What a Wicked-ly good idea for a film!

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Wicked.

It’s just been announced that the popular musical Wicked is getting a film adaptation – and I think that sounds like a brilliant idea! Wicked is exactly the kind of musical that should make for a wonderful work of cinema, and it’s amazing in a way that it’s only now, almost twenty years since it made its Broadway debut, that a film adaptation has been greenlit. You’d think it might’ve happened sooner!

I was very fortunate to see Wicked when it came to London’s West End (the name for the city’s theatre district) in 2006. Idina Menzel – better known in recent years for her role as Elsa in Frozen and Frozen II – played the lead role, and I feel incredibly lucky to have seen her perform live. There’s something about seeing a musical like Wicked on the stage that really elevates it and makes it incredibly memorable – I miss being able to go to the theatre far more than I miss the cinema sometimes.

Idina Menzel in 2007’s Enchanted. She played the role of Elphaba in Wicked on the stage.

We can’t talk about Wicked without at least acknowledging its popular progenitor: the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum’s series of children’s books about Oz had been popular in the early part of the 20th Century, but the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz is still what most people bring to mind first when they think about the fantasy setting. The film is an icon of cinema, and is responsible not only for the continued popularity of the setting, but was also hugely influential in the creation of the 1995 book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West – upon which the popular musical is loosely based.

If you’re interested in a novel about existentialism and that deals with adult themes like cruelty and the treatment of people who are perceived as “different,” then check out Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s a difficult, dense, and occasionally harrowing read – one that’s very different in many ways from the musical that it inspired. But it’s a fascinating look at the concept of a genuine outsider – and takes the Wicked Witch (who its author names Elphaba, in honour of L. Frank Baum) to completely different thematic places. Far from being a one-dimensional cackling villain, she’s given nuance and understandable motivations for behaving the way she does.

Cover for the 25th anniversary edition of the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

I came to the book after having seen the musical – I believe I bought my copy then and there in the theatre – and I was genuinely shocked at the complex themes and adult tone. Wicked is a beautiful musical, but many of the novel’s subtler themes are lost amidst the glitz, glamour, and greasepaint of the stage production.

Given today’s entertainment and media landscape, I feel all but certain that the film adaptation of Wicked will touch on these darker themes. An examination of what it means to be looked down on, mistreated, and pushed to breaking point are all themes which the novel encourages readers to consider, and while they may have felt too dark for a stage play in 2003, for a film in 2021 they feel pitch-perfect. Audiences have come to expect dark deconstructions of classics – and Wicked absolutely fits that mould.

Advertisement for Wicked outside the Apollo Victoria theatre in London circa 2006.
Photo Credit: Trekking with Dennis.

Wicked can also be seen to follow on from Disney productions like Maleficent and Cruella as a film that will make the villain its star. The Wicked Witch of the West is most famous for her villainous role in The Wizard of Oz, but Wicked puts her centre-stage and tells her story through a generally sympathetic – or at least understandable – presentation. It’s a deliberate twist on The Wizard of Oz, flipping the script to show heroes as villains, villains as heroes, and the grubby shades of grey in between both.

Nuance, shades of grey, and supposedly-realistic depictions of individuals are what has driven modern cinema – and modern entertainment in general. Audiences don’t want or expect to see “boring” heroes who are totally perfect and virtuous, nor villains who are purely evil for the sake of it. The ideas that there are two sides to a story, and that which side we root for is entirely dependent on who’s telling the story, are intrinsic to the source material of Wicked – and I’m sure that’s one of the most appealing things about the project to its writers, producers, and director.

Elphaba and Glinda from the London stage musical.
Picture Credit: Wicked the Musical London.

The film adaptation will be a musical, so we can expect at least some of the stage production’s classic hits to reappear. Defying Gravity is the show’s standout song, and it closes the first act in the theatre. Encapsulating a sense of individualism, self-reliance, and of course defiance, the powerful ballad sees the Wicked Witch set her choice in stone and fully commit to her rebellion against the Wizard.

Seeing Defying Gravity performed live is something I’ll never forget, and perhaps some folks will say that no cinematic adaptation of that scene could ever live up to its stage equivalent. But I’m more than willing to give it a chance – today’s cinematic visual effects are improving in leaps and bounds, and I’m genuinely intrigued to see what a film with a big budget can make of that exceptional moment.

Defying Gravity performed in London.
Picture Credit: Wicked the Musical London.

There can be a snobbishness to stage productions and the theatre, and perhaps this should be a longer discussion on another occasion. But as someone whose disability now precludes theatre visits, I get sick to the back teeth of hearing that a stage production is “irreplaceable” and that “one simply must see a production live” to get the best effect. The theatre has been beyond the reach of many people – physically and financially – for a long time, and there’s nothing wrong whatsoever with cinematic adaptations. If anything, Wicked will reach far more people in the weekend after its release as a film than the stage production has been able to in almost twenty years – and bringing such a powerful and beautiful production to more people and spreading art around should be celebrated, not denigrated.

But we’re drifting off-topic, and that discussion may be best saved for a longer article on another occasion.

There have been a number of attempts over the years to return cinema-goers to the Land of Oz. 1985’s Return to Oz was a financial flop – albeit one that has since picked up a bit of a cult following. I personally enjoyed what 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful brought to the table, and that film fared significantly better in financial terms – but wasn’t much of a hit with critics and reviewers. But no title since The Wizard of Oz can be said to have truly succeeded at bringing in audiences to the Land of Oz; Universal Pictures and director John M. Chu are clearly hoping to change that.

Mila Kunis and James Franco starred in Oz the Great and Powerful in 2013.

Wicked will have a lot of buzz around it simply because of the success of the musical. The stage production is one of the most successful musicals of all time, and aside from closures due to the pandemic has been running continuously since its 2003 inception. A lot of fans of the stage musical – myself included – will be very curious to see what the film adaptation will bring to the table.

The casting of pop music superstar Ariana Grande as Glinda and Cynthia Erivo as Elphaba has also raised a lot of interest. Grande’s name in particular will be a big draw, and while I’m not terribly familiar with her acting work there’s no denying she’s an incredible talent when it comes to singing.

Ariana Grande will star in Wicked.
Picture Credit: Ariana Grande via Instagram.

Wicked is one of those projects that you almost feel should have been made already! The source material – both the book and musical – are so great and so genuinely different that it seems like a no-brainer. Apparently the project has been kicked around for some time, languishing for a while in the dreaded “development hell” before being officially greenlit. But now that it’s official, I think it’s absolutely something to look forward to.

There have been some high-profile musical misses in recent years. 2019’s Cats adaptation shows just how badly wrong a film can go, and also proves that big names are no guarantee of success. Cats should be a warning to the producers of Wicked – and a warning to anyone involved in cinema in general, but that’s beside the point! As long as Wicked can avoid the numerous problems and pitfalls which befell Cats… actually scratch that, it’s too low of a bar. Let’s just say that I hope Wicked will be a success!

So that’s all, really. The film is in pre-production and we won’t see it any time soon. But it’s one to keep an eye on – I think it has a lot of potential.

The novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is the copyright of Gregory Maguire and/or HarperCollins. The musical Wicked – including its songs Defying Gravity et al. – is the copyright of Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman. The film adaptation of Wicked is the copyright of Universal Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Pixar’s Lightyear looks great!

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead from the Lightyear trailer.

We’re firmly in an era of sequels, spin-offs, and franchises. One type of story that a lot of companies are creating to squeeze another title out of their most popular creations is the “origin story” – basically a prequel that goes into detail about the background of a particular character. The Star Wars prequels showed how overexplaining a classic character can be more of a negative than a positive, but franchises push on regardless. From Willy Wonka to Hannibal Lecter, backstories abound in fiction.

Buzz Lightyear is not a character I would have ever chosen to write an entire origin story for. For one thing, Buzz Lightyear is a toy – he doesn’t have an origin story; he was made in a factory and shipped out to a toy shop where Andy’s family bought him! But I guess Lightyear isn’t taking that approach!

Buzz Lightyear has come to life!

The film’s trailer, which was a surprise release a couple of days ago, seems to show a “real” Buzz Lightyear inhabiting a sci-fi world. All of the elements that we know of were present: his rocket-ship, his colourful spacesuit, Star Command, and even his unrealistically large Desperate Dan-esque chin. But instead of simply being a toy for kids to play with, Buzz seems to be a fully-real person in his own right.

This isn’t actually the first attempt at that concept. Though I haven’t seen it, there was a short-lived television series called Buzz Lightyear of Star Command which aired in 2000-2001 and even spawned a video game adaptation for the PlayStation, Dreamcast, PC, and Game Boy Colour. The series might be one you remember, but it doesn’t seem to have been as big as some of the other Disney projects of the era – I hadn’t even heard of it until researching the topic for this article!

2000-2001 television show Buzz Lightyear of Star Command had a similar underlying premise.

It’s possible that Buzz Lightyear of Star Command’s remaining superfans might be treated to an easter egg or two in the new film, so if you fall into that category keep your eyes peeled! Disney and Pixar have a longstanding habit of harkening back to older titles and past iterations of their popular franchises, so I wouldn’t be shocked at all if a couple of sneaky references or callbacks to Buzz Lightyear of Star Command make it into the final cut of the film!

The trailer itself was exciting and surprisingly had more of a dark tone than I might’ve expected. There were some moments that clearly set up dangerous moments for Buzz as he goes on his adventure, and the dark, engraved door opening to reveal a red glow was incredibly well-done and provided a lot of tension. It almost gave me a Doom vibe – odd as that might sound!

Who will emerge from this door?

Buzz Lightyear as a character has, since his inception, been a uniquely Disney take on mid-century sci-fi. The likes of Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, and even Star Trek: The Original Series are present in his characterisation and aesthetic, deliberately so. But of course the biggest influence over Buzz Lightyear’s charmingly retro design comes from Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland and Epcot concepts – which have since been brought to life at Disney’s theme parks.

Anyone who’s ever ridden Space Mountain can see clear evidence of its inspiration in the trailer for Lightyear – Buzz’s rocket-ship resembles the ride vehicles and even the launch platform looked an awful lot like the track of the ride. The rings Buzz seemed to be flying through at one point also bore a striking resemblance to Space Mountain.

I definitely got Space Mountain vibes from the trailer.

A big part of the trailer concerned Buzz Lightyear taking a trip in his rocket-ship. There were influences from a lot of astronaut films and television shows in the way he was preparing for the journey, and he seems to have a colleague or friend at Star Command who’s helping him with his mission; perhaps someone who will serve as a point of contact at mission control.

The animation in the trailer was outstanding. Seeing Buzz’s ship slingshotting around the star was truly striking, and reminded me that Pixar is renowned as one of the world’s best animation studios for a reason! As a Trekkie that moment reminded me a lot of slingshot effects in both Star Trek: The Original Series and more significantly in the 1986 film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but there was also more than a little influence from more modern sci-fi titles like Interstellar in the way the star in particular was presented. Overall it was an astonishingly beautiful sequence.

The slingshot sequence was especially cool.

We have no idea at this stage what the story of Lightyear might be. Chris Evans – of Marvel fame – will star as the titular hero, but we don’t know who will play the film’s villain, Emperor Zurg. Zurg has been part of the mythos of Buzz Lightyear since his first appearance, but had a more fleshed-out role in Toy Story 2. Just like it’ll be interesting to see a “real-life” version of Buzz, so too will it be interesting to see how Emperor Zurg makes the jump from toy to real person.

If we continue the mid-century sci-fi analogy from earlier that we know Buzz Lightyear as a character draws from, I see Emperor Zurg as filling a role similar to the likes of Flash Gordon’s Ming the Merciless – but with an aesthetic inspired by early depictions of robots and even Darth Vader. I’ll watch for a casting announcement with trepidation – getting the right person who can play the character in suitably over-the-top style could be crucial to the film’s success!

Buzz’s classic spacesuit.

I’m not sure what to make of the toy cat in the trailer. Lightyear has been described by Disney and Pixar as “the definitive origin story” of the character, and while we’re assured that he is fully human (or at least not a toy) in the film, the presence of what seemed to be a toy cat – whose name is Sox – made me wonder! Is there something else going on here?

On the other hand, Pixar’s press release talked about the original inception of Buzz Lightyear during the creation of Toy Story. They specifically talked about how they envisioned the toy Buzz Lightyear as being merchandise for a blockbuster movie about an action hero – and how Lightyear is that movie! Kind of a film-within-a-film thing, except that Lightyear is a feature-length title in its own right!

What’s the deal with this cat?

The trailer was genuinely one of the best and most interesting that I’ve seen in months, and Lightyear is firmly on my list of titles for 2022! The film is currently scheduled for a June release window, and will presumably hit cinemas first before heading to Disney+ after a month or two – barring any pandemic-related delays or closures.

The retro sci-fi vibe that Lightyear seems to be wholeheartedly embracing appears to give the film a delightfully old-school charm, with clear influences from Disney’s Tomorrowland in particular. That alone would be enough to pique my curiosity, but the fact that there were some amazing visual effects and what seems to be a slightly mysterious and interesting story has seen Lightyear come from nowhere to rocket its way onto my list for next year. I’m genuinely looking forward to this one now!

Lightyear is scheduled to be released on the 17th of June 2022. Lightyear is the copyright of Pixar and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five horror films to watch this Halloween

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

With Halloween fast approaching, it seems like a good time to once again dabble in the spookier side of cinema! Horror has never been my favourite genre, but at this time of year I’m not averse to the occasional spooky film.

This short list is a follow-up to a similar list I wrote last Halloween, so if you’d like to see five more horror films that I recommend, you can do so by clicking or tapping here.

It’s about to get spooky!

Horror as a genre can be incredibly varied. From jump-scares to the psychological terror of something unseen, and with such diversity of monsters, ghouls, and creepy critters, there are a lot of different titles that put their own spin on the horror concept. Whether you’re looking for serial killers, vampires, zombies, or demons, chances are you can find an excellent horror film that successfully brings them to screen!

I confess that I’m particularly sensitive to jump-scares, and now that I don’t feel the same kind of pressure to join in with horror titles as I did in my younger years (when watching horror films was almost a rite of passage!) I tend to favour films that don’t go for that style. Despite that, I hope you’ll find a varied mix of titles on this list!

Number 1: The Birds (1963)

Those birds are up to something…

Alfred Hitchcock is still considered one of the greatest directors of the horror and thriller genres, and for good reason. His pioneering style put viewers right at the centre of his stories, and every shot and every sequence was meticulously planned and crafted to maximise suspense and fear. The Birds is one of Hitchcock’s later films, coming toward the end of his career and following on from the likes of Vertigo and, of course, Psycho.

As a kid, I can remember being terrified by The Birds. The slow, tense build-up that Hitchcock’s films are known for is on full display in the title, with every scene and sequence gradually ramping up the threat to a terrifying climax. But more than that, the sheer randomness of birds as the “villain” of the piece is genuinely unsettling.

Birds are generally harmless. The worst a bird might do is steal your chips at the beach, but The Birds asks a question no one ever thought to ask before: what if they were working together to a menacing and aggressive end? It’s this premise – taking something harmless that we generally pay little attention to and making it scary – that makes the film succeed.

Number 2: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow.

Johnny Depp stars in this adaptation of the famous Washington Irving story, and the film brings the Headless Horseman to life in genuinely frightening fashion! The story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman is an old one, dating back to the early 1800s, and Washington Irving is considered one of the first great American authors.

Unlike the earlier Disney adaptation, Sleepy Hollow takes a distinctly adult horror tone. Director Tim Burton makes a number of changes to the source material, making the film an unpredictable ride even for those familiar with the original short story. Johnny Depp puts in a wonderful dramatic performance as Ichabod, too.

There’s something inherently frightening about the undead, and the first time the Headless Horseman is seen on screen manages to capture that feeling pitch-perfectly. Johnny Depp manages to perfectly convey Ichabod’s fear as well, ramping up the tension and making Sleepy Hollow a truly scary and spooky watch!

Number 3: The Omen (1976)

Gregory Peck as Robert Thorn in The Omen.

The Omen is an outstanding example of how to build up fear and tension without resorting to too many jump-scares or a lot of gore! It’s also a deeply disturbing film because of the implications of shadowy cults and conspiracies – and that’s before we even get to the birth of the literal anti-Christ!

When I first watched The Omen I was left unsettled for days afterwards. There’s a specific scene that I won’t spoil for you, but the build-up to a particularly shocking reveal in an Italian graveyard – and the implications it had for the film’s protagonist – left me stunned and disturbed! That particular memory is still vivid for me now, decades later.

As a film about demons, Satan, and the anti-Christ, The Omen was designed to be shocking and unsettling, especially to folks with any kind of religious convictions. And it succeeded beyond its wildest ambitions, becoming an absolute classic of the horror genre and spawning a franchise that still gets periodic updates and instalments today. Oh, and if you’re looking for a Star Trek connection, the film’s lead, Gregory Peck, was the grandfather of Ethan Peck – star of Discovery Season 2 and soon to be appearing in Strange New Worlds!

Number 4: 28 Days Later (2002)

The infected are coming!

With 28 Days Later, director Danny Boyle reinvigorated the zombie genre in a new and truly terrifying way! Prior to the film’s 2002 release, most zombies in cinema followed a pattern first popularised by George A. Romero in Night of the Living Dead – slow, shuffling, mindless creatures that were scary en masse but could be outrun by anyone fit enough. 28 Days Later introduced us to the infected – humans who were still alive but infected with a virus that turned them into killing machines… killing machines that could sprint!

Seeing the zombie horde running after the film’s protagonists was a new and incredibly shocking experience in 2002. Though a number of titles have used this more aggressive style of zombie in the years since, for me the portrayal in 28 Days Later remains one of the best and most frightening.

Technically not a “zombie” film as the infected aren’t undead, 28 Days Later nevertheless has a post-apocalyptic feel that is present in a lot of zombie fiction. Anyone who’s seen The Walking Dead (or read the original comic books) should note an eerie similarity in the way 28 Days Later opens… and remember that the film was released before the first issue of the comics!

Number 5: The Shining (1980)

Here’s… a classic horror film!

The Shining is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, and as such it’s an unpredictable and very disturbing ride. Stanley Kubrick directed one of his last films, and adapted the book in truly inspired style. Some of the best-known moments in The Shining, including the famous line referenced above, weren’t present in the original book, and the film adaptation is arguably a rare example of a film surpassing its source material.

The film features some truly outstanding special effects. The “blood flood” scene has gone on to become iconic, and was shot in miniaturised form using detailed scale models. The practical special effects give the film a unique charm that today’s CGI can’t match, and in some cases the use of incredibly realistic practical effects ramps up the fear factor.

Jack Nicholson gave the world one of cinema’s most iconic scenes. But The Shining is so much more than that, and his character’s slow descent into madness is what makes the film so tense, exciting, and frightening.

So that’s it! Five horror films to get you into the Halloween spirit.

Don’t have nightmares…

Remember to check out last year’s list for five more horror titles you might enjoy – you can find it by clicking or tapping here. And if you’re interested to see my review of last year’s television adaptation of another Stephen King work, The Stand, you can find that by clicking or tapping here.

I tried to put together a collection of films with different themes, styles, and subjects! Horror is an incredibly varied genre, and just in the five films above we have the natural world turned against us, an undead horseman, Satanism, technically-not-zombies, and finally a film with ghosts and a mad man. And we’ve barely scratched the surface!

Halloween is almost upon us, so stay tuned over the next few days – I have a couple more spooky ideas before the main event rolls around!

All titles included on the list above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, production company, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The odd duality of the Alien franchise

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Alien franchise, including films and video games.

Perhaps Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien wasn’t supposed to spawn a decades-long franchise. It was a great standalone horror film, but even as the credits rolled there was a sense that its Xenomorph – the titular alien – was a one-trick pony.

A while ago we discussed one of the problems Star Trek has had with the Borg. In short, even the most intimidating villain can end up feeling tame once we’ve seen our heroes defeat them over and over and over again, and certainly by the latter part of Voyager’s run the Borg had fallen into that trap. The Daleks in Doctor Who have likewise lost almost all of their intimidating factor. For the Alien franchise this is compounded by the Xenomorphs being the only real adversary – and the focal point of the franchise’s films and video games.

The Alien franchise only really has one kind of alien.

Speaking of video games, it was the recently-launched Aliens: Fireteam Elite that prompted this article and this consideration of the peculiar duality of the Alien franchise. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a co-op game that sees players team up to take the fight to the Xenomorphs, killing the titular aliens by the dozens. It’s very much an action-shooter game, and the cannon fodder getting in the way of players’ guns are the Xenomorphs.

Contrast this to the single Xenomorph that Ripley encountered in Alien, or even the Xenomorph that provided the jump-scares in 2014’s Alien: Isolation video game. A single alien is all it takes in those titles; one Xenomorph is a significant adversary for a whole crew of humans. Some entries in the franchise go down this route, making the Xenomorphs out to be almost invincible, unstoppable killing machines. Other entries portray them as weaker, more easily-defeated creatures that are often little more than a bump in the road for our heroes on the path to victory.

The new video game Aliens: Fireteam Elite prompted this article.

This is the duality of the Alien franchise; a franchise that perhaps doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. On the one hand we have the horror vibe of the original film, followed up in titles like Alien: Isolation. These horror-style Alien films and games bring with them a single Xenomorph at a time – or at most a small group – and shows how utterly unprepared and incapable humans are of defeating them in combat. On the other hand we have action-oriented entries in the series – kicking off with Aliens and epitomised by titles like Fireteam Elite – where multiple Xenomorphs can be seemingly easy to defeat.

Many sci-fi properties can manage this kind of dual tone. There are moments in Star Wars, Star Trek, and others which fit both the action or horror moulds at different points, but the key difference is that those franchises aren’t trying to use the same alien race in both cases. Some alien adversaries can be all-conquering, unstoppable foes – like the aforementioned Borg or Daleks. Others can be cannon fodder that are easily dispatched – like Stormtroopers.

Doctor Who’s Daleks have been worn out as a threatening adversary by too many stories and too many defeats.

Imagine a Star Wars film or video game where a single Stormtrooper was painted as a terrifying villain. It would work on some level, perhaps, depending on how well the story had been set up and who the protagonist was. But it’d be difficult to pull off successfully because of how we’ve come to see Stormtroopers over past iterations of the franchise – as easily-killed cannon fodder.

As Star Trek and Doctor Who began to wear out the Borg and the Daleks respectively, the fear factor these once-mighty aliens inspired started to evaporate. At the back of our minds we felt that it was only a matter of time until our heroes prevailed – because they’d done so on so many past occasions. Like with Stormtroopers in the analogy above, we stopped fearing what had come to be seen as cannon fodder.

Stormtroopers have never felt particularly threatening in the Star Wars franchise due to the role they play.

And that’s where the Alien franchise is today, at least in some respects. Every action-heavy entry in the franchise diminishes the threat and fear factor of the Xenomorphs. That doesn’t mean that making another horror title in the franchise will become impossible, because good scripts and clever writing can go a long way to carrying a film. But it does mean that the Xenomorphs themselves feel less intimidating with every outing, and will eventually reach a point where they feel played out.

I’ve recently argued that Doctor Who should probably go back on hiatus. Sixteen years have passed since its 2005 revival, and the show has pretty much run its course. The Alien franchise is a little different, because it releases fewer instalments further apart, but eventually it will reach that point if care isn’t taken to remain in control of the kinds of stories it wants to tell.

The Xenomorph Queen in Aliens.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite didn’t need to be a game with the Alien franchise license. It could’ve swapped out the Xenomorph textures for generic aliens or monsters, or it could’ve swapped them out for Borg drones and slapped a Star Trek label on. Nothing about the game looks or feels particularly “Alien” except for, well, the aliens. The story, such as it is, wouldn’t have to make many changes if the Alien license weren’t used. And under those circumstances, I have to question why it was released and why the Alien franchise continues to confuse its messaging.

Though Prometheus has made a creditable attempt to expand the lore and mythos of the Alien franchise, the Xenomorphs remain its principle alien monster. Unlike Star Trek or Doctor Who, which are able to draw on many different aliens, monsters, and settings, Alien really just has the Xenomorphs to offer. This means that the danger the franchise is in from the cheapening and diminishing of its only real foe is all the more significant.

Too many games like Aliens: Fireteam Elite will change the way audiences perceive the Xenomorphs – and make it harder to tell scary stories involving them.

Alien doesn’t work without the Xenomorphs any more than The Creature from the Black Lagoon would work without the creature from, y’know, the black lagoon. Alien doesn’t have to always use the same horror tone for its films and video games, but the move to an action-focused story naturally requires a more disposable cast of adversaries. With only one alien around, the Xenomorphs are dropped into that role; a role which, I would argue, does not really suit them nor fit with many of their depictions in the franchise.

Video games like Doom and films like Men in Black show how much fun it can be to have an action-heavy title that cuts down swathes of monsters or aliens. That concept works well in both forms of media, and audiences lap it up. But I guess it feels fundamentally different to what Alien offered in 1979, and even though its sequel Aliens in 1986 had already begun the process of transforming the franchise into something more action-oriented, that feeling persists.

1986’s Aliens had already started to transform the franchise – and the Xenomorphs.

Perhaps if the Alien franchise had stuck firmly to action after 1986 we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But in films and in video games, the franchise continues to try to do both action and horror. It almost seems as though every other title will come out with an alternate theme and tone; horror one time, action the next. This leaves the Xenomorphs in an odd situation. Their original appearance in Alien is still frightening, but every subsequent appearance in action titles, where they’re far more easily dispatched, has turned them into something less terrifying. There’s no longer a sense that Xenomorphs are truly unstoppable.

How will this play into the upcoming Alien television series? I’m not sure. But if you ask me, the people in charge of the Alien franchise need to very carefully consider their next moves. The style and tone of upcoming titles is incredibly important to get right – and once settled, it’s important to stay consistent. Right now it feels like there are two kinds of Xenomorph: the terrifyingly unstoppable ones seen in Alien, and the cannon fodder of games like Fireteam Elite. The danger is that the cannon fodder perception will creep into productions that want to have a horror vibe, and that could absolutely ruin them.

The Alien franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of 20th Century Studios and The Walt Disney Company. Some promotional artwork courtesy of the aforementioned companies. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Suicide Squad – film review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Suicide Squad and other recent DC titles.

I always caveat my reviews of comic book films by saying that I’m not really a huge comics fan. I never read comic books as a kid, and while there have been some cinematic adaptations that worked well, for the most part the highest praise I can give most comic book films is that they’re moderately entertaining action fare.

My most recent encounter with a DC Comics film was Zack Snyder’s Justice League – and I really didn’t enjoy that film. But in 2016 I’d watched the first Suicide Squad and enjoyed it for what it was, so I figured I’d check in with this film to see what it had to offer. First, though, I had to figure out what The Suicide Squad is. Is it a sequel? A reboot? A soft reboot? In short, what’s going on with the confusingly similar title?

Poster for The Suicide Squad.

DC has struggled to compete with Marvel in terms of film adaptations, despite having just as many well-known and well-regarded superheroes at its disposal. Following disappointing results with some of the films of the DC Extended Universe, including the original cut of Justice League, DC opted to rework its cinematic offerings, and I think that’s why this film is called The Suicide Squad instead of Suicide Squad 2. DC hasn’t done a good job of communicating all of this, though, at least not to casual viewers. Hardcore DC fans who follow all the ins and outs of the brand and its news will know what to expect from The Suicide Squad, but there’s no doubt in my mind that its confusing name and the deeply muddled state of DC’s film universe is going to be baffling to many would-be viewers – if not outright offputting.

Compounding this was the fact that most of the cast of Suicide Squad didn’t reprise their roles this time around. Will Smith, Cara Delevigne, Jared Leto, and several other big names either chose not to return or saw their roles cut when the DCEU’s plans changed.

Though The Suicide Squad is tonally similar to its predecessor, when compared to the likes of Zack Snyder’s Justice League – a film which tried so desperately hard to take itself seriously that it became unintentionally funny – there’s a wild shift in tone. The dark humour and lack of seriousness in The Suicide Squad is a massive improvement over a film like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and a far better fit for its source material, which was something I appreciated! But it does make DC’s recent cinematic output feel completely disjointed; wild jumps in tone and style make the two films feel like they couldn’t possibly be part of one supposedly-connected, ongoing world. Marvel comparisons again abound because that franchise handles this so much better. Marvel projects are generally consistent in basic things like their style and tone, and it’s seldom the case that one comes away from a Marvel film feeling it’s wildly out of kilter with other parts of the franchise.

The Suicide Squad had a light-hearted tone and knew what kind of film it wanted to be.

Humour is a very subjective thing, and not every joke or comedic moment will have landed for every viewer. But for me, the film’s sense of humour was generally on point. The Suicide Squad didn’t strive to take itself too seriously, and at the same time was able to successfully communicate the stakes involved for the protagonists. That isn’t a line that’s easy to walk sometimes, yet the film broadly stayed on the right side of it.

Keeping a relatively lighthearted tone throughout was to the film’s benefit. Not only was it appropriate for a story that bordered on the ridiculous (a giant starfish from outer space) but it provided The Suicide Squad with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. A lighter style allowed the film to embrace much of the silliness that comes from comic book characters and their visual styles, and compared to other DC titles The Suicide Squad leaned into campiness in its costuming and took in its stride some truly wacky concepts, characters, and premises.

The Suicide Squad has a pretty wacky and silly premise, and the film leaned into that in a big way.

There were some definite visual misses in The Suicide Squad. The CGI and green-screen work was far from perfect, and though the worst moments were few and far between, in a film with a budget of more than $180 million that really shouldn’t be happening in the first place. There were some “uncanny valley” moments with the CGI, particularly CGI moments involving the film’s human characters. Then there were some moments where the use of green-screens was just incredibly obvious to the point of being offputting.

Interestingly, these issues also plagued Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In my review of that film I wondered if some of the visual effects misses might’ve been due to the lower budget afforded to the re-editing of the film. It now seems as though that wasn’t the case; DC just isn’t especially good at green-screen and CGI moments. In a film that relies heavily on visual effects, this isn’t just noticeable – it actively detracts from the experience and can completely ruin suspension of disbelief.

One of several green-screen moments that missed the mark.

After his recent controversy for apologising to the Chinese dictatorship, it was ironic – no, it was grotesque – to see John Cena playing a character whose defining characteristic is is love of freedom and peace. Though this character was always presented as a semi-antagonist, something about the casting really got under my skin. Cena’s portrayal of Peacemaker was fine – competent, even. But knowing how the actor favours Chinese money over basic human rights, seeing him spouting lines like “I would do it for liberty” was vomit-inducing.

Idris Elba took the leading role in The Suicide Squad and put in a creditable performance as a mercenary “with a heart of gold;” taking on the dangerous mission for the sake of his daughter. Giving Bloodsport this extra motivation added an extra dimension to the character and kept him believable – despite the wacky situation and the chaos that unfolded around him. Elba had previously played Krall, the villain in Star Trek Beyond, and it was fun to see him in a different role on this occasion.

Idris Elba’s Bloodsport was the main hero of the piece.

Margot Robbie got top billing alongside Idris Elba, but in 2016 I felt her forced “American” accent as Harley Quinn was just plain awful, and unfortunately that situation has not improved in the slightest in the years since. Robbie put in an otherwise impressive performance as the damaged, psychotic Quinn, but her accent was never believable and that did detract from the character at points.

The surprise star for me was Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior, who played Ratcatcher 2. Her deeply emotional portrayal cut through what was a strange and even silly premise to become an unexpectedly impressive performance in a film laden with established stars. Her character arc, coming to terms with the loss of her father and finally putting to use his odd invention, was elevated far beyond what it could’ve been by Melchior’s performance, which is even more impressive considering that The Suicide Squad is one of her first ever English-speaking roles. She provided vulnerability and emotion to the character – and the paternal relationship between Bloodsport and Ratcatcher 2, while not fully developed, really formed the film’s entire emotional core.

