Saturday, 16 January 2077

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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, 20 May 2022

BABYLON 5 reboot still in development amidst major changes at The CW

Mark Pedowitz, CEO of The CW, has confirmed that the channel's Babylon 5 reboot is currently still in development. This is despite The CW going up for sale and a whole slew of the channel's shows being cancelled.

Created by J. Michael Straczynski, Babylon 5 aired for a pilot, five seasons and four TV movies from 1993 to 1998, followed by a spin-off series, Crusade, that was cancelled after half a season in 1999. A subsequent additional TV movie aired in 2002, and another one was released direct to DVD in 2007. The show also incorporated spin-off novels and comic books. The show was noted for its pioneering use of both serialised storytelling and CGI. It had modest ratings during its original run but strong critical acclaim, winning back-to-back Hugo Awards in 1996 and 1997.

After the end of the original run, original creator-showrunner-writer J. Michael Straczynski (also noted for his work on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, The Real Ghostbusters, Jeremiah and Sense8, as well as his comics book work and the Clint Eastwood/Angelina Jolie film Changeling) spent some years developing a feature film featuring the original cast. However, a large number of the original cast has sadly passed away, making a Next Generation-style continuation of the show impossible.

Renewed interest in Babylon 5 was generated by a middling HD remaster which was released in early 2021 (which updated the live-action footage but not the CGI). Word of reboot of the show followed in September. Unusually, it was confirmed in February that Babylon 5 would not proceed in development for 2022, but would instead be held back until 2023, apparently so it would not be impacted by the imminent sale of The CW network.

The CW was founded in 2006 as a merger of The WB and UPN, owned by Warner Brothers and Paramount respectively. The two channels had struggled for a decent market share and joined forces to ensure more resources. The channel initially saw a reasonable hit with Supernatural and then a number of shows based on the DC Universe, starting Arrow and continuing with The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Black LightningSupergirl and Batwoman. The network also established other hit properties with The 100, Riverdale and The Vampire Diaries, among others. The network became stereotyped for having shows aimed at younger audiences with variable special effects, low budgets and a cheesy, old-fashioned feel. However, the network also became immensely profitable through a 2011 deal with Netflix worth $1 billion, which subsidised shows that aired to low ratings on their original American airing but garnered a much larger international audience.

The Netflix deal was terminated in 2019, with CW shows instead finding an outlet through direct overseas sales and American streaming via HBO Max. However, this did not in any way approach the sheer income generated by the prior Netflix deal. As a result, the network starting cancelling shows at rate of knots, culminating in a massacre in May 2022 when ten shows were cancelled, including Legends of Tomorrow. The CW is now being sold to the Nexstar Media Group.

The news that the Babylon 5 reboot is not dead is good, but it should come with caveats. It is possible and likely, once the deal is completed, that Nexstar will install their own CEO to replace Mark Pedowitz, who notes that he is a huge fan of the original show and has been trying to bring it back for many years. It is unlikely that a new CEO will be as invested in the project as him. New channel CEOs in fact usually terminate any shows in development they were not involved in and bring in their own projects to develop. There are a few exceptions, but they are rare. If Nextstar retain Pedowitz in the role, it's much more likely that the B5 reboot will happen. More news as we get it.

Thursday, 19 May 2022

New DAREDEVIL series in development at Disney+

Disney+ have put into development a new season of Daredevil, the extremely popular Marvel drama series that previously ran for three seasons at Netflix and spawned a number of spin-off and companion shows, culminating in the Defenders event mini-series. Disney+ recently gained the rights to all the Netflix series and seemingly formalised Daredevil as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when actors Charlie Cox (Matt Murdoch/Daredevil) and Vincent D'Onofrio (Wilson Fisk/Kingpin) appeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home and the streaming series Hawkeye respectively.

Matt Corman and Chris Ord will serve as showrunners on the new project. They previously co-created Covert Affairs and have worked on several other projects as a writing team. At the moment, none of the creative team from the previous Netflix iteration of the property are involved. However, it seems inevitable that at least Cox will reprise his role as the Man Without Fear, and hopefully the rest of the cast will follow.

The new series will likely answer the niggling question of if events of the Netflix shows are canon, rather than just using the same actors to portray a similar version of the characters. Fans will be hoping that other characters make the cut, particularly Krysten Ritter's take on Jessica Jones and Jon Bernthal's intense portrayal of Frank Castle/The Punisher.

The project is only early in development. Beforehand, Disney+ will launch a number of other Marvel TV shows including Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Echo, Secret Invasion, Ironheart, Armor Wars, Agatha: House of Harkness and Wakanda, as well as a second season of Loki.

