Based on Sidney Sheldon’s bestselling 1982 novel of the same name, Master Of The Game is a four-part mini-series from the year of Big Brother, 1984. The story tells the tale of the rise of a powerful empire, which begins in 1890 South Africa as a young (and rather green) Scotsman by the name of Jamie MacGregor (Ian Charleson — who looks like he could have been a close relation to Hugh Jackman in this) arrives in Johannesburg to find his own personal fortune in diamonds.
Swindled out of everything and left for dead by a devious Dutchman Salomon Van der Merwe (played to the hammy hilt by the great Donald Pleasence), Jamie finds himself in the caring hands of native Banda (Johnny Sekka). With his health returned to him following a severe beating at the hands of Van der Merwe’s henchmen, MacGregor discovers that his whole face has since changed — and the once naïve lad plans his elaborate revenge, becoming one of the area’s biggest diamond miners in the process.
If you feel I just spoiled the everloving bejesus out of the story, don’t worry, kids — that’s just a brief synopsis of Part 1. The remaining three parts (each part lasts about 1hr 40min) tells how Jamie’s daughter, Kate Blackwell (Dyan Cannon), comes to be the very cunning and deceitful head of an entire empire and how she attempts to manipulate her various offspring (and her offspring’s offspring) into being just as sly and untrustworthy as she is so that the fabulous family business may continue to run with hands of steel and a heart as hard as diamonds. Co-starring in the epic series is David Birney as David Blackwell (Kate’s hubby and Jamie’s assistant) and Harry Hamlin as Tony (Kate‘s son), with supporting parts played by Cliff De Young, Liane Langland, Cherie Lunghi, and a few bits with Barry Morse and David Suchet.
Since I have never read the original novel, I cannot back this one up, but many fans of Master Of The Game are proud to say it is one of the few adaptations of any novel ever that actually sticks very close to its source material. That said, the mini-series Master Of The Game is a rather well-acted (if perhaps long for some) presentation that fares well despite the TV budget. As to whether you’ll enjoy the story or not probably depends on your personal opinion of Sheldon’s works (again, I haven’t read the book, but I enjoyed this).
Unlike many of the other recent TV shows/series to find their way to DVD from CBS/Paramount, Sidney Sheldon‘s Master Of The Game hasn’t received a glorious upgrade to High Def or been digitally remastered — and it shows, too. The standard 1.33:1 image is a bit dark, grainy, and some portions of the transfer appear to have been culled directly from a video master. The English mono stereo sound on the other hand fared a lot better with me. Granted, it isn't the greatest mono stereo sound ever encoded onto a piece of plastic (read: don’t expect it to knock your socks off), but it didn't disappoint me nearly as much as the video transfer did. No subtitles are offered up with this release, but you are more than welcome to switch on the ol' closed captioning should you need help deciphering Donald Pleasence's patented mumbling.
Sorry, Master Of The Game fans, but there are no special features to be found adorning this release that are specifically related to the mini-series. The only extras that are included are a few promos at the beginning of Disc 1 which are for other CBS/Paramount titles. (Which seems to be the norm for CBS/Paramount as of late, really — remember when they used to produce the occasional featurette or two? Ah, those were the days.)
So what have we learned here today, kiddies? Sidney Sheldon’s Master Of The Game may not have been the most memorable mini-series ever produced for the small screen, but it isn’t a bad one, either — and it’s just the thing if you have seven hours to kill.