Daniela Melchior put in an amazing and emotional performance as Ratcatcher 2.

The decision to begin the film with a fake-out – setting up a secondary “suicide squad” and then watching them get slaughtered – was a bold decision. Setting up a different crop of characters, and framing that part of the film from the point of view of one of them, did succeed at setting up Harley Quinn’s storyline and at communicating the stakes involved and the level of risk to the main characters. But at the same time it felt cheap; setting up minor characters – redshirts – to be killed off allowed most of the other main characters to survive their so-called suicide mission. Only one of the principal characters on Bloodsport’s team ended up dead by the film’s end, which might not be enough for a film literally called The Suicide Squad.

Perhaps the decision for all but the Polka Dot Man to survive is DC’s way of teeing up another sequel. If that’s the case, I would definitely be interested to see Bloodsport and Ratcatcher 2 return for another outing. The disjointed way DC still runs its cinematic arm makes me wonder if they have any such plans, though – and if they do, whether it’ll ever happen!

The characters from the film’s opening act were all killed (except one).

In a film with a larger cast, some characters can end up feeling underused, and Peter Capaldi’s Thinker definitely fell into that trap. Set up early on in the film as one of the main villains of the piece, he ended up being little more than a one-dimensional hurdle for other characters to blaze past on their way to completing their mission. Peter Capaldi is an actor I’ve admired in the past, yet in recent years he never seems to land roles that are honestly worthy of his time. His tenure in Doctor Who saw lacklustre stories, and now his role in The Suicide Squad was, at best, a run-of-the-mill “mad scientist” trope.

It was a little disappointing we didn’t spend more time with the Thinker, nor really learn what he was doing at Project Starfish. A brief scene showed off a number of caged folks infected with the Starfish’s face-huggers and a few gory-looking but unexplained experiments. Yet the Thinker, despite being the closest The Suicide Squad got to a supervillain, had no motivation, no real accomplishments, and seemed to exist simply to fill a hole in the script.

Peter Capaldi’s character of the Thinker felt underused.

The Suicide Squad wasn’t shy in its criticism of American foreign policy, particularly the way the United States can be selective when it comes to favouring liberty and human rights. There were echoes of American policies toward Cuba and nations in Central America in its portrayal of Corto Maltese, as well as the United States’ general policy of supporting “pro-American” dictators all over the world.

These themes have been explored better and in more detail in other films, and while their inclusion in The Suicide Squad wasn’t necessarily bad, it didn’t exactly make for biting satire either. Nor was it particularly original; the political themes present in the narrative had things to say that have already been said both in entertainment and non-fiction on many other occasions, and the film added nothing to this conversation that hasn’t already been discussed and dissected in many other projects. In that sense, the political stuff was a bit unnecessary. It added little to the film except to elevate the ambiguous morality of Viola Davis’ character of Waller, the leader of the suicide squad programme.

The political themes didn’t really add a lot to the film, and similar criticisms of American policies have been done better in other titles.

Seeing Waller get her comeuppance from members of her own team was satisfying, and perhaps this was the best-executed moment on that side of the film. Waller had been presented as ruthless in the first Suicide Squad, but on this occasion we saw her team grow increasingly uncomfortable with the way she handled the squad and their mission, culminating in her getting wacked on the head. It was definitely a satisfying moment, but as with a couple of other storylines it feels as though there was no real resolution to what happened between Waller and her team.

Even the post-credits scene, which revealed that the Peacemaker survived, didn’t see Waller getting her own back or even interacting with her team in any way. After being knocked unconscious she never says another word on screen to any of them, and that conflict, which had been expertly built up in a number of sequences across the film, feels like it reached its climax then fizzled out. Perhaps it’s something else to be addressed in a sequel?

Perhaps a future sequel plans to look at the conflict between Waller and her team in more detail?

The Starfish alien, which was the reason for the story, was definitely one of the weirder villains I’ve seen in any comic book film to date. It was familiar enough to not be frightening in its appearance, yet it was also eerie in the way it moved. The face-hugging smaller starfish were like something right out of sci-fi horror classic Alien, but despite being unoriginal were still intimidating enough at first to seem to offer a degree of threat.

The fact that the suicide squad themselves were so easily able to fight off the smaller, mind-controlling starfish was poor, though. I’ve said this before, but the concept of a zombie virus, Borg assimilation, or anything else that can control minds and turn allies into enemies is deeply frightening; the thought of losing control of one’s body is, for many folks, a fate worse than death. Yet when it really could’ve mattered, The Suicide Squad wasted this concept. The only characters we saw get caught by the face-huggers were nameless goons (and one villain). As a result, the Starfish alien lost its only genuinely threatening aspect pretty quickly.

The smaller mind-controlling starfish only seemed to harm minor characters and extras.

It was still a giant monster to fight, and the squad had trouble taking it down. Because of the name of the film there was a sense that any of them could’ve been in danger, yet as noted only one character ended up being killed off during this climactic final battle. I had become somewhat attached to the likes of King Shark and Ratcatcher 2 (and the adorable Sebastian the rat) so on the one hand I’m glad that they all made it. On the other, it feels as though there could’ve been more casualties.

A film called The Suicide Squad and which sets up the premise of a forlorn hope type of mission seems like it should’ve ended with more casualties. Even one of the characters who appeared dead – Peacemaker – was later revealed to have survived, so at least part of the film’s premise doesn’t feel fulfilled. Though losing a protagonist is almost never fun, in some stories it feels right – and The Suicide Squad was certainly a story that could’ve seen more of its protagonists fail to make it home.

The main characters (bar one) survived to the end of the film.

Other superhero films using a team-up premise often set up at least some of their characters beforehand. As a result we know going in what to expect from them. In the case of The Suicide Squad, one negative point against the film is that none of the characters really felt like villains. We didn’t know any of them (except Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn) before the film started, and though we heard from Waller and others that some of them had done bad things in the past, that never really came across on screen; none of them felt like bad people.

To me, this chips away at the premise of The Suicide Squad. It wanted to throw anti-heroes at a far worse villain, allowing us as the audience to feel like they were redeemable and not all bad. Yet because of the way the film started and the way the characters were introduced, none of them ever really felt like bad people or even people who deserved to be imprisoned. Perhaps if we’d seen for ourselves a montage of some of their worst moments earlier in the film that sense could’ve been present, and the moral ambiguity it would’ve brought to the film might’ve elevated it into something more complex. Instead we were given that fake-out sequence with the suicide squad B-team.

The titular suicide squad – and friends.

Overall, I had a good time with The Suicide Squad. It wasn’t the perfect film by any means, but it was funny when it wanted to be, it leaned into its over-the-top storyline in a way that was in keeping with its comic book origins, and featured a couple of truly outstanding emotional performances that I wasn’t expecting.

Though DC continues to struggle and not really know what kind of films they want to make, I would say they should try to make more like this one! It was everything I expected from a comic book film, and thanks to the emotional performances of a couple of its main characters, maybe even managed to be something more. There were some visual misses, some underdeveloped characters, and a childish storyline featuring a weird alien, but under that fluff I found a decent action-comedy that I decidedly enjoyed.

The Suicide Squad is currently available to stream on HBO Max in the United States. The Suicide Squad is the copyright of DC Films and/or Warner Bros. Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Jungle Cruise – film review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Jungle Cruise.

Any review of Jungle Cruise on Disney+ needs to take into account the film’s price tag. Right now Jungle Cruise costs £20 in the UK or $30 in the United States to “unlock,” and thus the film’s value will vary from viewer to viewer. For my two cents, unless you’re a huge fan of the original Jungle Cruise ride at the Disney theme parks or a particular fan of either Dwayne Johnson or Emily Blunt, this is probably a film to wait for. In a matter of months, and certainly by Christmas, the film will be added to the regular Disney+ lineup, and though I had a decent enough time with Jungle Cruise, I’m not sure that I necessarily got £20 worth of enjoyment from it. If you’re on the fence, trying to decide whether to pay up or wait, I think this is one you can safely wait for.

That being said, Jungle Cruise was enjoyable. I’ve said this before, but in 2002-03 when Disney was talking about adapting Pirates of the Caribbean into a film, I thought it sounded like an atrocious idea! How could a theme park ride possibly translate to the screen, I wondered? I was wrong about Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl then, and if I had similar doubts about Jungle Cruise eighteen years later then I was wrong again! The film was decent, and paid homage to a classic ride which has been part of Disneyland since the very beginning.

Jungle Cruise poster.

If you’re fortunate enough to have ridden Jungle Cruise, you’ll recall that there is a “story” of sorts to the ride itself. Obviously the film takes liberties with this, chopping and changing things to make the story more suited to the screen rather than a semi-interactive theme park attraction. But I was surprised at just how well Jungle Cruise captured the feel of the original ride, with Dwayne Johnson’s character of Frank taking the role of the Disneyland boat captain from the attraction.

There were nods to other aspects of the ride as well, particularly in the film’s opening act with Frank’s literal jungle cruise entertaining the tourists with the same mixture of dad jokes and props as the ride itself. As the story went on, the film naturally stepped away from being true to the ride to focus on a story that was not dissimilar to the aforementioned Pirates of the Caribbean film, complete with cursed undead sailors, a magical macguffin, and lashings of aquatic adventure.

Quila hits the rapids!

There were several surprisingly poignant and emotional moments in Jungle Cruise which I wasn’t expecting. Aside from the typical Disney happily ever after ending (complete with a fake-out sad ending which preceded it) the tastefully handled moment where Jack Whitehall’s character of MacGregor came out to Frank was a very sweet inclusion. Not only did it add personality and dimension to both characters – MacGregor gained a backstory of rejection and further reason to follow Lily, and Frank came across as accepting and kind – but it was a huge step for representation and inclusion. Seeing MacGregor experience rejection yet find acceptance in the most unlikely of places is a powerful message, and the mere act of LGBT+ representation in a blockbuster film is always fantastic to see. Such a message is especially important for younger viewers.

While we’re discussing some of Jungle Cruise’s deeper themes, the film took a dim view of wealth, aristocracy, and closed societies – despite practically all of its main characters being drawn from the upper classes of their day. MacGregor’s unease at having to experience life away from his home comforts was initially played for laughs – though he did become more comfortable with it as the film reached its end. The villain of the piece being a German aristocrat was also a continuation of this theme, as was the initial depiction of Frank as the last independent river boat captain – and the poorest.

Dwayne Johnson as Frank, the riverboat captain.

Having seen a number of films with British villains over the last few years, the decision to make the German Prince Joachim the main adversary to Frank and Lily was actually a bit of a change. There was a time a few years ago where villains in cinema were often German – or of German extraction. But enough time has passed and enough other villains have come and gone that the return to a German villain didn’t feel like stereotyping or a trope in the way it might’ve done had Jungle Cruise been made in the recent past.

The story itself took a couple of unexpected twists. The revelation that Frank wasn’t who he seemed to be definitely came as a shock – but in a good way! Sometimes twists of this nature can feel rushed or like they jolt the story in an unwanted direction, but learning Frank’s true origin managed to avoid that pitfall. It made his character feel more rounded and gave him motivation. We learn why he wanted to take Lily upriver – and why he was so convinced she wouldn’t succeed in her quest to find the Tears of the Moon.

Lily was seeking the Tears of the Moon.

Frank’s “betrayal” of Lily and MacGregor – which he apparently set up off-screen with Trader Sam and her tribe – was perhaps the weakest moment in the story. It did nothing to endear us to Frank, and while it was arguably in character for him it robbed what was initially set up as a tense moment of practically all of its drama. Though the threat and peril were restored after a brief respite, the way the film handled this moment was poor overall.

Representation of native peoples and their relationship to colonists has come a long way in recent years, and when looking back at past Disney depictions of indigenous peoples – such as in Peter Pan or even the original incarnation of the Jungle Cruise attraction – the way the “headhunter” tribe was presented was an improvement. Considering the tribe played a relatively minor role in the film, what we saw worked well. The depiction retained some of the mystery that westerners have of indigenous peoples – something that the original ride drew on for part of its threat – yet at the same time made at least one key character relatable.

The tribal chief.

Jungle Cruise also didn’t shy away from depicting the brutality of colonisation, showing Conquistadors savagely attacking a tribe of native people even after being offered shelter, food, and medicine. However, the film then immediately strayed into once again mystifying the tribespeople by giving them magical powers seemingly connected to the Tree of Life. Overall, the way Jungle Cruise handled its characters’ interactions with indigenous people was better than in some Disney titles, particularly older ones, but arguably imperfect and verging into some of the tropes commonly associated with such tribes in fiction.

Aside from the opening act, which was set in London, and a few other scenes near the beginning of the piece, Jungle Cruise broadly stayed true to its premise as a film about a voyage on a riverboat. The boat itself had character, being old and beaten-up, and was memorable for the way it looked while again retaining some of the charm of the original Disneyland attraction. Quila (Frank’s boat) was not only the characters’ home and method of transportation, but also played a key role toward the end of the story by blocking the river water and saving Lily and MacGregor. Giving the boat more to do in the story than simply be an ever-present stage for the characters made a huge difference to the film, and made its setting feel meaningful.

Quila – the boat – was almost like an extra character in the film.

Though the Conquistadors wanted to kill Frank – and later Prince Joachim – they seem to have had similar objectives when it comes to acquiring and using the Tears of the Moon, and as a result some of the moments toward the film’s climax felt rather forced. Obviously Lily and MacGregor had an incentive to stop the Prince and his gang of German submariners, as they clearly had nefarious intentions for the magical macguffin. But the Conquistadors had basically the same objective as Frank – to lift their curse – and it felt like there could have been a moment near the end of the film where they had all realised that they didn’t need to fight. In fact I initially wondered if Prince Joachim’s betrayal of the Conquistadors was going to set up precisely that kind of storyline. It feels like a miss that it didn’t, as the film basically ended with the heroes defeating two parties of villains.

There’s always room in fiction for that kind of narrative; not every story has to depict an emotional coming together and teaming up to defeat a worse villain. But the disturbing implication to the way Frank’s story ended is that he simply left the Conquistadors to endure endless torture; they’re unable to die and it didn’t seem as though he took action to lift their curse. Perhaps this is Disney leaving the door open to a sequel?

Did Frank and Lily condemn the Conquistadors to eternal torture?

Speaking of the way the film ended, with Frank and Lily only able to pluck a single petal from the tree, all Lily really got to do was write up her adventure and land herself a job. In the male-dominated world that the film depicted that is unquestionably a victory for her – but her original ambition had been to use the Tears of the Moon to “revolutionise medicine” and save countless lives, not least in the ongoing First World War. It seems as though this ambition was thwarted, yet the film skips over this point.

Jack Whitehall is not someone I would have expected to see in a film like Jungle Cruise, but he put in a creditable performance as MacGregor. His stand-up act often draws on his self-styled “posh” image, and his character felt like an exaggerated version of that in some respects. Emily Blunt was outstanding in the role of Lily, bringing real personality to the character and crafting a heroine that we as the audience wanted to get behind. Dwayne Johnson seemed at first to be playing a fairly typical “Dwayne Johnson” role, but the addition of an unexpected backstory for his character of Frank took the character to a different place and forced him to step out of his comfort zone and play things differently as the film passed the two-thirds mark. Though perhaps it wasn’t an Oscar-worthy performance, I found Frank to be a believable protagonist and someone I wanted to see succeed.

MacGregor and Frank shared a genuinely touching moment in Jungle Cruise that I wasn’t expecting.

Jungle Cruise relied heavily on CGI almost throughout, and not all of the animation work was as realistic as it could’ve been. Recent productions, even on television, have seen some truly outstanding CGI work, and while nothing in Jungle Cruise was awful or even immersion-breaking, there were quite a few elements that didn’t look quite right. At a number of points I felt that some of the CGI had that “too shiny,” plastic look that plagued CGI a few years ago, and I really thought that animation – especially cinematic animation – had begun to move past that particular issue.

I would’ve liked to have seen more physical props and practical effects, and the fact that a large portion of Jungle Cruise was filmed with green screens and other modern tricks wasn’t as well-concealed as it might’ve been. And perhaps this final point on visuals is a bit of a nitpick, but the fact that a number of the so-called “jungle” sequences were filmed not in South America but in Hawai’i was apparent to anyone who knows their flora! Different biomes do look different from one another, and a few scenes in particular which supposedly took place on the banks of the Amazon were very clearly filmed elsewhere. I know that’s a minor point that won’t have bugged many people, but I found it worth noting.

Happily ever after for the main characters!

So that’s about all I have to say, I think. Jungle Cruise certainly compares to the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean and other fantasy-adventure titles. It was fun, emotional at points, and set up its trio of main characters for a story that was easy enough to follow for kids while still having plenty to offer for adults as well. It stands up well against many adventure films, including classics of the genre like Indiana Jones – which Jungle Cruise was clearly channelling at points!

I had an enjoyable time with Jungle Cruise, and it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Whether it will be worth the cost of admission on Disney+ is something everyone will have to decide for themselves, but I think it’ll still be an enjoyable watch in a couple of months’ time. Jungle Cruise presented a fun story that drew inspiration from the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean, yet stayed true to its origins as a theme park attraction. It was a fun ride down the river with Frank, Lily, and MacGregor, and I’m sure I’ll have fun watching the film for a second and third time in the future; it’s definitely one to return to when I’m in the mood for adventure!

Jungle Cruise is available to stream now on Disney+ Premier Access (for a fee). Jungle Cruise is the copyright of Walt Disney Pictures and The Walt Disney Company. Some promotional images courtesy of The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Space Jam: A New Legacy – film review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Space Jam and Space Jam: A New Legacy.

I don’t think I’ve re-watched Space Jam since I saw it at the cinema in 1996… so it’s been a while! But the film is adored by many, and has a following of its own within the broader Looney Tunes fandom. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it a classic of the 1990s, but I daresay a lot of self-proclaimed “90s kids” would – even though many of them were born far too late to truly warrant the label. But we’re off-topic already!

The original Space Jam was a unique offering. A blend of live-action and animation, a mixture of comedy and sport, it’s a film that’s hard to define and pigeon-hole, and as a result of its premise – and wacky, child-friendly humour – it’s well-remembered and held in high regard even a quarter of a century later. Going back to that premise for a second time always felt like a risky move for Warner Bros. simply because it can be very difficult to recapture the magic of such a genuinely different, one-of-a-kind title.

Promo poster for Space Jam: A New Legacy featuring the Road Runner.

But this is the reality of modern cinema. In the realm of kids’ films – a genre Space Jam: A New Legacy is surely included in, despite its appeal to the millennial generation – Disney has pushed the boat out ever further with its recent slate of remade classics, and in a broader sense the idea of reboots, soft reboots, and remakes is something practically every major film studio is throwing money at. In a sense, Warner Bros. doesn’t really care whether anyone actually likes Space Jam: A New Legacy, because they know that the name and branding alone will convince many fans of the original to turn up and see it no matter what the critics say. The film is, to use an outdated movie industry term, “bankable.”

I recently had this conversation with a family member who lamented the existence of Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story – which is due out later this year, in case you care. They were despondent at the idea that one of their favourite films of all time was being remade, and I can sympathise. Remakes, by their very nature, are aiming low. They can only ever hope to be considered “just as good” as the original, but never even try to surpass it.

LeBron James in Space Jam: A New Legacy.

But remakes serve a purpose, at least from the point of view of corporations. They’re easy money, because film studios know that millions of fans of West Side Story or Space Jam will turn up for the new version – even if only out of morbid curiosity! There’s also an argument to be made that, in some cases, younger audiences aren’t interested in watching films that they deem to be “too old.” Thus a remake can, from an artistic point of view, be argued to bring a story or a setting to a new generation of prospective fans. Whether that’s the case with Space Jam: A New Legacy is debatable; the film isn’t a straight remake. Nor is it really a sequel, instead I think it’s best described as a riff on the original concept, taking some familiar and some new characters and throwing them into a similar – but not identical – story.

That’s the area that Space Jam: A New Legacy occupies. Not a sequel, not a remake, but a riff. A shaken-up copy made a quarter of a century later with, let’s be honest, business and financial reasons at its core. It’s not an artistic piece; it wasn’t made because its director or writer had a burning passion for the wonderful, underexplored universe of Space Jam. Nor was it made because the original film was desperately crying out for a sequel or an expansion. It was made purely because corporate executives at Warner Bros. were looking through their back catalogue in search of something to monetise, and Space Jam caught someone’s eye. If we were being cruel, we might say that Space Jam: A New Legacy is soulless.

Space Jam: A New Legacy could feel, at times, very corporate.

One of the reasons I was curious to see Space Jam: A New Legacy – beyond the vague interest in a follow-up to a film I remember with fondness from the ’90s – was the involvement of Sonequa Martin-Green. Martin-Green plays Michael Burnham, the main protagonist of Star Trek: Discovery, and like many Trekkies I’m always interested to see other projects involving stars of Star Trek. Though I haven’t always felt that Michael Burnham was the easiest protagonist to root for in the franchise, there’s no denying Martin-Green’s talent and hard work, and just like she excelled in The Walking Dead a few years ago, she put in a great performance in Space Jam: A New Legacy. Though her character played a supporting role, it was still great to see her and her performance elevated the film.

I’ve seen more Space Jam films than I have basketball games. Basketball isn’t a big sport here in the UK, and while I have tried it in PE lessons at school way back when, it isn’t a sport I follow, nor do I know much about it beyond the basic rules. LeBron James is among the few basketball players whose names I’ve heard, but that’s really where my familiarity with the sport ends.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Kamiyah James.

Space Jam: A New Legacy felt, at points, like a love letter to its star, which was a very strange thing to watch. Some films can feel like vanity projects – John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth, Kevin Costner’s The Postman, and even to an extent William Shatner’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier all cross that invisible line, and Space Jam: A New Legacy comes close. The introduction of Don Cheadle’s Al-G Rhythm is a scene which has him reading aloud a list of James’ accomplishments on and off the court, and the film’s title sequence is likewise a flattering summary of his career. For a film where this man is the star, it makes watching those sequences feel more than a little weird.

I didn’t have high expectations for LeBron James as an actor, and while he won’t be winning an Oscar anytime soon he did, to my surprise, manage to put in a solid performance. His early scenes left me concerned that I’d find him too flat and wooden, as many sports stars and athletes can be when they try acting for the first time, but when the plot got going and he and his son were transported to the Warner 3000 server-world, the quality of the performance definitely improved.

LeBron James finds out that he’s been turned into a cartoon.

While we’re discussing the acting, Don Cheadle was clearly having a great time as Al-G Rhythm, and embraced the opportunity to play a cartoonish, somewhat over-the-top villain for a change! It was fun to see him in the role, and he did a creditable job. Cedric Joe, who took on the challenging role of young Dom James (a character inspired by LeBron’s real-life son) put in a great performance. He was believable as a young man who felt rejected by his father and overshadowed by his legacy, and his struggle to get his dad to “let me be me,” as he put it, was the emotional core of the narrative.

The voice cast who played the Looney Tunes did a good job, but I have to caveat that by saying that none of them really got much material to work with. Most of the ‘Tunes weren’t even secondary characters, but were relegated to background roles. They all got to show off their greatest hits from past Looney Tunes outings, but even the two main players – Bugs and Lola Bunny – didn’t get an awful lot to do for much of the film.

Most of the Tune Squad didn’t have a lot to do.

At the centre of Space Jam: A New Legacy, underneath the cartoon comedy and basketball trappings, was a story that aimed to be uplifting. It was trying to send a message to kids that everyone has different passions and different talents, and not being good at sports doesn’t mean you have no worth. The film also wanted to tell a story to parents about allowing their kids to step out of their shadow and embrace the things they like, to experience different things and figure out their own path. Those messages are important in a film like this, and their inclusion made it feel like Space Jam: A New Legacy had purpose.

However, that purpose was in danger of getting lost in a film that was very commercial. There was a lot of product placement in Space Jam: A New Legacy, including things like E3 (a video game industry event), Red Vines (an American candy), a whole lot of Nike, Mercedes, Dell, Bose, and many, many mentions of Warner Bros. itself. It’s been a long time since I saw a film so heavy on product placement, and there were moments where this marketing ploy felt overwhelming. It adds to the sense I mentioned above that Space Jam: A New Legacy is a corporate product first and an artistic work second.

Space Jam: A New Legacy had a lot of product placement.

I literally cannot fault the visuals and animation work in Space Jam: A New Legacy. For a film to incorporate fully live-action scenes, traditional cartoon animation, 3D computer animation, greenscreen CGI sequences, and even footage from older films is a monumental task, and the animators, CGI artists, and editors did an amazing job not only on the individual segments but at blending it all together. The film’s climax is the basketball game, and this sequence features real actors and CGI creations alongside each other, and it works seamlessly.

Space Jam: A New Legacy is thus a visually impressive film. Not every element is unique or beautiful in its own right, but the technical skill required to bring so many different things into the same project is truly impressive. Aesthetics are a matter of personal taste, and I’m sure some folks will criticise some of the designs used for the characters and settings, but on the whole I felt what was presented on screen looked fantastic, and unlike in many CGI-heavy titles, I honestly couldn’t find fault; there were literally zero moments where the animation work didn’t hit the target it was aiming for. That’s something I find quite amazing.

The film did well to blend so many different elements seamlessly.

There were a lot of callbacks and references to other Warner Bros. properties, including a number of scenes from famous films that the characters were inserted into à la Forrest Gump. This was unexpected, but many of these scenes and cameo appearances were funny and added a lot to the film. Space Jam: A New Legacy has a pretty childish sense of humour, but sometimes that’s perfectly fine, and its comedy generally stuck the landing as far as I’m concerned.

Seeing characters from other franchises, like the Night King from Game of Thrones or the titular characters from Rick and Morty meant that there was something for adults to laugh at too, and though the humour was hardly sophisticated, it was, at points, more than simple cartoon slapstick. Perhaps younger viewers will cringe at things like Porky’s awkward rap battle, but you know what? I’m going to admit right now that I found that whole sequence – and many others – hilarious!

LeBron James and the Tune Squad.

In fact, despite initially having pretty low expectations for the film, there were plenty of enjoyable moments under the corporate fluff, and I found myself chuckling more than I thought. Though the narrative was silly – playing a computerised basketball game in order to win freedom – the basic premise underlying it was a father learning to connect with his son and embrace what makes him special instead of trying to push him in a certain direction. That story shone through the cartoon wackiness at key moments, and was just enough of an emotional force to make Space Jam: A New Legacy a more enjoyable film than I might’ve thought.

Was it the perfect film, or the perfect vehicle for telling this kind of story about bridging the gap and coming to an understanding? Perhaps not. Its commercial aspects certainly detracted from that message at points, which was a shame. Also, in a film which was supposedly half about basketball and half about the Looney Tunes, the cartoon characters themselves didn’t exactly get much time in the spotlight. That was perhaps the biggest let-down for me, as it made the film feel less like “basketball meets Looney Tunes” and more like a LeBron James vehicle with some cartoon trappings.

Despite that, however, I had fun with Space Jam: A New Legacy. It probably wasn’t as good as the original – as films of this nature seldom are – but it was visually impressive, had a narrative that was relatable for kids and for adults, and the quality of the acting performance from its lead took me a little by surprise. All in all, it was a perfectly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

Space Jam: A New Legacy is out now in cinemas in the United Kingdom, United States, and certain other countries and territories. Space Jam: A New Legacy is available to stream on HBO Max in the United States, and will come to streaming platforms in other countries and territories at an unspecified later date. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League – a non-fan’s perspective

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Minor spoilers are also present for other DC films and comic books.

Generally speaking, I’m not someone who cares too much about comic books or their associated films. Sometimes comic book/superhero films make for decent popcorn flicks – such as The Avengers and a few other Marvel titles. And the Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films were decent. But as someone who didn’t grow up reading comics, that’s about the highest praise I can heap upon their cinematic adaptations. That’s what I mean when I say I’m coming at Zack Snyder’s Justice League from the perspective of a non-fan.

I can’t actually remember if I’ve seen the original version of Justice League; superhero films tend to be somewhat forgettable, and judging by reviews and fan reaction, Justice League wasn’t one of the best. I’ve definitely seen other films in the DC canon, though, including Suicide Squad, Man of Steel, and about half of Batman vs. Superman (before I got bored and switched it off). In short, I’m not comparing the so-called “Snyder cut” to the original version of Justice League – because it was so forgettable that I’ve quite literally forgotten if I’ve even watched it.

Promotional poster for Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Before we get into the meat of my review, I need to hold up my hands and admit to being utterly wrong about something. I never believed for a moment that DC fans would succeed in getting this version of the film released. The hashtag #releasethesnydercut trended online in the aftermath of Justice League’s lukewarm reception a few years ago, and I just dismissed it. These things often die down once the initial controversy over a film has had time to abate, and just like Disney and Lucasfilm were never going to edit or remake The Last Jedi, I felt certain that DC and Warner Bros. would simply ride out the criticism and move on with the rest of their planned releases. I was wrong, having underestimated the strength of feeling and persistence on the part of DC fans, and the fact that Zack Snyder’s Justice League exists at all is testament to their refusal to quit. In the age of social media – where stories and controversies often last a mere 24 hours before vanishing without a trace – that’s impressive.

It’s also indicative, in my opinion, of companies taking fan feedback more seriously than at almost any point in the past. In addition to Zack Snyder’s Justice League I’d point to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – the so-called “Captain Pike series” – that was commissioned purely because of the overwhelming fan response to Anson Mount and Ethan Peck’s portrayals of Pike and Spock in Star Trek: Discovery. More than ever, big entertainment companies are listening to feedback, and that can only be a net positive for fans of any franchise or series.

As the movement to get this version of the film released gained momentum, even the actors joined in.

Onward, then, to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. This film was supposed to be DC’s answer to The Avengers, and any team-up story has to walk a line between relying on what previous entries in the franchise set up and charting a path casual viewers can follow. In that sense, Zack Snyder’s Justice League didn’t do an especially good job. There were a lot of story elements that built directly on top of past DC films, and for a casual viewer or non-fan coming to the film without all of that background knowledge, some events were hard to follow. When I reviewed the Marvel miniseries The Falcon and the Winter Soldier recently, I pointed out that, although returning fans would certainly get a lot more out of the series than I did due to references and callbacks to past films and shows, that wasn’t overwhelming and the production stood on its own two feet. Zack Snyder’s Justice League doesn’t – it feels like a direct sequel.

Avengers Endgame briefly became the highest-grossing film of all time. It did so on the back of casual viewers, not Marvel superfans who show up for every film and series. And because the Marvel producers recognised that, they did what they could to ensure the film didn’t rely excessively on past iterations of the MCU. Maybe the original version of Justice League balanced things better, but Snyder’s cut of the film relies very heavily on other DC titles, and as a result parts of it are nigh-on inaccessible to the casual viewer or non-fan.

Many elements of Zack Snyder’s Justice League – like the fate of Superman – relied 100% on viewers having seen prior films.

The film was very dark – and I mean in terms of lighting, not thematically. If you remember some of the criticisms fans levelled at parts of Game of Thrones Season 8 for poor lighting in some sequences, well Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the same problem almost throughout, as if Mr Snyder forgot to turn on the stage lighting – or deliberately ran the entire film through a crappy Snapchat filter. On a particularly fancy OLED television the darkness may be fine; it was occasionally irritating on my cheap and cheerful LED set. While we’re talking about visuals, it was odd to me to see a modern film shot entirely in the outdated 4:3 screen format. HBO claims that it was a creative choice… but it feels like it was done for no other reason than to give the film a gimmick and talking point.

