Master of the Game
There is a form of entertainment that at one time or another we all engage in although many of us may not discuss such endeavors with our friends and family. The type of entertainment being referred to here is that type that is popularly known as the guilty pleasure. It has pervaded all forms of media from literature to television and films. In its book form it may take the shape of those novels that our wives and girlfriends take to the beach to read on a sunny afternoon. The number of guilty pleasure films is legion with more than can be named. Lately a lot of television shows are entering this category especially in the so called reality TV venue. I do freely admit that I have been caught enjoying a few of these shows myself and may tell my friends I was watching in order to do a review. This is code with those friends for ‘okay you caught me now lets drop it’. One of the names that have risen above the others in the guilty pleasure arena is Sidney Sheldon. In many ways it is almost inappropriate to classify him in this particular genre but his works do seem to fall into the category. Sheldon is a superior storyteller and a man gifted with reaching the apex of both television and the literary world. Many of his novels have made the transition from page to TV screen over the years. One of the best of the lot is now on DVD ‘Master of the Game’. This was a guilty pleasure that you could openly share with your friends. It was a best selling novel and made a highly rated and critically acclaimed mini series. What makes Sheldon’s works so intriguing is the depth that they contain. He has a style to his stories that is compelling. The reason it makes for one best seller after another and the reason they are popular as a beach read is the stories are great. They are also so detailed that a regular movie could never do them justice and they require the longer format of the mini series. There have been many mini series based on the works of Sidney Sheldon but ‘Master of the Game’ is considered by many fans as one of the best. Fortunately the distribution rights are with CBS Paramount and they are great with brining vintage television out on DVD. It has been twenty five years since this film first aired on TV but it has held up over that time. Forget people trapped on some island eating bugs or a glam band has been trying to find ‘love’. It you area going to fulfill you need for a guilty pleasures try one that has superb quality and lasting power.
The mini series ran for three installments. It is not unusual for different writers and directors to be used for different parts. This is chiefly done to keep the shooting schedule down since more than one installment can be in production at the same time but in this case though the novel is so strong that the transition between writers and directors is seamless. Besides a long list of best selling novels he has created such popular TV shows as ‘I Dream of Jeanie’, ‘Hart to Hart’ and ‘The Patty Duke Show’. This demonstrates that Sheldon is able to tap into what the audience finds enjoyable. For part one of this epic the screenplay was handled by Paul Yurick and John Nation. This was the first script for both of them and you have to give the credit for starting out with such an ambitious undertaking. Parts two and three were penned by Alvin Boretz who had a long career writing for television mostly in the crime genre. All three men do a great job in bringing the essence of the novel to life in this mini series. The works of Sheldon are particularly suited to the mini series treat because they are sweeping epics that span decades to time. In this type of story there is a natural break between episodes since the same part has to be played by different actors; one playing the younger version of the character and another for the later years. Of course thanks to the marvels of special effects makeup and adult actor can grow old before our eyes.
The direction was also split between Kevin Connor taking part one and Harvey Hart on part three. In order to assist with continuity both men directed part two. Both men were well seasoned directing television for years prior to this project. This is a dream project for a director. It looks at the changes throughout history through the eyes of a single family, the Blackwells. There are so many elements of classical themes that it is amazing how well they combine here. The first is the popular rags to riches tale. The founder of the clan started off with a small business and works it up to a multinational powerhouse. We all want to be reassured that such things happen; no mater what our current circumstances we can pull our way to the top. The next classic theme is the family. The story is told from the vantage point of the family’s matriarch looking back on her ninetieth birthday. If you think your family is dysfunctional just throw in a fortune of diamonds the entire globe as a setting.
Much of the early part of the story is set in South African and the trafficking of what we now call blood or conflict diamonds. This infuses a social commentary into the story as people get rich and powerful selling diamonds mined and processes with brutal slave labor. This gives a far more serious thread to the story that propels it above most romantic mini series that were extremely popular in the mid eighties. It may seem that it would be more work than usual to keep the story straight in a multigenerational epic like this but it is so well written, acted and directed that it takes an instant to get fully involved. There is a touch of melodrama that is a requirement of the genre but again the quality is what carries it forward.
The cast is phenomenal with Dylan Cannon as the clan’s matriarch Katherine Blackwell, She has a commanding presence that displays such talent that you will think twice about considering a made for television movie as second rate. She plays Kate with such skill that you just love to watch all the plots and plans hatching before you eyes. This is a family that rivals that backstabbing of any soap opera family. The DVD does show some signs of age but not so badly as to be annoying or distract you from the story. Paramount typically takes good care of the masters so when it comes time to transfer to program to DVD the results are pretty good. The audio is mono so don’t expect a lot of use of your high end surround sound equipment. I did find using the theater setting in the Dolby processing gave it an old theater sound that provided some added dimension to the sound track.