Thursday, 11 August 2022
Sunday, 7 August 2022
1916. English sorcerer Roderick Burgess, distraught over the death of his son at Gallipoli, seeks to bind and imprison Death itself. His plan misfires and instead he captures Dream. Dream is unable to give Burgess what he wants, and eventually Burgess leaves him to rot in a glass prison in his cellar. During Dream's absence, his realm, the Dreaming, falls into disrepair and many dreams and nightmares escape into the world of the living. Some people also fall into a permanent sleep, a sleeping sickness that lasts decades and claims thousands. Eventually Dream escapes, and finds he must return his realm to order and reclaim the dreams and nightmares...even those who are prepared to do anything to retain their liberty.
Adapting The Sandman for the screen is a Herculean task. Neil Gaiman's 76-issue comic series ran from 1988 to 1996 and was collected as ten dense graphic novels, telling stories spanning thousands of years and involving a cast running into the hundreds. At the centre of it all is Dream or Morpheus, a non-human anthropomorphic personification of the concept of dreams. In many issues Dream doesn't even show up, or only has a brief cameo. The series alternates between epic story arcs and self-contained fables, and the tone can spin on a dime from comedy to tragedy to outright horror to fantasy to historical drama. Very minor moments in earlier issues can have massive ramifications fifty issues later.
There is also the legacy that Sandman has accrued. The series occupies a space in comics similar to what The Lord of the Rings does in fantasy novels, a dominant force whose sheer name value and beloved following makes tackling an adaptation a humbling and challenging task. Fortunately, at least in this case the original creator was on hand to help tackle the adaptation and guide it to the screen.
Netflix's The Sandman is an unabashed triumph, something that is a relief to say after so many recent streaming adaptations of beloved fantasy works were underwhelming, if not outright terrible. The one-two punch in recent weeks of Sandman and Amazon's splendid tackling of Brian K. Vaughan's Paper Girls may make one wonder if streaming services are turning a corner and are now producing better adaptations, but I suspect we will continue to see variable results moving forwards.
The Sandman works because it combines a talented cast of actors, directors, vfx personnel and behind the scenes crew with excellent judgement over how to develop the source material. Some episodes are lifted from issues of the comic almost verbatim, with Gaiman's almost-thirty-five-year-old material still feeling as fresh and engrossing as when it was originally committed to paper. Other episodes see the source material reimagined or tackled in a different way due to practical concerns, or cost, or not having the rights to certain characters or ideas, and in every case the judgement is sound.
The first season of the TV series adapts the first two graphic novels in the series, Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll's House, constituting the first sixteen issues of the comic. In the former story arc, Dream is imprisoned, escapes and sets about repairing the Dreaming and recovering three of the symbols of office (a ruby, a bag of sand and a helmet), which involves confronting a murderous killer, tracking down a demon-hunter in contemporary London and descending into Hell itself for a tense audience with Lucifer. In the latter, Dream sets out to recover three missing inhabitants of the Dreaming who escaped during his imprisonment, as well as investigating the appearance of a "dream vortex" which threatens the fabric of reality.
The adaptation collapses these two stories into ten episodes (some of them surprisingly short by modern standards) and overlaps them a little bit more than in the comics, positing the Corinthian (a brilliant Boyd Holbrook) as more of an antagonist for the entire season. The result is a compelling pace, with excellently-crafted cliffhangers demanding you watch just one more episode. This is enhanced by brilliant casting: Tom Sturridge has a hard job playing the taciturn, oft-emotionless Dream, but he manages the impossible by nailing Dream's implacability but also giving him brief bursts of humour and charisma. Vivienne Acheampong is outstanding as the fussy librarian Lucienne, who keeps the Dreaming ticking over in Dream's absence, and Kyo Ra is superb as Rose Walker, the closest thing we have a to a "regular human" lead in the story.
Other actors appear just for one episode or so, but are fantastic: David Thewliss is chilling as John Dee, Jenna Coleman is suitably bedrazzled as walking human dumpster fire Johanna Constantine (a rights-enforced gender flip of John "Hellblazer" Constantine) and Gwendoline Christie is fire and ice personified as Lucifer Morningstar. Ferdinand Kingsley is also outstanding as Hob Gadling, an ordinary human whom is gifted immortality by the Endless on a whim to see how he handles it, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste imbues Death with the whimsy, humour, wisdom and depth of her comics counterpart.
Contained within the first season was the tricky mandate to adapt three of the greatest individual issues of comics ever published into live-action: "Twenty-Four Hours" (here realised as episode five, 24/7), "The Sound of Her Wings" and "Men of Good Fortune" (here combined into episode six, The Sound of Her Wings). "Twenty-Four Hours" had to be changed a fair bit, due to the absence of a narrating figure and limits on the amount of horror even Netflix can put on screen, but the end result is still fascinating (and horrific). But The Sound of Her Wings is flawless, taking the two vaguely related stories from the comic (the first in which Dream spends a day watching his sister, Death, at work, and the second in which Dream spends one day every 100 years meeting Hob Gadling, who may or may not be a friend) and combining them into a beautiful hour of drama.