Such things add nothing to cinema for me; I’d rather see a well-written, well-executed film in a standard widescreen format with proper lighting and colour temperature. These things are gimmicky in the extreme, and while that may be all well and good for arthouse films or Oscar-bait, in what is essentially an action film about superheroes from comic books made for children, these attempts at cinematographic “artistry” fall flat on their face. They’re indicative of a film taking itself far too seriously. Not only that, but the bland colour palette drowned in brown and grey tones; splashes of colour were desperately needed to liven things up.

Why make the film so dark, with such a boring palette? And why the 4:3 resolution? One word: gimmick.

Until just a few weeks before it was released, the plan had been to broadcast the film as a four-part miniseries; having seen it I think it could certainly have worked in that format. At over four hours (including the credits), Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a long film. That’s sometimes true of directors’ cuts, which is what this version of the film is, but it certainly makes it better-suited to streaming than to the cinema.

Speaking of streaming, the film is only available on HBO Max in the United States, and is accessible on a patchwork of other streaming and/or pay-per-view services in the rest of the world. This messy approach is caused, of course, by the fact that HBO Max is a US-only service at present. In short, where you live will determine how and even whether you can access Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which is never the best way to go about releasing a film, let alone one that was the subject of international fan attention. Sometimes companies need to be reminded of a simple fact: there’s a world (and an audience) outside of the United States!

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available on HBO Max if you’re fortunate enough to live in America.

Everything about Zack Snyder’s Justice League feels like it’s deliberately made to stand in direct contrast to The Avengers and other Marvel titles. Marvel films have tended to embrace much of the light-hearted campiness that comes with the territory for a comic book adaptation, and though doing so can lead to some odd tonal moments where brightly-dressed superheroes find themselves in warzones or other semi-realistic scenarios, the sense of humour and lighter tone can work. DC films in general – and Zack Snyder’s Justice League in particular – seems to hate everything fun and light-hearted about comic books.

What I mean by that is that here we have a film that is going out of its way to be as gritty and dark as possible, to leave behind any of the joy and humour one might expect in a medium originally intended for kids and teenagers. I said earlier that the film takes itself far too seriously, and this is a case in point. These are cape-wearing superheroes of children’s fiction, yet Zack Snyder’s Justice League treats them as though they were hardened characters straight out of a gritty drama about a real-world war. In that sense, I would argue it’s a film that doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be; a film defining itself in opposition to two other projects – the original version of Justice League and Marvel films like The Avengers – but without knowing what its own identity is. What is there to fill the void?

The titular Justice League.

Because of how desperately seriously Zack Snyder’s Justice League tries to take itself, it became unintentionally hilarious at points, and I found myself chuckling at some of the lines and even character moments – the actors played the material they were given so deadpan and straight, and because of that, some moments that were meant to be important, tense, or dramatic ended up just being laughably funny.

Some of the names used for the heroes and villains just aren’t on the same level even as Marvel. “Thanos” has a somewhat poetic or classical quality to it; “Darkseid,” in contrast, does not. The fact that Darkseid is visually similar to Thanos, and his aim – to capture magical macguffins and conquer Earth – is not too far removed from Thanos’ ambitions either, makes the main villain of the piece feel like a knock-off. Maybe that’s unfair – the original version of Justice League was released before Avengers Infinity War brought Thanos to the fore. But even so, watching it after seeing the best Marvel has to offer leaves me with the distinct impression that DC has a long way to go to catch up.

Discount Thanos.

All in all, I found the plot to be rather pedestrian. There’s an ancient supervillain who’s able to return thanks to the Mother Boxes – another silly name for a macguffin – and he’s dead set on conquering Earth. One superhero isn’t enough, so Batman tries to get them to team up. Despite initial resistance from some of them – which was flat and one-dimensional at best – the heroes eventually get together to hatch a plan: bring Superman back to life as he’s the only one who can stop the bad guys.

Bringing someone back from the dead only to discover they aren’t the same as before they died is a trope as old as the written word. We see it in everything from ancient legends of necromancy and witchcraft all the way through to modern works like Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. So the Superman storyline wasn’t anything different or innovative, and the fact that Superman quickly returns to his old self after an encounter with his true love is a rather Disney-esque take on what could’ve been a theme that played out in a much darker way.

All he needed was a hug. Aww.

With Superman being so much more powerful than the other superheroes, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has a challenge to make their inclusion in the story after his resurrection feel worthwhile, and the film fails to rise to meet it. There’s simply no escaping the fact that the resurrected Superman didn’t need the others – he was perfectly capable of stopping Steppenwolf and the other villains on his own. The other heroes got moments, of course, as the film neared its climax, but the way Zack Snyder’s Justice League chose to present its own story and its own characters made it patently obvious that all but Superman were surplus to requirements.

Speaking of characters, I didn’t feel like any of the heroes or villains really saw any significant character development, despite the film’s four-hour runtime offering plenty of time for satisfying arcs to play out. Cyborg/Victor is the character who came closest, and was clearly wrestling with his feelings toward and about his father for much of his time on screen. But the others – Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and even Superman once he got over his initial shock at returning to life – were basically the same at the end of the film as they had been at the beginning. We know that these are heroic characters, people who will shoulder the responsibility of saving the world and put the needs of others before themselves. But in a film where several of them felt like spare parts already, having five almost-identical character types doesn’t make for the most interesting setup.

Several of the main characters felt very similar to one another.

The main storyline involving Steppenwolf and Darkseid seemed to be built on very shaky ground. In short, Zack Snyder’s Justice League asks us to believe not only that powerful aliens capable of travelling the stars were beaten 5,000 years in the past by the combined forces of Earth – including humanity, barely out of the stone age – but that they then somehow forgot the location of Earth, despite their obvious abundance of technology. If the villains in the film were the descendants of those who fought and lost millennia ago, I could kind of understand that they might not be aware of where these Mother Boxes were, but they’re supposed to be the same people – yet they didn’t even know what planet to go to.

The film tries to explain that the boxes only awakened after Superman’s death as there was no longer a force powerful enough to prevent the attack on Earth. But there are two problems with this premise: firstly, Superman is what? 35 years old or thereabouts? The boxes had millennia before Superman ever arrived on Earth when they could have awoken. And secondly, Darkseid, Steppenwolf, and the others should have always known that they were on Earth, even if they didn’t know the precise location of each box.

One of the magical macguffin boxes.

The Mother Boxes are, as mentioned, little more than magical macguffins to allow the story to flow and to give teeth to the villains. But the logical inconsistencies in their story makes it difficult to accept them as the foundation for the film’s narrative. How did Darkseid and Steppenwolf “lose” the location of Earth when they’d literally been here before? The film doesn’t explain or acknowledge this, yet it feels like a pretty major omission.

Compared to a lot of villains out there, both in comic book/superhero fiction and beyond, Darkseid’s objective is incredibly basic. He seems to want to conquer and kill for no other reason than “because.” He’s an evil-for-the-sake-of-it kind of villain, and those kinds of characters just don’t stand up to villains with more complexity and nuance. If I were being rude I might say that asking for complexity and nuance from a superhero film is too much, but there are many decent examples of villains in the genre whose motivations are understandable and hold up to scrutiny. Even if the overall objective is the same – conquering Earth – some villains just have a better reason for doing so than Darkseid. The film tries to throw in a revenge plot, saying that Darkseid’s earlier defeat is spurring him on, but that doesn’t answer the most basic of questions: why does he do what he does?

Steppenwolf, Darkseid’s henchman.

It was a profoundly odd choice for this version of the film to end with a long epilogue sequence that clearly set up a sequel – a sequel that we’ve known for four years isn’t going to happen. DC has completely reworked its film output, partly due to the perceived failings of the original version of Justice League, and several of the actors who took on the roles are done. Batman is being rebooted without Ben Affleck, Superman without Henry Cavill, and as far as I know there are no plans for Ray Fisher to reprise his role as Cyborg. Wonder Woman 1984 received mixed reviews, and while there are plans for a film involving this version of the Flash, as well as for a sequel to Aquaman, it seems all but certain that this version of the Justice League is finished.

Under such circumstances, I question the decision to end the film in this manner. It’s clearly teasing a sequel, but at the time Zack Snyder’s Justice League was being edited and compiled, Snyder and everyone involved knew that no sequel would be forthcoming. It feels almost mean-spirited to end on this note; it leaves the whole story feeling unfinished. And unfinished it is, as Darkseid wasn’t defeated and his planned invasion is coming – but it seems unlikely we’ll ever see that on screen.

The film’s final moments set up a sequel that everyone knows isn’t ever going to be made.

There were some great special effects and CGI moments in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but there were also some awful visual misses. Cyborg is firmly in the uncomfortable uncanny valley, with half a human face and half a CGI face on a CGI body, and the two halves don’t mesh well at too many points. There were dozens of moments where the use of green screens was patently obvious; just off the top of my head I’d pick out several close-up shots of Barry/Flash running at high speed, and the queen of the Amazons on horseback as some of the worst examples of this. Although Justice League had a huge budget, perhaps some of these visual misses are due to the fact that this director’s cut had less money to work with? That’s a guess on my part but could explain some of the issues.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried very hard. At various points it wanted to be The Avengers, The Dark Knight, and even The Lord of the Rings. Though it clearly took inspiration from better films, the way it put them together and brought them to screen makes it a substantially weaker film than any of them; a popcorn action flick with delusions of grandeur. If this is what fans wanted, I’m genuinely happy for them, and the fact that I’m not really a comic book/superhero fan was perhaps always going to colour my impressions of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Even with that caveat, however, I have to say I’ve seen far better comic book films.

So that was Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It’s probably the worst film I’ve seen so far this year. I don’t think I need to say anything more than that.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available to stream now on HBO Max in the United States, on Sky or Amazon in the UK (via pay-per-view), and via a patchwork of other streaming services internationally. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Films. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Tomorrow War – film review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Tomorrow War.

Well this is a rarity for me – reviewing a film while it’s still new! I have to hold my hands up and confess that I was completely unaware of The Tomorrow War’s existence until about a week ago when previews started popping up on the Amazon homepage. But after watching the trailer it seemed like the kind of thing I might like, so almost as soon as it was available to watch I gave it a shot.

Though I like sci-fi in all of its forms, time travel stories have never been my favourites. They’re exceptionally difficult to get right, and when they go awry they can lead to narratives which are confusing or just plain annoying. With a title like The Tomorrow War, there was no way this film was going to be about anything other than time travel – and unfortunately it did contain one of the dumb time-loop story elements that I really don’t find enjoyable or satisfying. However, it managed to avoid many of the other pitfalls that time travel stories can succumb to, so it gets credit in that regard.

Publicity image for The Tomorrow War.

Chris Pratt is not a typical action hero, yet following his role in Guardians of the Galaxy he’s been tapped to take on a broader array of action-heavy roles. And as the film’s lead and main character he puts in a creditable performance. There were fewer moments of humour than in some of his other roles, and as an actor with great comedic timing that was a bit of a shame as one of his strongest suits was not put to use. But as an actor, taking on different roles is all part of the job, and Pratt did a solid job as the film’s protagonist. He was emotional at the right moments, strong and gung-ho at others, and fit the bill as The Tomorrow War’s action hero.

The rest of the cast likewise were competent in their roles and believable. We didn’t really get a broad cast of secondary characters; aside from Dan and Muri, everyone else played a comparatively minor role in the story, limited to a few scenes and generally one or two settings. JK Simmons, Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge, and Betty Gilpin all played their parts well, with the caveat that their characters were limited by the script to bog-standard supporting roles.

Yvonne Strahovski and Chris Pratt were The Tomorrow War’s leading pair.

Among these characters we have Dan’s father, the conspiracy theorist-veteran-mad scientist, whose seemingly unlimited set of skills allowed Dan and the crew to get to Russia at a key moment later in the film. Other than the personal drama between them, which was performed well, this character was a pretty basic plot device. Dan’s wife, whose name may have been mentioned but I can’t actually remember, was an absolutely run-of-the-mill character type, the spouse of the soldier-hero, and didn’t get much to do beyond tell him she wished he didn’t have to go and greet him when he returned.

Charlie and Dorian were perhaps the most interesting of the film’s secondary characters, and each brought something different to the table. Charlie was comic relief, but his moments of humour were well-used and injected some light-heartedness into a film that definitely needed it. His moment in the stairwell was hilarious, and went a long way to making the first on-screen introduction of the whitespikes – the film’s alien antagonists – much more memorable. Dorian, the other African-American character, was much more serious, and there’s something relatable in the story of a terminally ill man wanting to choose his own time and method of dying.

Sam Richardson’s character of Charlie provided The Tomorrow War with just about the right amount of comic relief.

The very intense, loud musical score feels like typical action movie fare – until it comes to moments of near-silence, which are expertly used to create tension at key moments. The soundtrack made neat use of The Waitresses’ 1982 Christmas hit Christmas Wrapping right at the beginning, and I guess we could argue that The Tomorrow War’s Christmas-themed opening qualifies it – along with Die Hard – as a Christmas film! Speaking of the film’s opening moments, was that supposed to be Scotland playing in the World Cup Final?! Someone’s being incredibly optimistic if that’s the case… sorry, Scotland!

Any story about war is going to come with political themes, and The Tomorrow War is no different. In Dan’s draft, for example, we see criticisms of the way the United States handles its own military draft, and in the technology implanted in his arm we see fears about how technology and our personal data are used and tracked.

The dire warnings about Dan’s arm implant/bracer could be taken as a critique of the way data is used today.

The film had one very strange tonal moment. After returning to the present day from his tour of duty, Dan – and by extension the film – treats what happened as a defeat. Despite the fact that he saved the toxin, which was his objective in his final hours in the future, everything in the minutes afterward is set up to feel as though he was too late, or that it didn’t matter with the jump-link being offline. But anyone who’s ever seen a time travel story can tell you that going back in time opens up new possibilities; even Muri knew this, as among her last words to Dan were to “make sure this war never happens.” The only way he could do that was by producing the toxin and using it in the present day (or else storing it in time for the invasion).

This sequence chips away at the film’s premise and exposes one of the major flaws in time travel narratives in general. I can believe, for the sake of the story, that the future scientists were only able to create one functioning wormhole, tethered to their present and our modern day. But it seems as though there were better ways to use it than recruiting everyday people to be footsoldiers – like giving the people of Earth advance warning so they could do everything in their power to prepare for or even prevent the invasion. This is what Dan and his team scramble to do at the film’s climax, but it really does begin to stretch credulity to think that they’re the first and only people to put the pretty basic pieces of this puzzle together and figure out what happened.

A handful of untrained people manage to figure out how to stop the aliens in less than a day when the rest of the world couldn’t in several years? Hmm.

It takes Dan and his wife all of five minutes to figure out that “they were already here” – a theme present in alien invasion stories going all the way back to The War of the Worlds at the end of the 19th Century. You’d have thought that someone else might’ve come to that realisation sooner! The Tomorrow War gives this old premise a modern twist by involving climate change, and we could entertain the argument that the entire film is thus an analogy for the dangers in unchecked and unsolved anthropogenic climate change. In the film’s story, the aliens were buried in Siberian ice, and the melting ice set them free. Out here in the real world, the consequences of man-made climate change may not be quite so gory and extreme, but are nevertheless dangerous.

We can definitely expect to see more of these kinds of climate change stories in future, I think. A Song of Ice and Fire, upon which the television series Game of Thrones was based, is likewise a climate change analogy according to its author, and these kinds of stories can be powerful. I’ve spoken on a number of occasions about how the Star Trek franchise uses its sci-fi lens to look at real-world issues, and while climate change was not exactly front-and-centre in The Tomorrow War, it was present, and the film was better for the inclusion of this theme.

The team inside a glacier.

There were two twists in the narrative of The Tomorrow War, but both were rather pedestrian and easy enough to figure out ahead of time. The first is that the character who speaks to Dan on the radio immediately upon his arrival in the warzone was Muri, and the film didn’t succeed in any way at concealing that. Perhaps it didn’t want to, but the fact that it seemed obvious for much of the preceding twenty minutes made the ultimate reveal of Muri’s identity at the military base far less impactful; we as the audience knew well before Dan did.

The second twist came along like something out of Star Trek – the aliens never meant to invade Earth, and in fact the whitespikes aren’t even the “real” aliens; they’re animals being transported by whoever owned the spaceship. Their feral, animalistic behaviour and seeming lack of weapons, clothing, or a language, as well as their nesting behaviour all spoke to this, and though there was a moment aboard the wrecked alien ship where the team encountered a dead alien pilot that was well-executed, the twist itself seemed apparent well in advance of the characters making that discovery.

I quite enjoyed the reveal that the alien invaders never meant to come to Earth and were essentially just animals – even if it wasn’t exactly well-hidden earlier in the film.

Some action films can go all-in on the guns-blazing killing, and it was a nice change of pace for The Tomorrow War to step back and present a semi-scientific solution to the characters’ alien invasion problem. To continue the climate change analogy from a moment ago, this is the film’s way of saying that science is the key to finding a solution. For a film largely about war, with the word “war” literally in its title, that’s a surprisingly anti-military message!

There were some solid visual effects in The Tomorrow War, and Paramount, Skydance, and Amazon made good use of the film’s $200 million budget in that regard. Any film involving monsters – or aliens, in this case – will fall flat on its face if the creatures are not sufficiently realistic and threatening, and the whitespikes, while not exactly groundbreakingly original in their design, managed to look fantastic on the screen.

One of the whitespikes – the invading aliens.

So I think that’s about all I have to say about The Tomorrow War. It was solid, perfectly entertaining sci-fi fare. The plot was fairly standard-issue for a time travel film, complete with some of the problems that brings, at least from my point of view. But it was well put-together, featured some good performances by its leading duo of Chris Pratt and Yvonne Strahovski, and kept me entertained for a couple of hours.

Given the film’s unexpected Christmas-themed opening, it might be one I return to at that time of year in future! I didn’t really know what to expect, as The Tomorrow War wasn’t even on my radar until very recently, but I’m glad I gave it a shot. It’s a film with some ideas and themes buried beneath its alien invasion storyline, and those themes elevate it to something a little more than just a basic sci-fi action flick. Not every element works, and I would have liked to see better use of perhaps a slightly smaller secondary cast instead of a collection of underused characters who feel more like plot devices than fleshed-out people. But the pair of leads did well and carried the film, and in particular Dan’s motivation to save the world for his daughter’s sake transcended some of the sci-fi waffle and dragged the film’s worse elements over the finish line.

If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, The Tomorrow War is already in your library and you might as well give it a shot. Is it the one film that will overwhelm the hardened resistor and finally convince them that they need to sign up for Amazon Prime Video? No. It’s not worth it on its own merit. But it’s enjoyable enough for what it is, and I respect The Tomorrow War for at least trying to be something more than just a basic action sci-fi title, even if it doesn’t completely succeed.

The Tomorrow War is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video. The Tomorrow War is the copyright of Amazon Studios and Paramount Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

We’re halfway through 2021!

It’s the last day of June, and as we bid goodbye to the month we also mark the halfway point of 2021. I think that makes it a good opportunity to take stock and look ahead to the entertainment experiences that lie before us between now and Christmas.

Pandemic-related disruptions continue across the entertainment industry, but after more than a year of evolving working practices due to coronavirus, I think it’s not unfair to say that many more projects have managed to enter or remain in production over the last few months than were able to at this point last year. This bodes well for upcoming titles across film, television, and video games, and today I’m going to pick out a small selection of each that I’m looking forward to before the end of the year.

Television:

It’s probably television that has the most to offer – at least for me personally – in the second half of 2021. There are several big shows coming up that I can’t wait to get stuck into, and I’m sure you can probably guess what some of them are!

Number 1: Star Trek: Discovery Season 4

Discovery’s third season was an entertaining ride, and succeeded at establishing the 32nd Century and the Federation’s place in it. In the aftermath of the Burn – the galaxy-wide catastrophe which devastated known space – and the shortage of dilithium, Season 4 will hopefully see the crew beginning to pick up the pieces.

The trailer for Season 4, which was shown off in April as part of Star Trek’s First Contact Day digital event, also showed Captain Burnham and the crew facing off against a “gravitational anomaly” which seemed to be wreaking havoc with the ship and the Federation at large. What is the “gravitational anomaly?” I don’t know – though I have a few theories! We’ll find out more when Discovery Season 4 premieres on Paramount+ (and on Netflix internationally) in the autumn.

Number 2: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2

After a hilarious first season, Lower Decks is returning to our screens in August – and this time Star Trek fans the world over should be able to watch the show together. Season 1 had the difficult task of taking Star Trek into the realm of animated comedy for the first time. Having proven to be a success with that concept, Season 2 can let its hair down and really double down on what fans loved last year.

There are a couple of lingering storylines left over from the Season 1 finale that I’m genuinely interested in seeing resolved. But beyond that, I can’t wait for more wacky Star Trek-themed hijinks with Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi! Luckily we won’t have to wait too long for this one; Lower Decks Season 2 will debut on Paramount+ (and on Amazon Prime Video internationally) on the 12th of August – barely six weeks away!

Number 3: Star Trek: Prodigy

This one has to be tentative. Upcoming children’s show Star Trek: Prodigy has been suggested for a 2021 broadcast, but with no date confirmed as of yet, and with the aforementioned Lower Decks and Discovery taking up the Star Trek broadcast slots for much of the rest of the year, I don’t know where ViacomCBS plans to fit Prodigy in.

Despite that, as we continue to learn more details about the series, it sounds genuinely interesting and looks set to be a lot of fun. The best kids’ shows manage to have something to offer adults as well, and I hope Prodigy can manage to do that while retaining an atmosphere that’s fun for children. Out of all the recent Star Trek projects, Prodigy feels like it has the most potential to introduce the franchise to a new generation of fans. There’s currently no date on the calendar, so watch this space.

Number 4: Rick & Morty Season 5

We’ve already had two episodes of the fifth season of Rick & Morty, but there are eight more to come over the next few weeks! The trademark brand of wacky, non-sequitur humour that the show is known for is still present, and it continues to be a barrel of laughs! Rick & Morty paved the way in some respects for Star Trek: Lower Decks, and there are similarities between the two shows in terms of sense of humour and animation style.

Rick & Morty’s largely episodic nature keeps the show fresh, and while there are some jokes and storylines that perhaps take things too far, on the whole the show has largely avoided the trap of going over-the-top or falling into being offensive for the sake of it. You know the formula and main characters by now, and Season 5 seems like it’s shaping up to offer more of the same – and that’s a compliment. Rick & Morty Season 5 is ongoing on Adult Swim in the United States (and on E4 in the UK).

Number 5: Foundation

Isaac Asimov’s genre-defining epic is being adapted for the small screen by Apple, and it will star Jared Harris. Harris was fantastic in Chernobyl and also put in a stellar performance in The Terror, so I can’t wait to see what he’ll bring to the role of Hari Seldon. Foundation is an incredibly ambitious project; the seven-book series spans hundreds of years of galactic history and deals with some very deep and complex themes.

Apple TV+ is very much a second-tier streaming service. This is its first big push to change that; Apple’s first real foray into big-budget scripted television. I hope the company can use its phenomenal financial resources to do justice to one of the seminal works of science fiction.

Number 6: Dexter

I watched several seasons of Dexter in the mid/late-2000s, but eventually the series started to feel repetitive so I switched off. I’m curious, however, to see what the passage of time will do for the show and its titular anti-hero when it returns in what has been variously billed as both a “reboot” and a “continuation” depending on who you ask! The concept of Dexter was interesting when it kicked off in 2006, and hopefully the new season can recapture the magic of those early years of the show.

The idea of a show about a serial killer where the killer is known to us as the audience, and not only that but is the protagonist was genuinely different. Dexter’s work with the forensic team was a big part of what gave the show its unique mix of police/detective series along with gritty, violent drama, and I’ll be curious to see where the new season has taken the character – as that will be the key to its success.

Number 7: The Dropout

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, it’s one that’s simultaneously riveting and frightening. Holmes and her startup Theranos promised to revolutionise the way blood testing works, enabling people to take blood tests without needing to visit a doctor and in a less-painful way. But it was a fraud: the technology didn’t work and Holmes and her team covered it up.

There have been several great documentaries and news broadcasts going into detail on the Theranos case, and with Holmes and others still awaiting trial it remains unresolved. This adaptation of an ABC News podcast will be the first dramatisation of the events of the Theranos scam, and despite some production setbacks it looks like it has the potential to be truly interesting when its broadcast on Hulu (and on Disney+ internationally) before the end of the year.

Number 8: Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series (full title unknown)

I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll see the first season of this incredibly expensive television show this year. With half the year gone, there hasn’t been much news about Amazon’s Game of Thrones-killer. That aside, a return to Middle-earth sounds incredible, and by taking the action away from most of the characters we’re familiar with from the films, hopefully what will result will be a genuinely different experience that doesn’t try to mimic the films too heavily.

Amazon has thrown cinema-level money at its Lord of the Rings adaptation, so I’m expecting to see something incredibly impressive for that investment.

Number 9: The Witcher Season 2

I’ve never played The Witcher 3 or any of the other games in the series. But the first season of Netflix’s adaptation of the original novels was great, and it’s always nice to see a high-budget fantasy project make it to screen! The first season debuted in late 2019, and I had half-hoped to see Season 2 before now. It’s still possible it won’t happen before the end of the year, but a recent teaser from Netflix suggests that Season 2 is in post-production and progressing nicely.

After such a long break, I feel like I should probably re-watch Season 1 before sitting down to see any new episodes! Henry Cavill will reprise his role as Geralt, and all being well Season 2 will be just as good as Season 1.

Number 10: Tokyo Vice

This true-crime series is based on the memoir of an American journalist, Jake Adelstein, who spent several years in Tokyo. In short, he documented a lot of police corruption during his tenure as a newspaper reporter in the 1990s, and given HBO’s pedigree at making high-budget series, I think there’s a lot of potential here.

Speaking as a westerner, Japan can be somewhat of a mystery. Romanticised by some, ignored by others, the truth is that many folks who’ve never set foot in Japan don’t know the first thing about Japanese life – and Tokyo Vice may just blow the lid off the seedier underbelly of Japan’s capital city in a big way. I’m calling it right now: this show could be 2021’s Chernobyl.

Film:

An increasing number of films are coming straight to streaming platforms – or being released digitally at the same time as heading to the box office. This is great news for me personally, as I’m not able to go to the cinema in person. There are some interesting titles coming up in the second half of the year.

Number 1: Jungle Cruise

In 2003 I felt that making a film based on the Disneyland/Disney World ride Pirates of the Caribbean was a stupid idea. Shows what I know, eh? Pirates of the Caribbean was great fun, so I’m hopeful that Disney’s latest ride adaptation will be as well. The Jungle Cruise ride takes theme park guests on a riverboat through – you guessed it – a jungle!

Hopefully the excitement that the ride offers will translate well to the screen. Parts of the trailer looked very CGI-heavy, and I hope that won’t be too offputting or problematic. Otherwise all I can really say is I’m looking forward to seeing what the film has to offer.

Number 2: Free Guy

Ryan Reynolds stars as a video game character who becomes sentient. I don’t know what else to say other than that sounds like a hilarious premise, one well-suited to Reynolds’ comedic style.

Video games have been the subject of many different films over the years, both as plot points and as direct video game adaptations. But no film so far has taken this approach; Free Guy looks set to be a unique experience when it arrives on the 13th of August.

Number 3: No Time To Die

This is the third or fourth time I’ve put No Time To Die on a list of “upcoming” titles. But this time it really is going to be released! Right?! Delayed by almost two years at this point, Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007 looks set to be an explosive and action-packed experience, and hopefully will bring down the curtain on his tenure in the role in suitable fashion.

The film will feature Academy Award-winner Rami Malek as its main villain, and I’m very interested to see what he’ll bring to the table. All being well, No Time To Die will be released at the end of September – and I’m curious to see whether it’ll be released on Amazon Prime Video as well, following Amazon’s acquisition of MGM.

Number 4: Encanto

We don’t know too much right now about Disney’s next big animated film. It’s set in Colombia, so there’ll be a Latin/South American feel. The film will focus on a girl who’s the only one in her family unable to use magic. I think we can expect an uplifting story of someone learning to be themselves and discover their own talents!

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who composed the soundtrack to 2016’s Moana (as well as Hamilton, In The Heights, and many others) is collaborating with Disney for a second time on the soundtrack to Encanto. That alone makes the film very exciting and worth checking out. Currently Disney aims to release Encanto in cinemas with no word on a Disney+ premiere.

Number 5: The Green Knight

I’ve long had an interest in the legends of King Arthur, and this film adaptation of one of the lesser-known Arthurian works looks set to be interesting at the very least. I got almost a horror or supernatural vibe from the trailer for The Green Knight, and while I’m not a big horror fan personally, I think the film has potential.

I’m not familiar with the director or most of the cast, so I can’t comment on the film’s pedigree. But with a decent budget and solid source material, this could be an interesting one to watch when it arrives at the end of July.

Number 6: Space Jam: A New Legacy

I don’t think I’ve re-watched the original Space Jam since it was released in 1996. But despite that, the idea of a sequel to the fun basketball-meets-Looney Tunes flick seems like it’ll be a lot of fun! Starring Star Trek: Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green alongside basketball legend LeBron James, the film looks set to follow a similar formula to its famous ’90s predecessor.

Nostalgia is a big deal in entertainment at the moment, so I’m not surprised to see ’90s hits like Space Jam being brought back. Hopefully A New Legacy can live up to the original film when it’s released in just a couple of weeks’ time.

Number 7: Dune

As with Foundation above, Dune is an adaptation of an absolutely iconic work of science-fiction. Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel has been notoriously difficult to bring to the screen, and while this version is the first part of a duology, in many respects the complicated story might be better served as a television series than in the cinema.

Despite that, however, I’m looking forward to Dune’s November premiere. A huge budget, visual effects that look outstanding, and a star-studded cast will hopefully all come together to make this latest adaptation a success.

Number 8: Top Gun: Maverick

It’s been a long time since I saw Top Gun, the film which propelled Tom Cruise to superstardom. To produce a sequel 35 years after the original film is, in some respects, a risk. But as already mentioned, nostalgia is a huge driving force in the modern entertainment industry, and with Cruise stepping back into the shoes of fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, there’s already been a huge amount of interest.

Top Gun: Maverick will come to Paramount+ shortly after its theatrical release, which will hopefully give the streaming platform – Star Trek’s digital home – a nice boost.

Number 9: The Matrix 4

Although The Matrix 4 remains on the schedule for 2021, with so little information about the production – not even a name – I think we have to call this one tentative. 2003’s Reloaded and Revolutions seemed to bring the story to a pretty definitive end, so I’ll be interested to see where a new instalment takes the sci-fi/action series.

Most of the original cast are reprising their roles, and Lana Wachowski is set to direct. After the Wachowskis came out as transgender and completed their transitions, many critics have re-evaluated The Matrix and its “red pill, blue pill” analogy through the lens of trans experiences. As someone who’s recently been exploring my own gender identity, I’ll be very curious to see what the fourth film in the series has to say about the subject.

Number 10: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

The Resident Evil film series, which ran from 2002 to 2016, is a rare example of a successful video game adaptation on the big screen. Following 2016’s The Final Chapter, Welcome to Raccoon City aims to reboot the film franchise, and bring it closer in line with the video games that originally inspired it.

The video game Resident Evil 2 was recently remade, and that game’s success may have inspired some of the choices made for the film, including the decision to incorporate several major characters from the video game series. Even though horror isn’t really my thing, the Resident Evil films always managed to be the right mix of frightening and action-packed, and I’m hopeful for something similar from this reboot.

