Saturday, 16 January 2077

Support The Wertzone on Patreon


After much debate (and some requests) I have signed up with crowdfunding service Patreon to better support future blogging efforts. You can find my Patreon page here and more information after the jump.

Friday, 16 April 2021

RUMOUR: The first 1-2 seasons of LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE have cost almost half a billion dollars

The Hollywood Reporter has indicated that the upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel TV series, The Second Age*, has cost almost half a billion dollars so far. In fact, they put the figure at $465 million.

The Reporter is pretty reliable in these matters, but I've filed this under "rumour" because the source is the New Zealand government and they did not precisely break down the costs involved.

We know there are eight episodes in each of the first two seasons of the show, and the first two seasons have been commissioned together and completely written. There were also reports a while back that the LotR team were shooting up to 20 episodes in the first extended filming bloc (which began in February 2020 and is expected to continue for several months to come, although there was an extended break last year for writing), which some took to mean they were filming the first two seasons - 16 episodes - back-to-back, which makes sense. As a result, the cost may be spread across two seasons rather than one. This is backed up by a Reuters report where they learned that Amazon was earmarking $500 million for the first two seasons in combined production and marketing costs.

Back in 2017, it was widely reported that Amazon had paid $250 million to the Tolkien Estate for enhanced rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's books not previously covered by any prior deal, now believed to consist of all Numenor and Second Age-related material in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Amazon had also tapped Warner Brothers and their subsidiary New Line to cooperate on the project, giving them access to the Lord of the Rings rights (used previously to make Peter Jackson's 2001-03 movie trilogy). It was reported that Amazon would be spending up to $150 million per season on five seasons of the series, for a total expenditure of $1 billion.

This new report indicates that that ceiling will be hit considerably sooner than expected. Assuming the costs are indeed divided between two seasons, that would make the cost of each season around $232.5 million, or $29 million per episode. The previous most expensive TV show of all time was either HBO's The Pacific, which cost over $20 million per episode, or Disney+'s currently-airing Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with a reported budget of $25 million per episode, although these are both classified as mini-series. The most expensive ongoing TV show of all time is HBO's Game of Thrones, where the budget reached $16 million per episode in the final season.

This would easily make Lord of the Rings: The Second Age the most expensive TV show of all time, if not quite by as much as some people are saying. However, if the original quote was correct and those costs are just for the first season, the first eight episodes by themselves, then obviously they would rocket up to insanity: $465 million for the season, or $58,125,000 per hour. Each of the three Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies had a budget of around $90 million for three hours, for comparison.

Lord of the Rings Colon Undisclosed Subtitle is currently shooting in New Zealand and expected to air on Amazon Prime Video, probably in early 2022.

* My placeholder title to stop people constantly asking why they're remaking the movies, which they're not; not the likely final title of the series.

Cover art for Joe Abercrombie's WISDOM OF CROWDS revealed

The UK cover art for Joe Abercrombie's next novel, The Wisdom of Crowds, has been revealed.

The novel concludes the Age of Madness trilogy, which began with A Little Hatred and continued with The Trouble with Peace. The book will be released on 16 September this year.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

JV Jones releases sample chapter for new novel, SORRY JONES

J.V. Jones has released the cover art and a sample chapter from her new stand-alone novel, Sorry Jones.

Jones wrote the novel to get "back in the zone" after a long time out of the writing game. Since completing Sorry Jones a couple of years ago, she's written the majority of Endlords, the fifth and penultimate book in the long-gestating Sword of Shadows series. She hopes to complete Endlords this year for publication in 2022 or 2023.

Sorry Jones will be self-published in the near future.

Ser Criston Cole of the Kingsguard cast for HBO's HOUSE OF THE DRAGON

George R.R. Martin has announced the casting of a key character for House of the Dragon, the Game of Thrones prequel series due to start shooting imminently in the UK.