Flaws are almost non-existent: Mervyn Pumpkinead's CGI feels a bit stiff compared to the flawless vfx elsewhere, and the utterly brilliant end credits (which vary from episode to episode) barely have a chance to start before Netflix forces them off the screen for the next episode. And that's really about it.
The first season (*****) builds to a suitably epic conclusion, with quiet moments that readers of the comics know will have a seismic impact further down the road, but ultimately leaves the viewer shocked that the team have managed the impossible: they have taken The Sandman and made a superb television series out of it. The hope now is that they can continue.
The first season of The Sandman is available to watch on Netflix worldwide right now and I recommend you avail yourself of the opportunity to catch up on it as soon as possible.
Menhir Forest is in danger. The Archdruid has gone missing and a horrible growth, known as "the Cancer," is spreading through the forest, consuming everything in its path. Corrupted, dangerous creatures are appearing. The druids call upon three allies to help investigate and solve the crisis: Aava, the Archdruid's daughter and a keen archer; Leonhard, the Warden, a mighty warrior with a mysterious past that he cannot remember; and Oiko, a renegade Red Priest who has rejected the evil ways of his former colleagues.
Druidstone: The Secret of Menhir Forest is an intriguing game which mixes several influences: tactics games, like XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Final Fantasy Tactics; JRPGs, particularly the Final Fantasy series; and old-school games which rewarded tactical thinking and creative combinations of abilities, perhaps unsurprising given the same creative team worked on the throwback Legend of Grimrock series. It is more accessible than Legend of Grimrock, and can easily be summed up as "fantasy XCOM" (even if it's not quite as accomplished in that field as the Banner Saga trilogy).
The game proceeds from quest to quest with your fellowship assigned a primary objective, achieving which immediately ends the mission, and secondary objectives. Secondary objectives are not essential to complete the mission, but they are essential to acquire gemstones, which boost your abilities. You will very quickly learn that these gemstones are not optional and are urgently needed to make some of the later missions achievable in any fashion.
Each mission plays out in a familiar XCOM style, with a grid across which your characters can move and take actions. You can move up to an allowance and attack, but attacking does not end your movement, so can pop out of cover to get line-of-sight on an enemy, fire off an arrow or magical attack, and then nip back into cover, which creates lots of intriguing tactical options. One limitation is that if you are adjacent to an enemy, you cannot move away from them without triggering an opportunity attack (the same is also true for you), although several items and abilities do allow you to accomplish this.
You have a baseline of abilities and levelling up your character allows you to add new abilities. More important are the gemstones, which enhance the abilities you already have. These may allow you to add more damage or a status effect to an attack, or simply use the ability more often. Using abilities usually replaces an attack action, but some are free-to-use and can combine with attacks or movements to impressive effect. Your magic-users can utilised "Focus" to enhance their magical abilities, such as taking Fire from a single-target ability to an area-of-effect ability that can hit up to nine enemies if they are standing closely together (or if you manipulate or trick the enemy into bunching together). Oiko has an underrated ability to swap places with any unit in his line of sight (friend or foe) which allows you to increase the range of your melee characters' movement (Oiko moves up to his maximum, swap-teleports with a melee character who can then move to the maximum of their movement, allowing them to get into combat a round earlier than just waiting for the enemy to approach).
Progress is mostly linear, although at key points you have a choice of several missions to proceed with. You can also revisit previously-completed missions to gain more experience and gold, although the amount you gain each time you replay a mission dwindles with each playthrough. You can also only get bonus gems from any given mission once. This does allow you to sometimes complete a mission without getting the bonus objectives and then coming back later on once your overall strength has improved.
Graphically, the game is solid but not amazing and the music is pleasant, even if more than one tune only narrowly avoids have Square Enix's lawyers frowning and reaching for the telephone. The user interface is great and an "undo move" button is a welcome sight given how easy it is to accidentally move somewhere you didn't want to go. More annoying is the way that Oiko's "teleport" and "forcebolt" icons are very similar, meaning you sometimes end up swapping places with an enemy you meant to attack and vice versa.
In terms of story, the game is okay but the lack of any voiceovers at all feels a bit outdated (as much as it kept the game's budget down). There's also sometimes far too much dialogue before a mission starts, little of it interesting. The story is also a bit odd, one subplot where a character is possessed by a another being and stays that way for the rest of the game being weirdly under-explored. There's also a strange thing where you really (eventually) have five party-members, but to bring the fifth party member into the battle requires summoning them at the start of every mission. It feels like they should really have just been in the party all along.
