Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Off to WorldCon and EuroCon

I'll be in Dublin for WorldCon this weekend and then EuroCon/TitanCon in Belfast for the following weekend, so there'll likely be fewer posts than normal for the next two weeks or so.

I have three panels for WorldCon ("Space Opera" Friday 10am, "Narrative & the Dollar" Saturday 12pm and "Winter Came" Saturday 5pm) and will be pottering around at EuroCon, so feel free to say hi if you're about!

WHEEL OF TIME TV show confirms main castmembers

Amazon Prime Television has confirmed the primary cast for its upcoming Wheel of Time TV show.

Dutch actor Josha Stradowski is playing the role of Rand al'Thor. Stradowski's credits include the TV series Hidden Stories and the TV film Just Friends.

Australian actress Madeleine Madden is playing Egwene al'Vere. Madden's previous roles include TV shows The Moodys and Picnic at Hanging Rock, Netflix's Tidelanders and the live-action Dora the Explorer movie.

British actor Marcus Rutherford is playing the role of Perrin Aybara. Marcus's roles include the TV series Shakespeare & Hathaway and the film County Lines.

New Zealand actress Zoë Robins is playing Nynaeve al'Meara. Robins' previous roles include Power Rangers: Ninja Steel and The Shannara Chronicles.

British actor Barney Harris is playing Mat Cauthon. Harris's previous roles include The Hollow Crown, Clique and All Roads Lead to Rome.

These actors join the previously-announced Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred.

Further roles to be cast for the first season are expected to include Logain Ablar, Thom Merrilin, Tam al'Thor, Lan Mandragoran, Loial, Elayne Trakand, Gawyn Trakand, Galad Damodred, Morgase Trakand, Gareth Bryne, Agelmar Jagad, Mordeth and Padan Fain.

Production on The Wheel of Time is expected to begin this month in the Czech Republic, to air on Amazon Prime in late 2020.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

STAR TREK franchise reunited for the first time in fifteen years

Viacom, the owners of Paramount Pictures, and CBS have completed their long-mooted re-merger. Amongst many other interesting side-effects (such as giving Paramount and their Hasbro master-partnership access to a new streaming TV service via CBS All Access), it means that the entire Star Trek franchise is once again reunited under one banner.

To back up, the original Star Trek was produced by Desilu Studios and aired on NBC. In 1967, during Star Trek's second season, Desilu was purchased by Paramount. Paramount produced the rest of the series, the animated series and all of the movies based on the property to date, from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) through Star Trek Beyond (2016). Paramount's TV division also produced Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94), Deep Space Nine (1993-99), Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-05).

In 2005, just as Enterprise was ending, Paramount's owners Viacom decided to divest their television arm as it was losing a serious amount of money. The television arm, effectively the old Paramount Television and CBS, became the new CBS, whilst Viacom retained ownership of Paramount. Due to arcane back-room wrangling, this involved splitting Star Trek: the movies remained the property of Viacom and Paramount, and the TV shows ended up with CBS. This is why CBS was behind the remastering of both the original series and The Next Generation, despite not having anything to do the franchise originally.

This division became problematic as both companies began producing new Star Trek material, Paramount via its movie collaboration with J.J. Abrams which gave us Star Trek (2009), Into Darkness (2013) and the aforementioned Beyond; and CBS with Star Trek: Discovery (2017-present) and its forthcoming spin-offs Picard and Section 31, all on its unexpectedly successful CBS All Access streaming service.

The division created legal uncertainties over the ability of each company to use ship designs, music and footage from other media, and meant that the writing team under Alex Kurtzman had to tread carefully when referencing events from the films in the TV shows (particularly the destruction of Romulus in the 2009 Star Trek movie in their new Picard show). The re-merger means that all such legal uncertainties are now removed and there can now be much greater integration between the TV shows and any new films going forwards, such as Quentin Tarantino's much-discussed potential film project.

What this means going forwards - a Discovery movie or an Abramsverse TV show both seem unlikely at this point - is probably not too much of a change in how the franchise operates, but it does clear up some potential grey areas.

Friday, 9 August 2019

George R.R. Martin in London

I attended George R.R. Martin's talk in London last night and tweeted about some of the things he said, which, as is Twitter's wont, some people misinterpreted or misunderstood, so I thought it might be useful to clarify and expand on these points here.

The evening started with George being surprised by bigwigs from Nielsen, who gave him two special awards for sales of A Song of Ice and Fire in the UK, confirming that A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings have individually sold over 1 million copies each in the UK since the UK Nielsen Bookscan started in 2001. Given the UK's much smaller market than the US, that's a huge sales achievement.

Most of the interview (with historian Dan Jones) was standard stuff we've heard many times before: George's early career in short stories, working in television (bearing in mind we were in a church, it was surprising that George got so wound up by reminiscing over producers messing with his scripts that he dropped a couple of f-bombs), writing Avalon and getting the inspiration for Bran's first chapter etc.

George did expand on the writing of The Hedge Knight. Robert Silverberg got a ton of money to do Legends, an all-star anthology of the biggest names in fantasy. He'd recruited people like Terry Pratchett, Stephen King and Robert Jordan. Initially GRRM thought that he wasn't established enough in epic fantasy to contribute (as only A Game of Thrones had come out and he was deep in the writing of A Clash of Kings) but the money on offer was large and it was pointed out he'd get a good cross-pollination from other authors' fanbases reading his story and deciding to check out AGoT. George realised he couldn't write anything set during the series so did a prequel. When it was nearly done, George got a message from Silverberg telling him he'd heard that ACoK was going to be late and Legends couldn't be late for the marketing push it had been allocated, so Silverberg was going to drop George's story and had already commissioned a replacement. George ended up delivering his story on deadline, before several of the other authors had delivered theirs. That's why Legends has 11 stories rather than a more logical 10. George credits The Hedge Knight with helping massively boost the popularity of ASoIaF as a whole, as there was a very sharp increase in sales for ACoK compared to AGoT.

George noted that he had identified 12 possible stories/episodes from Dunk & Egg's life that could be expanded into short stories, including the 3 already published, so that's 9 potential further stories for the duo. From previous interviews we know that the next two - The She-Wolves and The Village Hero (both working titles) - are planned in some depth and The She-Wolves is partially or even mostly written, but GRRM wasn't sure what order to publish them in. Both are on hold until The Winds of Winter is done.

The first Game of Thrones spin-off TV show is still officially unnamed: Bloodmoon sounds like a codename (or - my supposition - the name of the pilot episode) and George still wants The Long Night (or, from another interview, The Longest Night). The pilot has finished filming and HBO will mull it over before pulling the trigger (or not) on a season order in a few months.

