Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Friday, 30 October 2020

Hasbro developing DUNGEONS & DRAGONS TV series

In addition to the long-gestating live-action film, Hasbro have announced they are developing a Dungeons & Dragons TV series.

Dungeons & Dragons is the longest-running and most popular roleplaying game in history, having sold more than 20 million rulebooks and well over 100 million novels and 10 million video games since 1974. It is estimated that more than 50 million people have played the game. The current fifth edition of the game, released by Hasbro subsidiary Wizards of the Coast in 2014, is the most popular in the game's history. Hasbro has confirmed that 2019 was the biggest-selling year in the franchise's history (including its early days) and for 2020 the game is currently on track to break that record by over 20%. Hasbro attribute this to the popularity of the game in lockdown and that families are now playing the game together, as well as the more traditional friend groups. Online campaigns over Zoom, Facebook Video Messenger, Skype, Roll20 and other services have also grown significantly this year.

Hasbro are developing the film project with Paramount, with Jonathan Goldstein and John Daley (Game Night, Horrible Bosses, Spider-Man: Homecoming) set to write and direct and Jeremy Latcham (the Marvel Cinematic Universe) set to produce. However, Hasbro have been keen to expand the franchise into a shared universe similar to the MCU. Whilst everyone and their aunt has been trying to do the same thing with other properties, Dungeons & Dragons is uniquely placed to be commercially exploited in such a fashion, as the tabletop game, video games and the novels already span a large number of worlds, storylines and distinct casts of characters, with some scope for crossover but mostly consisting of stand-alone narratives. For example, the well-known Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Greyhawk and Ravenloft worlds are distinct, separate settings within the same universe (linked by the wider Spelljammer and Planescape settings, which depict space travel and interplanar travel respectively).

According to Hasbro, they have been in discussion with both streaming services and standard cable and TV networks over a D&D-branded TV series. It sounds like the project is in its earliest stages and will require a strong partner to commit before moving forwards. I can imagine Netflix, Amazon, HBO and maybe a few other companies being at least somewhat interested in the project, but we'll have to wait to see who bites.

Hasbro are having a tough time in other areas at the moment, facing a $10 million lawsuit from superstar authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman for allegedly breaching a contract by refusing to publish a new Dragonlance novel trilogy for reportedly spurious reasons. The outcome of that suit remains to be seen.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Y: THE LAST MAN TV series starts production

FX has announced that shooting is finally underway on its TV adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra's acclaimed comic book, Y: The Last Man.

The original comic ran for 60 issues from 2002 and 2008 and is set in a world where an unknown viral disease has wiped out every male mammal on the planet, save two: an average American guy named Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. The series follows Yorick trying to survive in a world where all the survivors want a piece of him, from a religious cult who believe his survival is an insult to God's will to scientists eager to use him to help avert the extinction of the human race.

The project has spent a long time in development. The comic book was optioned in 2015. A pilot was ordered and cast in 2018, and based on the internal testing of the project a full season was commissioned in February 2019. However, the road production became rocky, with multiple castmembers dropping out and replacements having to be hired. Production was finally scheduled to start in February, only to be delayed due to the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This has also resulted in additional recasting.

Cameras are now rolling and FX has confirmed the cast list:

  • Ben Schnetzer as Yorick Brown
  • Ashley Romans as Agent 355
  • Olivia Thirlby as Hero Brown
  • Diane Lane as Congresswoman Jennifer Brown
  • Diana Bang as Dr. Allison Mann
  • Juliana Canfield as Beth Deville
  • Elliot Fletcher as Sam Jordan
  • Amber Tamblyn as Kimberly Cunningham
  • Marin Ireland as Nora Brady
Y: The Last Man should premiere on FX in 2021.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

New Susanna Clarke novel to be published in 2022

Susanna Clarke, the much-feted author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004), recently released her first novel in sixteen years, the well-received Piranesi. This was the first book in a two-book acquisition by Bloomsbury, leading to some speculation that that second book might be the much-rumoured Jonathan Strange sequel. However, that speculation was quashed by an interview where she indicated that a long period of illness had left her unable to work on such a large project.

The second book is instead called The Cistern and is tentatively scheduled for 13 October 2022. So far there is no plot summary or synopsis yet available.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

CYBERPUNK 2077 delayed by three weeks

In slightly surprising news (or utterly unsurprising news, depending on how cynical you are), CD Projekt Red have confirmed they are delaying the release of Cyberpunk 2077 yet again. This is their most modest delay yet, being by just 21 days to 10 December.

Cyberpunk 2077's delays are becoming meme-like at this point. The game was originally announced on 19 October 2012 - yup, eight years ago - before getting its first teaser trailer on 10 January 2013. After going completely radio silent on the game for five years, CDPR started revving up the hype engine again by releasing a much bigger trailer on 10 June 2018.

