Sunday 30 August 2020

The Matrix Reloaded

The AIs who control the world have decreed the destruction of Zion, the last free human city. As a vast army of Sentinels digs towards Zion, Neo must use his developing powers to help end the war from inside the Matrix. A message from the Oracle leads him towards a meeting with the Architect, whose revelations will change everything. But both sides in the war have reckoned without a wild card, the return of a program that should have been destroyed but has instead gone rogue and started spreading like a virus with only one purpose in mind: the end of everything.

It took four years for the Wachowskis to deliver their sequel to their 1999 paradigm-shifting action classic, The Matrix. As they developed ideas for the project, they realised they couldn't fit them into one movie so split it in two, with the two halves released six months apart. All the cool kids were doing this back in 2003, with Peter Jackson filming his three-part Lord of the Rings adaptation in one block and then releasing the films at one-year intervals. This was a huge success. The Matrix sequels had a rather more mixed reception.

The Matrix Reloaded does do a few very good things. The action scenes are stronger, the actors having trained for far longer and more in-depth for their martial arts scenes. There's far more spectacular stunts (the opening sequence with Trinity single-handedly destroying an office block and then engaging in aerial combat with an Agent remains outstanding), more worldbuilding, huge plot revelations and some clever ideas sprinkled amongst the action, although the philosophising of the first film has mostly fallen by the wayside.

Unfortunately, the film's good elements are dented by the fact that the pacing is poor. The Matrix Reloaded has a fairly simple plot progression: Neo has to meet with the Oracle, strike a deal with the deceitful (and randomly French) Merovingian and then follow a path to meet the Architect, whilst fairly nascent subplots follow a rivalry between Morpheus and Zion's military commander and the gathering of Zion's forces to oppose the machine army. This could easily have been done in under 90 minutes with plenty of time for cool action scenes, but for some reason the Wachowskis decided they had to use every single penny of the budget (twice that of the first film). As a result we get an absolutely absurd fight sequence between Neo and several hundred Agent Smith clones, which the technology is not quite able to deliver: the all-CG scenes between a blatantly fake Keanu Reeves and lots of claymation-looking Hugo Weavings are particularly painful. Even more offensive, because it is simply not important to the plot, is a hallway fight scene between Neo and the Merovingian's mediocre bodyguards which feels like it goes on longer than the Hundred Years' War. There's also a rave/dance party in Zion near the start of the film which feels a bit pointless (although prefiguring the Wachowski's love of showing people having a good time, which would inform their later Netflix project Sense8).

Other action sequences also go on a bit too long, but they are at least a lot more varied and fun: Seraph and Neo's first meeting taking the form of a friendly table-based martial arts battle is as daft as a brush, but so technically impressive that it's less of a problem. The massive battle sequence on the freeway is also a bit bloated, but it has a lot more combatants and is very impressively handled. There's also some nice character beats, such as Morpheus - who's clearly been trained up by Neo and his new powers in the meantime - relishing the chance to go toe-to-toe with an Agent on more even terms.

The film was heavily criticised for the revelatory sequence with Neo and the Architect. Partially I think this was the fault of the extended gap between the films, during which time fans had come up with all sorts of theories on the Internet, some of them fairly compelling. The most constant and pernicious of these was that the "real world" was another level of the Matrix, and a lot of people were unhappy this wasn't the case. Personally I was relieved, because I think the Wachowskis would have lost the mass audience if they'd gone too wankery with the premise (in the event it would be another decade before Christopher Nolan played that card, more or less successfully, with Inception). And as it turns out a lot of the fans were right, the real world situation was another layer of control, just not in the way they were expecting. Still, I think the problem with the scene is, both ergo and concordantly, more in its presentation than the plot revelations it contains.

The film also has another problem: bits of it are missing. The Wachowskis wanted to make The Matrix Reloaded a genuine multimedia experience™, with synergy© between different franchise brand products™. The result is that to get the best out of the movie, you need to have watched the animated short film collection The Animatrix and played the video game Enter the Matrix beforehand. Which obviously about 99.5% of viewers had not done (and, seventeen years after release, doing either is a bit difficult with The Animatrix not being available in all territories and Enter the Matrix not being playable on modern systems, not that you'd want it to be; it's not a good game). As a result, references to the final mission of the Osiris or the Logos crew and Niobe being constantly treated as a big deal when they're missing from most of the film feel a bit weird.

Still, the film does a lot that's right. The Wachowskis realising that they had a gift that would not stop giving in the form of Hugo Weaving and making 1000% use of him in the sequels was a good move. The expansion of the world and the cast is mostly successful and the action sequences and effects are technically impressive, until they become over-egged and self-indulgent.

The Matrix Reloaded (***) is a watchable, sometimes fun but overlong, overwrought and over-budgeted sequel to a great movie. It does a lot that's good and is never less than interesting, but with more judicious editing it could have been sharper, tighter and more compelling. The film is available as part of a box set with its predecessor and sequel in the UK and USA.

Saturday 29 August 2020

HIS DARK MATERIALS Season 2 gets trailer and launch window

Season 2 of His Dark Materials, based on the Philip Pullman novel The Subtle Knife, has a new trailer which confirms that the series should return in November.

Season 2 of His Dark Materials was filmed mostly before the first season aired, with a view to minimising the wait between seasons and also not running into the problem of the young actors growing up. Unfortunately, the global coronavirus pandemic has thrown the original plan - to base a Season 3 renewal on the Season 1 ratings and get filming again quickly - for a wrench. Although the show got very strong ratings in the UK on the BBC, its performance on HBO in the States was patchier and the critical reception more muted. It sounds like HBO will now judge their commitment to a third and possibly fourth season (the producers are considering the option of splitting an adaptation of the third novel across two seasons) on how the second season performs.

His Dark Materials is based on the novel trilogy of the same name. Season 1 adapted the book Northern Lights (known as The Golden Compass in the USA) and Season 3, if it happens, is expected to adapt The Amber Spyglass.

Pullman is currently writing the concluding novel of The Book of Dust, a new trilogy set both before and after His Dark Materials. The first two books, La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth, are already out. The final book has the current working title The Garden of Roses.

First image of a sandworm released from the new DUNE movie

Thanks to Empire Magazine, we have the first image of a sandworm from Denis Villeneuve's new Dune film.

It's not the clearest of images but it depicts the gaping maw of one of sandworms of Arrakis, the vast creatures of the desert which are used by the Fremen as steeds and weapons of war.

Empire has two other images from the movie that they've used for magazine covers. The "Atreides" cover features Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson).

The "Arrakis" cover features Chani (Zendaya), Stilgar (Javier Bardem), Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa).

Fans are eagerly awaiting the first trailer for the film, which has already been seen in the wild, attached to some Canadian theatrical screenings of Tenet. Based on some leaked information, it sounds like the trailer will be released online on 9 September, although some are speculating this may be moved up as images and even sneakily-filmed copies of the trailer threaten to proliferate in the next week or so.

Dune is currently scheduled for release on 18 December this year, pandemic permitting.

