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The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )



Audio/Video total rating:

( Max score: 100 )


Studio and Year: Starz/Sony Pictures HE - 2010
MPAA Rating: NR
Feature running time: 428 minutes
Genre: Miniseries/Drama

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.78:1
Resolution: 1080i/30

Audio Format(s): English/French DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French
Starring: Ian Mc Shane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew MacFadyen, Eddie Redmayne, Hayley Atwell, Sarah Parish, Tony Curran, Donald Sutherland, Alison Pill
Directed by: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
Written by: John Pielmeier based on the book by Ken Follett
Region Code: A,B

Blu-ray Disc release Date:November 23, 2010

"Nothing is sacred"

Film Synopsis:

Ken Follett's best-selling novel is brought to life in a star-studded and critically-acclaimed eight-part miniseries! Emerging from the war-torn shadows of England's Dark Ages, an idealistic mason, Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell, The Holiday) sets out on a quest of erecting a glorious Cathedral bathed in light. But when that light threatens to illuminate the dark secrets of ambitious Bishop Waleran Bigod (Ian McShane, 2005 Golden Globe Best Actor, TV's "Deadwood) and the battling progeny of King Henry, Queen Maud (Alison Pill, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and King Stephen (Tony Curran, Ondine), they'll stop at nothing to keep those secrets safe!

My Take:

The pillars of the Earth is based on the novel by Ken Follett and is set in 12th Century England in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The story revolves around the building of a cathedral and follows the lives of three men over 40 years as they each deal with politics, war, romance and personal ambition. Both my wife and daughter read the novel and insisted that we sign up for Starz so we could watch this miniseries. Set against a backdrop of war and political/religious power struggles this is an epic story that weaves an engaging tale of ambition, treachery, malice, greed, envy, devotion and love. At the center is the building of a magnificent Cathedral that will see the events that unfold around it come together via the manifestations of man's base emotions led by ambition which at its worst is driven under the façade of noble/divine right and at its best through genuine goodness with the power to overcome.

The key players lie in Tom, the master builder, Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge, the sadistic Lord William, Father/Bishop Waleran Bigod, Aliena, the noblewoman, Jack, the stone cutter, and Ellen, the accused necromancer, and carrier of a secret capable of bringing down the two most powerful men in the land. Featuring plenty of intrigue amidst a rather convoluted narrative the story's elements play out with all the bombast and passion you'd expect from a good miniseries. The twists, turns and underlying essence of unspoken/unseen drama are expertly conveyed. I enjoyed the depth and visceral depiction of both the times and characters while finding myself thoroughly involved in each installment. The scope of the production pays dividends as does the wonderfully placed cast. Having not read the book I can't comment regarding the strength of this adaptation. Taking it on face value I found it to be well executed and engaging to watch. I wouldn't rank it among the best miniseries the genre has to offer but there is no denying that it is worthy or praise. The series eight parts are spread over three BD-50 Blu-ray Discs with one installment of the supplemental material contained on each.

Episode breakdown:

Anarchy: The death of King Henry's heir ignites a battle between Queen Maud and King Stephen to become the successor to the throne. Monk Philip is enticed by an offer from Father Waleran Bigod; in return for his endorsement of Bigod to the appointment of Bishop, Philip will be elected Prior. Tom Builder travels the countryside in search of work.

Master Builder: When a fire destroys Kingsbridge Church, Tom presents a plan to Prior Philip to construct a glorious new cathedral filled with light. As Philip politics for funds to aid in the church's construction, he finds himself caught between Bishop Bigod and King Stephen's supporter, Earl Percy Hamleigh.

Redemption: Prior Philip and Percy's son William find themselves in a political stalemate as they compete for access to valuable stone. Jack demonstrates amazing artistic prowess as he begins to carve a monument to St. Adolphus and the destroyed Kingsbridge Cathedral.

Battlefield: William plans his way towards Earldom and soon discovers he is not alone in his ambition; a mysterious knight seeks the same appointment. The battle between Maud and Stephen rages, culminating in hostages from each side being seized. Philip is tortured into confessing to the betrayal of Earl Bartholomew.

Legacy: Tom attempts to mediate a camaraderie between Jack and his son, Alfred. However, their intense rivalry for the affection of Bartholomew's daughter, Aliena, proves too much of an obstacle. Waleran and Regan Hamleigh negotiate a hostage exchange while William mounts an attack on Kingsbridge in an effort to halt Aliena's pending success.

Witchcraft: Aliena's brother, Richard, is shocked as he emerges from the battlefield only to find his sister destitute and incapable of supporting his knighthood. Aliena is torn between honoring a promise made to her father, Bartholomew, and her love for Jack. A catastrophe in Kingsbridge paves the way for Waleran to orchestrate Pilip's impeachment.