CDPR finally announced a release date with a trailer that they released on 9 June 2019, which confirmed both the participation of Keanu Reeves and the release date of 16 April 2020. However, this was delayed, first until 17 September and then 19 November.

The news seems to have taken the CDPR Twitter team by surprise: as recently as yesterday they were telling people it was fine to take 19 November off of work because the game would definitely, 100% come out on that date. Unsurprisingly, a lot of fans (especially those who have arranged holidays around the date) are unhappy with the news.

CDPR has cited multiple reasons for the delay, including a switch to work-from-home for staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have also been testing nine versions of the game simultaneously: one each for the PC, Stadia, X-Box One and X-Box One X, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro, X-Box S, X-Box X and PlayStation 5 platforms. The cross-generational release of Cyberpunk 2077 (not a problem facing their last, mid-generation release of The Witcher 3 in 2015) and ensuring a bug-free launch seems to be their key concern here.

The news will be disappointing to many, although the delay is somewhat modest and the game will still arrive this side of Christmas (assuming no further delays).

Netflix developing ASSASSIN'S CREED TV series

Netflix has teamed with Ubisoft to develop a live-action TV series based on the Assassin's Creed video game series. This will not be connected to the 2016 film based on the games, starring Michael Fassbender.

The Assassin's Creed series began in 2007 with the release of eponymous first game in the series. The twelfth main game in the series, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, is released next month.

The premise of the series is that humanity is actually a genetically-engineered creation of an ancient, superior race that used to exist on Earth but was wiped out by a solar flare tens of thousands of years ago, leaving no trace of their existence. This superior race left behind technology, known as the Pieces of Eden, to help preserve Earth through future apocalyptic events, with various factions throughout time trying to gain control of this technology for purposes selfish and selfless. The two main factions are the Assassins, who represent freedom, and the Knights Templar, who represent order; the two factions have both precursor and successor organisations existing at different points in time. In the present day, the Templar-descended mega-corporation Abstergo Industries has created a device, the Animus, that allows the wearer to experience the memories of their ancestors from different points in time and garner clues to the current whereabouts of the Pieces of Eden. This forms a framing device, with each game having its own, mostly self-contained storyline and characters, but the metastory of the modern-day Templar/Assassins battle continues to unfold in the background.

The Assassin's Creed series is one of gaming's most commercially successful franchises, having sold over 155 million copies in total.

The premise of the TV series is unclear. However, the video game setting would allow them to make an effective anthology series, with each season set in a new time and location with framing elements linking them together. This would give the creative team a formidable amount of creative freedom to develop the project.

Netflix are also working on a live-action TV show based on the Resident Evil franchise.

Friday, 23 October 2020

Universal developing a BATTLESTAR GALACTICA movie unrelated to the new TV series

In a slightly confusing move, Universal is pressing ahead with a Battlestar Galactica movie project at the exact same time it is developing a new television series, via NBC's Peacock service.

Simon Kinberg - the writer of X-Men: Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix and X-Men: The Last Stand who inexplicably keeps getting work - has been hired to co-produce and write the film. Dylan Clark, who has helped mastermind the highly successful Planet of the Apes reboot series and is currently producing The Batman, will work with Kinberg on the project.

The new BSG film will be a ground-up reboot of the classic premise, which sees the humans of the Twelve Colonies suffer a brutal attack by the robotic Cylons and forced to flee into space in search of the mythical "Thirteenth Colony" of Earth.

The Peacock project is being produced by Sam Esmail and Michael Lesslie. Esmail originally planned a show that intersects with the TV version of the franchise produced by Ronald D. Moore in 2003-09, but since taking a back seat on the project, it sounds like Lesslie is also pursuing a reboot of the premise.

The idea of two versions of the same story being in production at the same time feels weird, but not completely unprecedented. There are no less than three adaptations of Resident Evil in pre-production, all set in different universes: a live-action, post-apocalyptic Netflix show; a live-action new film based on the first two video games; and an animated film taking place in the video game timeline. Paramount are also planning to relaunch their Star Trek film series with movies set in a different timeline to the TV shows currently underway at CBS All Access.

The BSG movie project is not guaranteed to move forwards. Universal have been developing a new film version of the franchise since the Moore TV show wrapped in 2009. Bryan Singer worked on the project for a couple of years (having previously been attached to a TV version pre-Moore), whilst writers Jack Paglen and Lisa Joy also took tilts at the script. France Lawrence was also attached to direct at one point, but has since dropped out. The problem is likely tied to the budget, with the premise requiring a hefty cost but the profile of the franchise (even the much-praised, multi-award-winning Ron Moore version still only has a cult following) meaning it's difficult to justify a large expense.

More news as it develops.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Disney+ greenlights WILLOW TV series

Disney+ and Lucasfilm have commissioned a season of television adventures for Willow Ufgood, the hero of the 1988 fantasy film Willow, produced by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard.