Ser Criston Cole is an honoured knight and a member of King Viserys Targaryen's Kingsguard. He is noted as a stalwart warrior who has a key decision to make in the rivalry between Princess Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower.

In House of the Dragon he is played by Fabien Frankel. A relatively inexperienced actor, Frankel has so far played Theo Sipowicz (the son of Dennis Franz's character) in the recent NYPD Blue reunion pilot which did not proceed to series, but had a larger role as Dominique Renelleau in The Serpent. He also appeared in the 2019 film Last Christmas, opposite Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke.

Announced castmembers for House of the Dragon include Paddy Considine as King Viserys I Targaryen, Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower, Emma D'Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen, Steven Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, Rhys Ifans as Lord Otto Hightower, Sonoya Mizuno as Mysaria and Eve Best as Princess Rhaenys Velaryon.

The series, which begins about 190 years before the events of Game of Thrones, charts the reign of King Viserys, an amiable and respected king, in the tumultuous days after the death of his wife. He names his daughter his heir, but this causes dramatic problems when he remarries later on, setting the scene for the bloodiest civil war in the history of the Seven Kingdoms, the Dance of Dragons.

Disney and Alan Dean Foster approaching settlement on royalties

Disney and SFF author Alan Dean Foster appear to have reached a mutually-satisfying resolution on a royalties dispute first reported last November.

Foster wrote the original novelisation of the first Star Wars movie (published in 1976, months before the film came out), as well as the subsequent original novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978). He also wrote the novelisations of the first three Alien movies, in 1979, 1986 and 1992. Disney, which inherited the payment obligations for all of these works, had ceased payments to Foster in 2015. The SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) guild attempted mediation to no response. In late 2020 the matter was publicised, leading to widespread condemnation of Disney and several other authors noting similar issues with payments on older work.

Foster does not go into details, but notes on his webpage.
"The irritating imbroglio with Disney, which you may have read about, is moving towards a mutually agreeable conclusion. A formal statement will be forthcoming."
Hopefully the matter will now be resolved and Disney will agree to uphold their contractual obligations moving forwards with both Foster and all other impacted authors.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

The King of Lancre has died of natural causes. As everyone knows, it is very normal and even traditional for a king to die naturally from a stab wound to the back followed by a swift plummet down a steep staircase. As is also traditional, the king's heir and his crown have mysteriously disappeared and it's no doubt only a matter of time before he grows up and returns to reclaim his birthright etc etc. Some things are Traditional. Unfortunately, the new king and his scheming wife aren't hot followers of Tradition and as a reign of terror falls on Lancre, it falls to three local witches, a psychotic cat and a Fool to take a hand in events...

Six books into his Discworld series, Terry Pratchett decided to take on Bill Shakespeare. Wyrd Sisters mashes together the plot of MacBeth with influence from Hamlet and a subplot about making plays (including a Shakespeare-ish analogue character). It's also the first time that Pratchett seems to have consciously built up an entire community of characters in a book, with a view to revisiting them later on.

Our leading protagonist is Granny Weatherwax, who previously appeared (in a simpler form) in Equal Rites. This time around she's one of a coven of three witches, alongside the matriarchal Nanny Ogg and the young and (misleadingly) wet-behind-the-ears Magrat Garlick. Effectively having three leads is a new idea for Pratchett and allows him to spread the story out a bit more, even if Granny does come across as the effective leader of the group. Pratchett's characterisation is splendid as always, with the realisation of Magrat's anger issues at being constantly underestimated making for fun scenes and Nanny Ogg highly contradictory character tics being oddly compelling: she's a kind-hearted and funny person who inexplicably likes making life miserable for her extended relations and harbours a strong relationship with a cat she thinks is a fluffy kitten rather than a homicidal threat to the peace.

The wider community of Lancre is also established, with its vertiginous geography, literally-minded inhabitants (at least 25% of whom seem to be related by blood or terrifying marriage into Nanny Ogg's clan) and local colour, becoming, after Ankh-Morpork, clearly Pratchett's favourite place to write about on the Disc. 

