (at least from becoming more popular than it is) Netflix’s show is a lot better than some of the exclusives it’s had in the past, like “Hemlock Grove” but manages to ride the rails enough for it to not gain the popularity of others like “House of Cards”. It’s good, but nothing special. We’ve seen intrigue. We’ve seen killing. We’ve seen all of this, and really, there’s nothing new and special being offered.
That’s not to say “Marco Polo” isn’t entertaining, as it most certainly is, but the downside to having so many adult TV series is that the charm and “newness” of having an R-rated TV show is just no longer titillating, and we have to rely on the actual writing and acting, in which Marco Polo manages to stay right in the middle. As I said, we’ve seen everything before and while the appeal of the period is a lot of fun, the actual subterfuge and action isn’t enough to really make it Unique. I really enjoyed the series as a nice diversion, and since it’s ON Netflix already, it makes it an easy test run to see if you’d like to own the series in the Hi-Def version with lossless sound (which ARE leaps and bounds better than the Netflix version I tested against on the same display).
Rated TV-MA for Mature Content
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=61393[/img]Starz/Anchor Bay has been taking great leaps and strides forward with their new TV shows, as series like “Black Sails” and “Da Vinci’s Demons” are reference quality in terms of picture. “Marco Polo” will not disappoint either, with a strange 2.00:1 AVC encoding. I’m not sure why the series was given a nonstandard aspect ratio. If they wanted to make it look more expansive then when not choose a standard 2.35:1 aspect ratio? Whatever the reason, the show looks surprisingly filmic with amazing detail that will have your jaw hitting the floor. Razor sharp clarity is present at all times, showing off every piece of stubble on Marco’s face, or the scuffs and scrapes on the floor of the Emperor’s throne room. Even the stitching and stray fibers on a silk robe is there for everyone to see without looking unnatural. Blacks are deep and inky, but never get so dark as to obscure any fine detail. Even the low lighting of the Khan’s throne room where Kubla Khan sits immersed in shadows look incredibly detailed and sharp. Simply put, a reference quality transfer across the board.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=61401[/img]Not to be outdone, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track the discs sport are almost equally as amazing as the stellar video quality. The track is bombastic and full of energy. Infusing the flair of Asian drums and twanging stringed instruments, it creates a homogenous mixture of east and west with Marco Polo coming in from Italy. Dialog is always crisp and clear, locked up in the front channel, and balanced exquisitely with the rest of the track. Surrounds are phenomenally balanced, walking a tight rope of simple ambient noises as well as creating a swirling sense of immersion as riders on horseback swarm in from all directions, or the pounding of kettle drums vibrate in a 360 degree field. LFE is deep and pulsing, shaking you to your core when necessary, but also adding a serious amount of depth and thickness to much of the rest of the track. Fists, doors, hooves, they all have a different amount of weight and power to them, but they all sound incredibly deep and powerful.
• The Marco Polo Documentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Gag Reel
• The Martial Arts of "Marco Polo"
• Fight Scene Rehearsal
• The Visual Effects of "Marco Polo"
• The Making of the Opening Titles
• Concept Art-to-Scene Comparison
• Concept Gallery
• Costume Gallery
“Marco Polo: Season 1” is a good show, but it suffers from being just a GOOD show in a sea of outstanding mature audience series. We’ve have “Game of Thrones”, “Dexter” and a myriad of other shows, but with these TV series becoming more and more common, the adult themed genre has reached saturation point. I guess I should say that “Marco Polo” only has a problem of being one of many and doesn’t stand out as being wildly superior to all the rest coming out the last few years. I enjoyed it, and it certainly has a lot going for it if you like ancient period pieces, but don’t expect it to take over as the next greatest show to hit Cable TV. Audio and video for these 3 discs are superb and the extras are quite good. Definitely worth a rental if you haven’t been watching it on Netflix.
Starring: Benedict Wong, Olivia Cheny, Joan Chen
Created by: John Fusco
Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1
Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay
Runtime: 547 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 15th 2015
Buy Marco Polo: Season 1 On DVD at Amazon
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