Sunday 27 February 2022

RIP Andy Remic

British science fiction and fantasy author Andy Remic has sadly passed away at the age of 50 following a battle with cancer.

Born in Manchester, Remic made his debut with Spiral in 2003, the opening novel in the trilogy of the same name. His subsequent series include Combat K, The Clockwork Vampire Chronicles, Rage of Kings and A Song for No Man's Land. He also wrote the stand-alone books Serial Killers Incorporated, SIM, Theme Planet and Toxicity.

Remic was also a noted fan and enthusiast of the ZX Spectrum computer, and has taken part in multiple documentaries, podcasts and interviews about the format, as well as writing retro-games for the system. His other interests included sword fighting, mountain biking, climbing and Ducati motorcycles.

Andy Remic is survived by his wife and two children. He will be missed.

Monday 21 February 2022

Lin-Manuel Miranda no longer involved with adaptation of Patrick Rothfuss's KINGKILLER CHRONICLE series

Actor, writer and singer-songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda has confirmed he is no longer attached to the long-gestating attempt to bring Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle to the screen.

Interest in the property began back in 2007, when The Name of the Wind was published to a rapturous reception and very high sales. It intensified in 2011, when the sequel The Wise Man's Fear was published.

In 2015, Rothfuss reached a wide-ranging and high-value deal with production company Lionsgate that included a feature film trilogy based directly on the novels, as well as a TV show which would act as a prequel and focus on Kvothe's parents. The following year it was confirmed that Miranda, the nuclear-hot creator of hit stage musical Hamilton, was working on the project as a songwriter for both the films and the TV series, whilst Lindsey Beer was working on the script for the first movie, based on The Name of the Wind.

In 2017, things really got moving when Showtime optioned the TV series rights, attaching John Rogers (Leverage, The Librarians) to write, produce and showrun. In 2018 Sam Raimi entered talks to direct the first film. A few months later, in 2019, John Rogers confirmed he had written all ten scripts for Season 1 of the show, which was entering pre-production. Things looked like they were going very well.

Then things collapsed, pretty quickly. In September 2019 Showtime abruptly halted all work on the Kingkiller TV series and returned the rights to Lionsgate. By that time it was clear that Raimi had passed on the movie project, and subsequently opted to direct Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness instead. The rumour in Hollywood was that Showtime has massively over-committed to its ambitious Halo TV series, spending much more than originally planned, and had to quickly divest itself of several other expensive shows, even ones that had been greenlit, in order not to have a huge budget overrun. Ironically, of course, Halo was moved from Showtime to Paramount+ and the financial issues sorted out behind the scenes, meaning that possibly the Kingkiller project could have moved forwards after all.

In November 2020, Lin-Manuel Miranda confirmed he was still working on the IP, but the plan to adapt the (gigantic) novels as single movies had now been abandoned and the project was being reconceptualised as a TV show based directly on the novels. Miranda cited his work on the HBO/BBC co-production His Dark Materials (based on Philip Pullman's novels) as giving him a "fresh perspective" on the complexities of adapting a fantasy trilogy for the screen.

Miranda's departure from the project seems to be down to two reasons. First, his own workload is through the roof. He is currently enjoying huge success from his work on the Disney animated movie Encanto, including his first-ever Number One single for "We Don't Talk About Bruno." His 2021 film Tick, Tick...Boom! has also enjoyed significant critical and commercial success. Secondly, it sounds like he had not found a way of adapting the books' structure satisfyingly, noting that it has an "insane Russian nesting doll structure," a reference to its multiple timelines.

An unspoken fly in the ointment is that the third novel in the trilogy, The Doors of Stone, remains incomplete after eleven years. Rothfuss's editor confirmed in 2020 that she had not yet read a single word of the book and did not believe any work had been done on it since 2016. Rothfuss has since spoken more openly about progress on the book, and read its prologue for the first time last year. However, no release date has been set.

Given the immense success of the books - reportedly well over 10 million and possibly closer to 20 million copies of the two books have been sold to date, easily making them the most successful debut epic fantasy series this century - it is likely an adaptation will eventually happen. However, it will not be in the near future and it sounds like it will be without Lin-Manuel Miranda's involvement.

Sunday 20 February 2022

The Legend of Vox Machina: Season 1

The mercenary/adventuring group known as Vox Machina are recruited by the Tal'Dorei Council to deal with the threat of a dragon raiding the countryside. That threat dealt with (albeit extremely shambolically), the company is hired to help defend the realm on a recurring basis, thus ending their days of extreme poverty. However, a new threat arises which requires them to travel to the city of Whitestone, where team-member Percy has to exorcise some old demons.

The Legend of Vox Machina is an animated epic fantasy TV series following the adventures of a hardy band of dysfunctional adventurers as they try to make a living and find themselves repeatedly drawn into fighting threats against the kingdom and continent of Tal'Dorei, and the world of Exandria as a whole. The show is aimed at adults, featuring copious amounts of swearing and graphic violence, and occasional nudity and sex.

As has been related elsewhere, at length, the series is based on a Dungeons and Dragons campaign which was live-streamed on the Internet under the title Critical Role. As the live-stream is, how shall we say, "long" (373 hours for the first campaign alone; in comparison it would take you less than 300 hours to watch every single episode of The Simpsons ever made), the animated series is an attempt to boil down the adventures into more approachable, watchable chunks.

This approach is the cause of both Vox Machina's successes and its weaknesses. At its worst, Vox Machina is flabby and self-indulgent, with awful humour and illogical plotting that feels like it's very much been improvised on the spot and not in a good way. At its best, Vox Machina features some enjoyable animation, smart voice-acting and some impressive characterisation. The problem with the show is it's inconsistency. Jarring tonal shifts occur within scenes - sometimes within lines of dialogue - which make the show feel like it can't commit to being either a comedy with dramatic moments or a drama with comedy moments. Instead, comic moments disrupt moments of dramatic power and intense, heavy-going moments bring down comic interludes.

The main cast is fine and the characters have potential: ranger Vex, rogue Vax, gunslinger Percy, cleric Pike, barbarian Grog, bard Scanlan and druid Keyleth are somewhat archetypal, but the writers weave nice character moments for them into the story (benefitting from knowing about character revelations and backstory from later in the Critical Role campaign). Secondary characters and villains get distinctly less development: the Briarwoods, the primary villains of the season, don't develop much and the ruling council of Tal'Dorei rapidly get into a bizarre space of being thankful for Vox Machina saving their country and giving them a nice manor house and paying for their food and upkeep, but then immediately disbelieving everything they say about future threats.

The pacing is also off. The first two episodes are devoted to backstory for the team but instead of showing their origin story, it merely gives them an extra adventure fighting a dragon before they kick off the Briarwood arc. It feels like they should have either gone back further and shown how the team got together and why they've joined forces (the series notes that it's weird these rather different people would be working together for so long), or cut to the chase and jumped into the Briarwood arc straight away. It also doesn't help that the first two episodes frontline a lot of scatological jokes and tedious bickering, and some characters come across as so unlikable it's hard to care about them. Scanlan, in particular, is every D&D bard cliche ever assembled into one package, and his character doesn't really recover until quite late in the season when he gets a solo side-quest which is surprisingly entertaining.

Fortunately the third episode marks a distinct upswing in the show's quality, with Vox Machina brought into conflict against Lord and Lady Briarwood, the vampiric couple who stole Percy's inheritance and murdered his family. This gives much-needed dramatic and character weight to the show. However, the series fails to sustain the tension for the required length of time: a lot of the next ten episodes are spent running around, getting captured and escaping, inciting freedom fighters to rebel and engaging in lots and lots and lots of combat, which gets repetitive quickly. A season of 12 episodes (albeit of 25 minutes apiece) is initially refreshing in this age of decreasingly fewer episodes, but only if there is enough story to sustain that length. There isn't really here, and a few episodes mid-season bog down into filler.