RIP Vangelis

The news has sadly broken that composer and keyboardist Vangelis has passed away at the age of 79. He is best-known for composing the soundtracks to the films Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire, as well as the Carl Sagan TV show Cosmos. He also had a successful solo career.

Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassiou was born in 1943 in Greece. He started learning to play the piano at four, inspired by his father's love of music. He began scoring work early, working on three Greek movies in the mid-1960s whilst recording with the band The Forminx. In 1967 he relocated from Athens to Paris and co-founded the group Aphrodite's Child, which enjoyed moderate success and a critical hit with the 666 album in 1972. He began a solo career and continued scoring European films, as well as nature documentaries. In 1974 he auditioned to replace Rick Wakeman in the progressive rock band Yes, but ran into visa problems. Although he never joined the band formally, he did work alongside various Yes bandmembers on later projects.

In 1975 he relocated to London and continued to release solo material at an impressive clip throughout the rest of the decade, as well as continuing to work on more documentary soundtracks. His work on Opera Sauvage (1979) was particularly praised, raising his profile considerably. In 1980, Carl Sagan's hugely influential television series Cosmos used a number of Vangelis compositions from throughout his career, including an extract from "Heaven and Hell" as its main theme.

Vangelis had his biggest career breakthrough when he was asked to compose the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire (1981). His main theme tune for the film became a huge worldwide success, hitting #1 on the US Hot 100 chart. The soundtrack album sold a million copies in the USA by itself. The following year he won an Academy Award for the soundtrack, but his fear of flying meant he did not attend the ceremony.

Vangelis was flooded with offers for work, but turned most of them down, fearing becoming typecast only as a film composer. He returned to working on documentaries and only on films which he felt intellectually stimulated him, such as the Japanese film Nankyoku Monogatari (1983). Another such film was Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), where his work hugely praised. However, a legal dispute meant that his soundtrack was not formally released until 1994.

Vangelis also composed the soundtracks to 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), Alexander (2004) and El Greco (2007). In 2012 he collaborated on the score for Chariots of Fire: The Play.

He continued to produce solo albums and contribute to projects that interested him, such as a soundtrack for the 2001 NASA Odyssey mission to Mars. His most recent solo album was Juno to Jupiter, released in 2021.

A titan of electronic music and the composer of two of the greatest movie scores of all time, Vangelis will be missed.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

First trailer for SHE-HULK released

Marvel have unveiled the first trailer for their upcoming streaming series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. The series debuts on 17 August.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law follows lawyer Jennifer Walters, the cousin of Bruce Banner, better known as the Incredible Hulk. When Walters is injured, her cousin saves her by donating some of his blood, leading her to gaining his powers of transformation, albeit at a lesser scale. Walters has to adapt to life as She-Hulk, including unwanted fame and her newfound ability to tear metal doors off their hinges (aided by somewhat questionable CGI).

The series stars Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany, who won an Emmy Award for Best Actress for playing multiple characters in the clone-based drama Orphan Black. Mark Ruffalo reprises his role as Bruce Banner/Hulk from the Marvel movies, whilst Tim Roth return as Emil Blonsky/Abomination. He previously played the character in The Incredible Hulk (2008) and briefly voiced the character in an uncredited cameo in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Five Rings (2021). Benedict Wong also returns as Wong, having played the character previously in Doctor Strange (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Five Rings (2021), Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022).

Other actors announced for the project include Ginger Gonzaga as Nikki, Jameela Jamil as Titania, Renee Elise Goldsberry as Amelia, and Josh Segarra, Jon Bass, Anais Almonte, Nicholas Cirillo and David Otunga in undisclosed roles.

Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk is a popular Marvel character, having debuted in The Savage She-Hulk's first issue in 1980. She was created by Stan Lee and artist John Buscema, initially as a female version of the Hulk but with some differences, most notably retaining her personality and intelligence after her transformations. In the comics, She-Hulk has been a member of multiple organisations, including the Avengers, Defenders and SHIELD.

The season will consist of nine half-hour episodes, with a lighter and more comedic feel than some of the other Marvel projects. The show is being set up to lead into additional seasons if successful, with Kevin Feige noting that Walters' job as a lawyer for superheroes could see her showing up in other Marvel movies and series.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Lucasfilm outlines ongoing plans for STAR WARS

In a major article for Vanity Fair, the creatives at Lucasfilm have outlined their plans moving forwards for the Star Wars franchise. The franchise has had mixed fortune recently, scoring a major international hit with TV series The Mandalorian but also two box-office disappointments with Solo (2018) and The Rise of Skywalker (2019), and TV series The Book of Boba Fett which had a mixed reception.