Video Games:

Some folks felt that this year’s E3 was a disappointment because of how many games have been pushed back to 2022. That’s another consequence of the pandemic, unfortunately! But there are still a number of exciting games coming before the end of the year.

Number 1: Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been on my radar for a while. Its Disney-inspired art style looks utterly adorable, and I can’t wait to give the game a try. There’s always room for this kind of single-player action-adventure title, and the premise of being a “spirit guide” who helps the newly-deceased sounds unique and fun.

I’m hopeful that developers Ember Lab, working on their first game after transitioning from digital animation, will succeed at creating an enjoyable, perhaps somewhat different experience.

Number 2: Bear and Breakfast

One of the indie highlights of E3 in my opinion, the adorable-looking, vaguely Stardew Valley-esque Bear and Breakfast is scheduled to launch before the end of the year. The premise, in case you didn’t get it, is that you run a bed & breakfast in a forest, and you’re a bear. What’s not to love about that?!

The game’s cartoony visual style looks cute, the premise sounds unique and just the right kind of silly, and I’m just really looking forward to giving Bear and Breakfast a shot.

Number 3: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

This one has to be tentative, as there’s been very little movement on the game all year. Its absence at E3 was noticeable, and we may learn that it’s going to be delayed until next year. However, Gollum is a very interesting project. What could a game where this vile, villainous character is the star possibly have to offer? There have been antiheroes in gaming before, but few characters are as repulsive as Gollum!

And I think that’s what’s so fascinating about this title. Taking on the role of Gollum, and experiencing an adventure in Middle-earth from his perspective is almost certainly going to make for a game that’s one-of-a-kind.

Number 4: Mario Party: Superstars

Though its price seems rather steep, Mario Party: Superstars is bringing back classic boards and mini-games from the original Nintendo 64 Mario Party games. I had great fun with the first Mario Party in particular, and being able to play remastered versions sounds like a blast of nostalgia and potentially a lot of fun.

I can’t escape the feeling that Superstars might’ve been better value were it half the price, or an expansion pack for Super Mario Party instead of being a full-price standalone title. But despite that, it sounds like fun.

Number 5: Halo Infinite

After a disappointing trailer last year, Halo Infinite was delayed and reworked, ultimately meaning it didn’t launch alongside the Xbox Series X last November. Following a year-long delay, the game is now set to launch in time for Christmas, alongside a free multiplayer mode.

Since Halo Infinite will be coming to Game Pass I daresay I’ll give it a go when it comes out. After a six-year gap – the longest in the history of the series – fans will be clamouring for more from the Master Chief, as well as looking to see whether 343 Industries have finally managed to get the elusive Halo formula right. With a television series also in the works, Microsoft is investing heavily in the Halo brand.

Number 6: Age of Empires IV

Sticking with Microsoft, the next big brand they’re bringing back is Age of Empires! After the first three games were successfully remade over the last few years, the launch of Age of Empires IV is the series’ real test. Can Xbox Game Studios craft a title that successfully brings the classic real-time strategy series firmly into the modern day?

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition in particular has built up a solid fanbase, with plenty of folks playing the game competitively online. A lot of them will be interested to try Age of Empires IV, so the game has the potential to be a success. The original Age of Empires was my first real introduction to the world of real-time strategy, so I’m rooting for the success of the latest entry in the series.

Number 7: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

This is another one we’ll have to call tentative. There’s been radio silence from Traveller’s Tales and Warner Bros. since the game was delayed back in April – having already been delayed twice previously. However, I’m still hopeful that we’ll see it before the end of the year – it would be a great stocking stuffer were it to launch in time for Christmas!

2006’s Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga was absolutely brilliant; a comedic, light-hearted take on Star Wars. I’m hoping this new game can live up to that legacy and bring a dose of fun to Star Wars. Maybe it’ll even make the dire Rise of Skywalker bearable!

Number 8: Road 96

I can’t actually remember where I first saw indie title Road 96. But the idea sounds great: a procedurally-generated game in which your character has to escape from a dangerous country. Some of the landscapes shown off in the trailer looked similar to the American Southwest, and I love the visual style.

Road 96 promises “thousands” of routes and non-player characters to interact with, and it sounds like this could be a game with a huge amount of replay value. I’m looking forward to trying it out for myself.

Number 9: Shredders

There have been some classic snowboarding games in years past: 1080° Snowboarding on the Nintendo 64 and SSX Tricky on the Xbox/PlayStation 2, just to give two examples. Shredders, which was announced at E3, looks like it’ll pick up the baton and offer a fun snowboarding experience.

Any game set in a wintry environment has to get its snow texture just right, and it looks as though Shredders has – at least based on pre-release trailers. I’m hopeful for a fun time when this lands on Game Pass in the run-up to Christmas.

Number 10: Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 4 was great fun, and I’m hoping for more of the same from its sequel. The semi-arcade racing hops across the Atlantic to Mexico for this iteration, with promises of more cars, a bigger map, and diverse environments to race through. All of that sounds great!

Racing games often manage to look visually stunning, and Forza Horizon 5 is no exception. The game looks fantastic, and if it plays well too it could be a huge time-sink heading into the autumn!

So that’s it!

We’ve looked at ten television shows, films, and video games that I think will be fun as we cross into the second half of 2021. Summer is always my least-favourite season, with early sunrises making it harder to sleep than usual, annoying insects buzzing around, and heatwaves that make me wish I could afford air conditioning! But there are plenty of things to look forward to even as we roll through my least-favourite part of the year.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 has to be my highlight; if I could only choose one thing to be excited about it would be that! But Tokyo Vice is incredibly interesting too, a series which I think could blow up and become the next Chernobyl. Film-wise, Encanto looks great; any project with a soundtrack by Lin-Manuel Miranda is worth paying attention to! Dune I’m hopeful for, and The Green Knight could sneak in and become something more than I’m expecting. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is such an interesting and cute-looking video game, and a rare new IP in an entertainment landscape where sequels and franchises dominate.

2021 still has a lot left to offer, even though we’re already halfway through! I hope you found something here to get excited about – or maybe something you hadn’t heard of that you can add to your list.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, developer, broadcaster, distributor, publisher, etc. Some promotional video game screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Amazon buyout of MGM is another blow to cinemas

We’ve recently talked about how the pandemic may have a long-term impact on cinema attendance and the box office, with many folks getting used to the convenience and practicality of streaming big blockbusters at home. But it seems cinemas just can’t catch a break, because it was recently announced that Amazon will be buying legendary Hollywood studio MGM.

Make no mistake, this is all about streaming. Amazon Prime Video looks set to benefit greatly from this acquisition, helping the service compete with the likes of Netflix and Paramount+ in terms of films. Though Amazon does have its own film studio, and has had a hand in titles like the Academy Award-winning Manchester By The Sea, most films available to stream via Amazon Prime Video were licensed from other companies. As more and more companies try to launch their own streaming platforms, these licensing deals are increasingly difficult (and expensive) for the likes of Netflix and Amazon, so finding ways to get their own in-house content is hugely important.

Buying MGM will enable Amazon to add a huge library of titles to its Prime Video streaming service.

Netflix has branched out into making more and more of its own original films – for better or worse! But Amazon is one of the world’s largest and most successful companies, having grown massively during the last year, and can throw its money around to buy up studios – and the rights to properties like The Lord of the Rings. We’ve recently seen Microsoft do something similar in the gaming realm, buying up Bethesda and adding that studio’s games to Xbox Game Pass. Amazon is doing the same thing with MGM.

I’ve seen some outlets trying to make the case that this is Amazon further diversifying its business model. What began as an online bookseller in the mid-1990s has grown to sell practically everything and has involvements and holdings in industries as far apart as space technology and baby nappies. But this MGM acquisition is not about diversification. Amazon doesn’t want to break into the film distribution market any more than they’re already involved; they want films, both old and new, to add to Amazon Prime Video for the sole purpose of driving more subscriptions. It’s that simple.

Amazon announced a deal to buy famed American film studio MGM for $8.45 billion.

This is a hammer blow for cinemas and cinema chains already reeling from the pandemic and associated closures and cancellations. We’ve already seen many films that would otherwise have received a theatrical release go direct-to-streaming, and Amazon’s acquisition of MGM comes with the real threat of all future MGM titles following suit. There aren’t many studios the size of MGM, releasing multiple high-budget titles per year, so this is a coup for Amazon.

Upcoming titles like the sequel to Tomb Raider, Legally Blonde III, Soggy Bottom, and House of Gucci would have all been draws at reopened cinemas around the world, but their theatrical releases are now in doubt. And that’s before we even consider one of the biggest upcoming MGM titles (at least from a UK perspective!) No Time To Die, the latest instalment in the James Bond series.

No Time To Die may still manage a theatrical release… or it may not.

It’s not unfair in the slightest to say that British cinemas have been desperately waiting for No Time To Die’s release, as no other upcoming film has quite as much potential to bring audiences back after well over a year of closures, lockdowns, and cancelled titles. Even the mere threat of No Time To Die going direct to streaming is enough to make a lot of people involved in the UK cinema industry very nervous, and I’m not sure we can rely on promises that the film will still meet its planned theatrical release in September – especially if the pandemic causes further disruption in the months ahead.

As I said when Microsoft acquired Bethesda, companies don’t spend these vast sums of money and expect nothing in return. With Amazon making this move to shore up and expand its library of streaming titles, any future MGM release now has the potential to end up on Amazon Prime Video either exclusively or alongside a release in cinemas. Even if imminent titles like No Time To Die meet their theatrical obligations – which will almost certainly be due to pre-existing contracts if it happens – future titles, both announced and unannounced, are almost certain to join Amazon’s streaming line-up. In short, cinemas may get a temporary reprieve from the fallout of this acquisition, but it won’t last much beyond the end of 2021.

Amazon will be expecting a serious return on such an expensive investment – and that’s all focused on streaming.

The way people consume media has been changing for years. The pandemic may have accelerated some of those changes to light-speed, but it isn’t the fundamental cause of a shift in audiences away from cinemas and broadcast television to online on-demand streaming. Just like the pandemic isn’t the root cause of problems with many high street shops, it can’t be blamed for people moving en masse toward an all-digital streaming future. The future of companies like MGM is in the digital space, and unfortunately for cinemas that means fewer films, smaller audiences, and growing irrelevance as bigger titles bypass a theatrical release altogether. Even in the pre-pandemic years, going to the cinema had become, for many folks, an occasional treat rather than a regular outing, and this move is simply a reflection of the changing way in which people choose to watch films.

Amazon’s acquisition of MGM is a big deal, but it’s unlikely to be the last such move as the so-called “streaming wars” look for new battlefields. It isn’t yet clear how many streaming services people are willing to put up with, nor which will ultimately survive, so it seems inevitable that more big studios and distributors will eventually team up with – or be bought out by – other big players in the streaming landscape. None of which is particularly pro-consumer, it has to be said, but then again I’d rather see MGM films go to Amazon Prime Video – a streaming service I already have access to – than wait for MGM to set up their own “MGM Plus” or whatever they would’ve called it!

It’s a serious blow to cinemas in the medium-to-long-term, even if some titles scheduled for this year will still get a full theatrical release. But will audiences really care? As I said last time, the shift away from the cinema had already set in long before the pandemic struck, and with film studios and audiences alike having discovered the many advantages of at-home streaming, it seems like we’ll be seeing a lot more of this type of acquisition or merger in the months and years ahead, with many more films going direct-to-streaming in the very near future. MGM may be one of the biggest so far, but it won’t be the last. Cinema chains and owners are already feeling the effects.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright and/or trademark of their respective owner, studio, company, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Have we seen an unstoppable shift away from the cinema?

One of the consequences of the pandemic has been the long-term closure of many cinemas (movie theaters for my American readers). Aside from a short respite last July and August, most cinemas here in the UK have been shut since March 2020 – for well over a year now. Some, like a local independent cinema near me, have had no choice but to close permanently, even with the end of lockdown seemingly in sight. Even when cinemas are able to reopen, limits on capacity due to social distancing, the general unease among many people about sitting in a room with dozens of strangers with the pandemic still ongoing, and most significantly, the lack of major film releases in the near term will – in my opinion, at least – most likely mean it will be a long time before things are able to get back to normal.

But will things ever get back to normal? That’s the question I want to ask today.

Will empty cinemas be full again one day?

In the early days of the pandemic, most films scheduled for release in spring or summer 2020 were simply postponed; their release dates pushed back by a few months so that they could be released to full crowds when lockdowns were lifted in their key markets. But as the pandemic has dragged on and on, film studios have begun to switch the way they release many big titles – opting to send them to streaming platforms rather than wait.

Without Remorse was originally supposed to get a theatrical release, but premiered on Amazon Prime Video instead. Raya and the Last Dragon went directly to Disney+. Then there are titles like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Mulan, The Little Things, Godzilla vs. Kong, Bill & Ted Face The Music, News of the World, and Tom & Jerry. Upcoming titles such as Jungle Cruise, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Black Widow, Malignant, and A Quiet Place II are all going to either be released directly on streaming or with a limited theatrical run at the same time as going straight to streaming.

Animated film Raya and the Last Dragon went straight to Disney+ earlier in the year.

Is this a one-time thing, purely caused by the pandemic? And if it is, will audiences be happy to return to cinemas once the pandemic has cleared and they can fully reopen? If you’d asked me in March or April last year, I’d have said yes to both questions without hesitation. But now I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of advantages to streaming compared to going to the cinema, and as more and more people come to see those advantages, the cinema becomes a less-attractive option in contrast. This trend is not new – cinema attendance has declined a lot from where it was a few decades ago, and with the rise of high-quality television series which can rival and even surpass films in many cases, this is a reckoning that cinemas have had coming for a while. The pandemic has accelerated that to light-speed, but the trend has been going in this direction for a while.

Paramount+ is one of many competing streaming platforms that have arguably benefited from the forced closure of cinemas during the pandemic.

So what are the supposed advantages of at-home streaming? The first has to be convenience. Viewers can watch what they want on their own schedule, with the ability to pause a film to take a phone call or go to the bathroom, watching before or after work, or even late at night. It’s possible to watch with subtitles, audio description, director commentaries, and even watch in other languages. Most folks are more comfortable in their own homes than they are in a cinema chair – even the nicest cinema seats aren’t as pleasant as a comfy armchair or couch. There are no distractions from (other people’s) noisy kids, people munching popcorn, or idiots on their phones. You don’t have to sit through half an hour of adverts and trailers to get to the film. If you’re using a phone or tablet it’s possible to watch on the go, or literally anywhere. And some of the things we might’ve considered to be disadvantages a few years ago – such as screen size, resolution, and audio quality – are all easily surmountable even for folks on a limited budget.

Obviously not all of these points apply in every single case, but as a general rule, as screens get bigger and better, the need to watch something in the cinema is dropping. The old adage that a particular film was “better in the cinema” or “made for cinemas” no longer applies in many cases.

Amazon Prime Video have snapped up a number of films that couldn’t get a theatrical release this year – including Without Remorse.

I have a relatively inexpensive 4K television that doesn’t have OLED or HDR or any of those higher-end features, just a bog-standard LED set. But this model, even when I was buying it a few years ago, only started at a 40-inch screen size, with sizes going all the way up to 60″ or 65″. Nowadays, 85″ and 90″ sets are on the market and within reach of many consumers. Sound bars and speakers that put out fantastic quality audio are equally affordable, with prices dropping massively from where they had been when 4K and large screens were new. Even on my cheap and cheerful set, films look great. And if you sit reasonably close, it really does feel akin to being in the cinema – in the comfort of my own home.

It’s difficult, in my opinion, for cinemas to compete on price or quality. Even the more expensive streaming platforms, like Netflix, cost around £10-12 per month. It’s been a while since I was able to go to the cinema – health issues prevent me from doing so – but the last time I was able to go, £10 wouldn’t even stretch to two tickets. For that money you get one month’s worth of access to a massive library of titles – including many brand-new ones and Netflix originals made specially for the platform.

Large, good-quality television screens are increasingly affordable and offer a cinema-like experience at home.

In the late ’40s and ’50s, when my parents were young, going to the cinema was a frequent outing. You’d see an A- and B-movie, as well as perhaps a newsreel or something else, and it would feel like good value. Since the early 20th Century, going to the cinema on at least a weekly basis was a big part of many peoples’ lives – but things have been changing, slowly, for quite a while.

For at least the last couple of decades, going to the cinema is something most folks have viewed as an occasional treat rather than a regular outing. The price and value of a cinema ticket – and the additional extras like drinks and snacks – have shot up in relation to earnings, while at the same time the number of advertisements and trailers have also increased. Though the cinema still has a place in many folks’ lives, that place had been slipping long before the pandemic arrived. In the ’90s and 2000s, the blame for that lay with cable and satellite television channels, including many dedicated film channels. Nowadays, the blame has shifted to streaming.

Netflix has picked up a lot of subscribers in the past year.

Many film studios are keen to play their part in this trend, too. Sharing a big chunk of their profits with cinema chains and operators was never something they were wild about, which is why we’re seeing more and more studios and production companies either partnering with big streaming platforms or else trying to launch their own. Paramount+ exists for this reason, as do Disney+, HBO Max, and many others. These companies don’t care in the slightest about the fate of cinemas – except insofar as they can use them to turn a profit. When the pandemic meant that wasn’t possible, many companies happily jumped ship and released their films digitally instead.

Though I know a lot of people who have told me they’re keen to get back to the cinema as soon as possible, when I probed most of them further and asked how often they would go to the cinema pre-pandemic, or what films they were most excited to see at the cinema next, all of the answers I got back up everything I’ve been saying. Most folks go to the cinema infrequently at best, and while they’ve missed some of the social aspects of the “cinema experience,” they certainly haven’t missed the adverts, loud seat neighbours, and hassle. Streaming, while not as glamorous or exciting in some ways, is a more enjoyable experience in others.

Some people have missed every aspect of being at the cinema… but many haven’t!

I know I have to acknowledge my own bias here. As someone whose disability prevents them going to the cinema, I’d be quite happy if every film I want to watch from now on comes directly to streaming! On a purely selfish level, that’s something I’m fine with. And while I stand by the fact that the trend away from the cinema in a general sense is real and demonstrable, the pandemic probably hasn’t killed the entire concept of the cinema stone-dead. Nor would that be a good thing. Many cinemas offer more than just the latest blockbusters, with classic films, recorded theatre plays and ballet performances, and other such events. In the rural area where I live, the idea of being able to see something like the Royal Ballet is beyond a lot of people due to the distances involved. But local cinemas occasionally show things like ballets, operas, and Shakespeare plays, bringing a different kind of culture and entertainment to the region. Cinemas are also big local employers, and it’s nothing to celebrate when a local business is forced to close.

So most cinemas will eventually re-open. But the question I asked is still pertinent, because I don’t know whether they’ll see pre-pandemic numbers of visitors for a very long time – if at all. The pandemic has forced the hand of film studios and distributors, and the result has been an uptick in the number of subscribers to streaming platforms. Many folks have tried streaming for the first time, and while there will always be holdouts, people who proclaim that it really is “better in the cinema,” I think a lot of people have been surprised at how enjoyable streaming a film at home can be, and how favourably it can compare to the cinema experience.

Many people haven’t missed the “cinema experience” as much as they expected.

A big home theatre setup is no longer necessary. With a relatively inexpensive – but still large – television set and maybe a sound bar or pair of satellite speakers, many people can have a truly cinema-like experience in their own living rooms. And a lot of people who’ve tried it for the first time, prompted by lockdown, may have no plans to return to the cinema any time soon – or if they do, they’ll be making fewer trips.

In my opinion, this is something that has the potential to continue to build over time. As screens continue to improve, and as more people eschew the cinema in favour of staying in, more films will go direct to streaming because companies will see more success and more money in it. Fewer films will end up in cinemas exclusively, so fewer people will go. And the cycle will continue!

Even if I’m wrong on that final point, I do believe that we’ve already seen a slow move away from cinemas in the pre-pandemic years. The pandemic came along and blew the lid off that, and while there will be a return once things settle down, at-home streaming is here to stay. It benefits viewers and companies – the only folks who are going to lose out are the cinema chains themselves. I’m not saying it’s a positive thing necessarily, although it does stand to benefit me in some respects, nor am I advocating for it. But when I look at the way things have been going over the past few years, and add the pandemic’s disruption into the mix, I really do feel that we’re seeing a big move away from the cinema in favour of at-home streaming.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, production company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A year later, have I softened my tone on The Rise of Skywalker?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, and for the entire Star Wars franchise.

You can find my original review of The Rise of Skywalker by clicking or tapping here.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker premiered in December 2019, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2020 that I was able to see it. As I’ve explained on a few occasions, my health now prevents me from taking trips to the cinema, so I had to wait until it was available to watch digitally. It’s now been a year since I published my review (or should that be tear-down?) of the film, so I thought I’d revisit it and see what, if anything, has changed in that time.

Attitudes can soften with the passage of time, and a film or series that was once considered dire can find a new audience later on. The Star Wars franchise itself contains great examples of this: not only can we point to the growing popularity of the prequel trilogy, especially among fans who first saw those films when they were children, but even Return of the Jedi, which was once considered the weak link in the trilogy, is now held up alongside the original film and The Empire Strikes Back, with most fans not differentiating between any parts of the Original Trilogy.

Remember when everyone hated and derided the Ewoks?

Part of this is to do with age and when fans first encountered Star Wars, of course. And one year isn’t a lot of time to allow passions to settle, so perhaps I’m entering this with too high hopes! But despite that, I hadn’t re-watched The Rise of Skywalker since I first reviewed it until a couple of days ago, and if nothing else I was curious to see if I still found the film to be as bad as I did then.

Here’s my basic summary from last time: The Rise of Skywalker has problems with pacing and editing, with the film rushing from story beat to story beat never allowing the audience to catch a breath and process anything that’s happened. That makes it feel like nothing more than a mindless action film on par with the worst parts of series like Transformers or Sharknado. Then the film went out of its way to overwrite basically everything that happened in The Last Jedi.

Promo art for The Rise of Skywalker.

Whether you like The Last Jedi or not – and I do respect that there are strong feelings on this – you have to accept that, in a three-part trilogy, the third film simply cannot waste time doing this. By trying to overwrite The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker ended up having to condense two films’ worth of story into one title – something which goes some way to explaining the awful pacing issue noted above.

Then there were story beats left unexplained or unseen. Palpatine’s message to the galaxy informing them of his (incredibly dumb) plan. Where was it? Surely we needed to see that on screen for ourselves instead of just seeing the reactions of other characters or reading it in the opening crawl. Oh, that’s right: Palpatine’s incredibly important message that set up the entire story of The Rise of Skywalker was only available to players of battle royale video game Fortnite. You read that right – Palpatine’s message was recorded, but thanks to a marketing tie-in with Fortnite it could only be heard in that game.

You could hear Palpatine’s message – the driving force behind the entire plot of the film – but only if you played Fortnite.

How did Lando Calrissian, making his return to the franchise two films too late, manage to recruit literally the entire galaxy for a mission to attack Palpatine? He just turns up at the end with the biggest fleet the film franchise has ever seen at his back, with no explanation given and not even a single frame dedicated to how he managed to convince everyone to join him. That might be a film worth watching.

The decision to get rid of the backstory established for Rey in The Last Jedi was fan-servicey and dumb. It was as if writer/director JJ Abrams spent twenty minutes looking at fan-fiction online and said “that’ll do,” then ham-fistedly inserted it into the script. Palpatine’s plan to launch a huge fleet of starships from his hidden base might make sense… but announcing it to the galaxy before the ships are in position and while they’re still vulnerable to attack doesn’t survive any degree of scrutiny.

Rey’s backstory was overwritten in The Rise of Skywalker.

I could go on, but this summary is already too long. In short, I considered The Rise of Skywalker to be an irredeemably bad film, the worst film I saw in all of 2020. So have I changed my mind now I’ve seen it again? Spoiler alert: no.

I won’t be all cliché and tell you it was worse this time around, but as I re-watched the film that was supposed to conclude the “Skywalker Saga,” the disappointment I felt a year ago is still there. The passage of time has not magically made bad storytelling good.

To provide some context, I also put myself through the torrid chore of re-watching The Phantom Menace, the film I considered Star Wars’ worst prior to The Rise of Skywalker. It’s been a while since I saw The Phantom Menace, and I likewise wondered if my attitude had shifted any. Both films are unenjoyable, but they fail for fundamentally different reasons. The Phantom Menace has a story that was carefully designed from the ground up. The problem was that story was disappointing and unnecessary fluff. The Rise of Skywalker has no real story, with the plot being made up of a cobbled-together mix of side-quests, failed twists, and fan-fiction.

I re-watched The Phantom Menace as well. It’s been a shit few days for films, to be honest.

Having re-watched both films, the one thing I would say has probably changed since last time is this: as much as I don’t enjoy The Phantom Menace, and indeed the prequel trilogy overall, The Rise of Skywalker is probably worse.

One thing I commented on last time that I definitely want to bring up again is the Sith dagger maguffin. This one prop is arguably the most important in the entire film, being the driving force behind a significant portion of what we’ll generously call the “plot.” But it just looks awful. The blade looks nothing like metal at all, not even old rusted metal. It’s made of some kind of plastic or foam rubber, and that’s incredibly obvious every time it’s shown on screen. In a film which otherwise manages to nail the visual effects, this prop should have been done better. And when it became apparent to the producers how bad it looked, some digital effects could have been added in post-production to smarten it up, at least in frames where it’s clearly visible on screen.

I have a second monitor which is a different make to my primary display, and I tried looking at the dagger there to see if it looked any better; perhaps it looked uniquely bad on my screen for some reason. I also tracked down still images and photos of the dagger to see if the Disney+ version of the film had some kind of weird visual quirk. But having investigated as much as I can (or can be bothered for a film this crap) I have to conclude that the Sith dagger, a maguffin integral to the story of the film, for whatever reason looks bad on screen. Other weapons in Star Wars look fine, and even in The Rise of Skywalker practically all of the other props were inoffensive. But this one, the most important one, manages to look like a cheap child’s toy; something you’d pick up in the bargain bin of a discount supermarket to keep a kid entertained for a few minutes.

For such an important prop, the Sith dagger looked awful.

Finn and Rose were both unceremoniously dumped by The Rise of Skywalker as its focus shifted to trying to mimic Luke and Vader using Rey and Kylo Ren. Both characters had potential in their first appearances, yet nothing ever came of that. Rose was the mechanic who lost her sister to the war and wanted nothing more than to do her bit to fight for freedom, yet she was insultingly given a few seconds’ worth of screen time and chose not to accompany Finn and Rey on their series of side-quests.

Finn was the first Stormtrooper we’ve spent much time with in Star Wars’ main canon. There was scope for his story of overcoming indoctrination and fighting back to turn into something genuinely inspirational, but he was relegated to a minor role that seemed to mostly consist of shouting at Rey – so much so that it became a meme. Finn was one of the “big three” – the three main characters of the trilogy, or so we were told. Yet while Poe and Rey got some attention in The Rise of Skywalker, Finn was essentially sidelined for the entire film. He played third fiddle to Rey and Poe, never really able to come into his own. It was a waste of a character – but that could be said of many characters across the sequel trilogy, really.

“Rey!” shouted Finn, repeatedly. For two-and-a-half hours.

John Boyega, who plays Finn, has been vocal about this, suggesting that Star Wars wasn’t sure what to do with his character. And I sympathise with that, because while Finn had some degree of character development, it all happened in the first few minutes of The Force Awakens, much of it wordlessly, and after that he just felt like a spare part.

The treatment of Rose was frankly just offensive, though, and it’s this decision that deserves the most criticism. Kelly Marie Tran, who plays the character, had been subjected to an absolutely vile torrent of abuse online in the weeks after The Last Jedi premiered, all of which came from complete morons who are incapable of separating their feelings about a fictional character from the actress who plays her. Though director Rian Johnson stuck up for Tran, as did some of her co-stars, Star Wars as a whole was largely silent. The decision to give Rose such a minor role was clearly the franchise pandering to those sexists and racists who went after the actress, and honestly that’s just appalling. Almost everything else wrong with The Rise of Skywalker concerns plot, characterisation, and so on. But this is something that actually affected a real person, and whatever you may think of Rose’s character in The Last Jedi, the decent thing for Star Wars and its producers to do would have been to take a stand in support of their actress. Cutting her from The Rise of Skywalker is nothing more than pandering.

Rose was entirely sidelined.

For some reason, The Rise of Skywalker needed to have a “shocking twist.” And this played out in perhaps the dumbest, most obvious way possible. General Hux was the First Order zealot we met in The Force Awakens. He works alongside new character General Pryde, and the film clumsily sets up that there’s a spy in the First Order. Naturally, the audience are supposed to think it’s Pryde. But no! In a truly stunning turn of events, Hux is the mole, feeding information to the Resistance because of his hatred of Kylo Ren.

Not only was the setup for this poorly handled in a jam-packed film that simply didn’t have enough time to set up a “mystery” of this nature, but the absolute stupidity of Hux being the traitor leaves me at a genuine loss for words. Seriously – ever since I first saw the film I’ve had a piece in my writing pile tentatively titled “General Hux,” with a vague plan to talk about how truly bizarre and stupid this character betrayal was. But every time I start it I genuinely cannot get more than a few lines in. The decision to go down this route is staggeringly dumb in a film that’s already overflowing with ridiculous character and storytelling decisions. I don’t even know where to start or how to unpack this utter nonsense.

Hux’s character betrayal was awful and didn’t even achieve its purpose as a “shocking twist.”

Hux, more than any other character in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, was steadfastly loyal to his cause. Even if we can accept the premise that his personal dispute with Kylo Ren had soured him, surely the arrival on the scene of Palpatine offered a better way out for Hux than betraying the entire First Order. And betraying the organisation to which he had dedicated his life when it was on the brink of victory makes no sense. It’s a “lesser of two evils” situation, from his perspective. Kylo might be someone he viscerally hates, but the First Order is more than just one man, and Hux’s desire to impose “order” on a chaotic galaxy is his driving force.

And so we come, inevitably, to Palpatine.

Even if everything else that was wrong with The Rise of Skywalker went away – and that would be no mean feat considering how much of an abject failure practically every aspect of the story was – Palpatine’s insertion into a story that was clearly never meant to have anything to do with him would ruin whatever remained. There’s no getting away from that.

Palpatine ruined the film.

Palpatine was not part of The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, and the sole reference to him in the latter film was a throwaway line. JJ Abrams and others involved with the production of The Rise of Skywalker absurdly tried to claim that Palpatine’s return was “always the plan,” but that simply is not true. If it was the case, it was set up so badly across the previous two titles that everyone involved with writing, directing, and managing Star Wars should resign in shame and never try to tell another story again. But it wasn’t true. JJ Abrams arrived on the scene after The Last Jedi, and with Snoke dead and Kylo at the head of the First Order he clearly had no idea what to do or where to take the narrative.

Abrams was obviously in love with the idea of re-telling the basic story of Return of the Jedi, just as he’d re-told A New Hope four years previously. Rey was substituted in for Luke, Kylo Ren for Vader, but there needed to be a “big bad,” another villain at the top to make Kylo’s redemption and return to the light possible. In Abrams’ original vision for the trilogy – if such a vision existed, which is debatable – that villain was Snoke. But with Snoke dead and Kylo having assumed the mantle of Supreme Leader, the sequel trilogy’s story had already gone in a radically different direction. This was not something that could be halted or renegotiated; it had already happened.

Snoke’s death and Kylo’s elevation to the role of Supreme Leader could’ve led to The Rise of Skywalker going in a very different direction.