GRRM also repeated that the inspiration for the Red Wedding was the Black Dinner of Scottish history, in particular the more "colourful" account that the doomed clan leaders were serenaded with a death march song and had a black boar's head (the symbol of death) served to them at dinner before their execution, which most historians now seem to believe was a total fabrication ("But it sounded better"). His Red Wedding was the Black Dinner "turned up to 11" but the TV version was "turned up to 14."

Also a reiteration that Fire and Blood wasn't supposed to exist, it was supposed to be his contribution to The World of Ice and Fire in the form of sidebars that he wrote shortly after finishing A Dance with Dragons, but instead of 3,000 words he ended up submitting over 170,000 words (in earlier interviews he said closer to 300,000, but I wonder if the 170,000 is specifically the information on the Targaryens and the 300,000 includes all the info he contributed on the Empire of the Dawn, Iron Island history, etc, i.e. everything else in the book), as it had just all poured out of him in a few weeks (way back in the day he said it was around 2-3 months). His publishers were horrified, as it made World of Ice and Fire too big to be publishable. His co-writers Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson compressed almost all of it down and summarised it to fit into the book, leaving George with this big manuscript which he then chopped up to produce the three anthology stories (Princess and the Queen, The Rogue Prince and Sons of the Dragon). The motivation to publish Fire and Blood came when HBO started talking about prequel spin-offs and George realised the manuscript could be a potential source of new stories and information, although ironically the one HBO decided to proceed with had nothing to do with the Fire and Blood material.

Fire and Blood II is planned out - GRRM is relishing the chance to tell the story of Aegon IV and his mistresses - but not yet written, and can't be published until after ASoIaF as a whole is completed.

George did talk about his schedule in terms of the order of things he wants to publish things in. No dates were mentioned and the order sounded aspirational rather than set in stone:
  1. The Winds of Winter (natch)
  2. Dunk & Egg IV (either The She-Wolves or The Village Hero)
  3. A Dream of Spring
  4. Dunk & Egg V (either The Village Hero or The She-Wolves)
  5. Fire & Blood II
There will also be more Dunk & Egg short stories after the fifth one. As mentioned before he has twelve potential story ideas mapped out which will span their lives. He didn't mention Summerhall or how it would work scheduling the D&E stories versus F&B2, as presumably one of them will spoil Summerhall for the other, as his "constructive vagueness" over the events from World of Ice and Fire presumably won't fly again.

The schedule may sound "ambitious" given the long wait between ASoIaF volumes and indeed D&E stories, but if was suppose The Winds of Winter is closer to being done than not, take on board that The She-Wolves is mostly done and he effectively wrote Fire & Blood I in a few months, then the only question mark is really on ADoS, how fast it can be done and if it's really going to be the last book in the series. None of these questions came up, so I guess time will only tell on those.

George rounded off the interview by saying his favourite dragon in the series is Balerion, the Black Dread, and his favourite sword is Dawn, and dropped a hint that there is something unusual about the sword as it is forged from a meteorite.

Monday, 5 August 2019

BROKEN EARTH RPG in the works

Green Ronin are adapting N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy as a tabletop roleplaying game for release this autumn.

Green Ronin already publish licensed RPGs based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and James S.A. Corey's Expanse books, as well as tabletop version of BioWare's Dragon Age franchise.

Jemisin's Broken Earth series (comprising The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky) is one of the most critically-acclaimed fantasy series of the decade, selling over a million copies and winning an unprecedented three Hugo Awards for Best Novel. The series has also been optioned for television at TNT.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Stephen King writing a new ending for TV version of THE STAND

Stephen King has confirmed that he is rewriting the ending of his 1978 novel The Stand for TV.

The Stand depicts the collapse of civilisation when the world is ravaged by a "superflu" virus, and the subsequent battle between good and evil groups of survivors. One of King's biggest-selling and most beloved novels, it's also garnered a reputation for having a somewhat weak ending. The 1994 ABC mini-series retains this ending.

The new TV version will feature a revamped ending, penned by King himself, which will expand on the fate of key characters. Some versions of The Stand feature a different (and more depressing) ending, so it's unclear if King is drawing on this, or if he is just adding to the ending or rewriting the "deus ex machina" nature of the ending altogether.

The Stand is a ten-episode limited series for CBS All Access, starring James Marsden and Amber Heard. It starts shooting shortly, to air on CBS All Access likely in late 2020.

Empire of Grass by Tad Williams

The kingdoms of Osten Ard are in turmoil. A resurgent Norn threat in the north threatens Rimmersgard and northern Erkynland. The tribes of the Thrithings are in turmoil, a conflict that threatens to spill across the borders into Nabban and Erkynland. Hernystir is in danger of falling under the power of a dark cult. Civil war threatens in Nabban. The High King Simon and the High Queen Miriamele both try to tackle these issues, but the number of their reliable allies is falling and their grandson and heir is missing. But the threat is greater and closer than they think, as for the first time in thousands of years, the deathless queen of the Norns prepares to leave her stronghold.

The Witchwood Crown marked the start of The Last King of Osten Ard, a fresh trilogy picking up thirty years after the events of Williams' break-out work, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. It was a slow-paced novel but one that had to set up an awful lot of plot points, as well as revisiting characters from the first trilogy and introducing new ones. At the end of the book things kicked off, with Prince Morgan fleeing into the Aldheorte Forest, Unver beginning his unification of the Thrithings tribes, Miriamele setting off on a dangerous mission to Nabban and a band of Norns confronting a dragon.

Empire of Grass picks up on these plot points and expands on them, ticking along at a faster pace than the first novel (helped by it being a slightly shorter book), with us rotating between events in Nabban, the Hayholt, Aldheorte, the grasslands, Nakkiga, Naglimund and other locations quite rapidly. The key difference between the two trilogies is that Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was focused very tightly on Simon with occasional cutaways to other characters, but Last King is a broad-spectrum, multi-POV, multi-location, full-on epic fantasy series with a lot more going on in different places. The loss of tight focus may be bemoaned by some, but it does at least present us with a really epic story told on a huge scale.

Empire of Grass is also important in that it identifies the long-missing children of Josua and Vorzheva, whose identities and destinies have driven a lot of discussion by fantasy fans for well over a decade. We learn more about the twins and where their paths have led them, with a real sense of mythic power that both may hold the fate of the world in their hands, despite not being primary POV characters. We also learn more about Vorzheva, but Josua remains missing, with a hunt for him by agents of the crown forming an intriguing subplot through the novel.