Those with a working knowledge of epic fantasy tropes, Shakespeare in general and MacBeth in particular can likely see where the story is going, which is something that Pratchett anticipates and has fun with, especially how he overcomes the issue of the witches not wanting to wait fifteen years for the Hidden Heir™ to make his unexpected reappearance, resulting in arguably the most impressive display of magic in the entire series (we'll perhaps ignore the apparent issues this causes with the timeline, as Pratchett subsequently does). 

There is a lot of great comedy here as Pratchett riffs off various ideas and tropes (not to mention some nods to the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin), but there's also splendid use of a real-world theme, in this case propaganda. Words have power of their own, and can be a greater force than armies, and the deployment of the idea is intelligent and well-handled, and also done with relative subtlety, tying into the main storyline's use of a theatre troupe and their ability to create stories that are more memorable than real history.

Wyrd Sisters (****½) sees Pratchett evolving the Discworld setting even further away from the simple fantasy parody it started out as and into much more interesting territory, with a corresponding deepening and complicating of the worldbuilding and characters, whilst remaining funny. The novel is available in the UK and USA.

I wrote a previous review of the novel here.

As an added bonus, the 1997 Cosgrove Hall animated film version of Wyrd Sisters is freely available on YouTube.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Baltimore, 1880. Seventeen years have passed since the dead on the battlefield of Gettysburg rose, sparking a plague that has torn America part. The Confederacy has surrendered and accepted equality...on paper. In reality, the southern states (and even some of the northern) have liberated former slaves only to turn them into soldiers, cannon fodder to fight the undead menace. Jane McKeene, trained at Miss Preston's School of Combat, is destined to become a babysitter for the wealthy and privileged, until she discovers that people in Maryland are going missing without explanation. Her investigation uncovers a conspiracy with far-reaching consequences for the fate of the Union, and for herself.

The American Civil War remains the bloodiest conflict fought in American history, its outcome still debated and contentious a hundred and sixty years later. It has been used before to spur SFF novels. Several of Harry Turtledove's novels have delved deep into "what if...?" scenarios where the consequences of a Southern victory are assessed (unsurprisingly, things do not go well), whilst the Deadlands franchise of tabletop games and novels has explored the consequences of a supernatural schism taking place on the same day as the Battle of Gettysburg.

Dread Nation starts from the very same premise and likewise explores a world where the full reckoning of the recent human catastrophe has taken a back seat to the supernatural menace, including the rapid onset of steampunk technology to aid in the fight against the undead. But the book has a different tone, as Ireland uses the premise to explore complex racial issues and politics whilst always keeping an eye on delivering a gripping narrative.

After a slightly slow start, Dread Nation quickly catches fire and never lets up. The book is fearlessly inventive in how it uses its alternative history and supernatural trappings to explore real sociological and historical issues whilst also delivering satisfying characterisation. Jane McKeene, our protagonist, is complex and has an interesting background, whilst also being intriguingly flawed. Jane is something of a hothead who has issues making short-term sacrifices for long-term gains, and the novel partially explores how Jane becomes more strategic in her thinking, both in how to deal with the undead but also the considerably nastier human foes she encounters during her adventures. The book has several other major characters, explored through Jane's eyes, such as her frenemy Katherine, a rival at school who reluctantly becomes an ally when they agree to team up to investigate a mystery.

The novel is a fine action story as well. There's satisfying fight scenes and some solid zombie killings (a full-scale battle between a town's worth of defenders and a zombie horde is the highlight here). Ireland solves the age-old question of "fast or slow?" by deploying both kinds, and there's some nice background on how America has adapted to the presence of the undead although, at least in this first volume, there is no explanation for the origin of the threat.