The show does recover towards the end of its run, particularly the shifting focus to the dark and mysterious powers Percy increasingly exhibits as he carries out his mission of vengeance, Pike (who is separated from the team for most of the season) rejoining the group and Keyleth's growing powers and confidence. Scanlan also becomes much less obnoxious. There is a major cliffhanger ending, somewhat inevitably, but the good news is that a second season of 12 episodes is already in production.

The Legend of Vox Machina's first season (***) is entertaining, with fun action scenes, some interesting character arcs and a strong ending, but it is also inconsistent, with some pacing issues and a reliance on Dungeons and Dragons archetypes without doing anything interesting with them (in 2022 you need more than the occasional airship or use of guns to break the mould). The characters are interesting but take a bit too long to develop. This may also be an unfair comparison, but the show is coming out just two months after Arcane completely rewrote the rule book on the level of quality to expect in both animation and writing from an animated epic fantasy series, and Vox Machina can't help but feel slight in comparison. There is a lot of potential here, though, and the second season, which adapts the much larger and more epic "Chroma Conclave" arc, will hopefully be stronger. The season is available to watch now worldwide on Amazon Prime.

Saturday 19 February 2022

New TV tie-in books hint at a mid-to-late July release for HOUSE OF THE DRAGON

Penguin Random House have announced they will be releasing new TV tie-in editions of George R.R. Martin's Fire and Blood in July. These editions will feature cover art tying the book in with the release of HBO's House of the Dragon TV series, which is based on material from the book. This hints that HBO may be aiming to release the series around the same time.

TV tie-in editions of the five extant Song of Ice and Fire novels were released alongside the first five seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones, with each new edition preceding the launch of the respective season by around a week, sometimes two or three. Other companies have been doing similar things, with Orbit Books launching TV tie-in editions of the first Wheel of Time novel two weeks before the TV show launched last November.

Similarly, tie-in editions of The Lord of the Rings are being issued in early July ahead of Amazon's Rings of Power television series, although in that case the gap is larger, at almost eight weeks.

House of the Dragon wrapped production last week and editing and post-production has been underway for some time. George RR Martin reported seeing rough cuts of the first few episodes several months ago, so five months to wrap post-production on the last few episodes seems reasonably achievable.

The new editions of Fire and Blood will hit shelves on 12 July, making the release of the TV show on 17, 24 or 31 July (HBO originals usually air on Sundays) fairly likely.

Friday 18 February 2022

JUSTIFIED star Walton Goggins recruited for FALLOUT TV series

The Fallout TV series has started its casting process and already scored a reasonably big name: Walton Goggins, the breakout star of Justified. Goggins will be playing a Ghoul on the show based on the video game franchise.

Goggins has been around in the industry for a while, playing Detective Shane Vendrell on The Shield and Venus Van Dam on Sons of Anarchy. In film he has twice played for Quentin Tarantino, in The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained, whilst he also had a role in Spielberg's Lincoln. However, he remains best-known for his role as Boyd Crowder on Justified, the former friend-turned-enemy of Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) who becomes an uneasy "frenemy" of Givens for the entire run of the show.

The Fallout TV series is co-created and executive produced by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (Person of Interest, Westworld), whilst Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner serving as showrunners. Nolan will direct the first episode of the series.

The Fallout video game series began in 1997 with the original Fallout, followed by Fallout 2 (1998), Fallout Tactics (2001), Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (2004), Fallout 3 (2008), Fallout: New Vegas (2010), Fallout 4 (2015) and Fallout 76 (2018). The games are set around 200 years after a brief nuclear war between China and the United States in 2077 renders most of the world an atomic wasteland. The games, which each have their own self-contained storyline, depict the struggle for the survival in the new world arising from the ashes of the old. The games feature various factions, such as a fascist-leaning group seeking to rebuild the United States in their image, the Enclave, and an order of soldiers dedicating to stealing and hoarding advanced technology, the Brotherhood of Steel.

Ghouls are humans who have had an adverse reaction to the radiation left behind by the bombs, becoming effectively immortal at the cost of their physical health and appearance.

The franchise has also spun off comics, mobile games, a board game, a tabletop roleplaying game and a miniatures wargame, the latter two from Modiphius Entertainment.

Fallout will air on Amazon Prime Television. With the show now in pre-production and likely to have an extensive post-production period, it will most likely air in early-to-mid 2023.

Next STAR TREK film to reunite the Chris Pine-led reboot cast

JJ Abrams and Paramount have confirmed that the next Star Trek film will reunite the "Kelvin Timeline" cast led by Chris Pine as Captain Kirk. This cast previously anchored three movies in the franchise - Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and Star Trek Beyond (2016) - but their future had been in doubt as the development process over the next movie had gone through convoluted hoops.

Originally, Paramount had pursued a time travel story which would have united Chris Pine as Kirk with Chris Hemsworth playing his father (a role he briefly played in the 2009 reboot movie), until that ran afoul of a pay dispute and was dropped. They then developed a remake of the classic Trek episode A Piece of the Action, with Quentin Tarantino attached to write and direct. Tarantino reduced his involvement to writing and producing, which seemed to defuse Paramount's enthusiasm for the project and it fell off the radar.

Noah Hawley, of Fargo and Legion fame, then came up with a new Trek idea, apparently revolving around a whole new ship and crew not connected with any prior incarnation of the franchise. Paramount developed the idea for a while, before ultimately passing. Star Trek: Discovery writer Kalinda Vazquez then pitched a new idea, but that also didn't seem to go anywhere.

In July last year, momentum seemed to pick up again with WandaVision director Matt Shakman was hired to direct the film, in what was seen as a coup for Paramount given the immense success of that show. Writers Lindsey Beer and Geneva Robertson were assigned and JJ Abrams signed back on to produce. It appears that this idea may have been partially developed with the notion of recasting the crew, but Abrams and Paramount have now confirmed the established cast will return.

As well as Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and John Cho are expected to reprise their roles as Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty and Sulu respectively.

A sad absence from the cast will be Anton Yelchin as Chekov, who sadly passed away in an accident at his home in 2016. He will not be recast.

With the next Star Trek film expected to start shooting soon for the 22 December 2023 release date, that means this iteration of the Enterprise crew will become the longest-serving in terms of a film franchise, with over fourteen years passing since their first appearance. The original crew, led by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Deforest Kelley as Kirk, Spock and McCoy, made six films in thirteen years between 1979 and 1992 (although Shatner, James Doohan as Scotty and Walter Koenig as Chekov did briefly return in 1994's Generations, which handed the franchise over to the crew of TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, who made four films between 1994 and 2002).

At seven years and seven months, this will also become the longest gap between Star Trek films since 1979, surpassing the six years and five months between Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) and Star Trek (2009).


More video game franchises are heading to the small screen.

Netflix announced this week it is developing a TV movie based on the alternate-history BioShock franchise, specifically the first game. Released in 2007, BioShock was a first-person shooter set in the underwater, utopian city of Rapture, a city founded to allow scientific and sociological research unfettered by the laws or morality of society at large. Needless to say, Things Go Wrong. BioShock 2 (2010) was well-received, although developed by a different team. The original development team reconvened to release BioShock Infinite (2013), a quasi-prequel set in the flying city of Columbia. A fourth game has been in development off and on ever since. The series has sold 34 million copies to date.