As usual, Williams' gifts remain in atmosphere, with his stately worldbuilding and measured prose, and characterisation. I've seen criticism of the first book stemming from Simon's apparent lack of success in being king, but I see this as Williams simply furthering his subversion of epic fantasy tropes that began way back in 1988 with The Dragonbone Chair: it turns out that a kitchen boy with no background in statecraft might not be the best person to make king. It's made clear that the more experienced Miriamele is a far better ruler and the real power on the throne, which helps better explain why things get worse once she leaves for Nabban. The assumption that the guy who saved the world in the first series would automatically be a greater ruler who never did anything wrong is a bit odd, and is Williams' exploration of the question George R.R. Martin asked of Tolkien about Aragorn: yes, he may have been a great warrior, but does that mean has great insights into tax policy and crop rotation techniques?

If Williams does have a slight weak spot it's political intrigue: Nabban sets up the facade of being a hotbed of double-crosses and Xanatos gambits, but the final revelation of what's going on in Nabban is more than a little simplistic and lacking, with the villain explaining why they are doing everything and might as well have twirled a moustache in the process. There's also a decided lack of explanation as for why the powers in Nabban think they can win a multi-pronged conflict against multiple enemies simultaneously, which is what they seem to be setting up at the end of the book.

There's some great battle scenes, as the Norn invasion gets underway in full, and some excellent character beats (particularly among the Norns and half-Norns of Operation Dragon Retrieval, probably the best storyline in the new series). There's also some decided repetition stemming from Williams' decision not to expand the story to new geographical areas. The big battle takes place on the site of an already massive battle from the first trilogy, and seeing Morgan struggle through Aldheorte Forest for dozens of pages on end might have been more compelling if we hadn't seen Simon do exactly this in the first trilogy, even visiting many of the same exact places along the way.

Where Empire of Grass is most successful is furthering the themes that The Witchwood Crown explored so thoroughly: ageing, losing loved ones and the younger generation not listening to its elders and making the exact same mistakes all over again. There's a melancholy strain in this trilogy which recalls Tolkien at his best.

Empire of Grass (****½) is a somewhat tighter and better-paced book than its forebear, developing the first book's stories, characters and themes well, and setting things up splendidly for the final novel in the series, The Navigator's Children, which I would be expecting to be published in 2021. The novel is available in the UK and USA now.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem's father is the village moneylender, but his kindness and gullibility means he isn't very good at his job. When Miryem takes over, she finds ways of turning silver into gold and getting those who have taken advantage of her family for years into paying up. Her skills are so great they even attract the attention of the supernatural Staryk, who make her an offer: turn silver into gold three times and she can become a queen. Miryem seeks to defy the Staryk, leading her into a very dangerous alliance...

Naomi Novik is a former video game designer turned fantasy author, best-known for her epic "Napoleonic Wars but with dragons" series, Temeraire, and her single-volume fantasy Uprooted. Spinning Silver is another stand-alone fantasy, a modern fairy tale which pits a young woman against the lords of winter with the fate of her homeland and her family in the balance.

The opening 100 pages or so of Spinning Silver are as fine a slice of modern fantasy as one could wish for, with vivid descriptions of the landscape, an excellent depiction of small town politics and life and a small but memorable cast of well-drawn individuals. Miryem's development from hapless young girl to accomplished businesswoman is well-handled and the transition from a straightforward rustic story to one of an emerging supernatural threat is compelling.

Where the book starts to falter is that decision that, rather than keep this a small-scale fantasy, the author decides to make the story more epic, bringing in events in the capital city, multiple new POV characters, a second supernatural threat, the emperor of the land, religion (the main characters are Jewish, although the setting is fictional) and other elements as well. And it has to be said this transition does not work quite as well as it should. Novik's strict, disciplined POV structure and tight writing does not handle the expansion in scale very well, and the story becomes diffused as too many new elements are added into it. I was put in mind of Peter Jackson in Hobbit Trilogy mode being asked to handle a fresh adaptation of Snow White and by the time he's done with it, it's a trilogy with a cast of thousands and an incongruous Orlando Bloom cameo.

This is not to say that Spinning Silver is a bad novel, just one where the strong elements are drawn out over far too long a page count and constantly interrupted by less-interesting characters, side-plots and, oddly, a lot of words spent on the economics of luxury apron trading. When the novel is firing on all cylinders, it's phenomenally atmospheric and richly detailed. When it isn't, it becomes a bit of a slog, not helped by an awkward POV device where we have to spend the first paragraph or two of each new POV shift trying to work out which character we're now with. This is fine in the opening hundred pages when we only have two POVs, but when we get to the end of the book and there's half a dozen in play, it's more of an issue.

Eventually the book ties together is disparate plotlines and we get a somewhat satisfying end, but it feels like the book has to take a lot of unnecessary detours to get there.

Spinning Silver (***½) is well-written with lots of great individual scenes and moments, but the overall pacing and structure is awkward and flawed. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

J. Michael Straczynski and Brandon Sanderson developing a new urban fantasy TV show

In very interesting news, SF TV writing legend J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Sense8) is working on a new urban fantasy project with bestselling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive).

A pilot for the prospective series is being written for the USA Network, with Straczynski promising to "turn the tropes of the genre on its head." Not much more information is available than that, but arguably the best SF TV scriptwriter in the business and one of fantasy's best worldbuilders joining forces is exciting news.

Straczynski, whose autobiography Becoming Superman is earning rave reviews this month, is also working on a novel for HarperCollins Voyager, whilst Sanderson is hard at work on his fourth Stormlight Archive novel.

Updated with Comments from Brandon Sanderson:

Hey, sorry I've been slow to reply to this thread. This is Dark One, the story I've talked about for years--and which I think I finally cracked open how to do a few summers ago. I wrote what I think is a pretty solid outline, but it was obvious to me it was paced more like a television show than a novel, so I went hunting some partners.
Basic premise is that a guy from our world finds out that a fantasy world has prophesied he'll become the next Dark One of their world, so they decide to assassinate him before that can happen. It's been fun to work with Joe; he's quite the character. We did pitches for this early in the spring, and got some good reactions and some nibbles from Hollywood. That's about all I can say right now, unfortunately, but hopefully Joe will be writing up a pilot soon and we can see where that takes us.

Tom Shippey interview sheds some more light on LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE

Tom Shippey, a renowned Tolkien scholar and creative consultant on Amazon's Lord of the Rings: The Second Age TV series, has been interviewed by a German Tolkien fansite, during which he let slip some interesting new information.

