AMERICAN GODS [Blu-Ray Review]

The Starz series is a visual feast & this package has hours of special features.

When I heard a TV adaptation of American Gods was in the works, I revisited Gaiman’s book, which I’d originally read in 2001. My sister and I would wait longer than an hour in line to see the world premiere at SXSW earlier this year (some rando tried to mansplain the fantasy novel to my sis like she didn’t know what she was waiting in line to see). Needless to say I and many of my friends and family were cautiously eager to see how the book would be interpreted for the screen.

In the hands of writer/producers Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies [miss u, show], Hannibal) and Michael Green (Heroes, Smallville), the action of American Gods moves at a slow burn. Groundbreaking, fantastical visuals combine with themes of immigration and faith in this series based around former inmate Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle, Austenland, The 100), his dead wife Laura (Emily Browning, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sucker Punch) and the mystical beings they meet on their separate journeys.

Diverse “Coming to America…” or “Somewhere in America…” segments are included in each hourlong episode; these introduce new gods or tell old tales. Anansi, a.k.a. Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones, Sleepy Hollow), answers a call for help from a slave ship. Mexican Jesus crosses the Rio Grande and saves a man’s life.

One of the strongest episodes, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney,” delves into the past of the angry leprechaun, sharply played by Pablo Schreiber (Orange Is the New Black, Lords of Dogtown), through his interaction with an 18th-Century woman named Essie McGowan. Making the most of the current day interplay between Sweeney and Laura Moon, Browning portrays Ms. McGowan as well.

There are levels upon levels to this show, and I’ve barely touched on the many characters and gods who make appearances. American Gods strays from the source material by adding depth and background to certain female characters, genderflipping characters from the original work, or giving more storytime to characters like ancient goddess Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) and devout Salim (Omid Abtahi, Argo, 24).

It is a slow visual feast with saturated colors and dreamlike imagery. The showrunners do not shy from violence and gore, especially as it relates to the idea of sacrifice. Even the scoring by Brian Reitzell adds layers to the storytelling, differing in tone and theme depending on the subjects in each episode.

If you prefer fast action, the show may not be your jam. Eight episodes into the series and we’re barely halfway through the book — as far as the path of Shadow and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) is concerned, anyway. For patient souls, American Gods is worth diving into and dwelling for a while.

The Blu-Ray package from Lionsgate is bursting with special features, including:

  • audio commentary tracks from showrunners and castmembers on the season premiere and finale episodes
  • American Gods: Origins: Author Neil Gaiman tells of the trip to Reykjavik during which he conceived the idea for his awardwinning novel (and we get to see the diorama which was his initial inspiration). He talks to an Icelandic historian about Norse gods and themes within mythology and his book.
  • Short featurettes: “Old Gods,” “New Gods,” “What Is American Gods?” and “Book versus Show,” include interviews with castmembers and behind-the-scenes creatives about the adaptation process and bringing life to the characters onscreen.
  • A 2.5 hour overview, Road to American Gods, goes deeper into the creation and casting process, the look of the series, costuming, the showrunners, and the themes throughout the show. There’s in-depth discussion of the craft behind the Bilquis sequence in the pilot and the eroticism of the Salim/Jinn sequence later in the season.
  • digital download code

American Gods is available on Blu-Ray as of Tues, Oct. 17.

For another opinion: AMERICAN GODS Concludes a Sublime but Scattered First Season

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