Gore Verbinski, director of the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, worked on a theatrical film version of BioShock for several years, but butted heads with the studio over budget and the film's rating. No writer, director or producer is on board with this latest iteration.

Meanwhile, Amazon has signed a first-look deal with dj2 Entertainment, the production company recently responsible for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. The company is currently developing three game projects for the screen: co-op platformer It Takes Two (2021) from Hazelight Studios, which focuses on teamwork and cooperation between two players; major RPG success Disco Elysium (2019) from ZA/UM; and Life is Strange (2015), an adventure game from Dontnod Entertainment.

Of the three, Disco Elysium is the most intriguing. The game is set in a large city recovering from a brutal war. The game plays an detective suffering from amnesia and a possible split personality who investigates a brutal murder. The game is notable for its offbeat setting and atmosphere and its complete lack of combat in favour of using dialogue and negotiation to overcome obstacles.

The move comes after the enormous success of Arcane on Netflix, a TV show based on the League of Legends video game franchise. Some recent game-to-film adaptations, like Werewolves Within (2021), Mortal Kombat (2021), Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) and Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019) have all picked up good reviews as well as solid box office, although Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) and Uncharted (2022) have had rougher receptions.

The marketplace is going to get even more crowded in future, with a TV adaptation of Halo launching in late March, and HBO's The Last of Us set for an early 2023 release.

Thursday 17 February 2022

HOUSE OF THE DRAGON wraps production, set for 2022 release

Game of Thrones prequel/spin-off series House of the Dragon has wrapped production on its first season. The show has been filming its ten episode premiere season for almost a year, with production and post-production schedules affected by the COVID19 pandemic.

HBO has not announced a firm release date for the show, although some fans had been convinced the show would drop in April, the traditional release date for parent show Game of Thrones. However, House of the Dragons only just wrapping and post-production well underway, that would be quite optimistic. A summer to autumn release appears more realistic, although HBO might be hoping to beat Amazon's Lord of the Rings prequel series The Rings of Power (currently scheduled for 2 September) to air.

The series begins almost two hundred years before the events of Game of Thrones, at a time of peace and plenty in Westeros with the Targaryens secure on the Iron Throne following the long, prosperous rule of King Jaehaerys. King Viserys I has announced his daughter Princess Rhaenyra will succeed him on the Iron Throne, ruffling feathers because she is a woman...and then he remarries and has more children. His ambitious, fiery brother Prince Daemon is also building his own power base by conquering lands beyond the Narrow Sea. The unthinkable - a civil war between multiple branches of House Targaryen, each commanding the firepower of large dragons - may be becoming thinkable.

The series stars Paddy Considine, Olivia Cooke, Matt Smith, Emma D'Arcy and Rhys Ifans, and is showrun by Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, with George R.R. Martin serving as a consultant and producer.

HBO has multiple potential spin-off shows in development. These include Ten Thousand Ships from writer Amanda Segel, a fantasy Battlestar Galactica riff following the exile of the Rhoynar people and their flight across the ocean to find a new home; Nine Voyages from Gotham and Rome helmer Bruno Heller, which explores the adventures of the young Sea Snake Corlys Velaryon as he explores the remote corners of the world; and a Dunk & Egg adaptation from Steve Conrad, based on Martin's short stories of the same name. There are also at least two animated projects in development, although those are much earlier in the process at the moment.

STRANGER THINGS gets super-sized Season 4 release and confirmation of ending

Netflix has released some info about the future of Stranger Things, its 1980s nostalgia horror-SF show. Season 4 will be released in two parts in May and July. Season 5 has been greenlit and will be the final season of the show, although creators the Duffer Brothers have left the door open for spin-offs and more shows set in the same universe.

The show debuted in 2016, rapidly becoming the streamer's signature series (especially after original headliners Orange is the New Black and House of Cards concluded). The show aired additional seasons in 2017 and 2019, which were well-received. However, production of Season 4 was interrupted by the COVID19 pandemic, delaying transmission until this year. The Duffer Brothers have said since the beginning that the show will have a four or five-season arc, and have now confirmed that the show will end with Season 5.

The nine-episode Season 4 will be divided into two "volumes." The first batch of episodes will be released on 27 May this year and the second batch on 1 July. The episodes will be significantly longer than the previous seasons, with today's announcement confirming that the season will be almost twice as long as Season 3, suggesting episodes averaging around 90 minutes in length. Releasing the season in two batches will allow viewers to absorb the huge amount of material in a more leisurely fashion, as well as building up discussion and excitement in-between the two "volumes." However, industry watchers will be wondering if this marks Netflix exploring a move away from their popular-but-expensive binge-release format, following the batch-release system previously used for their mega-hit Arcane (which was released in three batches of three episodes at weekly intervals). Other streaming services, including Amazon, Apple TV+ and Disney+, have abandoned the idea in favour of a weekly release schedule which generates more coverage and attention.

The conclusion of Stranger Things comes at a point where Netflix has been successful in launching potential successor headline shows, such as Bridgerton, Squid Game and Arcane.

Tuesday 15 February 2022

Feature film LORD OF THE RINGS: WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM set for April 2024 release, whilst Warner Brothers fights for the franchise film rights

With all the excitement over Amazon's Rings of Power TV series, it's easy to forget there's another cinematic slice of Tolkien also in production. The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim is an animated film set roughly 250 years before the events of the movie trilogy and depicts the adventures of Helm Hammerhand, a legendary king of Rohan and the builder of the great fortress of Helm's Deep.

The film was announced last year, with Kenji Kamiyama directing for Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema and Sola Entertainment. Philippa Boyens, who co-wrote and produced the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie trilogies, is producing. Her daughter Phoebe Gittins and writing partner Arty Papageorgiou have written the script. Richard Taylor and John Howe, who worked on the art design for the previous live-action Middle-earth movies, are doing the same for this project. Peter Jackson has given the project his blessing.

However, a Variety article seemingly backs up speculation that the primary reason for making the film is so Warner Brothers can retain its hold on the franchise feature film rights, which they licenced from the Saul Zaentz Company in 1997 to enable production of the Peter Jackson films. Last week, the Saul Zaentz Company confirmed it had regained control of the film rights, which they claim lapsed in 2020, and are now putting them up for sale with a reported price of $2 billion. Warner Brothers are reportedly extremely unhappy about this and are in negotiations with the Saul Zaentz Company. If there is not a satisfactory resolution, legal action may follow.

The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim will hit theatres on 12 April, 2024.

Monday 14 February 2022

RIP Ivan Reitman

News has sadly broken that the director and producer Ivan Reitman has passed away at the age of 75. Reitman is noted for his work with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in the late 1970s and early 1980s, culminating in his directing the first two Ghostbusters films, which remain his most enduring legacy. However, he also directed a whole slew of films widely-regarded now as classics.

Reitman was born in then-Czechoslovakia in 1946. His family emigrated to Canada as refugees when he was four years old. He attended McMaster University, where he developed his fascination for film and directed several short projects. He worked at CITY-TV in Toronto as a producer, but was later fired. He produced Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977) for David Cronenberg before helping produce National Lampoon's Animal House (1978). He leveraged the wild success of that comedy to direct Meatballs (1979), starring Bill Murray and co-written by Harold Ramis. Reitman re-teamed with Murray and Ramis to direct Stripes (1981).