The most interesting point Shippey makes is that Amazon only have limited rights to the material at hand. This includes all of the Second Age/Numenor material from The Lord of the Rings, but he also indicates that they have the rights to the material from Unfinished Tales. This already appeared to be the case, as they were using the map of Numenor which only appears in Unfinished Tales, but Shippey confirms it in the interview. He also clarifies that Amazon do not have the rights to The Silmarillion, which is interesting as some important material appears at the end of the book in the section known as the "Akallabeth," which details the Fall of Numenor.

Shippey also confirms that Amazon are being careful to conform to Tolkien's lore: they can add elements to the (admittedly pretty barebones) history of the Second Age, such as new characters and locations, but they cannot contradict the information put down by Tolkien, and the Tolkien Estate retains a power of veto over elements they are uncomfortable with or feel that violates canon.

One thing the interview and Shippey get wrong is that Amazon do not have the rights to The Lord of the Rings. As New Line and Warner Brothers, who retain the screen rights to The Lord of the Rings via their licence from Tolkien Enterprises, are involved in this project, Amazon do have the ability to use any information from Lord of the Rings. They don't have the rights to The Hobbit, which are partially held by MGM. After the nightmare experienced by New Line in dealing with MGM to make the Hobbit trilogy of movies, it seems that no-one is willing to go through that again. Fortunately, The Hobbit has no material that is germane to a Second Age series at all.

Shippey also notes that Amazon are planning to make twenty episodes in the first seasons. This is almost certainly wrong. It would be odd for Amazon to commit to such a huge episode order (almost twice the length of any other series they've made, especially at this budget) and the epic production schedule, which involves a lot of shooting in New Zealand and potentially some shooting in Scotland on the far side of the planet, is unlikely to accommodate so many episodes, at least not unless they plan to spend two years making one season.

More likely is that Amazon have greenlit ten episodes in the first season with a further ten episodes planned for a second season, which may be greenlit before Season 1 airs to minimise downtime as Amazon do for a lot of their shows.

Shippey finally confirms that Amazon currently plan to launch the show in 2021, which feels about right given the production timeline and schedule at the moment.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS movie gets yet another creative shake-up

The Dungeons and Dragons film has, once again, had a creative reshuffle. Chris McKay (The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie) - who himself had replaced Rob Letterman - had been tapped to write and direct but has moved on to Ghost Draft, a Chris Pratt vehicle. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley have now been tapped to direct.

Goldstein and Daley are best-known for comedy, having written or co-written Horrible Bosses (2011), The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013), Horrible Bosses 2 (2014), Vacation (2015), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Game Night (2018), which was also their directorial debut.

Michael Gillio (no writing credits of note) has revised an earlier script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (Orphan, Wrath of the Titans, Aquaman), but it's likely that Goldstein and Daley will revise the script further.

The Dungeons and Dragons movie has a planned release date of 23 July 2021. Reportedly early discussions have been undertaken with Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars, Baby Driver) to star. It remains to be seen if this creative team stick, although it remains concerning that the writers and directors of kids' movies and comedies keep being attached to the project, rather than dramatic writers with a regard for the source material. Given that D&D has arguably never been hotter and more popular than it is now, it's baffling why the project seems to keep stalling.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Joss Whedon's THE NEVERS announces cast

HBO has announced the cast list for The Nevers, it's first television collaboration with Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Avengers) and Whedon's first television series since Dollhouse ten years ago.

From left to right, Olivia Williams, Nick Frost and Ann Skelly.

The series is set in Victorian England and deals with the Touched, people with unusual abilities who are in danger of being exploited or destroyed for their powers. Whedon is the head writer, showrunner and director on the show, and has been joined by Buffy vets Jane Espenson and Doug Petrie, along with Melissa Iqbal (Humans), playwright Madhuri Shekar and journalist Laurie Penny on the writing team. Bernadette Caulfield (Game of Thrones) is handling much of the organisational side of production.

Laura Donnelly (Outlander) is playing protagonist Amalia True, "the most reckless, impulsive, emotionally damaged hero of her time."

Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) is playing Lavinia Bidlow, a wealther spinster and champion of the Touched. She is the founder of the Orphanage, where Amalia and many of the Touched live.

James Norton (Grantchester) as Hugo Swann, a club owner who collects information and intelligence. He is fascinated by the Touched and may or may not be an ally.

Tom Riley (Da Vinci's Demons) as Augustus Bidlow, Lavinia's younger brother, Hugo's best friend and keen ornithologist. He develops an infatuation with one of the Touched.

Ann Skelly (Little Women) as Penance Adair, Amalia's dearest friend and a fellow member of the Touched. She is a devout Irish Catholic, which guides her moral choices.

Ben Chaplin (Snowden) as Detective Frank Mundi, a police officer with a sense of morality but who is driven to drink by the moral quandaries he finds himself in. He runs afoul of the rich and powerful, who ignore the laws of the land, and becomes aware of the presence of the Touched in London.

Pip Torrens (The Crown) as Lord Massen. A former general in the British Army and now a Peer of the Realm, Massen fears that the Touched are a danger to the Empire.

Zackary Momoh (Seven Seconds) as Dr. Horation Cousens. Another of the Touched and an ally of Amalia. As a doctor with a wife and son, he has a respectable place in society.

Amy Manson (Being Human) as Maladie, another of the Touched but one who has been driven mad by its powers. She now lives underground and has been blamed for a murder spree.

Nick Frost (Into the Badlands, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) as Declan Orrun, the Beggar King. Charismatic but brutal, Declan runs most of the crime gangs in the city. He has been both an ally and an enemy of the Touched, as he is happy to back them in return for favours but also doesn't have a problem selling them out to a higher bidder.

Rochelle Neil (Episodes) as Annie Carbey, aka Bonfire, a career criminal and one of the Touched, with the power to manipulate fire. She is a lone operator and not interested in working with others.

Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark) as Mary Brighton, an aspiring singer.

Denis O'Hare (Big Little Lies) as Dr. Edmund Hague, a gifted American surgeon.

The Nevers started shooting last month in London and should air on HBO in mid-to-late 2020.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

1981 version of STAR WARS gets a very limited re-release

Back in June, the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles held a special screening of both the original Star Wars (1977) and Rogue One (2016). Fans were expecting Star Wars to be the 2004 version of the film, which is effectively the 1997 Special Edition with some minor tweaks.

Much to their surprise, they instead got what appears to be a completely new print of the 1981 "second version" of the movie, which was re-released in cinemas in the aftermath of the release of The Empire Strikes Back. This is identical to the original 1977 movie with the sole exception that the opening crawl has been adjusted to have the subtitle A New Hope added.

Details are scarce, so it's unclear if the film has been further cleaned up from the original (such as having visible matte lines around models eliminated) or if it's simply a 1981 print of the movie that's undergone extensive restoration work, which is more likely.