Wertzone Classics: The Matrix

Computer programmer Thomas Anderson, who sports the hacking alias "Neo," is contacted by the mysterious Morpheus, a hacking paragon who offers to share with him information about a rumoured computer network known as the Matrix. Evading detention by sunglasses-wearing Agents, Neo meets Morpheus and learns the truth: the entire human race has been enslaved by advanced AIs to be used as batteries to power their systems. The Matrix is a computer simulation of the past, used to keep humans unaware of their true, nightmarish existence. Morpheus offers Neo the chance to escape the dream and help bring about the liberty of the human race.

Released in 1999, The Matrix rapidly became one of the most highly-acclaimed science fiction action films of its era. Its impact was heightened by the perceived disappointment of that year's Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace, and the fact that at the time of its release a number of other films (such as Dark City, eXistenZ and The Thirteenth Floor) had been recently released tackling similar themes but had failed to make much impact. The Matrix struck gold with a more high-concept, simply-relatable premise (what if our lives are an illusion?), a large number of impressive action scenes, some intriguing-if-shallow philosophical asides on free will and an extraordinarily great cast, particularly the impressive find of the then-unknown Carrie Ann Moss and rising talent Hugo Weaving, as well as hugely career-boosting turns from Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne.

One of the reasons The Matrix works is the idea it borrows from various Hong Kong action cinema and Japanese anime movies, namely the fact that the action is justified by the plot, as are the increasingly insane stunts, action set pieces and martial arts on display. For once, implausible action scenes, balletic martial arts scenes and frenetic gunplay is justified by the hyper-real setting of the Matrix itself, and the ability of both the Agents and Morpheus's band of rebels to twist the simulation to their own benefit.

The Matrix is also helped by its challenging budget. This has been overstated a bit over the years - $70 million in 1999 was still a solid sum of money (comparable to the budget of Independence Day three years earlier) - but the budget was still relatively low given some of the ideas and concepts that the Wachowskis wanted to pull off, forcing the effects team to consider low-fi solutions to problems (such as doing most fight scenes in-camera with the actual actors suspended on wires) given the limited amount of CG they could call upon. This gives the film a lot of credibility with the actors often undertaking their own stunts, allowing impressive close-ups even mid-fight.

From a philosophical viewpoint, the film muses on various real-world influences such as Jean Baudrillard's Simulacres et Simulation (Baudrillard found the film's understanding of his ideas to be flawed) and elements from Descartes, Kant and Taoism. The film uses these ideas somewhat clumsily - expression and economy of dialogue is clearly not a priority, as evidenced during lengthy exposition scenes from Morpheus - but in doing so it brought them to a much wider audience and inspired newer ideas. The central concept in the film, that reality is not real but a computer-generated illusion, was later expanded on by Nick Bostrom in his 2003 simulation hypothesis.

However, the real success of The Matrix is in its establishment of a new world and mythos that is interesting and engaging, if not hugely convincing in this film (the two sequels and, more successfully, the animated spin-off project The Animatrix expand and explore on elements that feel under-explored here). The notion of the machines using humans as batteries rather than, for example, far more cost-effective geothermal or nuclear energy is a bit preposterous until The Animatrix reveals that it was humanity's repeated aggression against the AIs, who initially only wanted peace after achieving sentience and independence, that led to the AIs decision to enslave humanity and use them as a fuel source out of both a need for revenge but also a humanitarian reluctance to fully wipe out their creators.

Twenty-one years on from release, The Matrix (****½) remains a highly watchable movie. The action is convincing and impressive, the cast is magnetically engaging and help overcome an occasionally clumsy script, and the philosophical ideas and allusions add intelligence (or at least a veneer of it) to the SF action adventure mix. The film is available as part of a box set with its two sequels in the UK and USA.

RIP Chadwick Boseman

In shocking news, it's been announced that American actor Chadwick Boseman, best-known for playing the role of Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has died at the age of 43.

Boseman shot to international fame playing the role of T'Challa, the latest Black Panther, in the film Captain America: Civil War (2016), followed up by a starring role in Black Panther (2018). The film was an unexpected smash hit, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year and winning critical acclaim. Boseman reprised the role in The Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and The Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Boseman was born in South Carolina in 1976 and began acting on stage in school. He was inspired to write his first play after a classmate was killed in a shooting. He was initially more interested in writing and directing, and gained a degree in directing from Howard University in Washington, DC.

In 2003 he was cast in the soap opera All My Children but was fired after complaining to producers about racist stereotypes in the script. He appeared in TV shows such as Law & Order, ER and Persons Unknown, and films such as Gods of EgyptDraft Day, Get On Up (playing James Brown), 21 Bridges and Da 5 Bloods.

Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, but kept the news private from all but his closest friends and family. He battled the disease through extensive treatment all the way through filming multiple film roles, an impressive feat of endurance and character. During this time he also made multiple promotional appearances and undertook charity work. He passed away on 28 August 2020, the redesignated Jackie Robinson Day (normally held on 15 April but moved this year due to the coronavirus pandemic), celebrating the achievements of the first African-American to play in major league baseball in the United States. Boseman had played Robinson in the film 42 (2013).

Boseman was a talented and charismatic performer. He will absolutely be missed.

Friday 28 August 2020

The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

A devastating rebellion has been crushed, a young and energetic new generation is rising to prominence and the Union has made an ally of its most dangerous enemy in the North. But peace does not bring prosperity, instead allowing simmering discontent to start fanning itself into a blaze. Former enemies find a common cause to unite against, allies are divided by ideals, complacent rulers find their positions uncertain and whispered complaints turn into the massing of armies on the move. The trouble with peace is that it never lasts.

Trilogies can be a tricky structure to pull off. All too often they consist of a great opening volume and a solid conclusion, but where the middle book exists mainly to pad out the wordcount. In the case of The Age of Madness, the second trilogy set in Joe Abercrombie's First Law world, the work justifies the length. A Little Hatred set up the characters and reintroduced us to the world some thirty years on from the events of the original trilogy and three stand-alone follow-ups, and focused on a series of somewhat self-contained storylines to introduce us to the new core cast of characters. It did its job splendidly.

The Trouble with Peace builds on those foundations with a surprisingly epic novel. If A Little Hatred was a bit more small-scale than what we are used to from Abercrombie, focusing mainly on politics in Adua, civil discontent in Valbeck and yet more violence in the North (well-handled, but it feels like that plot well has been visited quite a few times already), The Trouble with Peace expands the scope considerably. In just under 500 pages, Abercrombie delivers us a tense election in Westport, political machinations in Styria, fuming discontent over refugees in Midderland, yet more political chaos in Adua, a quest by a brave band of Northmen (and two women) to find a sorceress, more economic and technological advancements in the Union crushing the little people underfoot, and whispered conspiracies in dark corners that eventually lead to a huge conflagration. A Little Hatred was the prelude to a much bigger story, which not only begins in The Trouble with Peace but feels like it climaxes, with a surprising amount of closure before the last chapter blows open the story again for the grand conclusion.