Meanwhile Dan Aykroyd (a fellow Saturday Night Live player and friend of Ramis and Murray), a noted fan of the paranormal, had been writing a script about a group of paranormal investigators and ghost-hunters. He originally developed the script for himself and his friend and Blues Brothers co-star John Belushi to star in, but Belushi's death from a drug overdose in 1982 ruled out that idea. Bill Murray agreed to help Aykroyd out by replacing Belushi. Aykroyd then invited Ivan Reitman to direct. Reitman was initially reluctant, as Aykroyd's initial script was very complex, being set in the future and featuring extensive vfx requirements and a more serious tone. Reitman wryly estimated the cost of Aykroyd's film to be over $200 million. He met with Aykroyd and "gently" broke the news that the film was unmakeable, but could be turned into something great with rewrites, and suggested Harold Ramis join the project. Ramis was impressed by Aykroyd's ideas and helped rewrite the movie into something producible.

Columbia executive Frank Price bought the idea and moved the film into production, but his bosses were alarmed by the budget (three times the cost of Star Wars for a New York comedy seemed recklessly extravagant). Price left Columbia after the film was in production and moved to Universal, where he still exerted influence over the film: Universal owned the name "Ghost Busters" from a 1970s kid's comedy and Price agreed to sell the title to Columbia.

Released in 1984, Ghostbusters was an immediate financial smash and critical success, making just under $230 million at the box office. It was just overtaken by Beverly Hills Cop a few months later, but a 1985 re-release of the movie saw it surpass that film and become the highest-grossing comedy movie of the entire decade.

The wild success of Ghostbusters and Reitman's success in handling the cast and challenging production allowed him to pursue whatever projects he wished. He directed Legal Eagles (1986) and Twins (1988), his first collaboration with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Schwarzenegger's first comedy. Twins' massive success and the unusual backend deal on the film saw not only Reitman but also Schwarzenegger and co-star Danny DeVito make more money on that one movie than anything else in their careers.

Reitman pursued the idea of a sequel for Ghostbusters, but was stymied by Murray's reluctance to return. Eventually he was talked into doing the sequel, but scheduling problems delayed the film's release until 1989, by which time the momentum of the original movie had stalled (despite a successful spin-off animated series, The Real Ghostbusters). Despite mixed reviews, the film made a reasonable return.

Working on a third Ghostbusters movie stalled, whilst Reitman's career went from strength to strength: he directed Dave (1993), Six Days, Seven Nights (1998), Evolution (2001), My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006), No Strings Attached (2011) and Draft Day (2014), whilst producing films including Beethoven (1992), Space Jam (1996), Private Parts (1997), Old School (2003) and Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (2006).

In 2019, Reitman teamed up with his son Jason Reitman to finally resurrect Ghostbusters, ignoring a 2016 reboot. Jason Reitman directed the well-received Ghostbusters: Afterlife, with his father producing and standing in for his late friend Harold Ramis, using CGI.

Ivan Reitman passed away in his sleep on 12 February. He will be missed for his enduring comic touch and facility with actors.

LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER unveils its first trailer

The first trailer for Amazon Prime TV's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has dropped during the American Super Bowl.

The new series is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth. It tells a multi-stranded story, including the adventures of familiar faces like Galadriel and Elrond in (relatively) younger days, completely new characters and characters from Tolkien's books like Celebrimbor, the forger of (most of) the Rings of Power, the proud elven king Gil-galad and, of course, Sauron.

The trailer suggests a strong visual connection with the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, with similar designs for the island empire of Númenor (from which the kingdom of Gondor was founded) and the elves.

The trailer opens with someone asking, "Haven't you ever wondered what else is out there? There's wonders in this world beyond our wandering." The speaker is Markella Kavenagh's character, a Harfoot named Elanor "Nori" Brandyfoot. The Harfoots are a tribe of primitive, nomadic Hobbits who have wandered into the west of Middle-earth, thousands of years before their descendants eventually settle the Shire.

The first image we see is of a grand harbour, almost certainly that of a port city on the island of Númenor (the statue in the harbour appears to be that of Númenor's founder, King Elros Tar-Minyatur, the brother of Elrond). Númenor is the ancient island superpower from which is descended the line of the kings of Gondor. The camera then passes over hilly plains similar to those of Rohan (and, indeed, may be the same plains for all we know). We briefly see two hunters on the plains as the terrain gives way to wooded ravines. The camera then cuts to an immense waterfall plummeting over a frozen landscape in the Forodwaith, in the far north of Middle-earth. Several figures are trying to climb an icy cliff face, one of whom appears to be a younger Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). We then see a raft being battered in the stormy seas, with a single man on board, Halbrand (Charlie Vickers).

We see an exchange of arrows in a forest at night, with the elven warrior Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) plucking enemy arrows out of the air and firing them back at their source (the sort of move we can imagine Legolas approving of). We see a flaming meteor in the skies whilst the elven high king Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) watches on. We then see Galadriel galloping on horseback across green fields next to spectacular mountains. We see a cloaked figure fighting off a horrendous monster of unknown origin. We see numerous elves gathered around a tree next to a waterfall above a lake, probably in Lindon. The trailer then cuts to brief images of Prince Durin of Khazad-dûm (Owain Arthur), Lord Elrond (Robert Aramayo), the dwarven Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete) singing a dwarven song designed to sense riches below the ground, Galadriel on the same raft from earlier having her elvish ears exposed, what appears to be Elanor helping a man known only as "The Stranger" (Daniel Weyman) in a burning environment, a dwarf smashing a rock to pieces, a fierce battle between elven warriors led by Finrod Felagund (Will Fletcher) and orcs, a chained Arondir attempting to escape, and a human hand clasping that of a Harfoot, almost certainly "The Stranger" and Elanor.

Title cards read "Before the king, before the Fellowship, before the Ring, a new legend begins this fall."

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power debuts on 2 September this year.

Saturday 12 February 2022

Amazon puts cyberpunk TV series BLADE RUNNER 2099 into development

Amazon Studios have fast-tracked development of Blade Runner 2099, a live-action TV series set in the world of the 1982 movie Blade Runner and its 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049.

Ridley Scott is executive producing the new series, which will be showrun and primarily written by Silka Luisa (Shining Girls, Strange Angel). Alcon Entertainment, which recently produced The Expanse for Amazon, is the production company.

Staffing up is underway, with Amazon having already greenlit multiple scripts and production dates already being considered. Apparently Amazon are courting Scott to direct the first episode.

The rapidity of the project may raise eyebrows. Blade Runner 2049 was only a modest success, making $260 million on a production budget of ~$170 million. The filmy likely only just squeaked into profitability on the basis of media and streaming sales. However, the film has had a solid long tale and its director, Denis Villeneuve, has since enjoyed a much bigger hit with Dune: Part One, which may have encouraged people to seek out his earlier work.

Although neither film has been a huge financial success, both have enjoyed immense critical acclaim, which Amazon may be hoping translates into a solid home audience for a further continuation. However, by setting the movie a full fifty years after the events of the previous film, it looks like they are not thinking of having any continuing characters.

Kevin Can F Himself: Season 1

In the mind of Kevin McRoberts, he has a great life. He lives in a comfortable house in Massachusetts with a beautiful wife, is visited daily by a close coterie of friends and he gets to indulge his childish whims on a regular basis without any thought to responsibility or consequences. His life is a big, happy sitcom. For his wife Allison, life is different: claustrophobic and repetitive, trapping her in a lifetime of misery and trying to indulge the irresponsible manchild in the house. Allison eventually makes a decision on how to free herself, and build a new life for herself in the process.

Kevin Can F Himself is a drama-comedy which is built around a very interesting idea. Every scene in the show focusing on the character of Allison is filmed like a modern, prestige, single-camera drama, with carefully constructed shots and naturalistic dialogue and shooting. Every scene featuring her husband Kevin is shot like a mid-1990s American sitcom, with bright, overlit sets, a multiple-camera setup and a full-on laughter track, with screams of laughter greeting the most tediously inane "jokes." It's like two shows from completely different genres have been mashed into one.