Instead of trying to tell a new story, or adapting the existing one to make it work with new or existing characters, the disastrous decision was made to bring back Palpatine. I can’t emphasise enough how utterly stupid this is. The one thing any fictional universe needs to have is internal consistency. It’s fine to have the Force, a magical power to move objects, perform mind tricks, etc., but when it’s been established roughly what’s possible, internal consistency kicks in and future stories have to be constrained by what’s already been established. This is a basic tenet of storytelling and of fiction in general.

Palpatine died. At the end of Return of the Jedi he was absolutely 100% dead. Not only that, but his absence in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, coupled with the rise of Snoke and the First Order instead of some continuation of the Empire, emphatically and solidly confirmed that Palpatine was dead. Say it with me folks: “Palpatine was dead.”

This moment in Return of the Jedi clearly and unambiguously showed Palpatine’s death.

Not only does The Rise of Skywalker bring him back, his return is not explained. Did he survive the Death Star’s explosion? Was he reborn? Is he a clone? All we got is an ambiguous line that isn’t even new for The Rise of Skywalker – it’s a word-for-word copy of a line spoken by Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith: “the dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” The Rise of Skywalker can’t even be original with its shitty dialogue.

The worst line in relation to the Palpatine clusterfuck was spoken by Poe: “Somehow, Palpatine returned.” That line encapsulates how The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t care one bit about the detail of its story, and how the film is content to treat its audience like idiots. Rather than lingering over this point, the film skips ahead and then races through the rest of the plot. Perhaps the writers and producers knew that no explanation for Palpatine’s return could ever make even the tiniest modicum of sense, so they just opted not to add one. I would say that’s bold, but actually it just compounds how dumb the original decision was. If even the writers can’t find a way to explain or defend this awful story point, then it’s an awful story point.

“Somehow, Palpatine returned.” A contender for the title of worst-written line of dialogue in the franchise.

As I mentioned earlier, Rey’s backstory had been established in The Last Jedi. It wasn’t to everyone’s liking, perhaps, but considering the other sources of controversy that film generated, I think most fans were at least tolerant of it as the first stage of explaining her power and origin. The idea of the Force trying to balance itself by elevating Rey to match the growing power of Kylo was a theme present in both prior parts of the trilogy, and when Kylo explained Rey’s parents were “nobody” in The Last Jedi, that settled things.

That explanation worked very well, and it meant that Rey was in a unique position in Star Wars. Though we’ve known many Jedi characters, the main ones we met were Anakin and Luke, and the familial relationship between them demonstrated that the Force can be passed down from parent to child. But not every Jedi has to be the offspring of another Jedi, and there was something powerful in “Rey the nobody” that The Rise of Skywalker trampled in its mad rush to fetishise and copy the Original Trilogy.

Kylo Ren delivered the shocking(ly awful) news to Rey – and to us as the audience.

Rey’s background as the daughter of nobody special meant her rise and her skills were her own. She achieved the position she was in – and her status as a Jedi – on merit. By removing this key part of her character, The Rise of Skywalker throws away something incredibly valuable: the message that anyone can be a hero. For young people – and especially young girls – sitting down to watch the film, the idea of Rey as a heroine to aspire to, someone who came from nowhere and saved the galaxy, was stripped away, replaced with the laziest and most clichéd of all fantasy tropes: destiny.

Rey’s inheritance as a descendant of Palpatine explained her power. That was it. The Force in Star Wars’ cinematic canon functions like an aristocracy, with power passed from Anakin to Luke and Leia, then from Leia to Ben Solo, and from Palpatine to Rey. Gone is the concept, embodied in the “broom boy” scene at the end of The Last Jedi, that the Force can be present in even the most lowly individuals. What replaced it was fate, destiny, and the power of bloodlines – an amazing and powerful message cast aside for a cheap fan-fiction theory.

Rey learns her true origin… for the second time.

The climactic battle involving Palpatine’s fleet and Finn and Poe’s Resistance forces is incredibly dumb and makes no sense. Not only was the idea of fighting on the exterior hull of a starship so phenomenally stupid, but the very concept of a fleet that doesn’t “know which way is up” and has such a patently obvious weakness was ridiculously poorly handled.

Star Wars has previously introduced us to forces and machines that seem overwhelming, only to offer a “million-to-one shot” way to destroy them; at this point it’s almost a trope of the franchise, being present in two of the three original films and The Force Awakens. But in all prior cases – even with The Force Awakens’ Starkiller Base, which was a patent rip-off of the Death Star – it was handled so much better and made more sense in-universe.

A moment of brainless action designed for the trailer and pre-release marketing material.

Palpatine’s fleet is the only fleet ever seen in Star Wars to require some kind of external navigation aid; this concept is just plain dumb for a technological civilisation. Not only that, but the idea that without this maguffin the ships will be trapped and unable to move is awful. Really, irredeemably awful.

What this all means is that Palpatine’s fleet looked superficially large and intimidating, especially in the film’s trailer and other marketing material, but was ultimately incredibly easy to defeat; cardboard cut-out opposition for our heroes. What could have been a satisfying victory over seemingly overwhelming odds felt incredibly cheap and hollow as a result.

The Sith fleet was clearly designed to be easily defeated.

As mentioned above, Lando’s last-second arrival with half the ships in the galaxy at his back was designed to be a feel-good moment; “we the people” rising up against tyranny. But because we didn’t get to see any of Lando’s recruitment efforts, nor understand why the galaxy would turn out to help him when they ignored Leia at the end of The Last Jedi, it was nothing but an incredibly hollow moment that felt more like a deus ex machina than a rousing victory.

Given the lukewarm reaction to the sequel trilogy, Disney’s roadmap for upcoming Star Wars projects seems to be putting this era on hold. But if they ever do choose to revisit the sequel era in future, one story I think would be absolutely worth exploring is Lando’s mad rush to bring the galaxy together and lead them to Exegol – of all the things in The Rise of Skywalker, that might be the one story worth digging into.

How did Lando manage to get so many people to back him? Might’ve been worth showing a bit of that on screen, no?

I’ve already written far more than I intended to for what was supposed to be a short revisit to a crap film, so I think we’ll wrap things up. I didn’t even touch on the ridiculous Force healing power that Rey developed, nor how the plot seemed to take our heroes precisely where they needed to go by completely random chance. We also could talk about the dumb limitation imposed on C3PO and how he couldn’t translate the dagger, Palpatine growing Snoke-clones in a tank, and the fake-outs of Chewbacca’s death and C3PO’s memory wipe. There are so many ridiculously poor elements of The Rise of Skywalker that they don’t all fit in a single essay.

In summary, then, the film is still just as bad as it was first time around. Though visually impressive most of the time, especially when compared to the shoddy CGI of the prequel trilogy, and with a couple of successful moments of comedy, the film is a complete and total narrative failure. It was an appalling and disappointing end to the so-called “Skywalker Saga” – which should really be called the “Palpatine Saga,” apparently, since he’s been manipulating everything from behind the scenes and is thus the only character who has been able to act of his own volition.

Despite some adequate performances from its lead actors, The Rise of Skywalker remains a truly dire film and an unenjoyable watch from beginning to end.

In 2017-18, when some Star Wars fans were vocal about their hatred of The Last Jedi, I was pleased that I was still enjoying Star Wars. But The Rise of Skywalker threw a wrench into the whole sequel trilogy, and was so bad in the way some of its storylines unfolded and concluded that it makes both of its predecessors – and to an extent the Original Trilogy as well – significantly worse and less enjoyable to go back and watch.

Even though I’m not a big fan of The Mandalorian, there are some Star Wars projects on the horizon that seem to have potential, despite the fact that the franchise is still very much living in the shadow of its Original Trilogy. I’ve expressed on a number of occasions my wish to see Star Wars break away from that and try something new, and I remain hopeful that it will happen one day. Even though The Rise of Skywalker was a disappointment and a complete narrative failure, there’s still life in Star Wars as a franchise. I recently enjoyed Jedi: Fallen Order, for example, and I’m very much looking forward to its sequel. And at Christmas last year, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special was good fun on Disney+.

Despite the failure of The Rise of Skywalker and my disappointment in the film, I remain a Star Wars fan. Having returned to the film to give it a second look, I’m now content to put it back on the shelf and concentrate on what comes next for the franchise. There’s no need to revisit this film again, and this will probably be the last time I ever watch it.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is available to stream now on Disney+. The film is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. The Star Wars franchise – including The Rise of Skywalker and all other titles listed above – is the copyright of LucasFilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek 2023: could it be the ULTIMATE crossover?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, the Kelvin timeline films, teasers for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 and Star Trek: Picard Season 2, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

A few days ago, Paramount Pictures announced that a new Star Trek film is in the early stages of production, with a planned release date of June 2023. Though no further information about the project was given, that didn’t stop me speculating! I’ve already put together a list of a few possible Star Trek 2023 concepts, but I wanted to give this one the full article treatment.

At a few points in Star Trek’s history we’ve seen crossovers between the different shows. Usually this takes the form of a character or two from one series appearing in another. For example, we’ve seen Commander Riker appear in Voyager, Dr Bashir in The Next Generation, and Worf in Deep Space Nine. In Star Trek’s cinematic canon, Janeway made a cameo in Nemesis, Prime Spock appeared in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, and most significantly, we got to see Captains Kirk and Picard work together in Generations.

Captain Kirk and Captain Picard in 1994’s Star Trek: Generations.

So the Star Trek franchise has a history of main character crossovers going all the way back to Encounter at Farpoint, the moment at which Star Trek debuted its second entry and replaced its original set of characters. In all of these crossovers, though, even the substantial ones that were more than mere cameos, we’ve only ever seen characters from two shows interact. What if Star Trek 2023 plans to offer more than that?

In short, here’s my theory – and if it doesn’t come to pass in 2023 we can consider it a proposal or pitch for the future! As a celebration of all things Star Trek, perhaps the new film will be the ultimate crossover, featuring a cast of characters from across the entire Star Trek franchise. How would this be achieved? Some kind of time travel story, naturally, perhaps involving the extradimensional activities of a faction like the Q.

John de Lancie has recently announced that he’ll be returning as Q in Picard Season 2!

How amazing would it be to see Captain Archer from Enterprise working alongside Riker and Janeway? Saru and Michael Burnham could team up with Geordi La Forge and Miles O’Brien. Soji and Picard meeting Kelvin Kirk. Pike and Spock fighting alongside Worf and Malcolm Reed. The potential for such a story is almost limitless.

Comic books – and the films they’ve inspired over the last decade or so – have routinely done crossovers and team-ups, and fans tend to agree that they’re amazing when done well. Star Trek, as I’ve already mentioned, has had limited crossovers before, but nothing quite on the scale I’m thinking Star Trek 2023 could bring.

This could be Star Trek’s answer to The Avengers.

There have been over 60 main characters in live-action Star Trek to date, including films and television shows, and obviously it wouldn’t be possible for Star Trek 2023 to have an ensemble cast that large! But a handful of characters from different shows representing different time periods and different parts of the franchise could absolutely come together; a perfect mixture of all things Star Trek and a true celebration of the franchise as it approaches its sixtieth anniversary.

With this many different Star Trek projects all in production simultaneously, it makes so much sense to have some kind of “Avengers assemble!” moment to bring them all together. Even if such a story were limited to bringing in characters from current shows instead of Star Trek’s back catalogue, I still think it would be well worth doing. A suitable story would need to be devised, and a villain or problem for the protagonists to overcome would need to be created, but those are the basic tenets of storytelling anyway and aren’t obstacles.

Captain Pike – soon to appear in Strange New Worlds.

I tend to say that time travel stories are not my favourites within Star Trek – or in sci-fi in general. But time travel can work, as we saw in films like Generations and episodes like All Good Things. All it would require is a simplified explanation, perhaps involving some outside power, and if the stakes were high – a threat to the entire galaxy, for example – it would make sense to bring in as many legendary characters as possible to help defeat it.

If you’re a regular reader you’ve probably heard me say on more than one occasion that the Star Trek franchise could – and should – be doing more to tie its different shows and projects together. At present, every extant Star Trek project exists in a different time period wholly separate from everything else. There have been limited prospects for significant crossovers as a result, and while Discovery Season 3 saw perhaps the biggest connection to the rest of the franchise so far, it can still feel that all of the different parts of the franchise are doing their own things independently of one another.

The Discovery Season 3 episode Unification III referenced events from The Next Generation and Picard.

While too many ties and connections can be offputting, especially for casual viewers, not enough references or crossovers means there’s no incentive for the audience to stick with Star Trek and jump into other parts of the franchise. It’s possible to watch Discovery as a standalone show and not even be aware of the existence of Picard, for example – and vice versa. More of these connections between different parts of the franchise could, if done right, encourage viewers of one series to hop over and try out others – and Star Trek 2023 could potentially be the biggest opportunity so far to do that.

Perhaps some looming threat in the 32nd Century forces Michael Burnham to call upon Starfleet’s finest from centuries past, and she travels back in time to pick up a number of officers, scientists, and soldiers to help her defeat whatever it is that’s coming. Or perhaps an outside power like Q forces his friend Picard to work with different people from different eras to tackle some existential crisis. There are a million-and-one ways for Star Trek to introduce the kind of time travel scenario needed to link up some of the franchise’s superstars for one amazing crossover event.

“Let’s fly… to the past!”

So who would I pick to join the crew? I think we have to start with the main shows in production (and one that could be in production by 2023). Admiral Picard, Michael Burnham, Captain Pike, and Section 31 leader Georgiou would head up the cast, and from there we could bring in perhaps one additional member of their respective crews for a more significant role – maybe with smaller roles or cameos on the cards for others. Then I’d dearly like to bring back at least a couple of other characters from Star Trek’s past – someone like Dr Bashir, perhaps, or Tom Paris.

The film would follow these characters as they worked to solve whatever problem they’re facing, with each of the principal characters making use of their unique perspective and skillset to help contribute to the project. There could be teething problems with the team as they get to know one another, but generally I’d stick to having them work well as a team, with emphasis on how people from different backgrounds and with different outlooks can all find ways to contribute. Then there’d have to be some kind of tense final battle or confrontation before everyone – or at least, the survivors – part ways and return to their respective eras.

The Section 31 series could be underway by 2023…

I guess now we’ve crossed over from the realm of reasonable speculation into fan fantasy! And I’m not the first person on the internet to propose an “ultimate crossover” of Star Trek crews; such talk has been around since before Generations in the mid-1990s! While I don’t know whether Star Trek 2023 will go down this road, I do think that a major crossover could and should happen at some point in the future. Not only would it serve a purpose and tie together previously-separate parts of the franchise, but I bet it would be an incredibly fun film for Trekkies – and non-Trekkies too!

So that’s it, really. This half-theory, half-fantasy is that Star Trek 2023 will be the “ultimate crossover” and bring together characters from across the franchise to tell a single, epic story. Even if this film doesn’t do it, I still hope this kind of crossover event will happen one day!

The currently-untitled film Star Trek 2023 is being produced by Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS. Star Trek 2023 has a tentative release date of the 9th of June 2023. The Star Trek franchise – including all shows, films, characters, etc. mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek 2023: what could it be?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery and Picard, as well as recently-revealed teasers for upcoming seasons and projects.

The announcement a couple of days ago that a brand-new Star Trek film is in the works was incredibly exciting! There hasn’t been a feature film in the franchise since 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the Kelvin (or JJverse) series. Since The Motion Picture made its debut in 1979, the Star Trek franchise has been reasonably consistent in its cinematic output, with the longest gap between films to date coming between Nemesis’ release in 2002 and JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot. Aside from that seven-year gap, we’ve seen Star Trek films every three or four years on average, and there have been thirteen films released since 1979.

I’ve always considered Star Trek to primarily be a television franchise, and its return to the small screen in 2017 felt like a proper homecoming. As interesting as the Kelvin timeline films were, I was far happier to see Star Trek back on television. That’s not because the Kelvin films – or any other Star Trek films – were bad, it’s just that the television format seems to work particularly well and lend itself to the kinds of stories Star Trek does best.

Star Trek will soon be back in cinemas!

As I said when I wrote up a short piece about the film’s announcement, no information was provided by Paramount Pictures or ViacomCBS about the film other than its June 2023 release date. So it would be foolish to speculate, wouldn’t it?

Foolish, perhaps, but also a lot of fun! So this time we’re going to take a look at a handful of possible settings, scenarios, and ideas for Star Trek 2023 and what it might be all about. My usual caveat applies: I don’t have any “insider information,” nor am I suggesting any of these film ideas will turn out to be correct. This is pure guesswork and speculation on my part. That’s all.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!

Number 1: A direct sequel to Star Trek Beyond.

The redesigned USS Enterprise in 2009’s Star Trek.

Attempts have been underway since before the release of Star Trek Beyond to get a fourth Kelvin timeline film off the ground. At one point, rumours swirled of a script that would have brought back Kirk’s father George – who had been played by Thor actor Chris Hemsworth in the opening scenes of 2009’s Star Trek. Pre-production on that project appeared to make headway, but – again, according to widely-reported rumours – the salaries of some of the principal cast members, including Kirk actor Chris Pine, were said to have derailed the project.

Beyond ended with a strong tease at a potential sequel. Kirk and his crew gazed out over the new USS Enterprise-A as construction on the vessel was completed, and there was a sense that the film was setting up a new story. After more than five years it hasn’t happened, and as I said when I considered the pros and cons of a return to the Kelvin timeline, Star Trek’s return to the Prime Universe and the expansion of the franchise to new shows and projects means that, at least in my opinion, the Kelvin timeline doesn’t really feel like a good fit right now.

The Kelvin crew in Star Trek Beyond.

In many ways, it would make more sense for any new feature film to at least have some connection or tie to the shows currently being produced, even if it isn’t a direct spin-off from any of them. The Kelvin timeline was a way to reboot Star Trek in 2009 after three decades of near-continuous production had burnt it out in the minds of many viewers. That doesn’t feel necessary right now. And going back to the Kelvin timeline after years in the Prime Universe risks overcomplicating things for a more casual audience.

So there are mixed feelings on this one! On the one hand, the story of the Kelvin timeline abruptly ends after Beyond, despite teases of a sequel. And the Kelvin timeline films were incredibly successful, bringing in huge audiences and plenty of money! But on the other hand, the reinvigorated Star Trek franchise has gone in a different direction since 2017, and I don’t see where a Beyond sequel fits any more.

Number 2: Captain Worf.

Worf in First Contact.

Michael Dorn, who played Worf in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and four Star Trek films, has often talked about his desire to reprise the role. Since at least the early 2010s, Dorn has talked at every opportunity about his pitch to Paramount and ViacomCBS for a “Captain Worf” series, miniseries, or film. Perhaps, after years of pestering them, he finally got his wish?

At this stage we can’t rule it out! Knowing so little about the upcoming project means, in theory, that practically any Star Trek pitch that we know about could be in contention. Maybe the “Captain Worf” concept was one that the company liked, and a feature film was considered the best possible option for it. One advantage to it, at least in theory, would be that Michael Dorn is well-versed in both Star Trek and the project’s central character, meaning it would be less challenging to get started with when compared to a wholly new concept. Given that the film has just over two years to go from announcement to release, that could be a significant help!

Worf in Season 1 of The Next Generation.

However, I’ve never been sold on the “Captain Worf” idea, personally speaking. Worf is a fun character, but I see two distinct disadvantages if he were to be the central focus of a new story. Firstly, Worf is the character we’ve spent the most time with in all of Star Trek to date – he appeared in 270 episodes and four films across fifteen years. We’ve seen most aspects of his life unfold on screen already, including his role as a father, husband, friend, and Starfleet officer. Do we really need more Worf?

And secondly, Worf is a great secondary character, but the “Captain Worf” concept would put him centre-stage. That’s great for Michael Dorn, of course, but I’m not sure Worf is the most nuanced or interesting character to spend so much time with. Both Worf and Voyager’s B’Elanna Torres have explored the “Starfleet-versus-Klingon” concept on many occasions, which is perhaps Worf’s biggest point of internal conflict and the best reason to do a project like this. It could be interesting, and a chance to return to the 24th or early 25th Century would be great. But I’m not sold on this being the right way to do it.

Number 3: Ceti Alpha V.

My Ceti Alpha V mock-up.

A few weeks ago I looked at a pitch by The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country director Nicholas Meyer for a miniseries tentatively titled Star Trek: Ceti Alpha V. That project was planned as a three-part miniseries, but it could have been adapted into a feature film, I suppose!

This concept would focus on iconic villain Khan in the years between his exile by Kirk in Space Seed and his return in The Wrath of Khan. He and his followers were marooned on the titular planet Ceti Alpha V, and had to endure disaster following the explosion of nearby Ceti Alpha VI.

Khan in The Wrath of Khan.

As I wrote then, I’m not convinced that we need to see that part of the story! It wouldn’t really explain anything from The Wrath of Khan, as seeing Khan’s descent into madness for ourselves across several hours of television – or an entire film – isn’t necessary in any way to explain his actions or characterisation. Everything we needed to know about Khan is present in Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan.

As a feature film, though, a project like this has merit. It would pull on those nostalgic strings, connect to the franchise’s most well-regarded piece of cinema, and feature an iconic Star Trek character. From Paramount’s point of view, those advantages may make it worthwhile!

Number 4: Borg Invasion.

A Borg Cube over Earth in The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2.

If you’re a regular around here you might remember a Borg Invasion concept being one of my “unsolicited Star Trek pitches” last month! This is a concept that I’ve long felt would be fascinating, and while I envisioned it as a television series, it could perhaps be made to work as a film trilogy instead – potentially making Star Trek 2023 the first part of a short series of films.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! The Borg are one of the franchise’s most iconic villains, participating in one of Star Trek’s most highly-regarded episodes – The Best of Both Worlds – and best films – First Contact. The faction itself also hasn’t been seen on screen in any major way since 2003’s Enterprise Season 2 episode Regeneration, perhaps making them due for a comeback!

Borg drones in the Enterprise episode Regeneration – the last time we saw any “active” Borg on screen!

Discovery’s second season told a story which had the potential to be a Borg origin story, and Picard Season 1 also touched on the Borg, in particular Picard’s lingering trauma following his assimilation. But neither series brought back the Borg in a big way, despite the potential existing for either to do so. Could that be because ViacomCBS knew that Paramount Pictures (its subsidiary) was in the early stages of working on a new Borg film? Maybe!

The Borg are terrifying, and such a film would be action-packed and tense in equal measure. It’s been 25 years since Star Trek: First Contact took the Borg to the big screen for their only visit to the cinema so far, so I can’t help but wonder if they’re about to make a reappearance! Whether a Borg story would look to bring back any familiar characters or not is not clear – it wouldn’t have to, but as always in Star Trek, I’d be thrilled to see practically anyone connected to the franchise make a return.

Number 5: The Kelvin timeline version of The Next Generation.

The Season 1 cast of The Next Generation. Is a reboot on the cards?

2009’s Star Trek reboot presented an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and take another look at Kirk, Spock, Dr McCoy, and the rest of the crew of The Original Series. Ever since, (some) fans have been wondering what would happen to The Next Generation in the alternate reality – would the same crew have been assembled, or would its members even exist given the dramatic changes to the timeline?

Perhaps this is something we should explore in more detail another day, but I think that the existence of Chekov in the alternate reality, and the fact that he joined Starfleet, could be taken as evidence of the alternate reality not straying too far from the Prime Universe. Chekov was born after the incursion of Nero’s ship and the destruction of the USS Kelvin, so in theory we could argue that most people we met in past iterations of the franchise should have an alternate reality counterpart – just as they have a Mirror Universe counterpart too.

Did this moment in Discovery Season 3 hint at something to come?

Discovery Season 3 made a small reference to the Kelvin timeline – or at least, an ambiguous reference that felt like a Kelvin connection! In the episode Terra Firma, Part 1, the mysterious Kovich told Dr Culber of a “time soldier” who crossed over from the alternate reality to the Prime Universe. This soldier was wearing a uniform style seen in the first couple of seasons of The Next Generation, so it seems as though there was a comparable era of Starfleet in the alternate reality.

Could Discovery have been dropping a hint at this film? Possibly! Even if that’s just coincidence, it reinforced the existence of the Kelvin timeline – a fact that was known to Starfleet by the 32nd Century. Perhaps it was a subtle reminder to Trekkies that the alternate reality still exists, getting us ready for a new project? The Next Generation is very popular with fans, and rebooting it may seem like a solid idea for Paramount Pictures. Though I know some fans who detest the Kelvin films – or who refused to watch on principle – there’s no denying the reboot was a success, and rebooting The Next Generation could be as well.

Number 6: A Discovery film – if the show ends with Season 4 or Season 5.

Captain Burnham at the end of Season 3.

Speaking as we were of Discovery, its fourth season is due for release later this year. While there is no word yet on Season 5 – at least officially – it seems likely that the show will be renewed for a fifth season, which would presumably be broadcast in 2022. But what will happen next?

Both The Original Series and The Next Generation were followed up by films starring the casts of the shows, and perhaps something similar could be on the cards for Discovery, with Captain Burnham leading her crew onto the big screen. By 2023 we’ll have had at least one – probably two – more seasons of Discovery, so the crew will be almost as familiar to audiences as Kirk and his officers were when The Motion Picture was in production!

The USS Discovery.

If there is to be a fifth season of the show, that would mean production on Season 5 would likely be ongoing at the same time as this film, so maybe this is an indication that there won’t be a Season 5. With a number of other Star Trek television projects in various stages of development – including the untitled Section 31 series which is itself a spin-off from Discovery – perhaps the plan is to end the series after Season 4 and turn it into a feature film franchise instead, with television attention refocused onto other projects.

It would be a big change, but I can see at least one big advantage to a Discovery film: it would firmly establish the 32nd Century in the minds of audiences. I’ve felt for a while that Star Trek needs to try to condense its disparate timelines and time periods as much as possible, and the 32nd Century is by its very nature totally open-ended when it comes to storytelling potential. A Discovery film could be a “soft reboot,” relaunching Star Trek in the 32nd Century and setting the stage for new projects.

Number 7: A Deep Space Nine film – the return of Sisko.

Captain Sisko in Take Me Out To The Holosuite.

I was perhaps overly-critical of a “Captain Worf” idea in the entry above, but one character who I’ve been hoping to see return for over twenty years now is Captain Sisko. The ending of What You Leave Behind – the last episode of Deep Space Nine – more so than any other Star Trek finale left things open. Sisko entered the realm of the Bajoran Prophets, but promised to return in due course.

That return could happen at literally any point in the timeline; the Prophets don’t see time as linear. Sisko could thus appear in the Strange New Worlds, Picard, or Discovery eras – despite the fact that those shows take place centuries apart! But given the importance of his return to Star Trek, perhaps a Sisko feature film is on the cards.

Sisko in Move Along Home.

Sisko would be such a great point-of-view character. His absence from galactic affairs for decades or even centuries would allow the writers of the film to dump a lot of exposition onto the audience without it feeling like it came from nowhere. His return could both set up the plot of a new Star Trek story and provide the audience with a way in; introducing us to new characters, factions, technologies, and the state of the galaxy itself in whatever time period he finds himself.

Such a story could also return to Bajor, looking at whether the Bajorans ever joined the Federation, as well as the aftermath of the Dominion War. The Dominion War arc is one of my favourites in all of Star Trek, and a follow-up of some kind would be absolutely amazing to see. If Sisko returned during the Picard era, he could reunite with people like Major Kira or Dr Bashir, and a mini-reunion of some of the Deep Space Nine crew would be wonderful.

Number 8: A Nemesis sequel.

The Enterprise-E undergoing repairs at the end of Nemesis.

A direct sequel to Nemesis seems unlikely, especially with Picard Season 2 underway and planned for next year. But the official announcement of Star Trek 2023 mentioned a film set after Nemesis as one possibility. That seems incredibly interesting! Would it be set in the Picard era, perhaps with the crew of La Sirena in major roles?

The surviving crew of the Enterprise-D and Enterprise-E have largely gone their separate ways, at least as of Picard Season 1. Riker and Troi live in semi-retirement on the planet Nepenthe. Picard is off with the crew of La Sirena. Worf and Geordi were mentioned by name, but there’s no indication that either are still even in Starfleet at this point! Season 2 of Picard may answer these questions, as well as establish what became of Dr Crusher, and if so that could set the stage for a reunion on the big screen.

Acting Captain Riker in the Picard Season 1 finale.

As above with Discovery, Picard Season 2 is currently filming, meaning that production on Star Trek 2023 would have to wait if it wanted to include Picard himself. But there is another possibility: that a Nemesis sequel would focus on other characters. Perhaps it would look at Riker and Troi in more detail, especially if they returned to Starfleet following the events of Picard Season 1.

Star Trek 2023 may follow Riker’s time in command of the USS Zheng He, and perhaps he reunites with Worf, Dr Crusher, Geordi, or even Wesley! Or we could see the return of characters from Deep Space Nine and/or Voyager, such as Ezri Dax or Tuvok. With Captain Janeway coming back in Prodigy, anything’s possible right now!

Number 9: A Kelvin timeline crossover with either Strange New Worlds or Discovery.

Captain Kirk in Into Darkness.

One of the really enticing possibilities that came up when Strange New Worlds was announced was the possibility of some kind of Pike and Spock crossover story. I would be surprised in some ways to see Strange New Worlds – a highly-requested but completely untested – series hit the big screen, but a Kelvin timeline crossover could be a great way to do it.

Pike and Spock could team up with their alternate reality counterparts, perhaps looking to return to their own universe following some kind of crossover event. The two “young Spocks” would have to logically stand off – Kelvin Spock has already met Prime Spock but he can’t let young Prime Spock know that! It might be confusing, with two different versions of the characters, but it could be a lot of fun too.

Captain Saru in Discovery Season 3.

Alternatively the Kelvin cast could cross over with Discovery’s 32nd Century. Not only have we had the aforementioned reference to the Kelvin timeline during Discovery’s third season, but we know that crossing between the two universes also seems to mean crossing into a different time period. Perhaps someone in the Kelvin timeline accidentally opens a black hole, sending them to Discovery’s 32nd Century.

The reverse would be interesting too, and could draw on themes present in episodes of Voyager like The ’37s. If Captain Burnham and the crew of Discovery found themselves in an alternate 23rd Century, how many of them would struggle with the idea of remaining there, trying to rebuild their lives in a different universe, but perhaps a setting more familiar to them than the 32nd Century? That could be fascinating to explore – as would any crossover between two sets of crews!

Number 10: The Earth-Romulan War.

The NX-01 Enterprise encounters two Romulan ships in the Season 2 episode Minefield.

Picard Season 1 brought back the Romulans in a big way, and they also appeared in Discovery Season 3. The faction is clearly a big part of Star Trek right now, but one aspect of their history has never been explored – despite plans to do so in 2004-05. The unproduced fifth season of Enterprise would – allegedly – have included the Earth-Romulan war, one of humanity’s first major interstellar conflicts.

Fans have long wondered what this would have looked like – even as far back as the Earth-Romulan War’s first mention in The Original Series Season 1 episode Balance of Terror. We saw the first hints of Romulan aggression in Enterprise, as they attempted to disrupt the Earth-Vulcan alliance and start a Vulcan-Andorian War. Captain Archer managed to prevent that from happening, but as we know from Star Trek’s history, conflict with the Romulans broke out regardless.

A Romulan Bird-of-Prey as seen in Lower Decks.

This would be a great opportunity to bring back Captain Archer, T’Pol, or other major characters from Enterprise. It wouldn’t necessarily be an “Enterprise film,” but it could be a film that included at least some of the same characters. A single film might not be able to tell the story of the entire conflict, but it could certainly look at its most decisive battle – and with so little information having been shared on screen, it’s an almost-blank slate for any new writer or producer to play with.