The new series picks up thirty-odd years after the film, with Willow and his family having to face new challenges. Warwick Davis reprises his role as Willow from the film.

The 1988 movie saw Willow team up with a redoubtable swordsman, Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), the treacherous daughter of the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), to save a young child, Elora Danan, the prophecised future Empress of Tir Asleen. It's unclear if any other actors from the film will return, although revisiting Elora Danan as an adult seems a no-brainer for the plot. The film was a moderate box office success, but not enough to warrant a sequel at the time.

A trilogy of novels, the Chronicles of the Shadow War series, was published in the 1990s as a sequel of sorts to the film, written by X-Men writer Chris Claremont based on George Lucas's outline. The novel trilogy was controversial, as it killed off most of the film cast, renamed Willow and had very little to do with the film. It's assumed that the novels will be completely ignored by this new TV series.

The Willow TV series marks the first non-Star Wars project undertaken by Lucasfilm since its buy-out by Disney in 2013. The series will be co-written by Jonathan Kasdan (Solo) and Wendy Mericle (Arrow), who will also act as showrunners. Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) will direct the first episode and produce. Ron Howard will produce.

It's expected that the show will shoot in Wales in 2021 for a 2022 debut.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Shooting starts on the SANDMAN TV series

Neil Gaiman has reported that shooting has begun on Netflix's adaptation of his graphic novel series, Sandman.

Shooting began on Thursday 13 October, with the first scene being shot being a sequence set in 1918 where Dr. John Hathaway procures a book from the museum where he works and gives it to Roderick Burgess, the antagonist of the early part of the story.

Gaiman notes that with shooting underway, they should probably get around to announcing the cast (presumably because the longer shooting continues, the more likely it is that casting and set pictures will leak) and hopes to be able to do that shortly.

Sandman is expected to debut on Netflix in late 2021 or early 2022.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman sue DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS publishers for $10 million for breach of contract

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the famed authors of the Dragonlance Chronicles and many other series in that world, have sued Dungeons and Dragons publishers Wizards of the Coast for breach of contract after a new Dragonlance novel trilogy was abruptly cancelled after the first book had been completed.

The news that Wizards were planning a new Dragonlance trilogy is in itself a surprise, given that there has been an extreme dearth of D&D fiction over the last four years, with only three Forgotten Realms books by R.A. Salvatore being published in that time. There have been unsubstantiated rumours that Wizards are planning a relaunch of Dragonlance as a D&D campaign setting in 2021 or 2022, so relaunching the novel series at the same time would have been a good move, and an encouraging sign that Wizards might be reconsidering entering the novel space in a more substantial manner after they effectively cancelled their ongoing lines in 2016.

Weis and Hickman had completed the first novel in the trilogy, Dragons of Deceit, and were working on the second, Dragons of Fate, when Wizards of the Coast abruptly informed them that the trilogy would not be published and they were terminating the contract immediately. It sounds like there had been rumblings of problems before that, particularly when Nic Kelman had been assigned to edit the trilogy (replacing editors Weis and Hickman have previously agreed to work with). Kelman, the Head of Story and Entertainment at Wizards, has long been a controversial figure after publishing a book which was alleged to have "promoted misogyny and paedophilia".

From the complaint it sounds like Wizards of the Coast became concerned over "problematic" aspects of older D&D worldbuilding (such as always-evil races) and asked the authors to address these in rewrites, which they say they fully complied with. Wizards then terminated the book deal anyway. This is particularly bizarre given that Dragonlance, even in the 1980s and 1990s, had a progressive tone to its work, rehabilitating evil races from other settings into more honourable and nuanced civilisations (such as ogres) and featuring "good" members of traditionally evil races (such as goblins and draconians).

Weis and Hickman are two of the biggest-selling living fantasy authors and the second-most-popular authors of D&D fiction (only marginally behind Salvatore). A new trilogy from them, especially accompanying a Dragonlance relaunch, would have likely sold hundreds of thousands of copies and brought substantial revenues to both authors. For this reason, they are suing Wizards of the Coast for $10 million in lost income and damages.

Weis and Hickman were part of the editorial team at then-TSR which created the Dragonlance world of Krynn as a setting for Dungeons and Dragons adventures in 1983. They then co-wrote the Dragonlance Chronicles and Dragonlance Legends novel series between 1984 and 1986, the first six books which launched the setting to acclaim and which sold more than four million copies before the end of the decade. They returned to the setting several times in the 1990s and 2000s to pen more novels. Cumulatively, they have sold over 25 million books in total.

The setting has previously seen some controversy. In 2008 urban fantasy author Jim Butcher was approached by WotC to spearhead a full reboot of the entire Dragonlance saga, including rewriting the original trilogy as a five-book series. Butcher would only proceed with Weis and Hickman's blessing and, when that was not forthcoming, the project was abandoned.