It's a great idea, but it's questionable if it can be sustained over an entire eight-episode season. The good news is yes, it can, although the format definitely creaks a few times over the run. It also helps that the sitcom scenes are very much in the minority of the show, accounting for much less than half of each episode and barely showing up in a couple of episodes. It also helps that the sitcom scenes are sometimes used to push forward the drama part of the story, whilst the serious scenes are sometimes also very (if often very darkly) comedic.

The show is held together by its star, Annie Murphy. Hot off of Schitt's Creek, where she played the spoiled daughter Alexis, here she plays the put-upon Allison with formidable skill. She is adept at scenes of emotional turmoil and dramatic intensity as she is at comedy, and her comedy skills are obviously outrageously good, honed by six seasons on Canada's finest. Murphy's performance is terrific and helps nail Allison's complex characterisation, where although Allison is set up to receive the audience's sympathies, she also does have a number of character flaws and is partially responsible for some of her own misfortune.

Murphy is matched by Mary Hollis Inboden as Patty, a low-key player in the first episode or two who then quickly elevates into becoming a co-lead. Patty is forthright, self-assertive and "tough" in a way that Allison isn't, but whose observations of Allison gradually turning on her inane lifestyle encourages her to also realise that hanging out with the loutish Kevin is tedious and she needs to be doing something more interesting with her life. Patty and Allison's evolution from indifferent neighbours to a near Thelma and Louise level of conspiratorial plotting and support is a brilliantly-played arc.

It's also fair to praise Eric Petersen, who has the toughest job on the show in playing Kevin. Kevin only appears in the sitcom part of the show (aside from a brief dream sequence) so Petersen has to be "on" at 110% all of the time, in that broad, brash and insufferable way that loutish husbands are in sitcoms. Kevin is meant to be loud, obnoxious and irritating, which is easy, but he also has an undercurrent of controlling obsession over his wife and friends, and Petersen nails that darker undercurrent as well.

The show has been called a teardown of sitcoms, which I think misses the point. The show isn't really saying anything about the strengths and minuses of traditional-format sitcoms at all, as instead using the format shifts to reflect the characters' psychologies. Kevin lives his life in a cotton candy cocoon of comfort and privilege, whilst Allison's life is far harder, bleaker and more complicated, and the format shift accentuates that in a very instinctively clever way.

The show does occasionally falter: the only episode that is very heavy on the sitcom format also has the misfortune to coincide with the worst of the sitcom storylines (Kevin turns a basement into an escape room), and the idea of "the sitcom is supposed to be terrible" spills over and almost drags the episode down, until the drama part of the episode saves it. And that's kind of it. The show otherwise sells itself thanks to electric performances and some very clever writing that is often brutally honest about its characters whilst making you sympathise with them.

The first season of Kevin Can F Himself (****½) is, after perhaps a slightly shaky start, funny, tremendously well-acted and quite clever. The show has been renewed for a second season, which will conclude the story, which is probably a good idea as I'm not sure the format can be sustained for 20+ episodes. The season is available to watch on AMC and AMC+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in much of the rest of the world.

Thursday 10 February 2022

QUANTUM LEAP continuation picks up its pilot director

NBC has tapped the acclaimed director Helen Shaver to direct the pilot episode of their Quantum Leap reboot/continuation.

Shaver has a lengthy and storied career as an actress, producer and director, but in recent years has made her name for directing high-profile shows including Station Eleven, Lovecraft Country, Snowpiercer, Westworld, 13 Reasons Why, Vikings, Orphan Black and Person of Interest.

Shaver will also executive produce the pilot and may return to work on the first season further if the show is picked up.

The Quantum Leap pilot has been written by Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt, with original Quantum Leap writer-producer Donald P. Bellisario serving as a producer and consultant.

The show is set thirty years after the events of the original show and sees a new team of scientists trying to figure out how the Quantum Leap Accelerator works and if it is possible to use it to track down the still-missing Dr. Sam Beckett. The show will mostly serve up new adventures with a new cast, with the fate of Sam Beckett serving as a lingering mystery. Original star Scott Bakula is not currently attached, but is understood to be in talks with NBC over being kept informed on its status and may join it later on.

So far this is only a pilot order, with NBC waiting on pushing the trigger on a full season order.

First pictures, plot and character details emerge about LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER

Vanity Fair has the inside scoop on Amazon's bank-flattening Tolkien TV series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, revealing new plot and character information about the series along with exclusive images and confirming some of the show's cast.

Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) meet in the elven kingdom of Lindon.

The article confirms that the show is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of The Lord of the Rings. The story is set after the defeat of the Dark Lord Morgoth at the end of the War of the Jewels and the destruction of the western lands of Beleriand. The surviving elves have established new kingdoms in the north-west of Middle-earth, most notably the coastal kingdom of Lindon and the inland nation of Eregion. Their human allies from the war have been given a great gift, a new island home in the midst of the Sundering Seas, Númenor. Over the intervening centuries Númenor has become a powerful island nation, sending its ships to explore every corner of the world. Likewise, the dwarves have established new holdings and reestablished contact with old ones, such as the great subterranean empire of Khazad-dûm, lying beneath the Misty Mountains (and whose dusty ruins will one day be explored by the Fellowship of the Ring, when it is known as Moria).

Despite the defeat of Morgoth, evil has not left Middle-earth. Morgoth's lieutenant, Sauron, is missing, presumed destroyed, and some of his fell followers, including orcs and trolls, remain a problem. It is probably not a massive spoiler to reveal that Sauron (not, at this point, a flaming giant eyeball) is not dead and is plotting a comeback involving the forging of some rather familiar hand-ornaments...

The story of the Second Age is not relayed in any novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, but in historical summaries at the end of The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) and an essay called The Akallabeth, which is published at the end of Tolkien's mythic account of the wars of the First Age, The Silmarillion (1977). Additional essays, such as a detailed lineage of the Kings and Queens of Númenor, an incomplete short story about a Númenorean mariner-king and a character study of the elven leaders Galadriel and Celeborn can all be found in Tolkien's Unfinished Tales (1980). But these accounts only reveal the grand, over-arcing history of the time period, omitting the close-up details. The writing team, led by Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne, has taken advantage of this to create a narrative that both explores the unfolding main narrative but also introduce a host of new characters who will be our eyes and ears into these epic events.

The character list includes some familiar names: Galadriel and Elrond are key and important characters who play a major role in The Lord of the Rings. As the show is set thousands of years before the novels and earlier Peter Jackson film trilogy, these roles have been recast with younger actors. Characters who appeared briefly in the film trilogy, such as the Númenorean king Elendil and his son and heir Isildur (who both briefly appear in the prologue to the first movie), will play a larger role here, and of course Sauron will be the chief (but not sole) threat.

Most of the characters will be new. A young elven warrior named Arondir has found love with a human woman, something this forbidden by his culture. A mysterious human named Halbrand strikes up an alliance with Galadriel after they are both shipwrecked in a storm. Prince Durin, the heir to Khazad-dûm, has to navigate a difficult path.

Showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne have relatively few credits, but were recommended for the job by J.J. Abrams, who'd worked with them on the script for Star Trek Beyond (2016). The two writers also had a take on the Second Age story that excited Amazon. The showrunners quickly assembled an experienced writing team including Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), Jason Cahill (The Sopranos, Fringe) and Stephany Folsom (Toy Story 4, Thor: Ragnarok), whilst director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, A Monster Calls, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) was assigned to produce and direct the first two episodes.