This marks the first time that the "original" version of the movie has been released to the public (albeit in a limited way) since the 2006 "extremely limited edition" release of the original trilogy on DVD, which sold out almost instantly and now goes for considerable sums on the collector's market.

Some fans have pondered if this means a wider re-release of the original, unaltered trilogy is on the cards, perhaps to help launch Disney+ later this year. That's entirely possible, although it is also possible that this was for a special, one-off performance. Apparently, George Lucas was asked to give his approval to the showing. Although he no longer has any ownership of the Star Wars franchise, Lucas has been adamant that the 2004 "final" versions of the original trilogy are his preferred edition of the film and he considers them to be canonical. Kathleen Kennedy has indicated that Disney will respect his wishes in this, so those hoping for a wider release may be disappointed, at least at this point.

Still, the fact that Lucas relented on this occasion may give (a new) hope to those hoping to see the original, untouched trilogy back on release at some point in the future.

LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE confirms full creative line-up

Amazon has revealed the full creative line-up behind its Lord of the Rings prequel series set in the Second Age of Middle-earth's history.

J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay (various unproduced scripts) are the head writers and showrunners on the project.

J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, A Monster Calls, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) is directing the first two episodes and will serve as executive producer alongside his regular collaborator Belen Atienza.

Lindsey Weber (10 Cloverfield Lane), Bruce Richmond (Game of Thrones, Westworld), Gene Kelly (Boardwalk Empire) and former Amazon head of genre programming Sharon Tal Yguado are serving as executive producers on the project.

Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad), Jason Cahill (The Sopranos, Halt and Catch Fire), Helen Shang (Hannibal) and Justin Doble (Stranger Things) are serving as writer-producers.

Bryan Cogman (Game of Thrones) and Stephany Folsom (Toy Story 4) are serving as consulting producers and writers. Ron Ames (The Aviator) is also serving as a producer.

Kate Hawley (Suicide Squad) is serving as main costume designer, with Rich Heinrichs (The Last Jedi) as production designer and Jason Smith (The Revenant) as visual effects supervisor.

Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey is serving as a creative consultant on the project, alongside famed Tolkien artist John Howe as an illustrator and concept artist. Howe also served in this capacity on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

Production of Lord of the Rings: The Second Age (not necessarily the final title) will begin with some preliminary shooting next month in New Zealand, followed by the full production schedule kicking in next Spring. On that basis, the show is unlikely to air before mid-2021.

THE EXPANSE renewed for fifth season at Amazon

In an impressive display of confidence, Amazon has renewed The Expanse for a fifth season, despite Season 4 not being due to air for another five months.

The first three seasons of The Expanse were produced by Alcon Entertainment for SyFy, but SyFy cancelled the show after the third season due to low ratings and high costs, despite the show delivering blanket critical acclaim and giving the network its biggest critical hit since Battlestar Galactica ended a decade ago.

The series was revived on Amazon after negotiations, during which it was revealed that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was a huge fan of both the TV series and the original books written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (under the pen name "James S.A. Corey").

The early renewal appears to be down to the show's production requirements, with cast and crew already ready to roll on the next season, and the desire to limit the gaps between seasons. This move should allow Season 5 to air a year or maybe even less after Season 4.

Season 4 of The Expanse is due to hit Amazon Prime on 13 December 2019.

Producers confirm three-season run for HIS DARK MATERIALS

His Dark Materials executive producer Jane Tranter has confirmed that Bad Wolf Productions are currently planning to adapt Philip Pullman's novel trilogy across three seasons. This is a change from when the series was announced in 2017, when the BBC was considering adapting the books as 40 episodes to air across five seasons.

The reason for the change seems to be a simple one: the age of the young stars. Actress Dafne Keen, who is playing the protagonist Lyra (who is 11 when the events of the books begin), was 13 when they started shooting, is 14 now and will turn 15 during production of the second season (started to begin imminently). Actor Amir Wilson, who has been cast as Will for the second season, is in a similar situation. A five-season run would make both around 18-19 when the show ends, which would be difficult to make work for the story.

The move also makes it far more likely that the series will be completed. Season 1, adapting Northern Lights (known as The Golden Compass in some territories), will likely air in October or November this year. Season 2, adapting The Subtle Knife, is already greenlit and in pre-production. That makes it much more likely that the BBC and their American funding partner, HBO, will greenlight a third and final season, adapting The Amber Spyglass. The Amber Spyglass is significantly longer than the first two books, but it's also generally accepted to be the weakest of the three novels and could probably benefit from some judicious editing.

If the series is successful, it'll be interesting to see if the BBC and HBO move on to an adaptation of Philip Pullman's Book of Dust trilogy, where serves as both as a prequel and sequel series to His Dark Materials.

Friday, 26 July 2019

George Miller back at work on MAD MAX: FURY ROAD follow-up

Australian writer and director George Miller has resumed work on the follow-up to his highly-acclaimed 2015 movie Mad Max: Fury Road.

After Fury Road turned out to be an unexpected success, the studio put both a sequel and a spin-off (focusing on Charlize Theron's Furiosa character) into development. However, Miller was forced to take legal action against the studio for non-payment of $7 million in bonuses from the movie's much higher-than-anticipated global box office. Warner Brothers' merger with AT&T then further delayed the process, although it also resulted in a change of regime at the studio, which Miller has indicated has suddenly removed some of the obstacles to the next film happening.

Miller had previously touted ideas for a fifth and sixth Mad Max movie, with the fifth having the working title The Wasteland, as well as a Furiosa spin-off. As the delays stretched on, Miller chose to shoot an unrelated movie, Three Thousand Years of Longing (starring Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba), which is due to begin filming early in 2020.

We're still probably 3-5 years away from seeing Mad Max back in the cinema, but at least things are now moving in the right direction.

DUNE wraps shooting, SISTERHOOD spin-off shows gets writing team

Principle photography of Denis Villeneuve's new adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel Dune has wrapped.

Denis Villeneuve (right) on location in Jordan during the production of Dune.

The movie was filmed on soundstages in Budapest, Hungary and on location in the Jordanian desert. Now the long process of editing and post-production begins. The new film will only adapt the first half or so of the first Dune novel, and the second part will only be greenlit if the movie is a success

Dune will hit cinemas on 20 November 2020.

Meanwhile, the unasked-for Dune TV series, The Sisterhood, has gotten a writing and showrunning team. Dana Calvo (Good Girls Revolt) and Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, allegedly a very good script before Damon Lindelof got his hands on it) will be the main showrunners and writers, with Jordan Harper (Hightown), Sarah Carbiener (You're the WorstRick & Morty), Erica Rosbe (Homecoming, Rick & Morty), and Minhal Baig (Hala) also working as writers. Reza Aslan, a non-fiction writer and producer on shows including The Leftovers, is also working on the project.

