It looks like Netflix has bet on a what they hope will be a winning horse with their new original Marco Polo TV Series.
“Marco Polo” is an epic period drama based on the adventures of a young Marco Polo in the court of Kublai Khan. Some are describing it as a “Game of Thrones” with ninjas, but it is more than that. It gives a look into a part of Chinese history rarely seen in the Western World.
Marco Polo TV Series Gets Wider Audience
“Marco Polo” has everything that “Game of Thrones” has — Epic Battles, beautiful settings, fantastic actors, intrigue, power struggles even the nudity and gore, but it also has something GoT doesn’t have — easy access.
It is easier for an audience to reach. You don’t need a costly high-end cable package to watch the show, all you need is $8 a month and a streaming source. A Netflix account is a lot more accessible and lower cost, I think “Marco Polo” will succeed just for that reason alone.
Elaborate Sets and Similar Features
Its $90-million budget for only 10 episodes has made it one of the most expensive TV series out there. With their lavish sets, you can definitely see where the money has gone. Like “Game of Thrones,” Marco is filmed in several countries and uses a large international cast.
To get the true feel of the countries the show is based around the series is shot in Venice, Kazakhstan and Malaysia. Kublai Kahn’s throne room took over 3 months to build. The attention to set detail is obvious in everything from the mashrabiya behind the khan’s throne to the elaborate embellishments in the Empress’s hair.
Starz Had it First
“Marco Polo” was originally announced in 2012 as a joint effort by Starz, LLC, President and CEO Chris Albrecht, The Weinstein Company’s Co-Chairman, Harvey Weinstein, and Electus Chairman and Founder, Ben Silverman. The show also had the first several hours of script written long before “Game of Thrones’ aired. There were filming issues in China, though, which caused the original project to fail and release it back to the studio, where it was then was picked up later by Netflix.
The Meat (Spoiler Alert)
Now come some show spoilers, though, I try to keep them minor. Don’t proceed if you don’t want to know and just skip on down to the final title.
Watching “Marco Polo” I have mixed feelings. The acting is excellent, the scenery is beautiful, but the initial plot is a little weak. In the pilot, Marco is given to Kublai Khan by his father as a ‘manservant,’ in exchange to open up a trade route along the Silk Road. He is then cleaned up and tossed in a cell.
The whole relationship with his father is weakly laid out in a brief flashback that is confusing. They show a young Marco meeting his father for the first time, after he had returned from the Silk Road, in what I can only assume is supposed to be a church or orphanage. My best guess is that Marco is supposed to be in his teens because he mentions that his mother died eight years before.
If you know history at all, you shortly realize that Marco is treated as they would treat a royal prisoner, he is given freedoms and some bonuses, such as martial arts training, calligraphy, falconry and horseback riding — basically everything he would need to survive Kublai Khan’s court. But his every move is still closely watched.
Despite the fact that all of these are new skills to him, he still seems to pick them up quickly and they never show him receiving any damage from his obviously brutal and difficult training sessions. All of this means that you instantly lose that fish-out-of-water feeling that you thought was going to drive the show.
After the training, you also seem to lose a lot of the focus on Marco and start seeing more of Khan’s court and the court of the failing Song Dynasty that Kublai Khan wants to conquer. Marco becomes more of an adviser and a way to get an outsider’s opinion on things for the Khan.
Another focus in the show seems to be the Mongolian culture vs. the Chinese culture. Kublai Khan is becoming more “Chinese” and less “Mongol.” This is a frequent point of contention between Kublai Khan and his brother and Kublai and his son. In fact, it is this conflict that leads to Kublai killing his own brother. As a history buff, I have some concept of what the cultural differences are, but they never truly explain those differences to the viewer. All you really know is that the Mongols consider the Chinese weak and the Chinese consider the Mongols to be brutish barbarians.
What Did ‘Game of Thrones’ Do Right?
From the first episode, GoT started filling in the gaps, providing you bits of history along with the intrigue. You might have not gotten all of it in the first two episodes, but at least they gave you the sense that you would be getting more as you needed it.
The Marco Polo TV series leaves me wanting more — more answers that is. So far, I have watched only two episodes, but I can see a political chessboard being laid out. The main problems thus far for me is that the show is all meat, you are missing the dressing. Where are the explanations for certain things, the whys and hows that would fill in the gaps? I hate plot holes, and so far, it seems to me that they are leaving a lot of them. Maybe we will manage to find the answers and fill a few of these gaps in future episodes.