The result is one of Abercrombie's strongest novels to date, a story of politics and war and the individuals swept up in events. One of the most remarkable things about it is that it opens a yawning chasm between the characters who were (more or less) on the same side of things in the first volume. Characters choose sides for logical reasons and the reader's sympathies may be tested because it's hard to say who is in the right and who is in the wrong. Those who want to overthrow the old order because it is bloated and corrupt and backed by Bayaz, whom we know through seven previous novels is not a particularly trustworthy guy, have some excellent points, but those who want a continuation of peace, not sticking swords through people and undertaking more gradual reforms also have a point (and Bayaz may be a ruthless and untrustworthy git, but he also did kind of save the Union from a far greater evil in the original trilogy, from a certain point of view), and seeing the two sides come to blows is decidedly painful.

As the novel unfolds there are traditional shocks and surprises, abrupt reversals of fortune, dramatic falls from grace and sudden elevations to grace. There's also moments of friendship and mercy, but moments when even sensible and solid characters fall prey to bigotry and are easily manipulated by outside forces. There's also moments when those blessed with intelligence and cunning find themselves laid low by their own overconfidence.

There's also a feeling of topicality swirling through the novel. Abercrombie started planning this trilogy way back before he even finished the stand-alone successors to The First Law in 2012, so the underlying plot presumably was not based on contemporary politics, but it's hard not to consider the topicality of a city's referendum on the wisdom of leaving the Union, or the simmering and unreasoning rage being stoked in a rich and prosperous kingdom by an influx of immigrants contributing to that prosperity but who have the temerity to have differently-coloured skin. This is also firmly inspired by more distant historical events of course - the Industrial Revolution and the protest movements it sparked, like the Redressers and the Luddites - but watching contemporary events being reflected in a work of epic fantasy (not normally the most politically sophisticated genre of fiction) is unusual and refreshing.

The Trouble with Peace (*****) is Abercrombie delivering what he usually does - a story packed with memorable characters, action and dark humour - but with also more attention to worldbuilding and pace. A lot happens in a constrained page count (by the standards of the genre) and the pages fly by. There's also an increasing, Pratchett-esque attention to fantasy's oft-unfulfilled potential to reflect the world we live in, making for a smarter and more intelligent book. The novel will be released on 15 September in the UK and USA.

Thursday 27 August 2020

Netflix greenlights RESIDENT EVIL TV series

Netflix has greenlit a TV show inspired by the hit video game series Resident Evil. The first season, consisting of eight episodes, will hopefully go into production in 2021.

Supernatural co-showrunner Andrew Dabb will be the showrunner on the new project, which will not be related to the six-film movie series produced by Paul W.S. Anderson between 2002 and 2016 or the currently-planned film reboot.

Like the film franchise, the TV series will also not be directly based on the games, instead using them as a source of inspiration and names. The new series will unfold across two timelines, the first revolving around 14-year-old twin sisters Jade and Billie Wesker, who move to New Raccoon City. Their father (presumably Albert Wesker, a notable antagonist from the video games) is harbouring unusual secrets. A second storyline then unfolds sixteen years later, by which time the world has been devastated by the pathogen known as the T-virus, which has transformed 99.8% of the world's population into ravaging monsters, with an adult Jade Wesker now serving as the main character. The TV show will explore both time periods, gradually filling in the gap between them.

The Resident Evil video game series, developed by Capcom, began in 1996 with the release of Biohazard in Japan; the game was retitled Resident Evil for the US market. There have so far been 21 games in the series, though only seven have been numbered as part of the "main" series. Remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 have proven hugely popular in the last couple of years, and the next main series game, Resident Evil: Village is due for release next year. The games tell the story of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation and their development of a virus which can transform animal life into zombie-like beasts. The special police taskforce known as S.T.A.R.S. discovers their operation and attempts to stop them, leading to the virus being released in a mansion that serves as one of Umbrella's bases of operation and later spreading to nearby Raccoon City. Later games in the series expand the setting to Spain and Africa. The games have sold well over 100 million copies, making them one of the biggest-selling video game franchises and Capcom's biggest series.

The Resident Evil film series began with Resident Evil (2002) and continued through Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), Extinction (2007), Afterlife (2010), Retribution (2012) and The Final Chapter (2016). The films star Milla Jovovich as Alice, a security consultant for the Umbrella Corporation who becomes caught up in their development of the T-virus and its subsequent deployment, first devastating their base, the Hive, and then neighbouring Raccoon City before spreading across the globe. The six films have cumulatively grossed $1.2 billion (on relatively low budgets). A reboot film, which will be "more faithful" to the games, has been in development since 2017 with a new cast.

Video games are becoming an increasingly interesting source of adaptations. Showtime is currently shooting a TV series based on the Halo video games, whilst Netflix has been helming a Castlevania animated series based on the video game series of the same name. Their Witcher TV series, although based on the original book series by Andrzej Sapkowski, also brought in a large number of fans of the bestselling video game series based on the same books.

Wednesday 26 August 2020

ALTERED CARBON cancelled by Netflix after two seasons

Netflix has cancelled its epic science fiction series, Altered Carbon, based on the body-hopping Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard Morgan.

The first season of the show aired in early 2018 and was mostly well-received, although some major changes from the novels - some of which seemed almost tailor-made to shut down long-term story arcs from the books - were inexplicable. The second season aired in February this year, after a two-year wait, and was apparently not as successful. Netflix's explanation seems to rest on their incredibly vague metrics, which decided that continuing the show at its relatively high cost of production was not worthwhile since it was not bringing in a lot of new subscriptions. A stand-alone animated film in the same universe was also aired earlier this year.

The cancellation leaves the fairly risible Another Life as the streamer's sole adult space-set SF series on the air, although it should be joined next year by the live-action version of Cowboy Bebop, once production resumes on that project.

High Score

It'd be beyond a cliche at this point to note that video games are the dominant mass-media entertainment of the modern age, that they make more money than the film and music industries combined and so forth. Unfortunately it does remains a pertinent cliche that, for all its global reach, vast global audience and growing longevity (we're approaching the 50th anniversaries of the first dedicated home video games and video game consoles), TV writers and documentarians seem to struggle on how to present them on screen.

High Score, from Netflix, adopts an interesting and promising approach: in each of its six episodes it identifies a key theme, moment, genre or piece of hardware and uses that as a fulcrum around which to tell the stories of several games and the people involved in making them. The first episode is about the rise of the arcade co-op and home console hardware, focusing on the invention of Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Missile Command, the work of unsung pioneer Jerry Lawson who invented the commercial video game cartridge (although earlier prototyping work by Alpex Computers goes unmentioned), and the development of E.T., the game blamed (somewhat unfairly, which the documentary does note) for the 1983 video game crash. In the middle of this we also meet Rebecca Heineman, the winner of the first Space Invaders US national championship and therefore one of the first-ever e-sports champions; Nolan Bushnell, the co-founder of Atari; and the developers of the aforementioned games. It's all very interesting, but it also feels like we're missing some key pieces of the puzzle: the actual very early consoles themselves are completely ignored and progenitors Spacewar! and Pong get short shrift (the first game goes completely unmentioned until it incongruously shows up in the final episode, whilst Pong is mentioned a lot but there's no specific coverage of the game itself).