The Sisterhood is one of the first original shows greenlit for HBO Max, WarnerMedia's new streaming service.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

RIP Rutger Hauer

Dutch actor and writer Rutger Hauer has sadly passed away at the age of 74.

Born in Breukelen in the Netherlands in 1944 (when the country was still under Nazi occupation), Hauer grew up in Amsterdam. A restless teenager, he literally ran away to sea at the age of 15 and spent a year working on a freighter. He also served as a combat medic in the Netherlands army before taking acting lessons.

Hauer spent several years in an acting troupe where he caught the eye of renowned Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, who cast him as the lead role in the medieval drama series Floris (1969). Verhoeven was concerned about Hauer's lack of experience, but thought he looked good on a horse and wielding a sword, and the production saved some money because Hauer was eager to do all his own stunts.

Verhoeven and Hauer soon became a team, working together on Soldier of Orange (1977) and Spetters (1980). Hauer could speak English and made his debut in that language in The Wilby Conspiracy (1975), a film about apartheid in South Africa. The film was not successful, so he had to wait several years until he got his second chance at an English-speaking role, in Nighthawks (1981), where he appeared alongside Sylvester Stallone.

The following year, Hauer was cast by Ridley Scott in his science fiction film Blade Runner (1982). Hauer played the renegade android Roy Batty, the ostensible villain of the film, but his sympathetic performance contributed greatly to the character's ambiguity. For his death scene, Hauer took the existing dialogue and ad-libbed new material around it to create one of the most famous monologues in cinematic history.

Additional roles followed in Eureka (1983), The Osterman Weekend (1983), Flesh & Blood (1985, again with Verhoeven), Ladyhawke (1985) and The Hitcher (1986). Paul Verhoeven, who was also blowing up in Hollywood at this point, wanted Hauer for the title role in RoboCop (1987) but the role went instead to Peter Weller after it was discovered that Hauer couldn't fit inside the mechanical suit.

By the start of the 1990s, Hauer's career appeared to be in decline with less prominent Hollywood roles being offered. However, things picked up when he was picked to star in a long-running series of adverts for Guinness, which made him a familiar face on television. He secured the role of the villain in the original movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), where he was extensively praised by scriptwriter Joss Whedon for his professionalism and conduct on set (in stark contrast to co-star Donald Sutherland). In 1994 he played the lead role in HBO's adaptation of Robert Harris' alternate-history novel Fatherland, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe.

By the 2000s, Hauer had become a cult favourite, especially for his appearances in science fiction and fantasy projects. He was cast in roles on television series such as Smallville, Alias and Merlin. He also appeared in the lead role of Hobo with a Shotgun (2011) and guest-starred in the sixth season of True Blood (2013). In 2015 he appeared in the opening episode of The Last Kingdom.

Hauer passed away on 19 July 2019 - the same year that Blade Runner takes place in, coincidentally - after a short illness. An intense, versatile and memorable actor with many great appearances, he will be missed.

Hulu developing new HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY TV series

The American Hulu streaming service is planning a fresh adaptation of Douglas Adams' science fiction comedy franchise, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Originating as a radio series in 1978, the story has been adapted as five novels, a BBC TV mini-series in 1981 (recently reissued on Blu-Ray), several video games and a 2005 Hollywood movie which was, to put it mildly, not great.

The new project is being spearheaded by producer Carlton Cuse (Lost) and writer Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman). It is unclear which of the several different competing versions of the story they will be adapting, although the smart money is on the novels, which took the story further than any of the other mediums.

The BBC mini-series only adapted the first two books, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), so a fresh TV version could take the story further by adapting Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long and Thanks For All the Fish (1984) and Mostly Harmless (1992).

BBC America recently used Adams' other major genre work, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, as the inspiration for a two-season TV show that was well received but not successful in the ratings game.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

First castmember confirmed for LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE

Variety has the scoop on the first actor cast for Amazon's Lord of the Rings: The Second Age TV series.

Australian actress Markella Kavenagh (the Romper Stomper TV series) will be playing a role apparently code-named "Tyra" in the series. For series with a high degree of secrecy like this one, it's not unusual for characters to be given new or misleading names in casting sides until the studio judges it time to reveal their true role.

As, in Tolkien's legendarium, elves are immortal and Numenoreans can live for 200-300 years, the actress' youth doesn't necessarily mean she's playing a young character.

Assuming this isn't a totally brand-new character, possibilities for Kavenagh's role include Tar-Telperien, the Ruling Queen of Numenor at the time that Sauron forges the One Ring; her ancestor Tar-Ancalime; potentially Tar-Ancalime's mother Erendis, from Tolkien's only narrative story from Numenor ("Aldarion and Erendis", which can be found in Unfinished Tales); or even a younger version of Galadriel, one of the few Lord of the Rings characters expected to play a role in the new series (alongside Elrond and Celeborn, possibly Thranduil from The Hobbit).

More news as we get it. With filming due to start before the end of August, it's likely most, if not all, of the casting has already been completed and more news will be released (or leaked) soon.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

DUNE board game due in September

Gale Force Nine Games is gearing up for the release (or, more technically, re-release) of their Dune board game. The game is due to hit retail in late August or early September.

The game is a re-release of the original Dune board game released in 1979 and revised in 1984 to tie in with the release of the David Lynch movie. Way ahead of its time, the game is regarded as one of the best board games of all time, with second-hand copies still enthusiastically swapping hands on eBay. It was developed by some of the same team behind Cosmic Encounter, another game which has enjoyed tremendous longevity.

Gale Force Nine's version has been revised by some of the original designers and is launching ahead of the Dune roleplaying game from Modiphius (due a few months down the road), and is part of a general gearing up of the franchise ahead of the release of the new movie in late 2020.

CBS reveals first details about STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS

CBS have revealed details about Star Trek: Lower Decks, a new animated series in the Star Trek universe.

The series is set in 2380, one year after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, on the USS Cerritos, one of the least-important ships in Starfleet. The focus is on four newly-assigned ensigns working on the ship in junior roles, with occasional appearances by the ship's command crew.

The main cast consists of Ensigns Tendi (Noel Wells), Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and Boimler (Jack Quaid); Lt. Shaxs (Fred Talasciore), Commander Ransom (Jerry O'Connell), Dr. T'Ana (Gillian Vigman) and Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis).