There is one major deviation with this show from the source material. In Tolkien's works, the major events of the Second Age are largely compressed into two time periods, one revolving around the forging of the Rings of Power and the resulting war between Sauron and the elves, during which Numenor makes its presence felt, and another period some fifteen centuries later when the Númenoreans capture and imprison Sauron on their home island, leading to an apocalyptic series of events culminating in the War of the Last Alliance (which opened the original move trilogy). Here the two time periods have been collapsed into one period, presumably lasting a few years or decades.

This isn't completely unprecedented - Jackson collapsed a seventeen-year time gap in the opening chapters of The Lord of the Rings into a few weeks - but the scale here is extreme, with most of the second half of the Second Age being erased. This already seems to be the most contentious change, when the writers could have either instead used a flashback framing device or multiple timelines, or simply done a mid-series time jump. How successful it is remains to be seen.

Confirmed Cast of Characters
  • Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), a much younger version of the character played by Cate Blanchett in the original trilogy. Galadriel is younger, prouder and perhaps less measured than in the Third Age. A senior leader of the elves of Middle-earth, she is utterly opposed to the machinations of the Dark Lord Sauron but is tempted by the trappings of power.
  • Elrond (Robert Aramayo), a younger version of the character played by Hugo Weaving in the original movie trilogy. Elrond Half-elven has forsaken his human heritage to become a senior leader of the elves of Middle-earth, standing as advisor to the elven High King, Gil-galad.
  • Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), one of the highest-ranking elven survivors from the War of the Jewels. Founder and ruler of the inland elven kingdom of Eregion, which borders the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dum. Celebrimbor is a master-smith driven by pride and the desire to forge the most beautiful artifacts ever created. Unfortunately, his pride is something that can be manipulated and used against him.
  • Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), a silvan elf warrior who finds a forbidden love with Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), the healer of the village of Tirharad.
  • Prince Durin (Owain Arthur), the future King Durin IV, heir to the dwarven throne of Khazad-dûm, which in later ages would be known as Moria. 
  • Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete) of Khazad-dûm.
  • Isildur (Maxim Baldry), a young nobleman of Númenor.
  • Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a human fleeing from his own past.
  • A Harfoot Elder (Sir Lenny Henry), a leader of the harfoot people, an early tribe of Hobbits who have come west centuries before the rest of their kin. Megan Richards and Markella Kavenagh play two harfoot youngsters who encounter a "mysterious lost man" whose identity becomes a key mystery in the story (Kavenagh's character may be called Tyra).
Rumoured Cast
  • Joseph Mawle and Simon Merrells are playing new (?) characters called Adar and Trevyn. Adar is an antagonist.
  • Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker), High King of the Elves in Middle-earth, overlord of Lindon and the senior-most elven leader in Middle-earth.
  • Carine (Ema Horvath), Isildur's sister and a young noblewoman of Númenor.
  • Elendil (Lloyd Owen), a nobleman of Númenor, father of Isildur and Carine and a kinsman of the king.
  • Pharazon (Trystan Gravelle), a royal prince of Númenor.

The first episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is called Shadow of the Past and will debut on 2 September 2022 on Amazon Prime worldwide. The first trailer for the show will air on Sunday during the US Super Bowl.

Wednesday 9 February 2022

Netflix releases trailer and airdate for the final season of THE LAST KINGDOM

Netflix has released the trailer for the fifth and final season of The Last Kingdom. They also confirmed that the series will air on 9 March.

The Last Kingdom's fifth season will adapt the ninth and tenth books in the series, Warriors of the Storm and The Flame Bearer. The thrust of the season will be on the final showdown between Uhtred and his former lover, Brida, a key ally turned into a longstanding enemy. Their enmity also takes place as Uhtred finally assembles the forces needed to retake his ancestral homeland of Bebbanburg, as once again Uhtred finds himself potentially at odds with his liege, King Edward.

There are three more books in the series, but Netflix has decided to not adapt them traditionally. Instead, their events will form the basis for a sequel movie, Seven Kings Must Die, which will act as the grand coda for the entire series. Production on the movie is expected to begin shortly for release in 2023.

STAR WARS: OBI-WAN KENOBI to hit screens on 25 May

Disney have confirmed that Obi-Wan Kenobi, their six-part mini-series about the titular Jedi, will hit the Disney+ platform on 25 May.

Obi-Wan Kenobi sees Ewan McGregor reprise his role as Obi-Wan, whom he last played on-screen in Revenge of the Sith in 2003. The series is set a decade after Revenge of the Sith and nine years before the events of A New Hope, and sees Obi-Wan's semi-retirement on Tatooine interrupted by a new adventure.

In addition to McGregor, Hayden Christensen will reprise his role as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, most likely in flashbacks and dream sequences, whilst Bonnie Piesse and Joel Edgerton will reprise their roles as Beru and Owen Lars from Revenge of the Sith. It is likely that a new actor will also play a 10-year-old Luke Skywalker.

Additional roles will be played by Kumail Nanjiani (Eternals) and Indira Varma (Rome, Game of Thrones), among others.

25 May is also known as "Star Wars Day," this year marking the 45th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars (subsequently retitled A New Hope).

FUTURAMA revival ordered at Hulu

Animated SF sitcom Futurama is returning with new episodes for Hulu. The streamer has ordered a 20-episode eighth season of the show, which last aired new episodes in 2013 (although a Simpsons/Futurama crossover episode aired in 2014).

Created by Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Futurama debuted in March 1999 and ran for four seasons on Fox. Although critically acclaimed, the show never attracted audience figures close to that of The Simpsons and was cancelled in 2003. Comedy Central subsequently resurrected the show with four feature-length episodes in 2008, which were later split into four episodes apiece to make up fifth season. Comedy Central then commissioned two more seasons which aired from 2010 to 2013 before cancelling the show again. The show won six Emmy Awards during its time on the air.

Groening has subsequently created the animated fantasy comedy Disenchantment for Netflix, which released its fourth set of episodes today.

Groening and Futurama producer/developer David X. Cohen are producing the revival. Most of the original cast will return, with the only outstanding actor currently being John DiMaggio, who voiced sarcastic, alcoholic robot Bender. Hulu are currently negotiating with DiMaggio, but are willing to recast if necessary.

Production of the new season will begin this month, to air in 2023.

Saul Zaentz Company to sell its LORD OF THE RINGS screen and merchandising rights

The Saul Zaentz Company is to sell its long-standing screen and merchandising rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's work, which it has held since 1976.

United Artists struck a deal with J.R.R. Tolkien in 1968 to secure the screen rights to Tolkien's novels The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55), along with related merchandising rights. Tolkien had been reluctant to sell the screen rights, but had wanted to secure a legacy for his children and, in particular, to provide for the education of his grandchildren. United Artists worked on several prospective movie projects over the next decade, most notably a live-action collaboration with John Boorman which ultimately did not reach the screen (during research, Boorman developed ideas which led to his 1981 Arthurian movie Excalibur instead).

In 1976 United Artists decided to sell some of its rights to Tolkien's works to raise funds for more original projects. Film producer Saul Zaentz, fresh from the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, acquired the full rights to The Lord of the Rings and the production rights to The Hobbit; United Artists held onto the distribution rights to The Hobbit, figuring that any film adaptation would want to start with the earlier novel (these rights were later acquired by MGM when they bought United Artists). This led Zaentz to produce an animated version of the first half of The Lord of the Rings in 1978 with director Ralph Bakshi; the film was not successful enough to allow a sequel to be produced.