During the article, Lucasfilm confirm the release schedule for their upcoming TV shows, with Obi-Wan Kenobi launching on 27 May and Rogue One prequel show Andor hitting screens a few weeks later, before the end of summer. The Mandalorian Season 3 will arrive late this year or early next, with Ahsoka being a confirmed 2023 release. The Acolyte, a show set during the "High Republic" era about 100 years before The Phantom Menace, is likely to appear in 2023 or 2024.

Lucasfilm are also developing a new project, which so far only has the code name "Grammar Rodeo" (a Simpsons reference). The show sounds like Star Wars: Stranger Things, with a group of four children who get swept up in events following the fall of the Empire. The show is reported to have a "Amblin coming-of-age adventure" vibe from the 1980s. Director Jon Watts, who helmed the recent Spider-Man Homecoming trilogy, is in charge alongside writer Chris Ford.

In terms of feature films, it appears that the new focus is on Taika Waititi's Star Wars movie, which is in pre-production and will be Waititi's next project once Thor: Love & Thunder launches and he gets his commitments to that out of the way. That could potentially be a 2024 release. Patty Jenkins' Rogue Squadron movie was delayed a while back due to commitments to Wonder Woman 3 and Cleopatra, but Jenkins cleared Cleopatra by transferring it to another director. Rogue Squadron will be Jenkins' next film once the third Wonder Woman movie is done, possibly for 2025.

Marvel Cinematic Universe head honcho Kevin Feige agreed to brainstorm and produce a Star Wars movie a while back, but he's so busy with the MCU that that project has been back-burnered. Likewise on hold is Rian Johnson's Star Wars trilogy. Johnson has committed to his Knives Out franchise and a Netflix deal, which puts a Star Wars return a long way off. Left unspoken is the mixed critical reception to Johnson's film The Last Jedi, which may have discouraged his return to the franchise altogether.

The Knights of the Old Republic movie, rumoured heavily a couple of years ago, and the rumoured Lando Calrissian TV show, are also left completely unmentioned.

The article addresses potential issues with the Star Wars franchise moving forwards: most of the projects reiterate on eras and things we have seen before. Only The Acolyte seems to be set in a new time period distinct from the prior settings, and even that is apparently going to eventually be setting up The Phantom Menace (I suspect a Darth Plagueis appearance). The article also suggests that the failure of Solo has been blamed on recasting Han Solo rather than its release date or franchise fatigue. This has driven the decision to use CGI to resurrect classic characters rather than recasting, which I think is the wrong conclusion to draw from that. The "deepfake" technology is getting better all the time, but it's still not at the point where classic characters can be restored to the screen convincingly. Even if it could, it feels like that's feeding into the desire to keep Star Wars permanently stuck revisiting the same time periods, characters and concepts.

The mixed reception to Star Wars projects which have tried to go in new directions seems to have resulted in a lot of conservatism in these new projects, which is a shame. The problem with the sequel trilogy wasn't that it was trying to go in new directions, but that it starting off not doing that (with the highly retro and fan-servicing The Force Awakens), then did that only semi-successfully (in The Last Jedi, half of the best Star Wars movie bolted onto half of the most pointless) and then reversed course again and made a complete pig's ear out of the situation (in The Rise of Skywalker). A Star Wars project which did go in genuinely new directions with a coherent plan in place from the start and was genuinely well-written I think would have every chance of success.

Forthcoming Star Wars Projects

  • Obi-Wan Kenobi: Disney+ streaming series, 27 May 2022
  • Andor: Disney+ streaming series, late summer 2022
  • The Mandalorian Season 3: Disney+ streaming series, late 2022/early 2023
  • Ahsoka: Disney+ streaming series, 2023
  • The Acolyte: Disney+ streaming series, 2023/2024
  • "Grammar Rodeo": Disney+ streaming series, tbc
  • Taika Waititi-directed Star Wars movie, tbc
  • Rogue Squadron: feature film, tbc
  • Kevin Feige Star Wars movie: on hold
  • Rian Johnson Star Wars trilogy: on hold

Bernard Cribbins to return to DOCTOR WHO

Bernard Cribbins is returning to Doctor Who for its 60th Anniversary celebrations. The actor was spotted filming on-location in London alongside David Tennant and Catherine Tate. Tennant and Tate are returning as the Doctor and former companion Donna Noble. Cribbins is presumably reprising his role as Wilfred Mott.