Mike McMahan (Rick & Morty) is the showrunner of the new series. It was inspired by the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Lower Decks, which was written from the POV of several junior officers on the Enterprise-D. The series is also drawing inspiration from Star Trek: The Animated Series which was ran for two seasons in 1973-74. Most notably, Dr. T'Ana is a Caitian, the same feline species as Lt. M'Ress in the original animated series.

Star Trek: Lower Decks will debut on CBS All Access in 2020 with a ten-episode order.

SF&F Questions: Which is the longest-running SF or Fantasy TV series?

This sounds like a fairly straightforward question, but is more complicated than it sounds because of the different ways it can be counted.

The BBC science fiction series Doctor Who may at first glance be the obvious answer. It aired its first episode, An Unearthly Child, on 23 November 1963 and its 851st, Resolution, on 1 January 2019. In that fifty-six-year period, Doctor Who has produced 37 seasons of television, with the 38th season due to air in 2020. Approximately 413.3 hours of material has been produced, not including the spin-off shows (Torchwood, The Sarah-Jane Adventures and Class) in that time. This is more than twice as much material as has been produced by the likes of Stargate SG-1 and The X-Files, which have both erroneously been claimed to be the longest-running SF show in the past.

So, in terms of both length and quantity of material produced, Doctor Who is the clear front-runner.

However, some may dispute the position on several grounds. Doctor Who spent seven years off-air between 1989 and 1996, when a 90-minute special was produced, and then another nine years off-air between 1996 and the rebooting of the show in 2005, so it has not been in continuous production for all that time. Furthermore, when Doctor Who returned in 2005 it was officially designated and treated as a new show: the season count was reset to 1, so the most recent season to air is counted by the BBC as Series 11, not Season 37. This is counter-disputed because of legalities and technicalities: reprising Doctor Who in 2005 using the same framework as in place in 1989 was impossible, so the show had to be counted as a new series for technical purposes, but in terms of title, characters and continuity it is clearly meant to be a continuation of the 1963-89/96 series.

Despite that, it is certainly true that Doctor Who is not automatically the longest-running, continuously airing science fiction or fantasy TV series in the world. That honour is claimed by several other shows.

Paranormal adventure series Supernatural began airing in September 2005 and will conclude in 2020 with its sixteenth season. By the end of that season, it will have aired 327 episodes with a combined run-time of 239 hours and 48 minutes. This eclipses Doctor Who’s tally of 155 continuously-produced episodes since March 2005, totalling 124 hours and 20 minutes, almost only half of Supernatural’s run-time.

A wild card to throw into the mix is the web series Red vs. Blue, which began airing on 1 April 2003 and aired its most recent episode on 25 May 2019. It has totalled 364 episodes and 17 seasons released to date. However, Red vs. Blue’s episodes only average about 7 minutes in length, with the total length of the entire series to date weighing in at a relatively modest 41 hours, 57 minutes.

So the answer to this question is as follows:

Doctor Who is the longest-running SF series in the world in terms of total number of episodes produced, hours aired and seasons made, including hiatuses.

Supernatural is the longest-running fantasy series in the world in terms of total number of episodes produced, hours aired and seasons made. It is also the longest-running SF or fantasy series in the world in terms of the continuous number of episodes made.

Red vs. Blue is the longest-running, continuously-produced SF or fantasy series in the world in terms of dates, predating Doctor Who by two years and Supernatural by two-and-a-half years, but it has produced significantly less content than either.

Note: for the purposes of this article I have considered only live-action shows. Animation would be a different and potentially more difficult question.

Completed Shows

Again not counting animation, the longest-running, completed SFF series is Dark Shadows, a supernatural soap opera. Although it only ran on American TV for six seasons between 1966 and 1971, it amassed an enormous 1,225 episodes in that time, for a total run-time of 612 hours and 30 minutes.


This has a more straightforward answer. The longest-running science fiction or fantasy franchise, spanning multiple shows, is Star Trek. It aired its first episode, The Man Trap from Star Trek, on 8 September 1966 and its most recent, Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II from Star Trek: Discovery, on 18 April 2019.

On television (not counting the movies), Star Trek has spanned seven distinct series: the original (1966-69), The Animated Series (1973-74), The Next Generation (1987-94), Deep Space Nine (1993-99), Voyager (1995-2001), Enterprise (2001-05) and Discovery and its related Short Treks spin-off (2017-present). It will soon be joined by Picard, Lower Decks and Section 31.

In that time the franchise has amassed 762 episodes in total, amassing a grand run-time of 555 hours and 21 minutes.

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Marvel reveal their movie and TV line-up for the next two years

Marvel and Disney have confirmed their upcoming slate of movies and TV shows for Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Cinematic Universe head honcho Kevin Feige announced the projects at the San Diego Comic-Con, outlining their release schedule for the next five years (although, as with the previous phase, there may be some variations to this schedule as things crop up). He also confirmed that Avengers: Endgame is imminently poised to surpass Avatar at the box office to become the biggest-grossing movie (unadjusted for inflation) of all time. 

The movies and TV series confirmed and announced are as follows: 

Black Widow
1 May 2020
Directed by Cate Shortland 

Starring Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova
Also starring David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O.T. Fagbenie and Ray Winston.

Set shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, this long-awaited stand-alone movie for Black Widow will also feature flashbacks to earlier in her life and career, including the much-discussed “Budapest incident.”

The Eternals
6 November 2020
Directed by Chloé Zhao 

Starring Angelina Jolie as Thena, Salma Hayek as Ajax, Don Lee as Gilgamesh, Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Brian Tyree Henry as Phasots, Lauren Ridloff as Macary, Richard Madden as Ikaris and Lia McHugh as Sprite.

The Eternals introduces a completely new group of characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a powerful race of extra-powerful beings whose attention is called to Earth by recent events.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Autumn 2020 on Disney+ (6 episodes) 
Starring Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, and Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo, with Emily VanCamp reportedly in discussions to reprise her role as Sharon Carter.

The first Marvel show for Disney+, this series will pick up after the events of Avengers: Endgame and explore Falcon’s role as the new Captain America. He and Winter Soldier team up for apparently a lower-key, grittier story more in the tone of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Zemo, the villain of Civil War, returns and apparently will don his iconic costume at some point.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
12 February 2021
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton 

Starring Simu Liu as Shang-Chi and Tony Leung Chiu-wai as the Mandarin. Also starring Awkwafina.

The introduction of a new superhero, who has mighty martial arts skills. Shang-Chi will be fighting the Mandarin, the real Mandarin after a fake one appeared (contentiously) in Iron Man 3.

Spring 2021 on Disney+ 
Starring Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff, Paul Bettany as Vision and Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau.