Zaentz established a new company called Tolkien Enterprises to handle the rights he'd acquired; the name was later changed to Middle-earth Enterprises to avoid confusion with the Tolkien Estate. Tolkien Enterprises entered into licencing and merchandising deals for various merchandise related to the property, including video games and a tabletop roleplaying game from Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE). In 1997, Zaentz entered into an agreement with New Line Cinema for a new, live-action film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, to be directed by Peter Jackson. Released as three movies between 2001 and 2003, the the trilogy made $3 billion at the box office and was critically acclaimed.

Zaentz continued to benefit from various licencing deals related to the books and films. Several years later, a complex deal was worked out between New Line, their new owners Warner Brothers and Hobbit rights-holders MGM to produce a film series based on The Hobbit. This trilogy was released between 2012 and 2014 to financial success, but a much more muted critical reception. Zaentz died in January 2014, shortly after the release of the second film in the trilogy.

Zaentz's death and the subsequent reversion of the live-action film rights from New Line to the Zaentz Company in 2020 seems to have spurred the company's decision to sell. The package includes the live-action film rights to The Lord of the Rings in full, the production rights to The Hobbit, spin-off merchandising rights to both properties (including tabletop games, video games, miniatures), theme park rights and rights related to live events based on both novels. The package is expected to raise at least $2 billion before any potential bidding begins.

The logical home for the rights is Amazon. Amazon reached a deal with New Line and Warner Brothers in 2017 as part of their project to bring a Lord of the Rings-branded television series to the air, boosted by an unprecedented $250 million deal with the Tolkien Estate granting them certain limited rights to other Tolkien writings (believed to incorporate strictly-limited rights to Tolkien's posthumous works The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales). Amazon subsequently acquired MGM, meaning they also now own the distribution rights to The Hobbit. Acquiring the Saul Zaentz Company's rights would reunite the full rights to The Hobbit for the first time since 1976, and would also clear the way for Amazon to helm any future remake of the films.

Amazon entered production on its Middle-earth prequel television series, The Rings of Power, in February 2020. The series, which has become the most expensive single television series ever made, is expected to debut its first trailer during the Super Bowl on Sunday. The show is currently scheduled to hit the air on 2 September this year.

It's possible other companies might also be interested in the deal, with Warner Brothers likely keen to investigate following their production (via subsidiary New Line) of the six successful live-action Middle-earth movies to date. Warner Brothers are also currently developing an animated Middle-earth movie, War of the Rohirrim, and that project entered production early enough to not be affected by this reversion of rights. However, the likely high price tag may dissuade Warner Brothers, or encourage them to enter into a partnership with Amazon over future possible projects.

The Book of Boba Fett: Season 1

Famed mercenary Boba Fett has laid claim to the former palace and territory of the crime lord Jabba the Hutt. The civic and criminal gangs which rule Tatooine warily watch to see how events will pan out, with Fett having to fend off challenges from Jabba's cousins, the Twins, and the merciless Pyke Syndicate. As Fett struggles to rule through respect, rather than fear, he revisits his past, how he escaped the Sarlaac beast and how his recovery was helped by unxpected allies.

The Book of Boba Fett is the long, long-awaited Star Wars spin-off focusing on the titular bounty hunter. A fan-favourite character ever since since he debuted in the otherwise woeful Star Wars Holiday Special, Fett received only limited screentime in the original trilogy, adding to his mystique, but was given more backstory in the prequel trilogy and the Clone Wars animated series. The second season of The Mandalorian saw his return as a grizzled veteran out to settle scores.

This series establishes a format it follows through its first four episodes: we follow both a present-day storyline as Fett wrestles with taking and keeping control of Mos Espa and also extensive flashbacks explaining how he survived the events of Return of the Jedi. Sometimes the flashbacks are dominant and the present-day storyline only gets a few scenes and sometimes the reverse. There is one key problem with this narrative structure: neither story has enough juice or momentum to warrant its screen time individually, let alone together.

The flashback stories flirt with dull colonialist tropes as Boba Fett teaches some Tusken Raiders how to be better warriors, whilst their acceptance of him into their tribe teaches him compassion and honour. This is set up to explain why Fett is now kinder, more willing to make friends and allies than the lone-wolf bounty hunter he was first introduced as. In the present day, we see Fett and ally Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) attempting to bring justice to the streets of Mos Espa through respect rather than fear. However, it all feels a bit half-hearted. Jabba inspired fear and respect through his ruthless crushing of the opposition and his power being backed by the Hutts. Boba has no such power base and it's unclear how he and effectively one hired gun and a bunch of droids can hope to replicate Jabba's power. This sets up a storyline as he recruits allies, including an irate Wookie bounty-hunter, a new pet rancor and a bunch of cyborg "mods" who race around the streets of Most Espa on hover-Vespas. It all feels a bit random, especially as the show sets up formidable enemies in the form of a brother and sister team of Hutts, but then immediately exiles them from the story in favour of the altogether vaguer Pyke Syndicate.

The Book of Boba Fett loses its story thread several times in the first four episodes, leaving the viewer to scratch their head about what the through-line of this series is. If Fett is no longer a ruthless, amoral bounty-hunter, why does he want to be a ruthless, amoral crime lord? If he learned respect and honour from the Tuskens living a simple life in the desert, why is he proceeding to take over the big cities with morasses of competing interests? It doesn't help that the show introduces potentially interesting characters and subplots and then does nothing with them.

Jennifer Beals plays the owner of a high-class cantina in Mos Espa and it's hinted that she has an interesting agenda. However, neither her character nor the stories of her cantina are fleshed out in any way. The exceptional Sophie Thatcher from Yellowjackets plays Drash, the leader of the cyborgs biker gang, and gets virtually nothing to do other than take part in a couple of very half-heated action sequences. Why does the Mod gang join forces with Boba? How does he retain their loyalty? Why does everyone treat Boba as a respected and honoured warrior when five seconds ago he was a feared, amoral bounty hunter and ruthless criminal? Why cast Danny Trejo in a fun role and do absolutely nothing more with him?

The Book of Boba Fett does remain watchable thanks to some sharp action set-pieces (particularly a fun train heist), but these questions keep mounting, leaving the viewer scratching their head on why anything is happening. Then the show takes a hard left-turn into real non-sequitur randomness.

With its fifth and sixth episodes, The Book of Boba Fett abruptly turns into Season 2.5 of The Mandalorian. We rejoin the adventures of Din Djarin as he learns to master the Darksabre and tries to pay a visit to Grogu (aka Baby Yoda). The problems with the rest of the series abruptly disappear as the show gains focus and the expense of its lead character. Boba Fett disappears for most of these two episodes and instead we get a concentrated thermonuclear blast of fan-service. R2-D2! Luke Skywalker! Ahsoka Tano! Cad Bane! Timothy Olyphant's lawman guy! That X-wing guy! It's all fun and well-handled, but also feels incredibly off-target.

Eventually the producers seem to remember this is the Boba Fett show and re-team the Mandalorian and Boba Fett for the finale, which does almost lives up to its billing. We get a reasonably impressive and long battle sequence, featuring rancors climbing buildings, gigantic versions of the destroyer droids from The Phantom Menace and more. It's visually impressive, if mildly incoherent: a droid fails to gun down Fett's assorted allies when they are standing five feet away and its powerful turbolasers, which took out an armoured personnel carrier in five seconds, is now unable to make much of an impression on a relatively thin stone wall.

Of course, applying cast-iron logic to Star Wars is not a winning strategy, so overlooking such pedantry there is some fun to be had from these battle scenes, particularly the two Mandalorian-armoured warriors working out a rhythm as they learn how to fight as a team (albeit a team that has apparently never heard of the term "cover"). Fett's assembled allies get a bit more time in the sun and story ends in a reasonably interesting place. But it all feels a bit underwhelming.