The richness of the novel is let down a little by its villains, who feel a bit "generic Stephen King bad guy," being corrupt sheriffs and fire-and-brimstone racist preachers. They get the job done in providing numerous obstacles for Jane and Kate to overcome, but occasionally risk becoming caricatures.

Beyond that minor hiccup, Dread Nation (****½) is a rewarding, fast-paced story which combines real history and events with zombies to create something that is compelling reading. The book is available now in the UK and USA. A sequel, Deathless Divide, is also available.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Harmony Gold and Studio Nue confirm collaboration for the continuation of the ROBOTECH and MACROSS franchises

Japanese animation companies Studio Nue, Inc. and Big West Co. Ltd. have announced a fresh collaboration with Harmony Gold USA. The three companies previously collaborated in the mid-1980s to bring Studio Nue and Big West's Macross anime series to American audiences, where it was re-edited and combined with two other shows (Southern Cross and Mospeada) to form an original SF epic called Robotech. The business relationship between the parties has been contentious ever since, with Harmony Gold blocking the release of the various Macross sequel and prequel series in the United States.

The new agreement was made confirming that the Macross animated series can now be released internationally, whilst the Japanese companies have dropped their legal claims that were casting doubt on the release of a planned live-action Robotech movie in Japan.

Harmony Gold previously reached a new distribution deal with Tatsunoko Productions, who worked on Macross with Studio Nue, in 2019 which helped pave the way for this agreement with the remaining stakeholders.

The most likely near-term consequence will be the release or re-release of the original Super Dimensional Fortress Macross series and its canonical sequels Macross 7, Macross Frontier and Macross Delta, and the prequel series Macross Zero, on physical media and streaming platforms.

The bigger deal will be that the planned film version could move ahead. Directors James Wan (Aquaman) and Andy Muschietti (IT) had both been attached to the film before it had gotten mired in development hell, with the Japanese companies objecting to the film's proposed use of Macross characters and mecha designs. This new deal removes those obstacles.

Other ideas that have been floating around for a while, such as a Netflix-produced total remake of Robotech in the vein of their recent Voltron series, are also made possible by this deal. Despite the franchise's name value, Harmony Gold themselves don't have the funding to make a new series (an attempt in 2006, via a straight-to-DVD movie called The Shadow Chronicles, was a failure), so will need to partner with external studios.

Given the ill feeling between the various entities that have existed for almost forty years, it is remarkable that an amicable solution has been worked out, which can only benefit the fans.

Paramount schedules mystery STAR TREK film for 2023

Paramount has set a release date of 9 June 2023 for the next Star Trek movie, but they have not yet revealed what that movie actually is.

Paramount have spent the five years since the release of Star Trek Beyond developing a large number of potential new film projects to no avail. A direct follow-up to Beyond, focusing on Chris Pine's Captain Kirk teaming up with his father, played by Chris Hemsworth via time travel, was in development for a time before being dropped over a pay dispute. The film was later put back into development again, and then paused a second time.

At the same time, Quentin Tarantino started developing new project. This was eventually revealed as a remake of the classic Star Trek episode A Piece of the Action, in which the Enterprise crew arrive on a planet that's developed into a parody of early 20th Century gangster movies. Tarantino was very enthusiastic about the project, even considering directing, but later committed only to writing and producing. Without Tarantino directing, Paramount's interest in the idea seemed to dry up.

Fargo and Legion showrunner Noah Hawley then committed to a new Star Trek movie idea, one which would apparently revolve around a whole new crew and a whole new story. With Hawley much in-demand for Hollywood projects, Paramount seems to have entertained the idea for a while before passing on it, due to a lack of an exciting hook to get people interested.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, Star Trek: Discovery writer Kalinda Vazquez was hired to put together a new proposal, the details of which remain unknown.

According to io9, this new project is not related to any of these ideas. The only thing that is known is that J.J. Abrams will be producing (but not directing) and to get it out in just over two years, they're going to need to put it into production shortly. Very mysterious.