Cribbins is notable as the actor arguably with the longest attachment to the Doctor Who franchise, having debuted with the 1966 (non-canon) feature film Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD as one-off companion Tom Campbell. He returned to the series in the 2007 Christmas Special, Voyage of the Damned, playing a stall-keeper. The character was retconned as Wilfred Mott, Donna's grandfather, in the subsequent fourth series (2008), in which he made sporadic appearances. He returned in 2009 and 2010 in the two-part special The End of Time, during which he was upgraded to full companion status. Notably, the Tenth Doctor's regeneration came about after absorbing a massive radiation burst in order to save Wilfred's life.

Returning showrunner Russell T. Davies confirmed Tennant and Tate's return, teasing that their return might be part of a flashback, a dream, a parallel universe story or something else. Presumably the same applies to Wilfred. If Wilfred is again counted as a companion, he'd set a new record for the oldest companion at the age of 93.

It has also now been confirmed that Sex Education actor Ncuti Gatwa has been cast as the next Doctor and Yasmin Finney as Rose Temple-Noble, possibly Donna's daughter or adopted daughter.

It is unclear if Gatwa will be taking over immediately from Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker in her final story (due to air in the autumn) or if there will be some other storyline allowing for Tennant's return. It is also unconfirmed, despite tabloid speculation, if the other recent Doctors Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi and Whittaker will return (Christopher Eccleston, who left the show after a dispute with Davies and other producers, is very unlikely to return regardless). More news is expected as filming continues.

Update: Director Rachel Talalay was spotted on-set, indicating she will be directing the 60th Anniversary Special. Talalay is one of the show's most popular directors, having helmed Heaven Sent, Hell Bent and Twice Upon a Time during Steven Moffat's run. Actress Jaqueline King, who plays Wilfred's daughter (and Donna's mother) Sylvia, has also been spotted on set.

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

To the distress of Sam Vimes, he has been appointed the new Ankh-Morpork Ambassador to Uberwald, a position he feels as well-suited to as a herring to the role of architectural consultant for a non-fish-related building. At the Patrician's insistence, due to Uberwald's vital role in the international fat trade, Vimes heads off to witness the coronation of the new Low King of the dwarfs*. Of course, there is a crime and, of course, Vimes can't leave well enough alone. Meanwhile, the werewolves of Uberwald have their own crisis going on, drawing in Angua of the City Watch and her boyfriend Carrot. This leaves the Ankh-Morpork Watch under the command of Sergeant Colon...which may not be the idea situation.

The Fifth Elephant is the twenty-fourth Discworld novel and the fifth to focus on the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. Arguably, this is the most popular of Pratchett's sub-series due to its large cast of colourful, well-characterised characters with emotional and character arcs that unfold across multiple books, with the cynical Commander Vimes as one of Pratchett's most popular protagonists. The Fifth Elephant is also one of the more epic books in the series, adopting a multi-stranded, multi-POV approach more reminiscent of epic fantasy than most other Discworld novels.

The book divides itself into three main plot strands: Vimes as the Ambassador to Uberwald, getting entangled in political intrigue that would make George R.R. Martin at least somewhat nod in approval; Carrot, Angua and Gaspode the Wonder Dog getting into hijinks with the werewolves and non-were wolves of Uberwald; and Sergeant Colon being promoted beyond his ability and leading the City Watch into abject disaster at home. Pratchett's done multi-stranded plotting before, but rarely as accomplished as he does here, rotating between these three primary storylines and several significant subplots: Nobby forming the Disc's police union; a complicated vampire/werewolf/dwarf rivalry; Cheery Longbottom's ongoing crusade to allow dwarf women to be women; the onward march of the Igors; and the mysterious activities of Vimes' newly-appointed attache. There's a lot going on in The Fifth Elephant, maybe more than in any Discworld novel before it, and it's to Pratchett's credit that he juggles these ideas with skill and in a very disciplined 450 pages.

It's also the book that brings in one of the biggest worldbuilding changes to the series: the clacks. Discworld started off as a medieval-aping series, with Ankh-Morpork an effective carbon copy of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar. Since then, the setting has shifted down the timeline (although, fortunately, guns have not caught on). The introduction of the clacks - a continent-spanning semaphore system - starts to shift the setting more into the early 19th Century, with the Discworld steadily gaining a more steampunk, industrial feel to it which sets it apart from other fantasy settings. Pratchett handles this shift with subtle ease (to the point where you can forget the setting has advanced about 500 years in far less than a human lifetime), and it's fun to see it starting to happen here.