Some of the problems can be ascribed to the fact that The Mandalorian has just featured two seasons of a taciturn, badass warrior wearing Mandalorian armour and sorting out business, so having a third, and considerably more weakly-plotted, season of exactly the same thing feels redundant. Other issues can be perhaps ascribed to the problems of having a lead actor in his sixties being supposedly an accomplished warrior. Don't get me wrong, Temuera Morrison could certainly break most twenty-year olds in half, but Boba definitely does not live up to his lethal billing as a fighter here. The show also doesn't really address the age problem: Boba should only be around 41 years old at this point, so it's unclear why he looks and acts like a guy twenty years older, aside from the fanservice of using the "right" actor. They'd have been better using Daniel Logan who played the younger Fett in Attack of the Clones who is now in his mid-thirties and would be a better fit for the character's age, or setting the show twenty years later and focusing on a story about an older Boba facing retirement and obsolescence, although of course that would have reduced the chances for tying into the Mandalorian's storyline.

As the first season of The Book of Boba Fett (***), the show just about remains watchable through some effective action sequences, a few nice comic asides and Ming-Na Wen stealing every scene she's in. As an interlude of The Mandalorian (****), the show is altogether more successful, catching us up on what Din and Grogu are up to and setting up Season 3 of The Mandalorian in style. As a show overall, it feels lopsided, and, disappointingly, is at its weakest whenever Boba Fett and his confused motivations are on screen. The season is available now on Disney+ worldwide.

Tuesday 8 February 2022

RIP Douglas Trumbull

Douglas Trumbull, a key pioneer of Hollywood special effects and the director of classic SF movie Silent Running, has passed away at the age of 79.

Douglas Trumbull with one of his most famous creations, the Tyrell Corporation Headquarters Building from Blade Runner (1982)

Trumbull was born in 1942, the son of Donald Trumbull, an earlier pioneer in Hollywood vfx who had worked on The Wizard of Oz in 1939. Unsurprisingly, Trumbull grew up enamoured of movies, particular science fiction films and movies involving aliens. He studied to become an architect and illustrator but side-lined in to movie vfx when he was hired to work on informative films for NASA and the US Air Force. His work for NASA, as part of Graphic Films, attracted the attention of Stanley Kubrick and he was one of a number of Graphic Films illustrators hired to work on Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. When Kubrick moved production to the UK, Trumbull quite his job at Graphic Films to follow the production. Trumbull developed a solid working relationship with Kubrick, leading to him delivering arguably the film's crowning vfx achievement, the depiction of the Stargate sequence at the end of the film.

Despite the boost to his career from working on 2001, Trumbull found the experience of working for a perfectionist like Kubrick draining. Returning to Hollywood, he set up his own effects company and worked on The Andromeda Strain (1971), where he established a good working relationship with Robert Wise. He then directed his first feature film, Silent Running, which partially developed out of his frustration at not being able to realise the planet Saturn convincingly for 2001 (resulting in that movie switching its location from Saturn to Jupiter, famously too late for Arthur C. Clarke to change it in the accompanying novel). The "agro-ships" developed for Silent Running became a very popular design, and were redeployed several years later as part of the rag-tag, fugitive fleet in the original iteration of Battlestar Galactica (1978-79). Trumbull also worked on the TV series The Starlost (1973) as producer and vfx advisor.

Trumbull developed further projects as a director, but his career in that field stalled after Silent Running failed to make much of a dent at the box office. He returned to vfx work, first with The Towering Inferno (1974) and then for Steven Spielberg on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), a commitment which meant he was unable to work on Star Wars (1977) for George Lucas. Trumbull was called in at the last moment to provide the vfx for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), after the original effects house failed to produce usable footage. Trumbull worked around the clock for six months to deliver the number of shots required for his old colleague Robert Wise.

Trumbull was exhausted by his work on Star Trek and vowed again to never work for another director, but was lured back to Hollywood by Ridley Scott for his 1982 movie Blade Runner. Trumbull then directed his second and final film, Brainstorm, but the film was overshadowed by the mysterious death of its star Natalia Wood by drowning. The investigations and inquiries delayed the film's release by two years.

The experience encouraged Trumbull to quit working directly in the movie business, instead becoming a technical consultant. He contributed to the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios Theme Park and worked on the IMAX cinema format. In 2011 he was again lured back to work in the movie business, this time by director Terrence Malick for his film The Tree of Life, which he wanted to make with traditional, non-CGI techniques. Trumbull signed on as effects consultant and provided ideas on how to accomplish results which were less CG-dependent. In the following years Trumbull noted that directors like James Cameron and Peter Jackson were using variants on his pioneering "Showscan" technology (which recorded films at a higher frame-rate to allow for more convincing 3D imagery), which he had developed in the late 1970s but not been able to get to market.

In the latter part of the 2010s, Trumbull developed additional technical ideas, including the Magi system, which would have captured native 3D in 4K at 120fps. However, the muted and sometimes hostile response to Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy and its enhanced 48fps motion seems to have dented the medium's appetite for faster frame rates in films.

Trumbull was an important pioneer in the field of Hollywood special effects, developing ideas and techniques that became commonplace in film, as well as working on several of the most iconic vfx sequences in movie history: the Stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the passage of Saturn's rings in Silent Running, the alien mothership landing in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the USS Enterprise's encounter with the V'Ger cloud in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the iconic flying police car fly-by of Los Angeles in Blade Runner. A fantastic artist, he will be missed.

Monday 7 February 2022

LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER will drop its first trailer on Sunday

Amazon have confirmed that The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will drop its first trailer this coming Sunday, during the Super Bowl. This will be the first footage seen of the series, which began filming in Auckland, New Zealand almost exactly two years ago.

It is likely this will be a relatively brief teaser trailer rather than more in-depth footage. The show will not debut on Amazon until 2 September this year, so this is a continuation of the slow-burn marketing that kicked off in January with the unveiling of the show's title and continued last week with the unveiling of twenty-three posters for the show, each focusing on a different character (whose identity is obscured).

The Rings of Power is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, more than three thousand years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, and will tell a number of different stories from different points in the Age's history. These include the forging of the Rings of Power by the elven-smiths of Eregion, led by Celebrimbor, and the rise to glory and power of the mighty island kingdom of Numenor, the distant ancestors of characters like Aragorn and Denethor. Familiar Lord of the Rings characters like Isildur, Galadriel, Sauron and Elrond are expected to play key roles (albeit with new actors compared to the Peter Jackson movie trilogy), although the bulk of the characters and subplots are expected to be new.

Unlike Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie trilogies, this new work is not based directly on a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. Instead it draws on material about the Second Age and Numenor scattered through Tolkien's writings, including the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, a history in The Silmarillion and several stories, lineages and a map presented in Unfinished Tales. This series marks the first time that material from Tolkien or Middle-earth works other The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have ever been adapted, the result of an unprecedented $250 million deal between Amazon and the Tolkien Estate.

The Rings of Power is comfortably the most expensive ongoing television series ever made, with even the most conservative estimates putting a budget of $30 million per episode on it, twice that of the last two seasons of Game of Thrones. Some estimates suggest that Amazon have spent almost double that figure, which would mean that the show is having more money spent on it per-hour than Jackson's movie trilogy, even adjusted for inflation. Even for Amazon's effectively infinitely deep pockets, this is a huge project and much of the show's future television strategy hinges on it being a major success.

A second season of the show has already been commissioned and is expected to start shooting next month, although production has been moved from New Zealand to the United Kingdom for the second year.