This format continues in the second episode, which focuses on the rise to prominence of Nintendo, via Donkey Kong, and how its Nintendo Entertainment System helped reboot the video game market after the disasters of 1983. We get some obvious stories here - the development of Donkey Kong and how it was sold in the US - as well as some lesser-known stories, such as the story of the winner of the first Nintendo World Championship and the exploits of superstar lawyer John Kirby, who helped Nintendo defeat a lawsuit by Universal Studios (alleging that Donkey Kong was a rip-off of King Kong) and was then immortalised as the video game character Kirby.

This approach has several strengths, such as hooking people in with mention and discussion of superstar, well-known games and then bringing in lesser-known figures and more obscure games. However, it can feel a bit scattershot and sometimes the connective tissue between the stories is extremely thin. The third episode exemplifies this. This episodes focuses on adventure and roleplaying games and focuses on the well-known story of Richard Garriott creating Ultima but also has a lengthy section on about Roberta and Ken Williams, the superstar creative duo behind the massive King's Quest series. However, King's Quest goes completely unmentioned in favour of in-depth discussion of their first game, Mystery House. This is quite interesting, but does feel slightly incongruous. There's then a big time jump to discussing the original Final Fantasy, completely missing out the important CRPGs that fell in the interim: Might & Magic, Wizardry and The Bard's Tale (particularly oddly, as Bard's Tale III designer Rebecca Heineman had already appeared in the first episode), not to mention the game that directly inspired Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest. The episode then jumps forwards even further to 1992 to discuss GayBlade, a RPG game that was supposed to introduce LGBTQ themes to gaming but didn't, because 1) it was never released and 2) Caper in the Castro, which actually was released, had already done that three years earlier, but goes completely unmentioned. Discussion of the development of the game is genuinely interesting, but it feels a bit of a non sequitur given it never came out, went missing for thirty years and the story lacks an ending: a copy of the game was recovered between the documentary being filmed and being released, so we get a brief text interlude confirming the game has been found again but nothing more.

There's plenty of interesting trivia here - Trip Hawkins founding the biggest video game company in history, Electronic Arts, because he was just obsessed with getting an American football video game on shelves; a couple of British developers feeling like fish out of water as they visit Japan to convince Nintendo to include groundbreaking 3D hardware in this SNES games, resulting in StarFox - but many of them feel incomplete. Trip Hawkins isn't asked how it felt when his company was voted the worst company in America for several years running, and the StarFox segment is bafflingly missing its obvious, dramatic conclusion: how the developers worked for years on StarFox 2 for years and effectively completed it, only for Nintendo to refuse to release it. It was finally released, to a high positive reception, in 2017.

The scattershot approach is deliberate and it's clear that not everything could be included. The early co-op section does quite well to fit in three games (Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Missile Command), so moaning about the non-appearance of Asteroids or Defender would be perhaps churlish. But there are some really gaping holes that are much more difficult to defend. You simply cannot discuss video games of the 1980s without mentioning Elite - sometimes cited as gaming's Jazz Singer moment, when the combination of total open world freedom and 3D graphics had as seismic an impact on gaming as sound did for film - and that game goes completely unmentioned here, as in fact do almost all developers who aren't American or Japanese. The British Argonaut guys on StarFox are an exception, but only because of their connection to Nintendo. Massively important machines and platforms are also completely missing, such as the Commodore 64 and Amiga, the ZX Spectrum and the Sega Master System (which given an entire episode is effectively dedicated to Sega, is weird).

In the end, High Score (***) ends up trying to do way too much in too little time and can't be much more than a collection of interesting, some new, some random anecdotes, held together with some slick presentation and cutesy interlinking graphics. It's too general to appeal to hardcore gamers and it's too unfocused to tell people not interested in gaming any kind of story (and if you're not interested in gaming, why would you watch this?). It does show that a proper, long-running documentary series on video games could be really interesting, something like Netflix's The Toys That Made Us but dedicated to individual games, or even series. The phenomenal YouTube channel Noclip has done some amazing work in exploring behind the scenes of major games, so perhaps something like that cut for a mass audience would be more interesting. As it stands, High Score passes the time and shines a light on a few under-told tales from the margins of gaming history, but otherwise is so full of holes that it can't achieve its goal of being any kind of history of the medium. It is available to watch on Netflix now.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

THE STAND mini-series to hit screens in December

The latest adaptation of Stephen King's classic horror novel The Stand is due to start hitting TV screens on 17 December.

The Stand, originally published in 1978 but thoroughly revised in a second edition in 1990, tells the story of a global pandemic known as the "superflu" (also "Captain Trips") that wipes out more than 90% of the world's population. The American survivors are gathered into two camps, each offered guidance by a mysterious figure, one good and one evil, before they are forced into a final confrontation for the soul of humanity.

The Stand is one of Stephen King's two best-selling novels, a position it seems to alternate with It.

The new version of the story - the second, following a successful 1994 ABC mini-series - will debut on streaming service CBS All Access. Consisting of ten episodes (released weekly), it makes several changes to the story, approved by Stephen King. The first is that the story will start in the post-apocalyptic timeframe and will then flash back to events before the superflu. The second is that the infamously-criticised ending has been changed and revised by King, with an extensive new coda added. King himself has written the final episode of the new version to oversee these changes personally.

The new adaptation stars James Marsden as Stu Redman, Greg Kinnear as Glen Bateman, Henry Zaga as Nick Andros, Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail, Owen Teague as Harold Lauder, Alexander Skarsgård as Randall Flagg, Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor, Amber Heard as Nadine Cross and Marilyn Manson in an unspecified role.

The new version of The Stand does not have an announced international partner as yet, although based on previous CBS All Access deals it is likely to air in the rest of the world via Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Monday 24 August 2020

Development ceases on Amazon Prime's CULTURE TV series, at the request of the Iain Banks Estate

Amazon have cancelled work on their planned television adaptation of Consider Phlebas, the first novel in Iain M. Banks' Culture series, after the Banks Estate decided not to proceed with the project.

Jeff Bezos himself, a huge fan of the Culture books, personally announced that Amazon were working on the TV show back in February 2018. Writer Dennis Kelly developed a treatment and series bible, but it seems that when it came time to sign the final deal, the Banks Estate decided not approve the option.

Banks wrote ten books in the Culture universe between 1987 and 2012: Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, The State of the Art, Excession, Inversions, Look to Windward, Matter, Surface Detail and The Hydrogen Sonata. This is more of a common background for the books rather than in-depth series, with the books jumping backwards and forwards in time.

The Culture is a massive, multi-species, utopian civilisation spanning thousands of worlds and space habitats. The Culture finds itself pitted against various external and internal challenges and threats, which its agents and citizens find themselves having to deal with.

Iain M. Banks sadly passed away in 2013 and development of the TV show began after Amazon made overtures to his Estate. It appears no formal deal was signed, since the Estate has now decided not to proceed with the project.