The drawback, really, is that it would be hard to connect such a film to the ongoing Star Trek franchise, which has series set in the 23rd, 25th, and 32nd Centuries. Going back to a time shortly after Enterprise would isolate Star Trek 2023, and while it could be the springboard for more 22nd Century adventures to come, it could also end up feeling disconnected.

So that’s it. Ten possibilities for Star Trek 2023.

It’s quite likely that all of these suggestions are completely wrong; Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS are just as likely, in my opinion, to want to take the cinematic franchise in a new direction with a new crew than they are to revisit something from Star Trek’s past. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a lot of fun putting this list together and considering the possibilities!

Star Trek 2023 probably won’t bring back these uniforms!

Star Trek 2023 is a truly exciting prospect. I desperately hope that it will come to streaming instead of the cinema – as you may know if you’re a regular reader, my poor health means I can’t get to the cinema in person any more. Probably it will be given a theatrical release, though, which will mean months of trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible for me! Time will tell.

For now, though, suffice to say I’m intrigued by the prospect of the first new Star Trek film since Beyond, and potentially the first film to feature a different cast of characters since 2009. Whether or not this is the previously-announced project written by Discovery and Short Treks producer Kalinda Vazquez is also not clear. We know basically nothing about this film right now except its planned release date! Hopefully we’ll learn more soon, so stay tuned. I’ll be sure to take a look at any casting information, behind-the-scenes details, or any other news that comes our way.

The currently-untitled Star Trek film is scheduled for release on the 9th of June 2023. This film is the copyright of Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS, as is the entire Star Trek franchise. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A Star Trek film is coming in 2023!

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.

In case you missed the official announcement, a new Star Trek film has been officially greenlit by Paramount Pictures and given a release date: the 9th of June 2023! Better make a note in your calendar!

Unfortunately that’s literally all we know. Even the official Star Trek website didn’t have any more information, with whoever was tasked with writing up the announcement trying to pad out the piece… kind of like I’m doing now.

I would assume at this stage that this film is the project we recently learned was being written by Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks producer Kalinda Vazquez, because that’s the only one we know of that’s actively in development. Other potential feature film projects – including a fourth Kelvin-timeline film, a Quentin Tarantino film, and a film by Noah Hawley that was described as “ready-to-go,” have all either been shelved or those involved have moved on to other things. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the film written by Vazquez; it could be a previously-unknown film!

This could be another Kelvin film… but even StarTrek.com doesn’t know!

The post on the official Star Trek website mentioned the Kelvin timeline, but it also dropped a tantalising hint that it could be a new film in the Prime Universe set sometime after Nemesis. I’ve already looked at the pros and cons of a potential return to the Kelvin timeline, but there’s definitely scope to revisit the late 24th Century. Perhaps the new film will be set alongside – or even connected to – Star Trek: Picard.

There have been rumours about possible upcoming Star Trek projects for as long as there’s been a Star Trek fan community, and I’m at a stage now where I don’t believe any unless they’re officially announced or confirmed! There are just too many competing rumours out there to know for sure – and too many rumourmongers on the internet who like to spread nonsense. So while it may be fun to speculate – and I’m sure I will at some point soon – let’s not get ahead of ourselves when it comes to this new project. It’s very early days!

June 2023 is just over two years away, which is ample time to kick-start production of a feature film… at least, under normal circumstances! Hopefully the pandemic will not prove too disruptive, or too expensive, to this new project.

Maybe a post-Nemesis film is on the cards?

Personally I’d love to see this film come to Paramount+ (or whatever streaming platform they choose for UK distribution). As you know if you’re a regular here, my health precludes going to the cinema these days, sadly. But I expect, given that it appears to be a “proper” feature film and not a made-for-streaming affair, it will be given a theatrical release.

As and when more information is revealed, be sure to check back here on the website, as I’ll do my best to break down and take a closer look at whatever news we get!

So that’s it. That’s all we know at this stage.

New film. 9th of June 2023. Set a course and engage!

The currently-untitled Star Trek film is scheduled for release on the 9th of June 2023. This film is the copyright of Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS, as is the entire Star Trek franchise. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

King of Kings (1961) – an Easter film with a Star Trek connection

I’m not a religious person, and thus Easter has never been an especially important time of year for me. As a kid, Easter meant two weeks off school and chocolate eggs. And as an adult, Easter means a long weekend… and chocolate eggs. That’s about all. But as someone who grew up in England and was frog-marched into church with other schoolkids – back in the days when every school was bound to the local church – I gained a passing familiarity with the holiday. Because I don’t enjoy hot weather, late spring and summer are my least-favourite times of year! Easter, as the event which signals the beginning of that time of year, has always felt at least a little unwelcome as a result, even if the abundance of chocolate serves as a suitable bribe.

But enough about my weather preferences! It’s Easter, and aside from chocolate, Easter means one thing: Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, of this even non-Christians widely agree. Sometime between AD 30 and AD 40, Jesus was executed by Roman authorities in the province of Judea, and his resurrection three days later is what Christians celebrate at Easter. Jesus’ life and death have been depicted countless times in art and entertainment, and this time I thought it could be interesting to briefly look at a mid-century example: the 1961 film King of Kings.

The film’s opening title.

The title of this article promised you a Star Trek connection – since the Star Trek franchise is one of my biggest fandoms and a subject I write about often here on the website! The lead role in King of Kings is, naturally, the character of Jesus. In this case, Jesus is played by Jeffrey Hunter – better-known to Trekkies as Captain Christopher Pike, the original captain of the USS Enterprise.

Hunter’s life was tragically cut short, and he died aged only 42 following a fall that may have been caused by a stroke. Though he’s well-remembered today for his single Star Trek appearance – even more so since footage of him was incorporated into Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery – he was a prolific actor in the 1950s and ’60s, appearing in films like Fourteen Hours alongside Grace Kelly, and The Searchers with John Wayne. He also appeared in a number of television roles, including in big ’60s shows like The FBI and Daniel Boone.

Jeffrey Hunter (1926-1969)
Photo Credit: jeffreyhunter.net

If you’re familiar with Star Trek’s early production history, you’ll recall that Hunter declined to reprise his role as Pike for the show’s second pilot, opting to focus on cinema instead. By the time The Menagerie was made – the two-part episode which reused most of the footage from the show’s first pilot – Hunter was unavailable, leading to the character of Pike being recast and creating the iconic disfigured, wheelchair-bound look.

But all of that is incidental! King of Kings was released in 1961, four years before Hunter would meet Gene Roddenberry and agree to work on Star Trek. The film received mediocre reviews, but was considered a box office success for film studio MGM. And having seen it for myself a few years ago, it was certainly an interesting experience!

Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus in King of Kings.

This was my first time seeing Jeffrey Hunter outside of The Cage – at least, that I’m aware of. Though he’s slightly younger and sports both Jesus’ typical long hair and beard he is recognisable in the role, and that was certainly something neat to see.

The film itself is typical mid-century fare. As I think I’ve explained on more than one occasion, the early 1960s is about as far back as I’m willing to go for most films and television shows, simply because the quality of practically every aspect of production declines more and more the further back in time a film or series was made. Early cinema holds an interest from an academic point of view – the way techniques were developed, how different genres came into being, how technologies were first pioneered, and so on – but I find that actual entertainment value, and my ability to get lost in a production really cannot survive the wooden sets – and wooden acting – of early cinema!

A Roman scene in King of Kings.

King of Kings falls into this trap at points, with some sets and backdrops being pretty obviously fake, and the general acting style being in line with other projects of its era. But it’s perfectly watchable despite those shortcomings.

The film aimed to be an “epic,” recreating the magic of earlier Biblical epic films like 1956’s The Ten Commandments, and of course Ben-Hur, which was released in 1959. Even the film’s poster imitates Ben-Hur’s visual style. I don’t know if I’m the right person to compare these films for you; all are roughly equal in terms of being watchable for me, with similar drawbacks that I find with films from this time period. What we can say, though, is that King of Kings is probably less well-remembered than the other two, with Ben-Hur in particular being widely considered a classic.

Hunter as Jesus of Nazareth at the film’s climax.

The story of Jesus’ life and death has been recreated in cinema on a number of occasions. The 1912 film From the Manger to the Cross is the earliest one I could find, and in the century since there have been countless others. One of the best-known in recent years is Mel Gibson’s epic The Passion of the Christ, which is a pretty gory and harrowing watch in parts – deliberately so. And who could forget Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a parody of the Bible story?

King of Kings fits somewhere in the middle, the kind of film I’d never choose to watch but for the combination of its Star Trek connection and the holiday we’re celebrating today. It’s a curiosity rather than something I could recommend for pure enjoyment, but if you’ve seen other, better-known depictions of the life and times of Jesus, King of Kings might’ve slipped under the radar. It’s worth a look if that’s the case!

Even for non-Christians, the basic message Jesus of Nazareth preached is worth listening to. Being kind and treating others with respect is something we can all aspire to, especially in today’s politically divided, pandemic-riddled world. King of Kings, like many Bible films, hammers that message home in what is, at times, a ham-fisted way. But the message itself is still worth paying attention to, and for one day a year, we can take a moment to appreciate that.

King of Kings is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, and may also be available to stream depending on location. King of Kings was directed by Nicholas Ray and may be the copyright of Metro-Goldwin-Mayer and/or MGM Holdings. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A new Star Trek film is in the works

I’m a bit late to the party on this one, so you’ve probably already heard the news that a new Star Trek film is being worked on over at ViacomCBS/Paramount Pictures. It’s still interesting, though, so let’s take a moment to consider what it could be and what its inception may mean for the rest of the franchise.

Firstly, it now seems certain that the other Star Trek film projects that had been announced or discussed publicly are not happening. We should never say “never,” of course, and it’s not impossible that they may be revived in future, but for now it seems that the unified Star Trek team (working together since the 2019 merger that created ViacomCBS and reunited Star Trek’s film and television licenses) has decided to drop those projects and go in a different direction.

The new film is being created under the supervision of ViacomCBS.

The three films we knew about were: a fourth Kelvin-timeline film, a project that had been pitched by Quentin Tarantino, and a project by Fargo television series co-creator Noah Hawley that was supposedly ready-to-go. From what I can tell at this stage, none of these are happening now. To me, the continuation of the Kelvin timeline was perhaps the lesser of the three, but I was certainly interested to see what renowned director Quentin Tarantino would have brought to Star Trek, so the cancellation or shelving of his project is a little disappointing. Having been rejected once, I doubt Tarantino would be tempted to come back, especially if he’s moved on to other projects, and that’s a shame. Though we don’t have any confirmed details of his script or what the story would have entailed, I wonder if, as time goes by and we learn more about that project, it will come to be seen as a missed opportunity.

But enough about the Star Trek films we aren’t going to see! What about this new one?

All we know at this stage is that it’s being penned by Star Trek: Discovery writer Kalinda Vazquez. Vazquez wrote the Short Treks episode Ask Not, which brought back Anson Mount as Captain Pike, as well as introduced Cadet Sidhu – a character who may end up appearing in the upcoming series Strange New Worlds. She also wrote Terra Firma, Part II from Discovery’s third season, and served as a producer during that season as well.

Cadet Sidhu in Ask Not.

All in all, I think that’s a pretty good track record! Terra Firma as a whole was one of Star Trek’s best Mirror Universe stories – and that’s saying a lot, because the Mirror Universe is a setting I don’t generally enjoy. Ask Not was good fun too; a tense and dramatic short story that ended in a very uplifting way. Just based on those two stories – the sum total of Vazquez’s Star Trek output – the project would seem to be in good hands. Add into the mix that she’s worked on Fear the Walking Dead and it seems like the team over at ViacomCBS have made a solid pick. I’m already excited about the proposed film!

But not too excited yet. This is the fourth Star Trek film that has been publicly discussed in recent years, and as mentioned above, none of the other three were greenlit or entered production. So as interesting as this sounds, I think it’s best to try to keep the hype to a minimum and not get over-excited – at least not until filming has definitely begun.

Quentin Tarantino couldn’t get his Star Trek project off the ground. Will this new film succeed where his didn’t?
Photo Credit: Georges Biard, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The film is said to be a new take on Star Trek, and I infer from that that we won’t be following an established crew. Despite Vazquez’s earlier work, this isn’t Star Trek: Discovery – The Movie! This concept – to bring in an entirely new crew for a feature film – is actually new to Star Trek. While the Kelvin films brought in a new cast that hadn’t previously been part of any Star Trek production, the characters they played were based on those from The Original Series. The other Star Trek feature films starred the casts of The Original Series and The Next Generation respectively, so starting entirely from scratch is a new model for a Star Trek film. It means attention must be paid to establishing who the characters are early in the story, as well as setting up where and when the action is taking place. It perhaps limits the main cast to a smaller number – three or four principal characters instead of a larger bridge crew – simply to allow us as the audience to get to know them better and follow their stories.

Starting afresh opens up the film to take almost any era, setting, and narrative that the creative team chooses. The Star Trek galaxy has at least 1,000 years of history to explore now that Discovery has firmly established itself in the 32nd Century, and there are whole areas of the galaxy that are unexplored. This means that there’s great potential for the new film to take a half-step away from familiar alien races and look at something new. That’s exciting, and I’m left at this stage with a sense that the project is very open in terms of what kind of story it could tell.

The galaxy is a big place!

It’s been suggested by some commentators that ViacomCBS would like to see a full theatrical release for this new film, but I couldn’t confirm that anywhere online; it seems to be opinion interjected by commentators. So I’d like to suggest for the record that this film could just as easily go straight to Paramount+. With ViacomCBS investing heavily in their new streaming service, as well as being keen to emphasise that it will be the new home for Star Trek going forward, it would make sense to bring new projects directly to their streaming service.

Disney+ has trialled the “premiere access” approach – asking subscribers to pay an additional fee to watch Mulan late last year and Raya and the Last Dragon this month. Time will tell how successful such an approach has been for Disney, but it’s something that Paramount+ could consider as well in lieu of a full release in cinemas. Obviously I have a bit of an agenda in this case – as you may recall if you’re a regular reader, my health makes it impossible for me to go to the cinema these days. But even though I’m biased, I still think we could see this project come to Paramount+ as an exclusive title!

So that’s really about all I have to say. The new film has potential, and I shall watch its progress with cautious interest. For me, while Star Trek has primarily been a television franchise, I’ve greatly enjoyed its feature films as well, so there’s definitely reason to be intrigued by the open-ended possibilities of a new project of this nature. Good luck to Kalinda Vazquez and the rest of the creative team!

The Star Trek franchise – including all projects mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Will the Avatar sequels improve the franchise’s standing?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Avatar.

James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi film Avatar never really managed to break into pop culture in quite the way he hoped. It was a huge financial success – in part because folks were curious to see what this new project was all about – but it never really became a top-tier entertainment brand in the way Star Wars or Harry Potter did. In 1977, Star Wars became a phenomenon, and in the years afterwards the film was constantly on fans’ minds. The Empire Strikes Back cemented its place at the pinnacle of the sci-fi genre… even if Return of the Jedi perhaps tarnished its halo a little!

Avatar just isn’t on that level. There was a lot of hype leading up to its release, with a decent (if rather boastful) marketing campaign spearheading 20th Century Fox’s efforts to push Avatar as the “next big thing.” But for a lot of moviegoers, the film was just okay. It wasn’t bad; it was a solid, enjoyable summer blockbuster that went toe-to-toe with the best pictures of 2009 – including the rebooted Star Trek! But after leaving the cinema, I never really got the sense that fans were clamouring for more in the way Trekkies, Potter-heads, and Star Wars fans are for their respective franchises.

Avatar was a successful film – but can it become a successful franchise?

The creation of Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World in Florida is a great demonstration of this. The new land attracted attention when it was built, and for months after it opened its rides were queuing out the door! But that happens for almost any new Disney attraction, and when compared to the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019, it pales in comparison. There was huge excitement to be transported to a galaxy far, far away. There was curious interest in Pandora… but that was all.

None of this is to say Avatar was bad. It wasn’t at all, and I thoroughly enjoyed it when I first saw it. But I was never desperate to re-watch it, and my latest revisit to the 2009 film – which may be the third or fourth time I’ve seen it – was prompted by nothing more than boredom. But it also led to this article, so at least I got something out of it!

Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World.

This is a much broader point that ties into another piece I’ve been writing, but the difference between a good one-off story and a good story that becomes a larger franchise is world-building. Any film, television show, book, or even video game that hopes to be “the next Star Wars” needs to put time and effort into creating a world that fans want to explore. Star Wars and Star Trek did so, and they did so by showing fans a relatively small piece of what felt like a huge picture. The galaxies depicted in Star Wars and Star Trek are so much bigger than the few characters we met in their original incarnations; it feels like there’s much more to see beyond what was depicted on screen.

Avatar – and a lot of other wannabe-franchises too – doesn’t have that, at least not yet. Partly that’s because the film doesn’t hint at anything more than what we see – Earth, Pandora… and that’s it. And on Pandora there’s one major human outpost. There are starships flying back and forth, and the glimpses we got of Earth had a futuristic vibe, but the world Avatar created doesn’t feel as though it extends beyond the places we see. There’s no other planets that we could imagine humans or Na’vi colonising one day. There’s no fleets of starships on missions of exploration or fighting battles; the few ships we see just fly between Earth and Pandora.

A starship seen in Avatar.

Pandora itself is absolutely beautiful; a location painstakingly created. And the Na’vi are more than just a simple analogue for Native Americans or other indigenous peoples; Cameron and his team went to great lengths to craft Na’vi culture, even going so far as to write a fully-formed Na’vi language. Those efforts may yet pay off, but they don’t seem to have thus far. Because as interesting as the Na’vi are – and they are undeniably interesting – they’re all there is. One tribe of Na’vi and one human settlement on Pandora, and… what? Nothing else, as far as the film showed us.

There’s a sense of scale missing from Avatar, and its world-building, while wonderfully done, is small. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on one aspect of a story and a few characters – in the first film in a series that kind of needs to happen! But if the aim is to create a series with franchise potential, something to hook fans in and get our imaginations running, that sense of scale and the idea of a greater world beyond what we see on screen is essential. It’s the single most important element in building a larger story – and Avatar didn’t get it right.

So on to the question I posed at in the title of this article: can the planned sequels – of which there are four – improve the franchise’s standing? Can they spin out what was a decent one-off sci-fi blockbuster into something more? Can Avatar make the jump and become “the next Star Wars?”

Two Na’vi seen in concept art for the Avatar sequel series.

The length of time between Avatar and its sequels may be an issue. By the time Avatar 2 hits cinemas in December 2022 – assuming it meets its planned release date – thirteen years will have passed since the first title. Given the general apathy and lack of interest in Avatar this long after its premiere, the first part of this sequel series will have to spend at least some of its runtime refreshing audiences on what happened in the first film and what the setting is. When I sat down to re-watch Avatar earlier, I had only a vague recollection of the film, and I daresay a lot of folks will be in the same position.

When The Empire Strikes Back came out, it had been only three years since Star Wars had been in cinemas. And while Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released a decade after The Original Series ended, the only reason the film was made was because there was a growing fanbase who had watched the show when it was rebroadcast and those fans were clamouring for more. Is anyone clamouring for Avatar 2?

A scene on Pandora from concept art.

Avatar was a welcome addition to the sci-fi genre. Especially as the last decade has been dominated by reboots, adaptations, remakes, and sequels, it was a welcome breath of fresh air, and despite what I’ve said about its world feeling small, there is potential for it to be expanded upon. To say that the Avatar series can never be more than it already is would be ridiculous – there’s only been one film so far, and it was decent. It didn’t blow up the genre or redefine what a film could be in the way its pre-release marketing seemed to suggest, but it was good. I don’t dislike Avatar.

The sequels do have a pretty big job to do, though. The storyline of Avatar was exciting, but it was hardly original. Comparisons have been made to Dances with Wolves and even Disney’s Pocahontas, and while I don’t think it’s fair to call it derivative, it wasn’t a unique narrative by any means. That point of criticism will have to be addressed, and the sequels will have to try harder to be different from a story perspective if they’re to achieve the heights the films are aiming for.

Na’vi fly atop their banshees in more concept art.

The beautiful world-building that worked so well for Pandora and the Na’vi needs to be expanded upon. Perhaps we could see different Na’vi tribes and civilisations on Pandora, or better yet, expand the scope of the setting out into space. Are there other moons or planets in the Pandora system, perhaps? Or is there another human settlement on some nearby world? These are just a couple of ideas for how the Avatar series can build on the successes of the first film to be bigger – to achieve that sense of scale which the best and most successful franchises have.

Avatar was also a film which had contemporary real-world analogies. I noted influences of at least two of America’s recent wars in the depiction of the Marines, scientists, and Na’vi – Vietnam and Iraq. The dense rainforests of Pandora, and the way Jake and others had trouble navigating them, were the film’s answer to the jungles of Vietnam. And references to winning “the hearts and minds” of the locals was a phrase we heard often in relation to the Iraq war during the 2000s – which is when Avatar was in development. The latter of those themes is arguably less relevant in 2021 than it was in 2009, and Avatar 2 will need to adapt to changing times.

Night time on Pandora in this final piece of concept art.

One improvement we’re sure to see is in CGI and digital animation. Avatar was released at a time when CGI was improving – and was far better than it had been even five or ten years earlier – but there are still some aspects of its visual style that haven’t aged especially well. Some textures have that “too shiny” look that plagued cinematic CGI in the 2000s, and while viewing the film on a cinema or IMAX projector screen dulled the impact of some of that, on a television set in 2021 it’s something you notice. I wouldn’t say Avatar looks dated – but it’s right on the cusp. A film that relies so heavily on computer animation – many of Avatar’s sequences are basically fully-animated – is always going to run that risk, and while it has aged more gracefully than, for example, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, there are still noticeable places where the animation isn’t up to code.

There have been improvements in computer animation since 2009, which should mean Avatar 2 and the rest of the sequel series will be far more visually interesting. Pandora was already beautiful, but if that beauty could be expanded upon I think the sequels could really be something special. Some fans tend to turn up their noses at visuals, but if you think about it, a distinct visual style is another absolutely crucial element to a franchise. Star Trek has combadges, ships with saucer sections, Klingons, and the transporter. Star Wars has white-armoured Stormtroopers, lightsabers, Jabba the Hutt, and X-wings. Avatar introduced us to the blue-skinned Na’vi, but none of its technology, characters, costumes, or locations have become iconic in the same way as the other franchises we’ve mentioned. Part of that is down to the quality of the CGI, but partly it’s the film’s own art style. Avatar 2 could introduce a new design for a starship, character, or even just a costume that will go on to be emblematic of the series – in the way that Boba Fett became a symbol of Star Wars after his debut in The Empire Strikes Back, for example.

So yes, there’s work to do to expand on Pandora and the world Avatar created in 2009. But I’m really interested to see where Avatar 2 will take the story after the conclusion of the first film, and what the other films in the planned sequel series have in store. James Cameron is an amazing director, and having put so much work and effort into the Avatar series, I really hope it will see the kind of success he’s looking for. There’s always room for more sci-fi franchises!

Avatar is out now on Blu-ray and DVD, and may be streamed on Disney+ in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories. Avatar is the copyright of 20th Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company. Avatar 2 is due for release in December 2022. Logo and official promotional artwork courtesy of avatar.com. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What might we watch and play in 2021?

Happy New Year! As we put the calamitous 2020 behind us, let’s look ahead to some of the entertainment experiences we might enjoy between now and Christmas. There’s only 51 weeks till the big day, you know. Better start your Christmas shopping!

The effects of 2020’s disruption are still being felt, and while we should hopefully see a return to normalcy slowly building over the next few months, there will undoubtedly be changes to come. From my point of view as a Trekkie, the big question is this: how much Star Trek will we get this year? After 2020 saw the release of three different Star Trek projects, it’s not inconceivable that the only episode we’ll see in 2021 will be next week’s finale of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3!

We do know, at least, that some big projects still intend to release this year. Let’s look at a few – in no particular order.

Cinema

The pandemic has not magically gone away with the arrival of the new year, and many cinemas look set to remain closed in the weeks ahead. The distribution of vaccines will be key to their re-opening, and thus to the release of at least some big films. However, there have been plans announced to bring some of 2021’s big releases to streaming platforms – either instead of or in addition to a theatrical release. How well this will work, and whether many of these plans go ahead if the pandemic is brought under control is up in the air right now – but it remains a possibility.

Number 1:
Dune

The latest adaptation of Dune is the first part of a duology, and was originally supposed to be released in 2020. Of course that couldn’t happen, and Dune is now set for a December release, and will supposedly come to HBO Max at the same time. Though the story has been notoriously difficult to adapt, this version has a huge budget, a stellar cast, and what look like wonderful visual effects based on the trailer. It feels like a film with great potential, and I’m eagerly awaiting its release.

Number 2:
No Time To Die

The latest Bond film – which is set to be Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007 – has been delayed by over a year. It was originally scheduled for an April 2020 release, but that has been pushed back to April 2021. There are no current plans to bring the film to streaming, and as it’s supposedly the most expensive Bond film of all time, perhaps that makes sense. April feels optimistic, but we’ll see how things go! Regardless, I’ve always enjoyed the Bond franchise, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens as this chapter of the 007 cinematic saga draws to a close.

Number 3:
Jungle Cruise

I love Disney World and the other Disney theme parks! When I heard that the House of Mouse was planning to make a film based on their Pirates of the Caribbean ride in the early 2000s I thought it sounded like a terrible idea – yet Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was an incredibly fun film with heart. Jungle Cruise is likewise based on a Disney World/Disneyland ride, one which, if memory serves, is cute and action-packed! The film adaptation will have to try hard to retain at least some elements of what makes the ride enjoyable, but if it can succeed it could grow to become an ongoing series like Pirates of the Caribbean.

Number 4:
The Matrix 4

As I said last time, I really don’t know where The Matrix 4 could possibly take the story of the series. However, I’m still fascinated to find out! This will be our first time back in this setting since 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, and I’m sure a lot of fans are excited and nervous in equal measure. The idea of the world being artificial was somewhat of a novelty for the big screen when The Matrix did it in 1999, but we’ve since seen other takes on the concept. Will it stick to the late-90s/early-00s aesthetic for scenes set in the simulated world? Will there even be a simulated world if humanity broke free? We’ll soon find out.

Number 5:
Raya and the Last Dragon

After Disney saw success with the Polynesian-themed Moana, they have turned to Southeast Asia for inspiration for Raya and the Last Dragon. Kelly Marie Tran will voice the titular Raya, and Disney animated films have always been worth watching so I’m expecting an enjoyable film. Disney appears to be going through somewhat of a second renaissance in the aftermath of Frozen’s huge success in 2013, and hopefully this will be a continuation of that. I’m also rooting for Kelly Marie Tran after the awful treatment she had to endure at the hands of some so-called “fans” of Star Wars. Raya and the Last Dragon will take the approach pioneered by Mulan and be released on Disney+ for a fee.

Number 6:
The Suicide Squad

2016’s Suicide Squad won an Academy Award. Just in case you forgot! Was it an outstanding cinematic triumph that I’m happy to rewatch time and again? Not exactly, but it was a decent action-packed blockbuster that was an okay way to kill a couple of hours. And that’s what I expect from this direct sequel – nothing groundbreaking, but a solid film with some cute comic book elements.

Number 7:
The King’s Man

Kingsman was a surprisingly fun film when it was released in 2014, and the third entry in the series is a prequel. The King’s Man looks set to examine the outlandish spy organisation’s past and possibly its origins, as well as throw together another action-comedy that takes inspiration from the likes of James Bond. I think that sounds like fun! The King’s Man will feature some pretty big names, including Ralph Finnes, Charles Dance, and Rhys Ifans.

Number 8:
Uncharted

Films based on video games have not often performed well. Though some have become cult classics in their own right, most films adapted from video games have not been successful. Will Uncharted be any different? The project has been in development for a long time and seen many behind-the-scenes changes, but having settled on a script and director, Tom Holland was cast in the role of Nathan Drake. At the very least there’s potential for a summer popcorn flick; a blockbuster adventure film. Whether it will succeed at becoming “the new Indiana Jones” is up for debate – but maybe!

Number 9:
Death on the Nile

2017’s Murder on the Orient Express was great fun, and Death on the Nile is a sequel of sorts. Adapted from a 1937 novel by famed murder-mystery author Agatha Christie, Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars in the picture as detective Hercule Poirot. The cast list reads like a who’s who of British and international stars, including Jennifer Saunders, Rose Leslie, Russell Brand, and Gal Gadot. If you’re familiar with the book or one of the two earlier adaptations the ending will no doubt be known – but that doesn’t mean the journey there won’t be mysterious and thrilling!

Number 10:
Free Guy

Free Guy is about a non-player character in an open world video game who becomes sentient and tries to escape the game. And he’s played by Ryan Reynolds. Are you sold yet? Because that premise (and casting choice) was all it took to hook me in and decide that Free Guy would be worth a look! It sounds like fun, and Reynolds has great comedic timing as we’ve seen with titles like Deadpool. At the very least it’s a unique premise for a film, and one that seems like it could be really funny.

Gaming

With two new consoles barely a month old, both Sony and Microsoft will surely make moves to shore up their player bases this year. There are some titles on the schedule that look absolutely fantastic, and while the release of many of these on what is now last generation’s hardware will mean we won’t see the full power of the next-gen machines just yet, we should begin to see some improvements in what games are capable of. I better get on with upgrading my PC!

Number 1:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Rumours swirled for much of last year of an impending Mass Effect trilogy remaster, and the project was finally announced a few weeks ago. Despite its controversial ending, the three games tell a deep and engaging story in a unique sci-fi setting, and were great fun during the Xbox 360 era. Has enough time passed to make updating the trilogy worthwhile? Mass Effect 3 was only released eight years ago, after all. And will the remaster do everything needed to bring these games up-to-date? With Mass Effect 4 on the distant horizon, it will have to! I’m cautiously interested in this one – it could be wonderful to replay these games, but as we’ve seen with some recent remasters, not every company manages to hit a home run when it comes to updating a beloved title.

Number 2:
Hogwarts Legacy

I wrote about this game when it was first announced, but suffice to say I’m truly interested to see what Hogwarts Legacy delivers. It promises to be an “action role-playing game set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the 1800s,” meaning it’s set decades before any of the Harry Potter books. That basic premise worked well for games like Knights of the Old Republic over in the Star Wars franchise, and should allow Hogwarts Legacy to tell a standalone story. The only games set in Harry Potter’s world so far have been straight adaptations of the films, so this is something genuinely different. Hopefully it can tell a fun story!

Number 3:
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

Though I didn’t have time to review it before Christmas, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special was great fun over on Disney+. I had hoped to see Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga last year, but it got pushed back and is currently due for release in “early 2021” – whatever that may mean! The first couple of Lego Star Wars games, which were released in the mid-2000s, were really great fun, and I’ve been looking forward to the latest bricky reimagining of the Star Wars saga since it was announced. Lego games have never tried to take themselves seriously, and the end result has always been titles which are just a lot of fun.

Number 4:
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

What could a game starring Gollum possibly bring to the table? I have absolutely no idea! But games – and stories in general – focusing on an antihero can be wonderful, so I’m very curious to find out. It’s also great to see another big single-player title given the glut of live services and always-online multiplayer games. I’m a fan of Middle-earth and the world Tolkien built, so hopefully this game will be a fun return to that setting. Taking on the role of Gollum will offer a different look at Middle-earth, and whether it focuses on the main story from the books or not, has the potential to be fascinating.

Number 5:
Skull & Bones

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag demonstrated that there’s still a lot of appeal in pirate-themed titles. Skull & Bones wasn’t something I was especially interested in at first, but upon learning it will feature a single-player campaign I was happy to add it to the list. It seems to be a game that will deal with the naval combat side of things, and as long as it can really nail ship-to-ship combat within its game engine it should at least be a solid title. Naval games are relatively rare in the combat/strategy/action genres, so perhaps Skull & Bones will offer something a little different.