Druidstone: The Secret of Menhir Forest (****) is not going to be winning any prizes for originality, but it is a tightly-designed fantasy tactics game with a nice story, interesting characters and some fiendishly designed missions. These make up for a sometimes confusing UI and a lack of voice acting in the game. The title is available now on PC.
Monday, 1 August 2022
- Disney+ delays STAR WARS TV show ANDOR
- KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC remake on hold at Aspyr
- Marvel outlines the future of their cinematic universe
- Netflix releases trailer for THE SANDMAN
- The first new AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER project will feature the original cast
- FOR ALL MANKIND renewed for a fourth season
- Amazon releases another RINGS OF POWER trailer
- Disney in talks to acquire overseas streaming rights to DOCTOR WHO
- WHEEL OF TIME formally renewed for a third season
- DUNGEONS & DRAGONS movie gets its first trailer
- A first look at the characters from the upcoming DUNGEONS & DRAGONS/FORGOTTEN REALMS movie
- Bear McCreary confirmed as THE RINGS OF POWER composer, Howard Shore to write main theme
- HBO releases full trailer for HOUSE OF THE DRAGON
- HBO dishes the dirt on GAME OF THRONES spin-off ideas
- JV Jones closing in on the end of ENDLORDS
- DUNE: PART TWO enters production
- First shots of the FALLOUT TV series emerge
- Amazon releases first full-length trailer for THE RINGS OF POWER
- SF model company Eaglemoss enters administration
- Astra Publishing acquire DAW Books
- Anthony Ryan's RAVEN'S SHADOW series optioned for television
- George R.R. Martin offers first WINDS OF WINTER update for a while: no release date yet, book maybe "300 pages" longer than any previous novel
- RIVERS OF LONDON re-optioned for television
- Multiple DOCTOR WHO specials for 60th Anniversary confirmed
- Rockstar shelves GTA4 and RED DEAD REDEMPTION remakes
- Amazon releases new teaser for THE RINGS OF POWER
- Amazon releases first trailer for PAPER GIRLS and confirms airdate
- Kyle MacLachlan joins the FALLOUT TV series
- Scott Bakker's brother shares some insights from the D&D campaign that created the world of Earwa
- SHADOWRUN RPG trilogy released on console
- New Middle-earth book announced for 2022
- Square Enix confirm CRISIS CORE remake this year, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE sequel in 2023
- HBO developing GAME OF THRONES sequel series about Jon Snow
- Fan-favourite STAR WARS book character debuts in live-action
- New AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER animated projects expand to three movies and a TV show
- Miranda Otto returning to LORD OF THE RINGS as Eowyn in animated project
- Bethesda shares first in-depth look at STARFIELD
- HOMEWORLD 3 delayed until 2023
- THE LAST OF US to make the jump to PC, releases images from the TV series
- Scott Lynch provides update on his GENTLEMAN BASTARD series
- BERSERK to be completed by Kentaro Miura's lifelong friend and collaborator
- SANDMAN gets full trailer and release date
- Sony's SPIDER-MAN video games coming to PC
- DRAGON AGE: DREADWOLF announced by BioWare
- First WARHAMMER 40,000 video roleplaying game announced
- Mess Effect: A Nitpicker's Guide to the Universe That Fell Apart by Shamus Young
- Mass Effect: Andromeda
- Thor: Love and Thunder
- Stranger Things 4
- Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
- Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi - Season 1
- The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
- The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby
- Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
- Agents of SHIELD: Season 5
- Hardspace: Shipbreaker
- Agents of SHIELD: Season 4
- Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Atlas of Ice and Fire
Disney+ has delayed the launch of its next Star Wars TV series, Andor, by three weeks. The show will now launch on 21 September.
Andor is a prequel to the movie Rogue One and follows a young Cassian Andor as he takes up arms against the Empire for the first time. However, the film also has a more epic scope and follows Mon Mothma and other dignitaries on Coruscant as they take their first faltering steps in opposing the tyrannical government that the Galactic Empire has become. Other storylines span the Star Wars galaxy instead of the very tight focus on single characters from The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The reason for moving Andor is unclear, but there is speculation that it was to move it out of a crowded launch window which would have seen it going head-to-head with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (17 August), House of the Dragon (21 August) and The Rings of Power (2 September).
Andor sees Diego Luna reprise his role as Cassian Andor from Rogue One. Forest Whitaker also returns as Saw Gerrera, a role he played in Rogue One and also in Star Wars: Rebels. Genevieve O'Reilly returns as Mon Mothma, a role she played in Rogue One and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Stellan Skarsgård also stars as Luthen. Adria Arjona, Kyle Soller, Fiona Shaw, Anton Lesser, Ben Miles, Robert Emms and David Hayman have unconfirmed roles.