None of Banks' SF work has been adapted to the screen, although several of his mainstream novels have been adapted for TV and film: The Crow Road, Complicity and Stonemouth.

Amazon has also passed on its adaptation of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, which has instead moved to HBO Max, whilst their planned take on Larry Niven's Ringworld also seems to have stalled. They also passed on a Conan the Barbarian TV show from Ryan Condal a couple of years back (Condal is instead now working on the Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon).

Amazon do have some big SFF projects moving forwards, however, with a fifth season of The Expanse due to air before the end of this year, the first season of The Wheel of Time next year and The Lord of the Rings: The Second Age in 2022.

Sunday 23 August 2020

Seven missing DOCTOR WHO episodes identified

The location of seven currently-officially-missing episodes of Doctor Who has been confirmed by episode hunter Philip Morris, currently leading efforts to recover the missing material. Negotiations are underway to get the missing material returned to the BBC.

Update: Morris has - somewhat confusingly - suggested on Twitter that this interpretation is incorrect, although - on video - he said outright that the locations of these episodes have been identified and he is confident of their eventual return. I suspect based on his comments that the "negotiations are underway" bit is what is under contention, due to his statement elsewhere that his approach is "letting things lie" until the episodes are returned in their own time. So, to be more accurate, the continued existence of seven missing Doctor Who episodes has been confirmed, with the hope that one day they will be returned to the BBC.

The rest of my original report follows:

As was common at the time (from its inception until the 1970s), the BBC used to produce television programmes with no expectation that they would ever be repeated or commercially released. Once aired, it was common for the tapes containing TV shows to be wiped and re-used to save money. Doctor Who was a victim of this process, with 147 episodes junked between 1967 and 1978. These episodes consisted almost entirely of material from the First and Second Doctors (William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton), the first six seasons of the show, aired from 1963 to 1969 and filmed in black-and-white, which was considered even less valuable in the colour era. Some material from the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, was also destroyed, but later recovered via black-and-white copies that were digitally re-colourised.

The advent of the home video format in the late 1970s and intervention from fans made the BBC change its mind quite rapidly and almost as soon as it stopped the purge of its archives in 1978 it began trying to reclaim the lost material. In some cases BBC engineers had saved episodes and kept them safely at home, or sold them to private collectors. The most valuable resource, however, was the BBC's foreign sales department. Since Doctor Who began in 1963, it had been sold widely abroad, particularly in the Commonwealth, and in many cases those countries had hung onto their copies of old episodes. Between 1978 and 2013, 50 missing episodes of Doctor Who were recovered from these sources and returned to the archives.

This has left 97 episodes - one eighth of the total number of episodes of the entire series - officially missing. 26 serials are affected, with 10 serials completely missing altogether.

The last time missing material was returned to the archive was in 2013, when Philip Morris recovered nine missing episodes from a TV station in Nigeria. These episodes constituted all of the missing material from the serial The Enemy of the World and four of the five missing episodes from the immediately succeeding serial, The Web of Fear. In the case of The Web of Fear, it was revealed that the remaining missing episode (the third) had also been identified, but had been removed from the station by persons unknown before the rest of the serial was sent back to the UK.

Morris has since confirmed that the identity of the people who took the episode has become known and very delicate negotiations undertaken to hopefully return the episode.

Five additional episodes were recovered by Doctor Who fan Ian Levine the same year from Taiwan, but these were additional copies of episodes already in the archives. Nevertheless, the discovery promoted renewed interest in Taiwan as a location of interest to episode hunters, although some questions were raised about the find.

During the Time Space Visualiser 2 online event earlier this year, Morris confirmed that "at least" six more episodes currently officially listed as missing have been identified in the hands of private collectors. The principle block to them being secured is not money, but rather the fear of the collectors that fans might learn their identities and berate or harass them (as has happened, to some degree, in the past, even to Morris himself despite his success in recovering episodes from overseas). Even more delicate negotiations to secure the anonymity of these collectors are required before they can be returned to the BBC archives.

The hunt for the missing episodes has gained some urgency in recent years. 1960s BBC film stock is fairly durable, but after being left in tin cans in dusty back shelves of basements in places like Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Nigeria, it's possible that some old stock will have become unusable: some reports have surfaced of promising leads ending only in old warped cans filled with unidentifiable goop that may have once been film stock. It is also already known that at least one TV station in Sierra Leone had a very large stock of the missing episodes (almost all of them, according to some records) before being levelled to the ground in the civil war in that country in the late 1990s. Time is not on the hunters' side here, but it is good to know at least some more missing episodes from the show have survived.

Saturday 22 August 2020

Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont discuss the MALAZAN series

Malazan co-authors Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont have been jointly interviewed at the TSACast and revealed some new information about their upcoming books.

Esslemont is currently working on The Jhistal, the fourth book in the Path to Ascendancy series (following on from Dancer's Lament, Deadhouse Landing and Kellanved's Reach), or possibly the first book in a second trilogy set in the same milieu. This book picks up twenty years after the events of Kellanved's Reach and concerns the nascent Malazan expansion into the subcontinent and archipelago of Falar.

The next books are expected to focus on the Malaz invasion of Seven Cities and the first taking and fall of Aren to the T'lan Imass. Esslemont has also pencilled in the Malaz landings in Genabackis and the Blackdog campaign for future volumes.

Erikson, meanwhile, recently completed The God is Not Willing, the first book in the Witness Trilogy, a sequel to The Malazan Book of the Fallen itself, and is now back working on Walk in Shadow, the concluding volume of the Kharkanas Trilogy.

The Jhistal is currently scheduled for publication on 17 November 2020. The God is Not Willing is anticipated for publication in late 2021.

Production resumes on Amazon's WHEEL OF TIME television series

 Amazon Prime is spinning up the wheels again for its Wheel of Time television series.

Amazon began shooting the eight episodes of the first season of The Wheel of Time back in September 2019 in the Czech Republic, with the original plan being to shoot until May 2020 and then wrap for post-production before airing in late 2020 or early 2021. However, the coronavirus pandemic shut down production on 12 March, between six and eight weeks short of the originally-mooted finish date.

Production on Amazon's other big fantasy shows is already back underway: Lord of the Rings: The Second Age resumed shooting in New Zealand a couple of weeks back and the cast and crew of Carnival Row's second season is already back in action, also in Prague.

A number of Wheel of Time cast and crew have Tweeted or Instagrammed (in many cases quickly deleting their messages) that they are flying back to Prague this week or are already back in the country, indicating that production will resume before the end of the month or in early September. Presumably they will complete the last two months of the original planned shoot, wrapping up in November.

It is known that post-production on the completed material has been continuing throughout the production, the showrunner noting that he's already seen completed scenes with Moiraine using the One Power. It is hoped that the pandemic overall will not delay transmission of the series from its possible early 2021 slot.

A second season is expected to go into production early next year for transmission in 2022. 

George R.R. Martin sues to regain screen rights to novella

George R.R. Martin has launched a lawsuit to regain the TV and film rights to his novella, The Skin Trade.