Number 6:
Outriders

Outriders was one of the first next-gen games that reviewers really had a chance to get to grips with before the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. The consensus was that it seems like a fun third-person shooter, even if it wasn’t quite as “next-gen feeling” as some had hoped. Regardless, Outriders has continued its development and will be released this year. The basic premise feels like a mix of sci-fi and superhero comics, and at the very least it’s a brand-new setting at a time when a lot of studios are focused on sequels and franchises.

Number 7:
GhostWire: Tokyo

I honestly don’t know what to expect from GhostWire: Tokyo. It’s a game shrouded in mystery! One thing we know for sure is that it will feature a supernatural storyline, and that alone sounds like it has potential. A teaser trailer released last year didn’t show much, but we know that the game will draw on Japanese mythology and will be a first-person action-adventure game with some supernatural horror elements. It might be wonderful… or it might not be my thing! We’ll have to wait and see.

Number 8:
Diablo IV

After disappointing fans with Diablo Immortal, and then messing up with the controversy around their decision to censor a professional player who supported the protests in Hong Kong, it’s not unfair to say that there’s a lot riding on Diablo IV for Blizzard’s reputation. Early indications are that the dungeon-crawler looks good, and could be a return to form. Diablo III had issues at launch, so this is very much one to take a “wait-and-see” approach with, but if the studio can recreate the magic of older titles then Diablo IV should offer a fun experience.

Number 9:
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury

My most recent foray into Mario’s 3D adventures was underwhelming, as Super Mario 3D All-Stars was not actually all that great. However, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury might be! The base game was released on the Wii U, but Bowser’s Fury is something altogether new. How substantial it will be remains to be seen, but taken as a whole the package seems to offer good value. I love the cat suits introduced in Super Mario 3D World, they’re cute and add a different element to Mario and the gang’s 3D adventures.

Number 10:
Humankind

Humankind initially attracted me because of how similar it looks to Civilization VI – one of my most-played games of the 2010s. But there’s more to it than that, and the concept of creating a unique civilisation by combining different historical empires and cultures is, at the very least, innovative. I love a good strategy game, and Humankind could be a big time-sink for me this year – if it can deliver on some pretty big ambitions!

Television

After 2020 saw major disruption to cinema, 2021 could be television’s turn. Though shielded from the brunt of the pandemic, a number of television shows planned for 2021 have seen major delays to production. Despite that, there are still plenty of options on the horizon, including some that look absolutely phenomenal.

Number 1:
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

I can’t actually remember if Justice League is one of the DC films I’ve seen or not. If you’re a regular around here, you’ll know I’m not a big comic book fan generally speaking. And it’s not unfair to say that DC is the lesser of the two comic book powerhouses right now! I honestly did not expect the so-called “Snyder cut” of Justice League to ever see the light of day, but after a campaign by fans the film will be released – as a four-part miniseries on HBO Max. I’m at least somewhat interested to see what all the fuss is about!

Number 2:
Star Trek: Prodigy

After Lower Decks took the Star Trek franchise in a different – and very funny – direction in 2020, I’m curious to see what Prodigy will bring to the table. Some shows made for kids can actually tell very meaningful and interesting stories, and it’s my hope that Prodigy will manage to offer at least something to Trekkies beyond its target audience. The addition of Kate Mulgrew to the cast – reprising her role as Captain/Admiral Janeway – is tantalising too, and although that’s about all we know at this stage, the series aims to have a 2021 release. That could be pushed back, but fingers crossed we’ll see Prodigy some time soon.

Number 3:
Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series

Despite not having so much as a title, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series has been targeting a 2021 release. It seems certain that, if this is to happen, it will have to be later in the year; filming is still ongoing at time of writing. However, a return to the land of Middle-earth is truly an exciting prospect, as is a look at the setting away from most of the characters we remember. The series will take place thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so there’s the potential to tell some very different fantasy stories in Tolkien’s world.

Number 4:
Station Eleven

Based on a 2014 novel of the same name, Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic drama set after the world has been devastated by a pandemic. Timely, right? Though filming began in early 2020 the series is still being worked on, but could finally see the light of day on HBO Max at some point this year. It feels like a project that, simply due to bad timing, may be controversial – but that could simply increase its appeal! Regardless, I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.

Number 5:
Foundation

Isaac Asimov is one of the grandfathers of science fiction. Whether his work will translate well from page to screen is an open question… but one I’m very curious to see answered. This adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation series will star Jared Harris, an absolutely incredible actor you might recall from 2019’s Chernobyl. It’s being produced for Apple TV+ as one of their first big-budget productions – or at least, the first one I’ve come to care about. 2021 looks set to be a big year for some of these second-tier streaming services!

Number 6:
Star Trek: Lower Decks

Lower Decks has finally secured an international broadcast agreement, more than five months after its first season premiered for viewers in North America. That’s good news, because a second season is already in development and will be able to be shared by fans around the world when it’s ready. Season 1 ended with some surprising twists for an animated comedy, and it remains to be seen what the end result of those storylines will be for our young ensigns aboard the USS Cerritos. Lower Decks took a few episodes to really hit its stride – and there were some missteps along the way – but for my money it’s up there with the best animated comedies of recent years, and I hope that the combination of its international debut and second season will see the show get the admiration it warrants.

Number 7:
The Expanse

I haven’t yet sat down to watch Season 5 of The Expanse, which premiered last month on Amazon Prime Video. However, the first four seasons were outstanding, and Season 6 is set to be the show’s last. Hopefully it will go out on a high! The Expanse is a wonderful science fiction series, one which has tried to take a more realistic look at the dangers of space travel and alien life. Many sci-fi stories treat these elements almost as mundane, yet The Expanse approached them with wide-eyed wonder, making things like accelerating a spacecraft integral parts of its story. It’s a wonderful series, and its final season should be explosive, entertaining, and ever so slightly sad as we bid it a fond farewell.

Number 8:
The Witcher

I half-expected to see the second season of Netflix’s The Witcher last year, but for whatever reason the streaming powerhouse is taking its time. Henry Cavill was great in the title role in Season 1, and hopefully the second season will keep up the high quality. I always appreciate a new fantasy series, and while the show owes its existence to the popular video games, it’s distinct from them at the same time, drawing more on the original book series for inspiration. Its return to our screens – which may not be until later in the year – is highly anticipated!

Number 9:
Star Wars: Andor

I wasn’t exactly wild about the recent announcements of upcoming Star Wars projects. As I wrote at the time: “spin-offs to spin-offs and the increasingly minor characters given starring roles is indicative of a franchise out of ideas.” Part of that criticism was aimed at Andor, the series which will focus on Rogue One’s Cassian Andor. However, on its own merit the show – which bills itself as a “spy thriller” – may very well be decent, and I’m cautiously interested to see what Disney and Lucasfilm bring to the table. Rogue One was certainly one of the better offerings since Disney began producing Star Wars projects, so maybe Andor will surprise me and tell some genuinely different stories in the Star Wars galaxy.

Number 10:
Clarice

Alex Kurtzman’s latest project for ViacomCBS will focus on Clarice Starling – the FBI agent introduced in Silence of the Lambs. How well will a show about Clarice work without Hannibal Lecter? Well that’s an open question, quite frankly, because as far as we know, complicated licensing and rights agreements mean Dr Lecter can’t appear. The show is being pitched as horror, though, following Agent Starling as she investigates sexual crimes in the aftermath of the events of Silence of the Lambs. It certainly has potential!

So that’s it.

You may have noticed some exclusions – notably Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. While all three are in pre-production for their upcoming seasons, none have been confirmed for 2021 at this juncture. Given the state of the world and how badly production has been impacted, while I remain hopeful that at least one live-action Star Trek show will make it to air, it’s entirely plausible that none will. That’s why they didn’t feature on the list.

If all goes well, 2021 should be a good year for entertainment. I see a lot of projects in film, gaming, and television that have the potential to tell wonderful, engaging stories. If lockdowns and quarantines remain in place – where I live in the UK restrictions just got a lot tougher – then we’ll need all the distractions we can get!

Mark your diary for some upcoming releases!

The year ahead is unpredictable, and it’s possible that some of the projects I’m excited for won’t make it to release – or will end up being less enjoyable than expected. But on the flip side, there are undoubtedly films, games, and television shows waiting in the wings to surprise me; titles that didn’t make this list that I will come to greatly enjoy as the year rolls on. There were several wonderful surprises in 2020 that, had you asked me in January of last year, were not even on my radar. The same will perhaps happen this year too!

With everything going on in the world, having something to look forward to is important. Even if all you can think of that excites or interests you is a television show or video game, that’s okay. It gives you something to hang on to; light at the end of the tunnel. I wish you a very Happy New Year, and all the best for 2021.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective company, studio, developer, publisher, broadcaster, distributor, etc. Some promotional artwork and images courtesy of IGDB. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Crazy Uncle Dennis Awards 2020

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for some of the films, games, and television shows listed below.

Welcome to the first annual Crazy Uncle Dennis Awards! These are the best (and worst) entertainment events of the year – in my subjective opinion! Rather than writing a top ten list (like I did last year to mark the end of the decade) I’m instead choosing a few categories and awarding my picks for the best entertainment experiences of the year.

I’m including a few titles from the tail end of 2019 on this list simply because many people will have only got around to watching or playing them this year. These decisions are always difficult and I often feel that – because people put these lists together weeks or months before the end of the year – titles released in December tend to miss out. As such you’ll find a few titles from the final few weeks of 2019 being given an award – and perhaps next year there may be a title or two from the end of 2020 featured!

Most categories will have a runner-up and a winner; a few only have one, and in those cases that title wins by default.

A note about exclusions: if I haven’t seen or played a title for myself, for reasons that I hope are obvious it can’t be included. I’m only one person, and I don’t have every moment of the day to dedicate to entertainment. As such, some titles others may consider to be “massive releases” for 2020 aren’t going to be given an award. In the gaming realm, this also applies to titles that I haven’t completed. The exclusion from these awards of titles like Ghost of Tsushima and Tenet isn’t to say they aren’t good; they may be – but I have no experience with them so I’m unable to comment at this time.

With all of that out of the way let’s jump into the awards! If you like, you can try to imagine a fancy stage and some celebrity presenter handing out statuettes. That may or may not be what I’m doing as I write!

Web Series:

Nowadays many of us get at least a portion of our entertainment away from big-budget productions on websites and apps like YouTube. There are a number of top-tier YouTube shows that may have started off as typical amateur productions, but have since become far more professional. As better cameras and microphones become readily available, even low-budget YouTube productions can offer impressive audio and visuals.

Personally I watch a video or two on YouTube most days, and there are a number of channels which have produced top-quality entertainment this year. When the pandemic hit, many YouTube shows were able to keep going despite the chaos engulfing the wider entertainment industry. They had the means and the technology to do so, and that’s fantastic.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Linus Tech Tips

Linus Tech Tips is one of the first YouTube channels I began watching regularly, having stumbled upon it when looking for PC building tips a few years ago. Though some of what they do is complete overkill (what YouTube channel needs $20,000 cameras?) they have a lot of fun while doing it. Linus Tech Tips explores the high-end and cutting-edge of computers, cameras, and other technologies, and the presenters manage to make it entertaining.

The channel has continued its steady growth and now boasts a number of regular presenters in addition to the titular Linus, most of whom specialise in particular topics. There are also several other channels produced by the same team, including TechQuickie, Short Circuit, and TechLinked. The combined output of the main channel plus its subsidiaries means there’s at least one new video per day, which is great. Even less-interesting topics can be made fun when presented well, and the team at Linus Tech Tips manage to be interesting and entertaining every time.

🏆Winner🏆
SORTEDfood

I love a good cooking show. Not only can they be entertaining but also very relaxing. SORTEDfood has a usual output of two videos per week, and while in recent years they’ve stepped away from purely doing recipes and into things like kitchen gadget reviews, everything is food-themed and the enthusiasm that the five presenters have is infectious. During the coronavirus pandemic, London (where the show is recorded) was in lockdown. Despite that, the team found creative ways to get around it, and even incorporated it into their videos. In addition to recipes there were helpful things like reviews of food delivery services, which at the height of lockdown here in the UK was actually really useful. I was able to use a couple of the services they recommended to send gifts to people I couldn’t see in person; gift ideas I would never have had were it not for SORTEDfood.

Their pandemic programming was good, but when lockdown was lifted it was nice for the team to come back together and get back to their regular output. I’m a huge fan of their “ultimate battles” in particular, which pit the presenters head-to-head to create the best dish. The “pass it on” series, where all five take turns to create a single dish, is also fantastic – and often very funny. SORTEDfood manages to be both informative and entertaining, and their output during lockdown was phenomenal and undoubtedly helped many viewers during a difficult time. For all of those reaons, I’m crowing SORTEDfood the best web series of the year.

Documentaries:

I’m setting aside a whole category for documentaries because I’m a big fan. There have been some great ones in 2020, both standalone films and series. Netflix has surprised me over the last few years by growing to become a huge player in the documentary genre, funding many productions – including some Academy Award nominees. Disney+ joined the streaming wars late last year – or in March this year if you’re in the UK – and has also brought some fascinating pieces of documentary content to the small screen. It’s a great time for documentaries at the moment!

🥈Runner-up🥈
We Need To Talk About A.I.

This documentary was fascinating, if perhaps somewhat alarmist. Looking at the possible creation of general artificial intelligence, and the potential for such an AI to surpass humanity, it was a truly interesting peek behind the curtain at what researchers are doing on the cutting-edge of AI research. The documentary was presented by Keir Dullea, famous for his role as Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film saw his character go up against an out-of-control AI, and Dullea brings a gravitas to the role of narrator as a result.

The film made reference to a number of sci-fi films which look at rogue AI, most significantly Terminator 2: Judgement Day, whose director James Cameron was interviewed. From my perspective as a Trekkie, having just seen Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1, which both look at the potential for out-of-control AIs, the documentary brought the world of fiction uncomfortably close to the world we inhabit today. While most of the interviewees offered a fairly bleak look at future AI, particularly in the military realm, others did paint a more positive picture. The biggest thing I took away from it, though, it how little consensus there is among researchers and scientists not only on whether AI is a good idea, but whether it’s even truly possible, or how long it will take.

The film is a fascinating, slightly unnerving watch.

🏆Winner🏆
The Imagineering Story

Though it isn’t a subject I’ve talked about often here on the website, I have a great fondness for Disney’s theme parks. It’s doubtful given my health that I’ll be able to go any time soon, but I have fond memories of visits to several parks with both family and groups of friends. Combine that love of Disney with my aforementioned love of documentaries and I got what was one of the most underrated yet fascinating entertainment experiences of the year!

Prior to the launch of Disney+ in the UK in March, there was already a Disney-branded streaming platform here. I wasn’t sure what kind of an upgrade to expect when the new service arrived – except for The Mandalorian there didn’t seem to be much new. The Imagineering Story was one of the few documentaries on Disney+ at launch, but it’s absolutely fascinating, detailing the behind-the-scenes work that went into building Disney’s various parks and themed lands.

The addition of some National Geographic documentaries to Disney+ over the last year or so has made the platform into a good home for the format, though I would like to see more films and series either added from Disney’s extensive back catalogue or better yet, commissioned exclusively for Disney+.

But we’re off-topic! The Imagineering Story was beautifully narrated by Angela Bassett, and as a series made by Disney itself was able to get the perspectives of many senior people who worked at the parks and on many of the projects it covered.

Video Games:

Despite the all the chaos and pandemonium in the world in 2020, many new games – and two new consoles – managed to make it to release. While it’s true that some titles have suffered delays, by far the majority of planned and scheduled releases made it, and that’s no small accomplishment!

As a new console generation gets ready for its centre-stage moment, it’s often been the case that we get a quieter-than-average year as companies shift their focus. Despite that, though, we’ve seen some pretty big titles in 2020, including a couple that will likely be heralded as “game of the generation” or even “game of the decade!” If I’m still alive and kicking in 2029, by the way, check back as I may have a thing or two to say about that!

Though it’s far too early to say which of the two newly-launched consoles will do best in the years to come, 2020 has given all of us some great gaming experiences… and some crap ones.

Worst Game:

Let’s start by getting the worst games out of the way. 2020 has seen some stinkers, including big-budget titles from successful developers and publishers. They really ought to know better.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel’s Avengers is the Anthem of 2020. Or the Fallout 76 of 2020. Or the Destiny 1 of 2020. Or the The Culling II of 2020. Pick any of those live service, broken-at-launch disasters, and that’s what Marvel’s Avengers is. The “release now, fix later” business model has condemned what could have been a popular and successful title to failure. But Marvel’s Avengers hasn’t even failed spectacularly enough to be forever etched in the annals of gaming history alongside titles like 1982’s E.T. Instead it’s slowly fading away, and in six months or a year’s time, nobody will even remember it existed.

Disney and Square Enix looked at a long list of crappy video game business ideas, including paid battle-passes, console-exclusive characters, corporate tie-ins with unrelated brands like phone providers and chewing gum makers, in-game currencies, and microtransactions for each of the six main characters individually. They then decided to put all of these into the game, robbing it of any soul or heart it could have had and turning it into a bland corporate cash-grab. As soon as I heard the company planned the game as a “multi-year experience,” the writing was on the wall. If, underneath all of the corporate nonsense, there had been a halfway decent game with fun gameplay, perhaps more players would have stuck it out. But, as usual with these types of games, there wasn’t. I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan. So I’m not horribly offended by this game in the way some folks undoubtedly are. But I can sympathise with them, because fans deserve better than this steaming pile of crap to which Disney and Square Enix have attempted to affix the Marvel logo.

🏆Winner🏆
The Last of Us Part II

The Last Of Us Part II’s cover-based stealth/action gameplay is fine. Though better than the first game, I didn’t feel there was a colossal improvement in terms of gameplay – but that could be said about countless sequels over the last couple of console generations. Where The Last Of Us Part II fell down was its story. This was a game I was sceptical of from the beginning; the first title felt like lightning in a bottle, something that neither wanted nor required a follow-up. In 2020, though, practically every successful title ends up being spun out into a franchise.

With a theme of breaking the cycle of violence, The Last Of Us Part II considers itself “artistic” and clever. Unfortunately that theme led to a horribly unsatisfying narrative, with players not only forced to take on the role of the person who murdered Joel – the protagonist/anti-hero from the first title – but ends with Ellie letting her escape and refusing to take revenge. Had the same concept been part of a new game with new characters, it could have worked better. But crammed into this title it fell flat. I stuck with it out of stubbornness as a fan of the first title, but it was a profoundly unenjoyable ride, and that’s why The Last Of Us Part II is the worst game of 2020.

Best Casual Game:

How do we define a “casual” game? It’s a difficult one, and it’s one of those contentious topics where fans of a title who may have spent hundreds of hours in the game world will get upset at hearing their favourite game referred to as “casual.” When it came to choosing titles for this category, I looked at games that could be easily picked up for a short burst, then put down. Games that can be played for a few minutes and that have gameplay suited to that was one of the main criteria. Games in this category also had to be pick-up-and-play. Some casual games can indeed be hard to truly master, but for my money, any game to which we assign the “casual” title has to be accessible and easy to get started with.

So that was how I came to my shortlist. Now let’s look at the runner-up and winner… though if you’ve been a reader all year I doubt you’ll be too surprised!

🥈Runner-up🥈
Fall Guys

Fall Guys seemingly came out of nowhere in August. It wasn’t a title I’d heard of, let alone one I was looking forward to, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Taking a format inspired by television game-shows like Gladiators or Total Wipeout, the basic gameplay consists of running a series of obstacle courses, looking to be the last one standing at the end to win a crown.

I’m not usually interested in online multiplayer titles, but Fall Guys was something so genuinely different that I was prepared to give it a go. And what I found was a game that was shockingly fun. Each round lasts barely a couple of minutes, meaning even if you don’t qualify it’s not a big deal. Just jump into the next game. Though there are microtransactions, at time of writing they aren’t intrusive and the game is quite generous with the in-game currency given out simply for playing. There are fun cosmetic items to dress up your adorable little jelly bean character in, and the whole game is cute and lots of fun. Though it did have a cheating problem for a while, the addition of anti-cheat software appears to have fixed things. I’m probably about done with Fall Guys as I move on to find new things to watch and play, but I had a wonderful time with it this summer and autumn.

🏆Winner🏆
Animal Crossing: New Horizons

With over 120 hours played, I’ve spent more time this year with Animal Crossing: New Horizons than with the next two games on my list put together. That’s no small accomplishment – even if my 120 hours seems paltry compared to the amount of time some players have put into this title. Time alone doesn’t make a title worthy of winning an award, though. Why Animal Crossing: New Horizons deserves the title is because practically all of those hours were enjoyable.

It’s true that the base game at launch was missing features from past entries in the series, notably 2013’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf. And I find that disappointing, even if updates have since improved the game. But despite the missing content, what the game did have was fantastic, and there really isn’t anything like New Horizons on the market. It’s cute wholesome fun, and the kind of game that can be played for even just a few minutes at a time. It doesn’t demand a huge commitment in the way some titles do – but if you get stuck into it, you’ll find yourself wanting to spend more and more time on your island.

Best Racing Game:

There’s only one game in this category this year, simply because the other racing games I’ve played in 2020 were released in previous years. I had a lot of fun with Forza Horizon 4 in particular, but as a 2018 title it can’t be included here for obvious reasons.

🏆Winner🏆
Hotshot Racing

Congratulations to Hotshot Racing for winning by default! Jokes aside, this game is a lot of fun. An unashamed arcade racer that makes no attempt at realism, it’s fast-paced, exciting, and ridiculous in equal measure! What attracted me to the game when it was released in September was its deliberately mid-90s aesthetic; a beautifully simple art style inspired by racing games of the Sega Saturn and PlayStation 1 era.

At a time when many games feel overpriced, the £15 I paid for Hotshot Racing actually feels cheap! For how much fun the game is, even when simply playing against the AI, it could arguably ask for a lot more money! Speaking of playing against the AI, that’s something Hotshot Racing encourages, and considering how many titles that supposedly offer a single-player mode still try to force players to go online, I appreciated that. In the mid-90s, some games could do four-player split-screen, but many titles were limited to just two players at the most, so racing against the AI was something all gamers had to do; that was just how those games were meant to be played!

As a visual throwback to games past, Hotshot Racing caught my eye. But there’s more to it than just the way it looks, and what’s under that cute retro skin is a genuinely fun arcade racer.

Best Star Wars Game:

It’s unusual for two games in a single franchise to release within a year of each other, but that’s what happened! There was even supposed to be a third Star Wars title this year – Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – but it was delayed until 2021.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Star Wars: Squadrons

Though Squadrons is less arcadey than classic starfighter titles like Rogue Squadron, it’s a remarkably fun game. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a pilot in a galaxy far, far away, this is about as close as you can get! Though I don’t play in VR, the option to use a VR headset – as well as to set up a proper HOTAS or other flight controller on PC – surely makes this the most immersive Star Wars experience out there. Even just with a control pad, though, Squadrons truly transports you to the cockpit of an X-Wing, TIE Fighter, or one of the game’s other starfighters.

The single-player campaign was fun, giving players the opportunity to fight on both sides of the war as the New Republic seeks to defeat the rump Empire – the game is set in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, so the fact that there is an AI mode, allowing me to continue to have fun just playing against the computer, is fantastic. I had a truly enjoyable time with Star Wars: Squadrons, and I keep going back for more.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jedi: Fallen Order was released in November 2019, so including it on this list is a bit of a stretch, I admit. But I got to play it this year, and it was the first game where I fully documented my playthrough. Jedi: Fallen Order managed to feel like a cross between Knights of the Old Republic and the Uncharted series, with protagonist Cal taking on a quest to visit several ancient worlds in search of a Jedi Holocron.

There were twists and turns along the way, but the whole time I felt like I was taking part in a Star Was adventure all my own. After the disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker, playing through Jedi: Fallen Order convinced me that the Star Wars franchise was going to be okay, and that there were still new and original stories worth telling in this universe.

The gameplay was great too, with lots of exciting action and lightsabre-swinging as Cal took on the forces of the Empire. I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t played it for yourself, but Jedi: Fallen Order was a wild and incredible ride, and one I heartily recommend.

Best Action or Adventure Game:

This category ended up with two first-person shooters, but I’m keeping the name the same! There were many great action, adventure, and first-person shooter titles released this year, and I didn’t have time to play all of them. Here are the two I enjoyed most.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Doom Eternal

The sequel to the wonderful 2016 reboot of Doom is just fantastic. Gone is the horror vibe that Doom 3 mistakenly introduced, and instead what you get is action and excitement – with some interesting platforming sections thrown in for good measure. There is a story, of course, but unlike many games I’m not really all that interested in it. I come to games like Doom Eternal to feel like a demon-killing badass, and that’s precisely what the game offers.

There was a lot of fun to be had in the days leading up to Doom Eternal’s launch, as it coincided with the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I greatly enjoyed the memes and artwork created by folks on the internet, depicting Doom Guy and characters from the Animal Crossing series together! All in all, this is just a fast-paced, fun shooter that doesn’t try to be anything more. It isn’t a jack-of-all-trades; it does one thing and does it to perfection.

🏆Winner🏆
Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Throughout 2020, developers 343 Industries have brought the Halo series to PC. Halo: Reach arrived late last year, and in the months since we’ve gotten every other title in the series – except for Halo 5! It had been a long time since I played Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, and I had a lot of fun rediscovering the series and enjoying it all over again. The updated graphics improved the experience in a lot of ways, but it was also fun (and innovative) to be able to switch between visual styles on the fly.

I hadn’t played either Halo 3: ODST or Halo 4, so I not only got to recreate my Halo experience from years past, but expand on it too. The setting the series uses is as unique and interesting as any sci-fi video game I’ve played, and I’m very curious to see what Halo Infinite can bring to the series when it’s eventually ready.

Television Shows:

There have been some wonderful television shows this year. While the pandemic led to the shutdown of cinemas and a delay in many films being released, a lot of television shows were able to press ahead – at least, those that had completed filming before the worst effects were felt. I hoped to include more categories, such as best miniseries, but time got away from me and I have a number of shows still on my list of things to watch!

Worst Television Series:

Luckily there’s only one in this category! If I’m not enjoying a television series I tend to just stop watching – unless there seems to be a real prospect of improvement. Likewise, if I feel something won’t be to my taste I’ll just skip it; life is too short, after all, for bad entertainment. That said, there are exceptions, and I found one in 2020.

🏆Winner🏆
Supernatural

Supernatural is the king of running too long – a crown it inherited from The Big Bang Theory! Fifteen years ago, when it debuted, there was a great premise as brothers Sam and Dean Winchester set out to hunt ghosts and monsters, all the while keeping an eye out for the demon that killed their mother and Sam’s girlfriend.

But by the time the show reached its third season, many of its ongoing storylines had concluded. The writers began reaching for new and different demons and creatures for Sam and Dean to tackle, and the quality dipped. By the time the show crossed over into the self-congratulatory fan-servicey mess it has been in recent seasons it had just become ridiculous; a parody of itself.

As the seasons dragged on, writers began pumping more and more Biblical themes into Supernatural, transforming its protagonists into invincible prophets anointed by God. An episode a few seasons back saw Sam and Dean cross over into a world where their adventures are a television show in what has to be one of the worst examples of fan-service I’ve ever seen.

Thankfully Supernatural has now wrapped up its final season. I tuned back in – against my better judgement – to see if the impending end of the series would make a difference to its quality. But it didn’t, and I stand by something I’ve been saying for years: many television shows have a natural lifespan. Supernatural had maybe three decent seasons, and should certainly have ended a long time ago.

Best Animated Series:

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Rick & Morty

We got five episodes of Rick & Morty in 2020; the back half of Season 4, which had premiered last year. The show’s entire premise is wacky, sometimes over-the-top humour, and that doesn’t always stick the landing, especially when the creative team have been working on it for seven years already. So with that in mind, I consider four episodes out of five being decent to be a pretty good run.

When the show stopped flying under the radar and really hit the mainstream in 2017, there was a fear perhaps that the newfound popularity would lead to changes. But I don’t really think that’s happened, and I wouldn’t say that this year’s episodes were substantially different to those in past seasons. They weren’t necessarily any better, but certainly no worse.

There were some great jokes, some hilarious moments, and some weird and wonderful aliens as Rick and Morty (along with Summer, Jerry, and Beth) took off on their interdimensional adventures.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Trek: Lower Decks

It could hardly be anything else, right? Building on the success of both the Star Trek franchise and animated comedies like Rick and Morty, Star Trek: Lower Decks represented the franchise’s biggest attempt to try something new – and arguably its biggest risk – in a very long time. Despite the controversy surrounding Lower Decks’ lack of an international broadcast, judging the series on merit it was a very enjoyable ride.

There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in Lower Decks, but more than that, the show paid homage to my personal favourite era of Star Trek – the 24th Century. There were so many callbacks and references to events in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager and the series managed to feel like Star Trek while at the same time having an overtly comedic style.

While its sense of humour won’t be to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying that Lower Decks was made by fans for fans, and I’m really excited to see its second season whenever that may come – especially now that the show’s international broadcast has been settled meaning that fans everywhere can enjoy it together.

Best Live-Action Television Series:

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Cobra

Right at the beginning of the year I watched Cobra, a British thriller about a government dealing with the aftermath of a disaster. Such an interesting fictional concept, I thought. How innocent we were back then, eh?

Cobra wasn’t what I expected. Having read the pre-release marketing I was expecting a disaster series, something dealing with an apocalyptic event. Instead it’s much more of a thriller with elements of political drama. Even though that was completely not what I expected, I had an enjoyable time with the series.

Robert Carlyle – who plays the role of a British Prime Minister clearly inspired by Tony Blair – is an actor I’ve always felt was underrated. I saw him a few years ago in a miniseries called Hitler: The Rise of Evil, and ever since I’ve found him to be a decent actor who can take on a variety of roles. He was the star of Cobra – but didn’t overwhelm the series. It was an entertaining ride with some truly tense moments.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Trek: Picard

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed my articles and columns this year! Star Trek: Picard did something I’d been desperately wanting the franchise to do for basically twenty years: move forward. Since Enterprise premiered shortly after the turn of the millennium, Star Trek has looked backwards, with all of its attention focused on prequels and reboots. Many of those stories were great, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to know what came next, and Picard scratched that itch.

But its premise alone would not make it the best television series of the year! Star Trek: Picard told an engaging, mysterious story as the retired Admiral Picard set out on a new adventure. The story touched on contemporary themes of artificial intelligence, isolationism, and mental health, and was an enthralling watch. Though it stumbled as the first season drew to a close, the first eight episodes were outstanding, and have hopefully laid the groundwork not only for future seasons and more adventures with Picard and his new crew, but also for further Star Trek stories set at the dawn of the 25th Century.

It’s difficult to pick out one individual episode and say it was the best the season had to offer, because Star Trek: Picard is designed to be watched from beginning to end as one continuous story. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try!

Star Trek Episodes:

2020 was the first year since 1998 with three Star Trek productions, so there’s a lot of episodes to choose from! As Trekkies we’re spoilt for choice at the moment – long may that continue! This year I reviewed every single Star Trek episode that was broadcast. The year began with Picard in late January, then Lower Decks came along in August, and finally Discovery premiered in mid-October.