This series is interesting because it is set after Infinity War and Endgame, which obviously raises the question of how Vision is in it. The mini-series has been described as a major event series which will have major ramifications for the MCU going forwards, including immediately setting up the events of the Doctor Strange sequel, so the smart money is that this series will introduce the Marvel Multiverse in full (after teasing it in Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home).

Spring 2021 on Disney+ 
Starring Tom Hiddleston as Loki

This mini-series will explore both what happened to the alternate-universe Loki introduced during the events of Avengers: Endgame and will also expand on Loki’s backstory, featuring flashbacks to key moments in Earth history where it will be revealed that Loki had a hand. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
7 May 2021
Directed by Scott Derrickson 

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange and Elisabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

This sequel to Doctor Strange is apparently the MCU’s first “horror movie” and will explore the ramifications of the discovery of the Multiverse, with Scarlet Witch providing continuity from her mini-series. It’s unclear if Benedict Wong or Chiwetel Ejiofor will be returning at this time. 

What If?
Summer 2021 on Disney+ 
Starring Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher, Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, Sebastian Stan as Winter Soldier, Josh Brolin as Thanos, Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Haley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, Sean Gunn as Kraglin, Natalia Portman as Jane Foster, David Dastmalchian as Kurt, Stanley Tucci as Abraham Erskine, Taika Waititi as Korg, Toby Jones as Arnim Zola, Djimon Hounsou as Korath the Pursuer, Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta and Chris Sullivan as Taserface.

The MCU’s first official animated series is an anthology alternative-universe show, narrated by Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher. Each episode explores a different “what if?” possibility from the MCU, such as Peggy Carter becoming the super-soldier instead of Steve Rogers. 

Autumn 2021 on Disney+ 
Starring Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye

A mini-series focusing on Hawkeye as he meets a talented young woman, Kate Bishop, and trains her to effectively become his replacement.

Thor: Love and Thunder 
5 November 2021
Directed by Taika Waititi 

Starring Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie

The sequel to Thor: Ragnarok, although this film feels like it will need to jump a little bit to address the ending of Avengers: Endgame (which seemed to be setting Thor up as a member of the “Asgardians of the Galaxy”). The big news is that Natalie Portman is returning to the MCU for the first time since Thor: The Dark World in 2013 (although she did provide a brief voiceover in Endgame, but the physical footage of her in that movie was cut material from The Dark World). The story will seem to revolve around Jane gaining the powers of Thor, a story arc drawn from the comic books.

Date and director to be confirmed
Starring Mahershala Ali as Blade.

In a surprise move, Marvel confirmed that they are rebooting the Blade character in the MCU. Wesley Snipes previously played the character in Blade (1998), Blade 2 (2002) and Blade: Trinity (2004). Blade is, historically, the first movie made by Marvel under the deal that would eventually pave the way to Iron Man ten years later. Snipes had been hoping to reprise the role in the MCU, and played a satirical version of the character in What We Do in the Shadows earlier this year (in an episode directed by Taika Waititi!), but going with fresh blood makes sense.

This also marks the first time a major actor from one of the Netflix shows has appeared in the films as a separate character, as Mahershala Ali had previously played Cottonmouth on Season 1 of Luke Cage, furthering he likelihood that Marvel no longer regards the Netflix shows as canon.

Other Projects
Feige also confimed that more movies are on the way. He formally confirmed that Captain Marvel 2 was coming and reconfirmed that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be in production as soon as James Gunn finishes up on The Suicide Squad for Warners. More surprising was the absence of Black Panther 2, as they seemed ready to roll into production quite soon. The packed schedule suggests we won’t see that film until early 2022 at the earliest, a full four years after its predecessor.

In more exciting news, Feige also formally confirmed that the Fantastic Four will be introduced to the MCU, but they don’t have a schedule for that just yet. Mutants – presumably the X-Men sub-universe – are also on the cards, but are again even further down the pipe. Feige had previously suggested that we wouldn’t see the X-Men show up until 2023 and Phase Five at the earliest, and that seems to track with that.

Noteworthy by their absences are Ant-Man 3 and any future Avengers movies, which you assume has to be a shoe-in after the titanic success of Endgame, even if the next Avengers movie features a very different roster to the previous ones. There was also no confirmation for the Hulk Disney+ series that had been mooted with the possible aim of bringing in She-Hulk, or the mooted Thunderbolts film and Power Pack series for younger viewers, all of which are presumably now on the backburner.

More news as we get it.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME becomes the highest-grossing film of all time

Avengers: Endgame has surpassed Avatar's box office to become the highest-grossing movie of all time (unadjusted for inflation). Marvel Studios supremo Kevin Feige announced the feat at the San Diego Comic-Con.

Not only has Endgame achieved the feat, it has done so about half the time that Avatar managed. The film remains in cinemas and may get an additional boost from re-releases further down the line (something Avatar also made use of to achieve its haul).

For the first time since the release of Titanic in 1997, James Cameron is no longer the highest-grossing director of all time, having passed that baton on to Endgame directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. However, Cameron will come out swinging as Avatar 2 is scheduled for release on 17 December 2021, and he'll be wanting his crown back.

Disney, which owns both Marvel and, after the acquisition of 20th Century Fox earlier this year, the Avatar franchise, is of course laughing all the way to the bank.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

THE ORVILLE moves from Fox to Hulu for Season 3

In a surprise move, Fox's science fiction dramedy show The Orville will be moving to Hulu for its third season, after Fox already renewed the show.

Creator/showrunner/star Seth MacFarlane confirmed the move had come about through mutual discussions, as production requirements for The Orville had become more elaborate over the course of the first two seasons and MacFarlane was unable to guarantee delivery of new episodes before 2020 due to more extensive effects work being required for the new season. Rather than risk there being a hole in Fox's schedule, they agreed to move The Orville to the Hulu streaming service. Fox will now be free to pick up a less intensively-scheduled show as a replacement and The Orville can continue with greater financial and creative freedom.

The move to Hulu will also allow the show to explore more adult themes and humour, if MacFarlane wishes.

The move is extremely unusual, but a sign of the extremely high regard that MacFarlane is held in at Fox, where his animated shows Family Guy and American Dad have provided reliably high ratings hits for the network for two decades.

Some Star Trek fans have expressed amusement at the news, noting that Orville fans were highly critical of the new Star Trek shows being moved behind a paywall at CBS All Access and now the same has happened to that show (although Hulu is much more readily available and has vastly more content than the much newer CBS service).

Unfortunately, the move is unlikely to help British viewers who still can't see the show, at least not in HD: it airs news episodes only on a paywalled channel and past episodes are not available to stream. It is also available only on DVD (in 2019, somehow), and no Blu-Ray release for the series is planned.