Originally published in 1988 in Night Visions 5 (and later as Dark Visions), alongside three Stephen King and three Dan Simmons short stories, the werewolf-centric The Skin Trade is one of Martin's better-known pre-A Song of Ice and Fire novels and one of his last horror stories.

The novella won the 1989 World Fantasy Award and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. It was adapted into a comic book in 2013-14 by Avatar Press.

Mike the Pike Productions bought a five-year film option in 2009 (before Martin achieved worldwide fame through the Game of Thrones television series), which it later sold to the Blackstone Manor LLC production company. Blackstone ostensibly began filming in September 2014, just before the option expired, but only filmed a few scenes with a barebones cast and crew. As of six years later, the film remains incomplete and unreleased.

Martin's lawyers have argued that this was a spoiling tactic designed to keep the rights in hand rather than seriously fulfil them. These kind of tactics are commonplace in Hollywood, although they are rarely effective in the long term, often being seen as being an attempt to use the letter of the law to circumvent the spirit of the law. Blackstone's case is particularly weak as they did not complete nor release the film.

A similar tactic was employed in 2015 by Red Eagle Productions, the rights-holders of the Wheel of Time television and film rights, when their deal was about to expire. They created a 20-minute short film called The Winter Dragon (based on the prologue of the first novel) in an attempt to hold onto the rights. By hiring a well-known actor (Billy Zane) and airing the film on television (on the FX Channel, albeit as a paid-for infomercial) they created a stronger argument and during the subsequent legal battle with the Robert Jordan Estate enough of an argument was created to make an out-of-court settlement more reasonable (Red Eagle have subsequently indicated that they had already opened negotiations with Sony Television, leading to the current Amazon Prime adaptation, and wanted to ensure they were not cut out of any final deal).

Blackstone's case appears to be much less convincing in this case, and George R.R. Martin's financial firepower to carry the case forwards is formidable. From the sound of it, other parties are interested in pursuing a Skin Trade adaptation (Martin has an overall development deal at HBO and it may well be that this is a project they'd like to consider), once the situation has been resolved.

Friday 21 August 2020

The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore

Far beyond the Spine of the World mountains, the ten towns of Icewind Dale stand in danger from an army of invading tribesmen. The outcast dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden learns of the impending threat and through his allies, the halfling Regis and the dwarven chieftain Bruenor, helps save the community from destruction. But in the aftermath of the conflict a betrayed mage finds an ancient artifact of incredible power, through which he means to conquer Icewind Dale.

Published way back in 1988, The Crystal Shard was the debut novel by R.A. Salvatore, the first novel in The Icewind Dale Trilogy (a trilogy notable for two-thirds of it taking place outside Icewind Dale) and the first in the much longer Legend of Drizzt mega-series, which now encompasses thirty-six books (thirty-nine if you count associated spin-off volumes focusing on other characters). It was also only the second novel published in the Forgotten Realms setting, the most popular fantasy shared-world setting in history, and a key reason why that setting exploded in popularity in the following months and years. It is also one of the biggest-selling and most popular Dungeons & Dragons spinoff novels of all time, possibly the biggest-selling (although it shares mighty competition from Dragons of Autumn Twilight).

As the ship that launched a thousand sub-series, it's a curiously unassuming book. The stakes are relatively low - the fate of the world is not in the balance, just a backwater wilderness way beyond the northern edge of most maps - and there's a distinctly old-fashioned feel to the book. There's a fair bit of exposition and characters are prone to making declarative statements that end in exclamation marks! Not every line, but enough to feel like you reading a book where everyone is slightly deaf and has to shout to make themselves heard. The absolute near-absence of female characters in the otherwise extremely egalitarian Forgotten Realms (only one, Catti-brie, has any lines of dialogue) is also baffling, and was somewhat odd at the time, let alone today. It's something Salvatore does fix in later books (where Catti-brie becomes a major player and more female characters appear) but I had forgotten how hugely imbalanced this first book is.

If you can overlook that, although the novel is very much not High Art, it is definitely fun. It's riper than three-year-old Stilton, but Salvatore makes up for a lack of technical skill with unbridled enthusiasm. There's fast and frenetic action scenes, and the characters may adhere to broad archetypes but they are executed well. Drizzt lacks his later mopiness at this stage and is even allowed to have some character flaws (his weakness for treasure and finding valuable magical items is something rolled back later on, but is amusing here). Indolent and morally suspect Regis gives us an answer to that question of what would have happened if one of the dodgier Sackville-Bagginses had joined the Fellowship of the Ring, and Bruenor is the most dwarfish dwarf who ever dwarfed. The only one of the core cast it's hard not to entirely like at this stage is Honourable Barbarian Warrior Wulfgar, Who Is Honourable And Stuff. Wulfgar is the kind of guy who has his own special rock where he goes to sit and be stoically honourable on (to the unbridled amusement of Catti-brie, who seems to have some kind of metatextual awareness of Wulfgar's character and needles him mercilessly about it, in one of the more modern-feeling touches to the novel). It's unsurprising that Salvatore seems to tire of Wulfgar - originally supposedly the hero and main protagonist - quite quickly and instead refocuses on the quirkier characters like Drizzt and Regis.

The book also has a splendid feel for the wider community of characters. In books like this it would be very easy to have our core foursome (Drizzt, Regis, Bruenor and Wulfgar) undertake valiant deeds that save Ten-Towns from oblivion, with the people they are saving reduced to faceless background roles. Instead, the people of the towns are depicted as fierce and independently-minded, always eager to mix it up with the various invaders and with their own internal politics that are well-described, and even bit-characters are given some complexity. Kemp, the spokesman for Targos, is both a selfish political game-player and a brave warrior eager to get to grips with the enemy. Surprisingly, Salvatore makes you care slightly more about these people more than you would for the otherwise amorphous blobs of "people we must save" in such stories.

The characterisation of the villain is also quite interesting: Akar Kessel, the mage who finds the Crystal Shard, is a complete and total imbecile and the semi-sentient Shard has to do a lot of work to mould him into a credible threat to Ten-Towns, to the point of often despairing at his total ineptitude. This is sometimes played for laughs, although darker character traits are hinted at: the fate of various "wenches" that Kessel mind-wipes into becoming his playthings - in another outbreak of 1980sness in the text - is mercifully left unaddressed. Kessel's ultimate fate is also darkly amusing.

The Crystal Shard (***½) - the literary equivalent of a Greggs Festive Bake - has not aged as well as might be hoped, but it's still a cracking adventure yarn which is well-paced, entertaining and occasionally surprising, if you can get through the wincing generated by some of the book's more dated aspects. Salvatore shows more enthusiasm than skill here, but does improve as a writer over the next few volumes. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

Thursday 20 August 2020

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Kentucky, 1901. January Scaller is a ward of the wealthy and amiable Mr. Locke, for whom her father works as a purveyor of rare artifacts. January longs for adventure, but her mixed race colouring, her gender and Locke's strict belief in order keep her constrained. When she discovers the existence of doors, thresholds that lead elsewhere, and a book that reveals the secrets of the doors, January realises she has a destiny that lies in disorder, to the despair of her guardian. So begins a journey which becomes increasingly dangerous and leads January to remarkable discoveries about her world and her family.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is Alix E. Harrow's debut novel, following a string of successful short stories (including the Hugo-winning A Witch's Guide to Escape). The book is sits comfortably in the "portal fantasy" genre, a well-trodden field wherein sits everything from The Chronicles of Narnia and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry series. However, whilst most portal fantasies are about the mysterious new world the protagonists find beyond the portal, The Ten Thousand Doors is about the process of finding the doors and ensuring their survival. Very much a case of the journey being more interesting than the destination.