There's also a tremendous amount of successful worldbuilding here. We got a taste of one small corner of Uberwald in the previous novel, Carpe Jugulum, but the enormous country is covered and explored in more detail here. In particular Pratchett delves into the society and culture of his dwarfs more than in any previous book, and more than in most fantasy setting, where they're just kind of hanging around without a lot of development.

On the negative side of things, there's perhaps a few too many ideas being fired off here, with several promising plot strands and side-characters underserved due to the concise page count. This might be the Discworld novel most deserving of being longer so Pratchett could explore more ideas in more detail. I'm also not particularly convinced by the idea that even Sergeant Colon could nose-dive the City Watch into the ground within just a couple of days of being left in charge. Whilst never the brightest spark in the plug, Colon has never been the vindictive idiot he's made out to be here. It's particularly bizarre that his fall from grace happens so fast after his successful work alongside the Patrician in Jingo.

That aside, The Fifth Elephant (****½) is a triumph, with Pratchett delivering a large-scale, epic storyline spanning multiple characters and subplots and doing it extremely well, with some of the best worldbuilding in the series to date. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

*Pratchett has no truck with the cooler-looking, but ungrammatical, spelling "dwarves" in his setting.

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Sunday, 15 May 2022

David Tennant and Catherine Tate to return to DOCTOR WHO for the 60th Anniversary

The BBC has formally confirmed that former Doctor Who regulars David Tennant and Catherine Tate are returning to Doctor Who for the 60th Anniversary in November 2023.

David Tennant played the Tenth Doctor from 2005 to 2010, becoming arguably the most popular actor to play the role since Tom Baker (who played the Fourth Doctor from 1974 to 1981). Catherine Tate played his companion Donna Noble, debuting in the 2006 Christmas Special and returning regularly in Series 4 in 2008. Her last appearance came in Tennant's swansong, the special The End of Time, in 2010. Tennant's last appearance was in the 50th Anniversary special The Day of the Doctor in 2013, where he starred alongside Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith.

Returning showrunner Russell T. Davies is penning the 60th Anniversary Special, which is also expected to mark the first full episode for Ncuti Gatwa as the Fourteenth Doctor. Davies would not be drawn on how Tennant and Tate will return, encouraging speculation that it might be a dream, a flashback or a parallel universe. It's also not entirely clear if they are returning for the 60th Anniversary Special itself, or possibly a separate special or episode airing as part of the same celebrations.

It is so far unknown if the other Doctors of the modern age - Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi and Jodie Whittaker - are returning for the anniversary as well.

UPDATE: Actor Yasmin Finney (Heartstoppershas also been cast for the 60th Anniversary, playing a character called Rose. Russell T. Davies often has characters called Rose in his drama, including the co-lead in Bob & Rose and, of course, Rose Tyler in his first stint in Doctor Who. It is unclear if this new character is a guest star or the new regular companion.

Wertzone Classics: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

Sybel is the latest in a line of keepers of a group of fantastic beasts dwelling on Eld Mountain. She cares nothing for the outside world until the warrior Coren brings into her care a baby boy, Tamlorn. Tamlorn is the son of the king, but Sybel cares nothing for his heritage. A dozen years later, the outside world returns to intrude on their peaceful lives, and Sybel and Tamlorn must choose their fate.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was originally published in 1974 and has since become regarded as a classic, foundational volume of modern fantasy. It mixes elements of epic fantasy - armies readying for battle, politics - with elements of fairy tales, particularly the magical beasts who live with Sybel and the way that the magic works, with sorcerers gaining power over one another through the knowledge of names and stories.

McKillip's writing discipline is awesome to behold. In just 200 pages she packs in more story and more ideas than most entire trilogies. The writing is elegant and stylish for all of its tremendous pace, and the character development of Sybel, Tamlorn and Coren is superb. Particularly powerful is the discussion of the intersection of power and morality: just because you can do something does not mean you should. Sybel's grasping of how to wield great power responsibly, unlike some of her opponents who just don't care, is explored well.

The superb prose and excellent pacing does sometimes come at the expense of other elements. McKillip provides just enough worldbuilding to support the story and no more; some may feel this hurts immersion, but I never saw it as a problem (and even something of a relief). The characterisation of secondary figures aside from the big three is also more limited, due to a lack of page time. King Drede is presented intriguingly as a complex antagonist with mixed motivations, but we don't really get to know him in depth.

These complaints are slight. McKillip's writing is compelling, her storytelling is phenomenal and the way the book balances different elements is superb. It is unsurprising to learn that the novel won the inaugural World Fantasy Award in 1975, and has since become regarded as a classic of the genre. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (*****) is available now in the UK and USA.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.