New Beginnings: Jack's travels provide him with valuable information which will aid him in constructing his stepfather's majestic dream cathedral. Aliena tracks Jack down using only her intuition and the warm trail left by his distinctive carvings. Bigod makes Philip an attractive offer, but it's one which carries and unattractive price.

The Work of Angels Eight years have passed. Now completely obsessed with the notion of erecting Tom's cathedral, Jack is unable to focus on anything outside of his divine calling. Aliena remains fiated on securing her family's right to the Earldom of Shiring and thus, fulfilling hte promise she made to her father.

Parental Guide:

This miniseries contains sexual content, nudity, violence, and thematic material that would be inappropriate for younger viewers.

AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

Audio: 86

  • Dynamics:

  • Low frequency extension:

  • Surround Sound presentation:

  • Clarity/Detail:

  • Dialogue Reproduction:

Video: 86

(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Resolution/Clarity:

  • Black level/Shadow detail:

  • Color reproduction:

  • Fleshtones:

  • Compression:

The pillars of the Earth comes to Blu-ray from Sony Home Entertainment featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 23 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 3 Mbps.

This high definition video presentation offers clear, refined images that boast a relatively subdued color palette that is rarely eye catching but conveys the earth tones and time period specific clothing, locals and sullen complexions with aplomb. There are instances where deeper more vivacious hues are utilized and their presence is not only welcomed but their application is purposefully vivid and boldly stated. The rendering of fine detail can range from exquisite to moderate. This leaves certain long range and mid level shots with less dimensionality but not to the point of appearing soft. Black levels fluctuate however contrast is stable which when coupled along with the prevailing use of low level lighting mates well with the visual style of the presentation. I didn't see any signs of video related artifacts/anomalies and felt that this high definition presentation closely mimicked and bested the series' original broadcast quality.

The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack isn't bombastic or overly aggressive but that doesn't prevent it from being remarkable. Its attributes come in the form of superlative high level detail, defining clarity, and subtly distinctive surround sound that doesn't disappoint. This is a sophisticated sound design that incorporates a vast number of sounds/effects that are intricately mixed to engage the listening position. Bass can be deep and room energizing but never rises inappropriately in prominence. The mix expertly handles the delicate blend of music, discrete/ambient sounds, crystal clear dialogue and low frequency effects as it weaves an aurally stimulating pattern across the soundstage. I recall being impressed with the lossy 5.1 channel soundtrack via my Time Warner Cable feed but this lossless presentation clearly bumps it to a higher level.

Bonus Features:

  • (HD) Making of The pillars of the Earth (Disc 1) - 27 minute documentary

  • (HD) Visual effects progression (Disc 2) - 9 minute feature

  • (HD) Main titles progression (Disc 3) - 5 minute feature

  • (HD) Previews (Disc 3): - Damages: Season one, Nowhere boy, Welcome to Riley's, Bridge on the river Kwai

Final Thoughts:

Based on the novel of the same name by Ken Follett The pillars of the Earth is an engrossing adaptation that features plenty of intrigue, well drawn/integrated characters, and a convoluted narrative that while not perfect ultimately rewards with the type of bombast and passion you'd expect from a good miniseries. This three disc high definition Blu-ray release from Sony offers excellent audio/video quality along with a limited bonus feature set that will likely leave fans wanting. If you're a fan and want to revisit this miniseries again this set is worth adding to your collection. If you aren't familiar with it but enjoy the subject matter The pillars of the Earth on Blu-ray Disc makes for a satisfying and worthwhile rental.

Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS20 1080p High Definition Front Projector (Calibrated by Jeff Meier)

Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100 16x9 Screen

Anthem AVM50v THX Ultra 2 Preamp/Video Processor

Sherbourn Technologies - 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier

Oppo BDP-83 Universal disc/Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

Samsung BD-C7900 Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule HD Universal Remote Control

Canton "Ergo" Series speakers

Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers

SV Sound PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)

APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector

Furman SPR-20i Stable Power Regulator

Wireworld, VizionWare, Audioquest, Better Cables, Best Deal Cables - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling

Cool Components - CP-CP102 cooling package

22,573 Posts
Thanks Ralph. Looking forward to a rent on this, have the 1st disc in hand.

I really enjoyed the series, mainly because of the great cast. The story tends to fall apart at the end, too much to cover in too little time. Production quality is also a strong point.

5,562 Posts
i read the book years ago and know i will enjoy seeing it come to life in hi def video.

thanks for the review, ralph!

483 Posts
The novel is incredible, and I have high hopes for this!

258 Posts
One of my favorite books. They did a pretty good adapation for it considering the number of episodes...yes some things are changed but it was ok.

I am looking forward to watching this again on Bluray and it has been on my wish list. Thanks for the review.

5,562 Posts
well, i've watched 7 of the 8 episodes and i'm getting bummed.

i've become attracted/attached to the characters in this miniseries and i dread it ending.

not like me at all. guess i need to get a life...
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