The book also extends this approach to the lead character of January Scaller, whose oft-absent father and entirely missing mother leaves her feeling incomplete and unrealised. As the book progresses, the portals become vehicles for her journey of self-discovery; she gains a greater understanding of her past and her family as she crosses the portals.

It's a fine approach, further helped by the narrative unfolding in two strands. The first strand is a first-person adventure narrated by January herself, unfolding over many years as she grows up and tries to learn more about her deceased mother and her often-absent father. The second is the book-within-a-book that January is reading, about a young girl growing up decades earlier who finds a way of travelling between worlds, a power that January realises that she also shares and is something that other people want to control...or destroy.

The two narratives reflect on one another as they unfold in tandem, each informing on the other. Credibility is a slight issue here - January seems to be obsessed with the book, but only reads the next chapter when it's dramatically convenient to the advancement of the plot, rather than say blasting through the whole thing in a few hours like any sane reader - but this feels like a pedantic complaint about what is essentially a fairy tale for adults.

There are other complaints - there are moments of Dickensian misery that occasionally insert themselves in a near-non sequitur manner, such as a slightly out-of-place episode taking place in a lunatic asylum - but these are constrained. After a slow start, The Ten Thousand Doors of January unfolds through splendid prose and elevates itself from a simple adventure to a meditation on the power of words, the art of storytelling and the reaffirmation of that old Tolkien idea of every journey of a thousand miles starting with a door, and wondering what's beyond it.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January (****) is an intriguing book, mashing up traditional portal fantasy with the parallel universe strand of science fiction and using both as a vehicle to muse on story, identity and family. It's a book that does little that's new, but instead remixes a lot of existing ideas to create a compelling narrative. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Black Sails: Season 2

Captain Flint and the crew of the heavily-damaged Walrus have located the Spanish treasure ship Urca de Lima. Unfortunately, a heavily-armed Spanish garrison stands guard over the gold, forcing Flint to consider an alliance with other parties in Nassau to secure the prize. Meanwhile, in Nassau the town is rocked when Charles Vane and his men seize control of the fort that defends the harbour, putting Eleanor Guthrie into an uncomfortable position as she tries to navigate treacherous waters between her former lover and the welfare of the community.

The first season of Black Sails started off as Game of Thrones meets Master and Commander, mixing the character drama and sex of the former against the nautical attention to detail and striking production values of the latter, before forging its own path. The show's strength was telling a plethora of gripping storylines simultaneously, mixing politics, war, criminal enterprises and the idea of nation-building, and how even desperate criminals yearn, on some level, for civilisation.

The second season continues in much the same vein. Once again, the series focuses on Captain Flint's obsession with seizing a prize so vast it defies imagining, but finds it difficult to find allies who share in his vision, or men patient enough to forego other, shorter-term profits in favour of a larger goal. Fortunately, the series dials down the intensity of the first season a bit, where Flint was put in an almost impossible position by the end of the run. The second season rows things back to put him back in command with less risk of the crew turning mutinous every five minutes. It doesn't do this artificially and instead has a solid arc spanning the first few episodes reaffirming the crew's loyalty to Flint, which also causes John Silver to rise to the fore. Tensions over Flint's command continue, but in a more believable fashion.

Elsewhere the show continues to sprawl indolently over many storylines, some personal (the complex relationship between Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny and Max) and others political (such as the struggle for control of Nassau Fort). Most striking is a flashback story where we follow Flint's personal history, his relationship with Lord and Lady Hamilton and his descent from law-abiding naval officer to pirate.

There aren't too many problems with the second season of Black Sails (****½), although the ferocious pace of the first season (which only had eight episodes to work with) is lessened somewhat here with two more episodes to fill, but the stories and character arcs expand well enough to fill the extra time. The production values remain highly impressive, the actors are superb (Max's occasionally overworked accent being perhaps a slight flaw, but the actress is so good it's hardly an issue) and the storytelling is compulsively enjoyable. The show is available to watch via Amazon Prime in the UK and in the USA via Starz.

Wednesday 19 August 2020


With Amazon’s The Wheel of Time TV series about to resume production on its first season after a pandemic-enforced break, I thought it might be worthwhile to confirm the state of play on the adaptation at this current stage.

From left to right: Barney Harris (Mat), Madeleine Madden (Egwene), Zoe Robins (Nynaeve), Marcus Rutherford (Perrin), Rosamund Pike (Moiraine), Josha Stradowski (Rand) and Daniel Henney (Lan).

The Wheel of Time TV series is (naturally) based on the fourteen-volume novel series written by Robert Jordan (and completed by Brandon Sanderson, who wrote the last three volumes from Jordan’s notes) and published between 1990 and 2013.

The series is being shot and filmed by Sony Television for Amazon. Sony acquired the Wheel of Time TV series rights in 2016 and entered into an agreement with Amazon to make the series the following year.

So far, a first season of eight episodes has been commissioned (based on agency information and more recently confirmed by the showrunner). The shooting of Season 1 began on 16 September 2019 and was expected to end in May 2020, but the pandemic shut down production on 12 March. Production is now expected to resume imminently and to continue for another six weeks or so.

A second season has not officially been greenlit, but given Amazon’s recent tendency to renew shows early and the news that the writers’ room is already working on Season 2 scripts, a second season renewal seems inevitable.

Season 1 will adapt The Eye of the World and potentially parts of The Great Hunt, but this is not confirmed. Season 1 will also feature new and expanded storylines not covered in the book, most notably the story of the false Dragon Logain, and potentially using the prequel novel New Spring as the basis for flashback material.

An airdate for Season 1 has not yet been confirmed, but early 2021 has been mooted by various sources. Given the pandemic delay, this now seems likely.

The production is based in Prague, with location filming in the Czech Republic and Slovenia having already taken place. The Great Soča Gorge in Slovenia reportedly is standing in for part of the Two Rivers and Vojkovice in the Czech Republic is apparently going to be the site of the Taren Ferry river crossing. Additional filming has taken place at St. Wenceslas Church in Vysluni, Czech Republic (some have speculated for Shadar Logoth, but this is unconfirmed). 

The precise budget for Season 1 is unknown, but information from the Czech government on the rebates granted to the production suggest a season budget of between $80 and $100 million, working out at north of $10 million per episode. This is more than The Witcher (which had around $7 million per episode) and matches the budget of Game of Thrones in its sixth season.

Showrunner/head writer Rafe Judkins (right) with Brandon Sanderson.

The showrunner, creator and head writer on the series is Rafe Judkins, who previously worked as a writer, script editor and producer on series including ChuckHemlock Grove and Agents of SHIELD. Judkins is a lifelong Wheel of Time fan.

The other writers on Season 1 are Amanda Kate Shuman (The BlacklistBerlin Station), Paul & Michael Clarkson aka the Clarkson Twins (The FeedHis Dark Materials), Dave Hill (Game of Thrones), Justine Juel Gillmer (Into the BadlandsThe 100) and Celine Song (playwright).

Uta Briesewitz (Stranger ThingsWestworldJessica Jonesis directing the first two episodes and possibly the third. She is also an executive producer on the project.

Wayne Yip (Doctor WhoInto the BadlandsPreacheris directing at least one episode.

Salli Richardson-Whitefield (PunisherDoom PatrolAmerican Godsis directing at least one episode.

Kelly Valentine Hendry (Gangs of LondonHarlotsThe Last KingdomBroadchurch) is the casting director on the show.

Mark Risk (DreddThe WatchBlack MirrorOutlander) is a storyboard artist.

Joshua Lee (The Fifth ElementPrometheus, seven of the Star Wars movies and all of the Harry Potter saga) is handling the animatronics and model design for the show.

Nick Dudman (Carnival RowPenny Dreadful, the Harry Potter series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, WillowLegendKrullReturn of the Jediis handling makeup effects and prosthetics for the show.

Isis Mussenden (The Chronicles of Narnia film series, The WolverineMasters of Sexis reportedly the costume designer on the series.

David Buckley (PapillonThe Good WifeThe Good Fightis reportedly the main composer for the series. You can listen to samples of his work here.

Miroslav Prechechtel (Carnival RowKnightfallSpider-Man: Far From HomeThe Romanoffsis reportedly working on special effects for the series.

Jakub Chilczuk (CurfewBlack Mirror) and Karen E. Goulekas (The FirstLifelineRootsLooperSpider-ManGodzilla) are working on visual effects for the series.

Sonja Field (Turn Up CharlieGame of Thrones: The Long Nightis reported to be a dialect coach on the series.

Valyrian Steel will be producing replica weapons, jewellery and angreal from the series.

David Luther (His Dark MaterialsBlack Sails) is a director of photography. David “Moxy” Moxness (Whiskey CavalierFringeSmallvilleis also a director of photography on the series.

Matt Platts-Mills (The AlienistTaboois an editor on at least episodes 1-3.

Ted Field, Nina Heyns, Marigo Kehoe, Darren Lemke, Rick Selvage, Mike Weber and Lauren Selig are listed as producers on the project.

Harriet McDougal, the head of the Robert Jordan Estate/Bandersnatch Group, the editor of the book series and Robert Jordan’s widow, is a consulting producer on the project.

Larry Mondragoran of Red Eagle Entertainment is also a producer on the project. Red Eagle has no direct involvement in filming.

Brandon Sanderson, who co-wrote the last three books in the Wheel of Time novel series (from Robert Jordan’s notes), is a consulting producer and occasional creative consultant on the series. Wheel of Time uberfan Sarah Nakamura is also a creative consultant on the show.

The Episodes
The known working titles for the episodes are as follows:

101: Leavetakings, written by Rafe Judkins
102: Shadow’s Waiting, written by Amanda Kate Shuman
103: A Place of Safety, written by the Clarkson Twins
104: The Dragon Reborn, written by Dave Hill
105: Blood Calls Blood, written by Celine Song
106: The Flame of Tar Valon, written by Justine Juel Gillmer
107: unknown
108: unknown, probably to be written by Rafe Judkins

There will be goats.

So far, 38 actors have been announced or leaked for Season 1, but this is not the full cast. Actors marked* are probably in the show (usually through their casting agents putting the credit in their online bios and then removing them, presumably at Amazon's request) but Amazon has not formally confirmed them as yet.

Main Cast
  • Moiraine Damodred - Rosamund Pike
  • Rand al'Thor - Josha Stradowski
  • Egwene al'Vere - Madeleine Madden
  • Perrin Aybara - Marcus Rutherford
  • Nynaeve al'Meara - Zoe Robbins
  • Mat Cauthon - Barney Harris
  • al'Lan Mandragoran - Daniel Henney
  • Thom Merrilin - Alexandre Willaume
Other Major Characters
  • Padan Fain - Johann Myers
  • Logain Ablar - Alvaro Morte
  • Loial - Hammed Animashaun
  • Min Farshaw - Kae Alexander
In the Two Rivers
  • Tam al'Thor - Michael McElhatton
  • Abell Cauthon - Christopher Sciueref
  • Natti Cauthon  - Juliet Howland
  • Daise Congar - Mandi Symonds
  • Marin al'Vere - Lolita Chakrabarti
  • Bran al'Vere - Michael Tuahine
  • Cenn Buie - David Sterne
  • Master Hightower - Pearce Quigley*
  • Eldrin Cauthon - Lilibet Biutanaseva*
  • Bode Cauthon - Litiana Biutanaseva*
  • Laila Aybara - Helena Westerman*
Aes Sedai and Warders
  • Siuan Sanche - Sophie Okonedo (adult Siuan) & Keira Chansa (young Siuan)
  • Alanna Mosvani - Priyanka Bose
  • Ihvon - Emmanuel Imani
  • Maksim - Taylor Napier
  • Leane Sharif - Jennifer Cheon Garcia
  • Liandrin Guirale - Kate Fleetwood
  • Kerene Nagashi  - Clare Perkins
  • Stepin - Peter Franzen
Children of the Light
  • Eamon Valda - Abdul Salis
  • Geofram Bornhald - Stuart Graham
  • Aram - Daryl McCormack
  • Ilya - Maria Doyle Kennedy
  • Raen - Narinder Samra
  • Master Grinwell  - Pasha Bocarie
  • Mistress Grinwell - Jennifer K. Preston
  • Dana - Izuka Hoyle
  • Basel Gill - Darren Clarke
  • Narg / Trollocs - Roman Dvorak
  • "Steve" - Phil Snowden*
  • Unknown - Naana Agyei Ampadu*

In the case of some characters who do not appear until later books (notably Alanna and her Warders, and Eamon Valda), it is believed these characters will appear in the expanded Logain storyline, which will reportedly see him captured on-screen rather than off-page as in the book. The character of "Laila Aybara" does not appear in the books, but Perrin notes that he once had a girlfriend called Laila that he could have married, leading to speculation that the writers may be considering a major change to Perrin's backstory. However, this casting has not yet been confirmed by Amazon.

Assuming that Season 1 covers all of The Eye of the World, roles yet to be confirmed could possibly include Dain Bornhald, Mordeth, Jaret Byar, Elyas Machera, Bayle Domon, Floran Gelb, Morgase Trakand, Elayne Trakand, Gawyn Trakand, Galadedrid Damodred, Gareth Bryne, Elaida do Avriny a'Roihan, Lamgwin Dor, Ingtar Shinowa and Agelmar Jagad, among many, many others.

More news as we get it.

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