Worst Episode:

There weren’t a lot of options here, because the quality of modern Star Trek has been high. That said, every Star Trek show has misfires and duds from time to time, and this year was no exception.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 (Star Trek: Picard)

After an incredibly strong start, Star Trek: Picard stumbled as its first season drew to a close. My primary complaint about Et in Arcadia Ego as a whole (aside from that godawful gold makeup they used for the synths) was that it introduced too many new characters and storylines, most of which didn’t get enough screen time to properly develop. The first part of a finale needs to bring together everything that’s already happened, not dump an awful lot of new things onto the audience, but that’s what Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 did.

The episode was also very poorly-paced, which is down to a combination of scripting and editing. The story jumped from point to point without sufficient time for the audience to digest what was going on. It also skipped over what should’ve been massive emotional moments, like Picard and Soji learning Hugh’s fate, or Elnor learning of Picard’s illness. Dr Soong and Sutra in particular needed more development and more screen time – though Isa Briones’ terrible, one-dimensional performance means that’s something I’m half-glad we didn’t get!

Overall, this was Picard’s worst episode by far. The aesthetic, editing, and pacing were all wrong, and if the story of Season 1 wanted to include all of these new characters, factions, and settings, we needed not only more episodes, but to have brought them in much earlier.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Envoys (Star Trek: Lower Decks)

Envoys’ opening sequence, in which Ensign Mariner kidnaps a sentient energy lifeform “for a laugh,” was the closest I came to switching off Star Trek’s second animated series and not going back. Where Lower Decks succeeded was in making the regular goings-on in Starfleet comical. Where it failed was in attempting to set up Ensign Mariner as Star Trek’s answer to Rick Sanchez (from Rick & Morty). This sequence encapsulated all of Mariner’s worst qualities, and was about as un-Star Trek as it’s possible to get.

It’s a shame, because the episode’s B-plot starred Ensign Rutherford in what was one of his better stories as he hopped from role to role aboard the ship, trying out different postings in different departments. The main story stuck with Mariner and Boimler, and derived much of its attempted humour from her mean-spirited selfishness. The ending of the episode did go some way to humanising Mariner, and arguably set the stage for her becoming a much more likeable character across the remainder of the season. But that opening sequence in particular is awful, and is the main reason why I’m crowing Envoys as the worst Star Trek episode of the year.

Best Episode:

This is a much more fun category than the one above! And there are plenty of candidates. All three shows managed to have some real gems, and picking just two was not an easy task.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Far From Home (Star Trek: Discovery)

After Michael Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century in the season premiere, Far From Home saw Discovery and the rest of the crew arrive too. We were treated to an excellent crash landing sequence that was reminiscent of Voyager’s fourth season episode Timeless, and we got an interesting storyline which saw Saru and the crew forced to adapt to a very different and difficult future.

Saru and Tilly both stepped up, and the dynamic between these two characters has been continued through the rest of the season. As two main characters who hadn’t spent a huge amount of time together before this episode, their relationship was somewhat new and very interesting. Saru stepped up to become the captain we all hoped he could be in Far From Home, and Tilly showed us that there’s more to her than mere comic relief.

As the second half of the series premiere, Far From Home does a lot of world-building, establishing the violent, chaotic nature of the 32nd Century. It was also rare in that it was a Star Trek: Discovery episode with practically no input from Burnham – something which allowed many other crew members to shine in unexpected ways.

🏆Winner🏆
Remembrance (Star Trek: Picard)

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a Star Trek episode than I was for Remembrance. This was the moment Star Trek returned to the 24th Century for the first time since 2002’s Nemesis – and it was the first time the overall story of the Star Trek galaxy had moved forward since we heard about the destruction of Romulus in 2009’s Star Trek.

Children of Mars – the Short Treks episode that served as a prologue to Picard – had been somewhat of a let-down, so there was a lot riding on Remembrance as far as I was concerned! And I’m so happy to report that it delivered. It was mysterious and exciting, with moments of tension and action, and although the now-retired Admiral Picard was not exactly the same as he was the last time we saw him, flickers of the man we knew were still there.

Remembrance set the stage beautifully for Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. It took things slow and didn’t overwhelm us with storylines and heavy plot all at once. By the end of the episode we’d only really met two of the season’s principal characters. Perhaps seen in the light of the rushed finale this could be argued to be a mistake, and that we needed to get a quicker start. But I don’t think I agree with that assessment; Remembrance is perfect the way it is, and probably the best single episode of television I saw all year.

Films:

Let’s be blunt for a moment: 2020 has been a catastrophic year for the film industry. So many titles that should have been released simply didn’t come out due to the pandemic, and as a result it’s been slim pickings. A few bigger titles managed to premiere in January or February before the worst effects hit, but since the end of February very few titles have come out. We’ve missed out on films like No Time To Die, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Dune, all of which have been delayed to 2021. And there will be ramifications for years to come, as titles planned for 2021 are being pushed to 2022, and so on.

There have been some titles that managed to come out this year, and from my selfish point-of-view, I’m happy that more have come straight to streaming! My health is poor, and one thing that I sadly can’t do any more is get to the cinema (I haven’t been able to for several years). So in that sense I don’t feel that I personally have missed out in quite the same way! However, the massively-curtailed release schedule has had an effect, and as a result I don’t really have a lot of titles to choose from for this section of the awards. In another year I might’ve split up the films into several genres, but instead we just have three categories.

Worst Film:

Luckily there’s only one film in this category this year. If you recall my review of it from the spring, it perhaps won’t be a surprise!

🏆Winner🏆
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker is saved from being the worst Star Wars film solely by the existence of The Phantom Menace – and it’s not always clear which is worse. The clumsy insertion of Palpatine into a story that was clearly not supposed to have anything to do with him is perhaps the worst example of corporate-mandated fan service I’ve ever seen. Not only does Palpatine ruin The Rise of Skywalker, but the revelation that he’s been manipulating the entire story of Star Wars from behind the scenes undermines every other story that the cinematic franchise has tried to tell. It was a monumentally bad decision; the worst kind of deus ex machina. And his presence wasn’t even explained.

But while Palpatine stank up the plot, he wasn’t the only problem in The Rise of Skywalker. The ridiculously choppy editing meant no scene lasted more than a few seconds, leaving the audience no time to digest what was happening. There was some truly awful dialogue. General Hux’s story makes no sense at all and was totally out of character. Rose Tico was sidelined, despite her character being a huge part of the previous film. Palpatine’s plan – and his decision to announce it to the galaxy before enacting it – makes no sense. The stupid limitation to his fleet also makes no sense. Rey’s character arc across the trilogy was ruined by the decision to listen to bad fan theories. Poe and Finn basically did nothing of consequence. And the scenes with Leia – I’m sorry to say given Carrie Fisher’s untimely demise – were so obviously lifted from another film that it was painful.

JJ Abrams ran around undoing so many storylines from The Last Jedi that The Rise of Skywalker felt like two films haphazardly smashed together, but cut down to the runtime of a single picture. There was an occasional moment where either something funny happened or perhaps the nostalgia hit hard, but otherwise it was a total failure, and by far the worst film I’ve seen all year.

Best Animated Film:

🥈Runner-up🥈
Frozen II

Disney does not have a good track record when it comes to sequels. Most of the time their big animated features are one-offs, with any sequels being relegated to direct-to-video offerings. But Frozen had been such a cultural landmark after its 2013 release that a sequel was, perhaps, inevitable. And far from being an afterthought, Frozen II was a film that equalled – and occasionally surpassed – its illustrious predecessor.

There was some fantastic animation work in Frozen II, such as the effects used for the fog. There was less snow than in the first film, and the snow in Frozen was beautiful, so that’s a shame in a way! The soundtrack was fantastic too, with several catchy songs that are well worth listening to.

Frozen II’s story was engrossing and genuinely interesting, and unlike some Disney sequels managed to avoid feeling tacked-on. The parents of the two sisters at the heart of the story had been killed early in the first film – and Frozen II saw them learn more about what happened to them, as well as discovering the source of Elsa’s powers.

🏆Winner🏆
Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe

Phineas and Ferb went off the air in 2015, and as Disney Channel shows are usually one-and-done affairs I didn’t expect to see it return. But Candace Against the Universe premiered in August on Disney+ and was absolutely amazing.

After a five-year break the film brought back practically everything that made Phineas and Ferb great. There was a wacky but fun plot that brought together the kids and Dr Doofenshmirtz, there were some great musical numbers, and above all a deep story that had heart. Candace – the sister of the titular Phineas and Ferb – took centre-stage in a story that made depression accessible to even the film’s young target audience. It ended by telling a story that showed kids that they don’t have to be the centre of the universe to matter, and I think that’s an incredibly powerful message.

I’m a big advocate of sensitive depictions of mental health in entertainment. Not every story has to touch on the subject, of course, but Candace Against the Universe did – and it did so in a way that was relatable and understandable. But beyond that, it was a fun return to a series I thought was over. It’s possible the film could be the springboard for more Phineas and Ferb, but even if it isn’t I’m still glad we got to see it.

Best Live-Action Film:

Ordinarily I’d try to split up films by genre, and at least have sections for comedy, sci-fi, and maybe one or two others. But so few films have staggered out the door this year that there’s not really a lot of choice. As I’ve seen so few new films I just picked my top two. It wasn’t even all that difficult.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Sonic the Hedgehog

In any other year, Sonic the Hedgehog wouldn’t have got a look-in as one of the best releases. But this is 2020, and as we’ve already discussed, there aren’t a lot of options. After receiving backlash for its visual effects when the first trailer was released in 2019, the creative team behind Sonic the Hedgehog went back to the drawing board and redesigned the titular Sega mascot, bringing him closer to his video game appearance. The willingness of the studio to delay the project in response to fan criticism is appreciated, especially when many other studios have chosen to double-down in the face of such backlash.

The film itself is surprisingly fun, though as with 1993’s Super Mario Bros., features a storyline quite far-removed from the video game franchise it’s inspired by. Jim Carrey hasn’t exactly disappeared in recent years, but has been nowhere near as ubiquitous as he was in his late-90s heyday, so his performance here feels like a return to form. And that’s all I have to say, really. It was a fun film, and an enjoyable way to kill a couple of hours. Is Sonic the Hedgehog going to be hailed as a classic of modern cinema alongside Lincoln and Bohemian Rhapsody? Of course not. But out of the available titles this year, it’s one of the best.

🏆Winner🏆
1917

Now for a complete change of tone! 1917 was released in December last year, and is a truly epic war film that missed out on winning any of the top Academy Awards. However, despite the snub by the Oscars, it’s an outstanding piece of historical cinema, and though its novel “one-take” style of editing was perhaps less impressive than I expected it to be, it was nevertheless interesting.

I fully expect 1917 to be considered a classic of the war genre in decades to come, such is its quality. At its core is an emotional story of two young men thrown into a gut-wrenching situation. The First World War was one of the worst and bloodiest in history, yet few films have depicted that horror with such brutal accuracy as 1917.

Though it isn’t the kind of popcorn flick you’ll want to watch a dozen times in a row, 1917 is artistic and inspired in all the ways that matter. From the performances to the costuming to the camera work, every tiny detail has been honed and perfected. Director Sam Mendes deserves a lot of credit for putting together this masterpiece.

Announcements:

In this final section I’ll briefly cover a handful of announcements for upcoming productions that got me excited in 2020. There are so many interesting projects in the works, and while some of these may not see the light of day until 2022 or even later, they’re still genuinely appealing and I’m keeping my ear to the ground listening for news!

Video Games:

🥈Runner-up🥈
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

I’d been hoping for an announcement of the remastered Mass Effect trilogy ever since rumours of its existence began to swirl earlier in the year. Though EA and Bioware kept us waiting, the remaster was finally announced a short time ago and is due for release in 2021. Whether it will really tick all the boxes, and whether enough time has passed for a remaster to feel like a substantial improvement are both open questions… but I’m very interested to find out!

🏆Winner🏆
Hogwarts Legacy

It’s been a long time since a video game announcement got me so excited – and an even longer time since anything in set in the Wizarding World did! Hogwarts Legacy looks like a game with great potential – telling a new story set decades before the Harry Potter books. It also seems to be a game that offers a great degree of player choice. That combination worked very well for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and I think it could do wonderful things here.

Television Shows:

🥈Runner-up🥈
Alien

There’s a television show based on the 1979 classic Alien in development! Practically everything is being turned into a streaming television series right now, so perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I’m truly interested to see what the Alien franchise can do with more than a couple of hours. Television as a medium allows for longer and more complex stories than can fit in a two-hour film, so there’s a lot of potential here.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Almost since the moment he beamed aboard Discovery at the beginning of the second season, fans had been clamouring for a Captain Pike series, and Alex Kurtzman and ViacomCBS listened! Strange New Worlds was announced in May, along with a short video from its three principal cast members. The show has already begun production, and while I doubt it’ll see the light of day before 2022, it’s one of the things keeping me going right now!

Films:

🥈Runner-up🥈
The Matrix 4

Though I have no idea where the story of The Matrix 4 could possibly take the series, I’m cautiously interested. Filming has already begun, but was disrupted by – what else – the pandemic. The two sequels to 1999’s The Matrix didn’t quite live up to the first part of the saga, but nevertheless were solid action-sci fi titles. I’m hoping that, after the series has taken a long break and with access to better CGI than was available in the early 2000s, The Matrix 4 will be just as good as the first. Could this be the beginning of a greatly expanded franchise?

🏆Winner🏆
Dune

The first part of this new Dune duology should have been released this month, but because most cinemas remain closed it’s been pushed all the way back to December next year. Dune has previously been difficult to adapt, with at least one attempted film version never making it to screen, but this adaptation has clearly been a labour of love. It seems to feature a great cast, and based on the trailer will have some stunning visual effects. Here’s hoping that it can get the cinematic release that the director and studio hope for.

So that’s it!

Those are my picks for the entertainment highlights of 2020. It’s been a very unusual year in terms of what all of us have been able to watch and listen to. A number of big titles weren’t able to make it to release, especially in the realm of cinema. We’re also going to be feeling the knock-on effects of this disruption well into 2021 and 2022, even if things get back to normal relatively quickly – which hopefully will be the case!

2020 brought Star Trek back to the small screen in a huge way. There literally has not been this much Star Trek to get stuck into for decades, and as a big fan of the franchise I think that’s just fantastic. It’s also been a year which has accelerated the move toward streaming as a main way of accessing content. I wouldn’t like to guess how many cable or satellite subscriptions have been cancelled in favour of Netflix, Disney+, CBS All Access, and the like!

I hope that you managed to find some fun things to watch and play this year – even as the outside world seemed to be falling apart. Entertainment is great escapism, and we all needed some of that in 2020. This may be my last post of the year, so all that remains to be said is this: see you in 2021!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective company, studio, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. Some promotional images and artwork courtesy of IGDB. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks)

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

2020 has seen a lot of cancellations, and as the end of the year approaches that has extended to New Year celebrations too. Around the world, fireworks displays and other big events are being shut down due to the pandemic, and while I’m sure most of you are too sensible to have even considered attending such an event in person, many of these parties and countdowns were scheduled to be televised, which leaves us with a gaping hole in our New Year’s Eve viewing. With parties also off the agenda for most of us, I thought I’d put together a fun list of things to watch instead as the minutes tick closer to midnight.

I’ve never been particularly bothered about fireworks. A professional display can be fun to see if you’re there in person, but on television much of the impact is lost. Despite that, for the last few years I’ve spent my New Year’s Eves with the London fireworks display – one of the many events that has been cancelled for 2020 – simply because there aren’t a lot of other options. At least, there weren’t until now!

I started thinking about alternatives, and I came up with five potentially fun ideas (and a couple of bonus ones!)

Number 1: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Timestamp: 2:50:20 (Extended Edition Blu-ray)

“So it begins.”

I have to admit this one is not an original idea (I stole it from a meme). But if you want to begin the new year with Théoden of Rohan proclaiming “so it begins,” you can! If you start The Two Towers at precisely 21:09:40 (assuming you have the extended edition on Blu-ray), Théoden will utter that line at the stroke of midnight. Not only that, but you’ll begin the year with one of the best fantasy battles ever filmed: the Battle of Helm’s Deep.

Why not make New Year’s Eve a Lord of the Rings marathon while you’re at it? I could think of far worse ways to start 2021 than with three of the finest films of the genre.

Number 2: Phineas & Ferb Season 4, Episode 2: For Your Ice Only/Happy New Year (2012)

Timestamp: 00:19:26 (Disney+ version)

Perry the Platypus.

Episodes of Phineas and Ferb come bundled in pairs on Disney+, so if you want to celebrate with Phineas, Ferb, Candace, Perry, and Dr Doofenshmirtz you’ll have to start this duo of episodes at precisely 23:40:34 on New Year’s Eve. That will ring in the New Year with a countdown, a ball drop (from outer space, no less) and one of Dr Doofenshmirtz’s wacky inventions.

The song from this episode, which itself is titled Happy New Year, has to be one of the show’s best, and is well worth a listen even if you don’t watch the entire story. I’ve been a fan of this Disney Channel cartoon since it premiered, and I recently reviewed Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe.

Number 3: Ghostbusters II (1989)

A crowd singing Auld Lang Syne in Ghostbusters II.

The climactic final act of Ghostbusters II takes place on New Year’s Eve in New York City, and if you’re up for some comedy to ring in 2021, this could be the way to do it! Though not as spectacular as the 1984 original, Ghostbusters II is nevertheless decent, and manages to have heart despite the ridiculous nature of its premise.

If you start the film around 22:30, you’ll get to the scenes on New Year’s Eve by midnight, and will have started 2021 with a funny, heartwarming, and slightly spooky tale.

Number 4: Futurama – Season 1, Episode 1: Space Pilot 3000

Timestamp: 00:01:52 (DVD)

Fry in Space Pilot 3000.

Futurama premiered in 1999, and fittingly its pilot episode was set on Millennium Eve. Fry, a pizza delivery guy, ends up alone – before falling into a cryogenic stasis chamber and waking up 1,000 years later! If you begin the episode – at least, the DVD version – at 23:58:08 on New Year’s Eve, you’ll begin 2021 not just with Fry, but with a surprisingly fun multilingual New Year’s countdown.

If you haven’t seen Futurama in a while, this could be a fun way to get back into it. So what do you say? Wanna go around again?

Number 5: Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 3, Episode 26: The Best of Both Worlds (1990)

Timestamp: 00:43:58

Commanders Shelby and Riker in The Best of Both Worlds.

It wouldn’t be a Crazy Uncle Dennis list without some Star Trek, right? If you begin watching The Best of Both Worlds (part one or the omnibus version on Blu-ray and Netflix) at precisely 23:16:02 on New Year’s Eve, you will begin 2021 with Locutus proclaiming that “resistance is futile!” The Best of Both Worlds would be many folks’ pick for the absolute best episode of The Next Generation, and it’s an engrossing watch even thirty years later.

Stick around for the second part to see how Riker and the crew manage to overcome the Borg incursion into Federation space, and start 2021 with one of the best and most iconic Star Trek stories there is. I’d challenge even non-Trekkies to be underwhelmed with that!

Bonus #1: Last year’s London fireworks!

The fireworks displays in London are centred around the London Eye.

This one is a total cheat because I said we would look at things to watch instead of the usual fireworks displays. But on YouTube you can find the official broadcasts of many different New Year’s Eve events, including the London fireworks. If you go for the official (BBC) broadcast of the 2019-20 fireworks show, you’ll need to start it at eleven seconds to midnight in order for the countdown to line up. That’s not a lot of room for error if you’re planning on having a busy evening!

There are many recordings of these shows available online, and you can check out the New York ball drop, Hogmanay in Scotland, and many more. Out of everything I’ve put forward, picking one of these would make for the most “normal” feeling New Year’s Eve, so if you’ve had anxieties or worries this year, or if you’re caring for someone who is keen on a return to normalcy, this could be a good option. You can even pick which year you’d like to relive. Personally I might go back and re-celebrate the Millennium!

Bonus #2: Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch, 2020)

No that’s not the New Year’s event… but it could look similar.

Though I believe it hasn’t yet been officially confirmed, every past game in the Animal Crossing series featured a New Year’s Eve event, complete with countdown, party poppers, and an in-game fireworks display. New Horizons will almost certainly follow suit, with events taking place either side of midnight. If you’ve been spending a lot of time on your island this year, it could be fun to spend New Year with your animal friends.

Games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons provide players with these kinds of experiences. If you’re missing the party atmosphere and want to feel like you’re participating in an event instead of simply watching along, this could be perfect. Well not perfect, but a reasonable substitute nevertheless.

So that’s it. A few silly suggestions for what to watch on New Year. It’s not long now till 2020 will be finally over, and with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine having already begun – at least here in the UK – hopefully by the time we’re thinking about the next New Year’s Eve, things will be much closer to normal.

Stay tuned because I have more festive and holiday-themed things to come before we reach 2021!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, broadcaster, distributor, or production company. Header image courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

In defence of Luke Skywalker

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker, and other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

This article deals with the sensitive topics of depression and mental health and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

The Last Jedi was an incredibly controversial film within the Star Wars fan community. Many people I’ve spoken with greatly disliked it, ranking the film as the worst in the franchise, with some even becoming “anti-Star Wars” as a result. Though recent projects like The Mandalorian have brought a lot of those folks back into the fold, there is still a significant contingent of ex-fans; people who have come to hate modern Star Wars.

There were many points of criticism from The Last Jedi’s detractors – the confrontation between Admiral Holdo and Poe, the hyperspace ramming manoeuvre, the death of Snoke, the Canto Bight storyline, and the character of Rose Tico being just a few off the top of my head. In this essay I’m not going to look at any of these in detail, though I would make the case that, by and large, while I understand the criticisms I don’t feel that any of them overwhelmed the film or made it unenjoyable. Instead I want to focus on what I feel is the most misunderstood point of criticism: the characterisation of Luke Skywalker.

We aren’t going to dive into every aspect of The Last Jedi on this occasion.

Of those fans who hated The Last Jedi most vehemently, many had been invested in the old “Expanded Universe” of novels, comic books, games, and the like. The Expanded Universe told a wholly different story to that of the sequel trilogy – a generally poor quality, incredibly convoluted and overcomplicated story, in my opinion – but one which put Luke Skywalker at the centre as an invincible hero, taking on all manner of enemies and challenges in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. To fans who fell in love with that version of Luke – the all-conquering unstoppable hero of fan-fiction – the new version presented by Disney and Lucasfilm in the sequel trilogy is understandably jarring.

Even to fans who weren’t invested in the Expanded Universe, many had built up in their heads over more than thirty years a vision of where the Star Wars galaxy may have gone after Return of the Jedi. At the forefront was Luke and his plan to rebuild the Jedi Order – he was the embodiment, after all, of the “return of the Jedi.” There was an expectation, perhaps not unrealistically so, that Luke would succeed in this task, and that any sequel films which focused on him would depict that. He could be a wise old Master, having trained potentially hundreds of new Jedi in a rebuilt order that would, like the Jedi of the Old Republic, serve as peacekeepers and a check on the power of evil.

The Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace.

The Force Awakens set up a far bleaker view of both the galaxy as a whole and Luke himself in the years after Return of the Jedi. A new wannabe-Empire was on the rise, led by a dark side user named Snoke. And Luke’s attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order ended in failure when Ben Solo betrayed him, killing most of the students and swaying others to the dark side. Luke himself had vanished.

All of this was a “mystery box;” a style of storytelling common to many projects helmed by The Force Awakens’ director JJ Abrams. Initially contracted to tell the first part of a three-part story – a story that would, unfortunately, be split up and have practically no overarching direction – Abrams did what he does best and created a mystery. Where had Luke gone and why? Was he secretly training more Jedi? That’s what fans hoped, and as Luke stood in his Jedi robe in the final moments of The Force Awakens, that was at least a reasonable assumption.

JJ Abrams directed and co-wrote The Force Awakens, and was responsible for the “Luke is missing” storyline.

Photo Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson from Tokyo, Japan, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

There was a two-year break in between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. For two years, fans speculated wildly about what the new film would bring, crafting intricate theories about all manner of things, including Luke. Many of these were appalling and would have made for awful stories, but fans latched on to some of the popular ones, convincing themselves that their pet theory was true and that The Last Jedi would surely prove it. When I write fan theories of my own – as I often do in the Star Trek franchise, for example – you’ll see me say that these are just theories, and that no fan theory is worth getting upset about. The reaction to The Last Jedi is a big part of why I feel the need to add in that little disclaimer.

Though it can be hard to look back even a few short years and remember the way people felt and the overall mood, especially in the aftermath of the film and its controversial reception, in 2017 the hype around The Last Jedi was growing, ultimately building to fever-pitch in the weeks before its release. This would be Luke Skywalker’s big return to Star Wars having been almost entirely absent in The Force Awakens. What happened after he met Rey on the clifftop on Ahch-To?

Fans speculated for two long years what would come next.

This moment had been built up for two years – and for more than thirty years since Luke’s appearance in Return of the Jedi. There were lofty expectations for what Luke would be and how he might act, informed in part by the Expanded Universe, fan theories, and the like. Those expectations were not met for many fans, because far from being the invincible hero they hoped to see, Luke was jaded, depressed, and uninterested in galactic affairs. When his attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order failed, he didn’t try again. He cut himself off from his friends and from the Force itself, and retreated to Ahch-To to die.

Luke Skywalker suffering from depression is not what fans wanted or hoped to see, but not only is it an incredibly powerful story, it’s one that many fans needed to see, whether they realised it at the time or not. There is an incredibly important message burning at the core of Luke’s story in The Last Jedi – and continued, to a degree, in The Rise of Skywalker. That message is simply this: anybody can fall victim to depression and mental health issues. I absolutely see Luke’s characterisation as a mental health story, and not only that, but one of the better cinematic attempts to depict mental health in recent years. It’s also a story which strongly resonated with me.

I found Luke Skywalker very relatable in The Last Jedi.

My health is complicated. In addition to physical health conditions which have resulted in disability, I also suffer from mental health issues, including depression. When I saw the way Luke Skywalker was presented: apathetic, lonely, withdrawn, and bitter, I saw myself reflected in Mark Hamill’s wonderful portrayal. Depression isn’t just “feeling sad,” as it’s often simplistically presented in fiction. Depression can be social withdrawal, apathy, a lack of sympathy, unintentional rudeness, and many other things. Luke doesn’t sit around on Ahch-To crying, he sits there overthinking, letting the intrusive thoughts dominate his life. He refuses to let anyone – even his sister or his closest friends – know where he is or help him, taking on the burden of his mental state alone. I’ve been there. I’ve been Luke.

One of the worst arguments put forward by The Last Jedi’s critics was some variant of this: “Luke Skywalker is a hero! He would never have run away. He would never act like this!” People making that argument are, in my opinion, incredibly lucky. It would seem from that ignorant statement that they’ve never had to deal with mental health or depression, either in their own life or with somebody they love and care about. If they ever had, they would recognise something in Luke that would elicit empathy, and a recognition that life isn’t as simple as it seems when you’re a child or teenager – which is when many critics first encountered Luke.

Luke’s story says that anyone can fall victim to depression.

I was born after Star Wars’ 1977 premiere. So anyone of my age or younger quite literally grew up considering Luke to be an epic hero, particularly if they encountered the original films in childhood. I first watched the original trilogy in the early 1990s, and I have to confess that much of the nuance was lost on me in my youth. It’s only going back, decades later, and re-watching the films with a more critical eye that I can spot elements within Luke’s character that clearly set up what The Last Jedi would do.

Luke made a mistake. He may have made a series of smaller ones leading up to it, but the big mistake we see on screen is his wordless confrontation with a sleeping Ben Solo. Luke, fearing the power of the dark side growing within his nephew, very briefly considers killing him. It was a flicker of a thought that lasted mere seconds, but when Ben noticed Luke’s presence and sensed what he was feeling, that was enough to tip him over the edge. What came next was Ben’s transformation into Kylo Ren and the destruction of Luke’s new Jedi Order.

Luke made a mistake – or a series of mistakes – and sunk deeply into regret and depression as a result.

Who among us hasn’t made a mistake? Who among us hasn’t considered or fantasised about – for the briefest of seconds – using violence in a certain situation? Who among us hasn’t had an intrusive thought that makes us feel uncomfortable or ashamed? If you can honestly raise your hand to all three of those points, then you’re very lucky indeed, and perhaps having never had such an experience, it’s easier to criticise others for it. The fans who attacked this characterisation of Luke are either conveniently forgetting their own mistakes, or they haven’t lived. Many are young, and perhaps that’s part of it too. As we get older we experience more, we grow, and we come to realise that no one is invincible, and no one is perfect. Luke Skywalker isn’t perfect, and he never was.

Upon seeing Ben Kenobi killed by Darth Vader, Luke’s reaction was to seek revenge, desperately firing his blaster in the vague direction of Vader. He then sat, depressed and dejected, aboard the Millennium Falcon. Princess Leia – who had very recently seen her family, friends, and practically everyone she knew murdered in the destruction of Alderaan – tried to comfort him, but did Luke ask if she was alright? No. He sat there sulking, selfishly absorbed in Ben’s death not thinking of others.

Luke sitting depressed and dejected aboard the Millennium Falcon following Ben Kenobi’s death.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke rashly cuts short his Jedi training, casting the Jedi Order aside to do what he believed was right. He ignored the advice of Yoda and Obi-Wan, believing he could take on Vader alone. That hubris ended up costing him his hand, and while he did return to his training afterwards, acting on a whim and doing things while unprepared are innate parts of Luke’s character.

And finally, Luke was tempted by the dark side of the Force in Return of the Jedi. In his final duel with Darth Vader he drew upon the dark side to give him the power to defeat his father, even considering killing the disarmed and defenceless Sith after beating him. That moment alone should be enough to prove to even the hardest of hardcore Luke Skywalker fans that there is, at the very least, a flicker of darkness within him. That he can suffer from those intrusive thoughts that we talked about. That he can act “out of character” when under pressure or in dire circumstances.

Luke was tempted by the dark side in Return of the Jedi.

So those points all show that Luke has at least a sliver of darkness, and that he’s capable of making mistakes. He was never the perfect, invincible hero of amateurish fan-fiction in the Expanded Universe. If he had been such a one-dimensional, boring character, the original trilogy would have been an exceptionally dull watch; what made it interesting was the nuance and conflict within Luke.

We also have to keep in mind that it’s been decades since we last met Luke, both within the story and outside it. The Expanded Universe was expunged, and though some fans may still cling to it, it has no bearing on The Last Jedi. Those events, canonically speaking, did not happen. The last meeting we had with Luke prior to The Last Jedi was 1983’s Return of the Jedi, and in the intervening decades he’s been through a lot. No one is exactly the same at age 60 as they were at 30; people change. Sometimes those changes can be positive, sometimes neutral, and sometimes they can be for the worse.

Luke’s new Jedi Order was destroyed by Kylo Ren.

Expecting Luke Skywalker to be the same man we left at the end of Return of the Jedi was naïve in the extreme, and fans should have known that. The experiences of half a lifetime have shaped his character, changing him in many respects into the man we meet at the beginning of The Last Jedi. Because some of those experiences have been incredibly powerful and transformative, there was no way to know how he’d be feeling, but one thing should have been clear: he was not going to be how we remembered him.

We can absolutely argue that seeing Luke’s transformation for ourselves would be a story worth showing within Star Wars, and indeed it could have been an entire trilogy of films all by itself. That’s a valid argument, and perhaps would have quelled some of the detractors’ criticisms had his descent into depression been allowed to unfold on screen. Of all the criticisms of The Last Jedi, this might be the one I consider to have the greatest merit, as it is an undeniable change in the way Luke’s character is outwardly presented, even if many of the elements and much of the groundwork already existed.

Perhaps seeing more of Luke between Return of the Jedi and The Last Jedi would have made his transformation easier to understand.

Regret can be a very powerful emotion. Anyone who’s actually lived a life will have regrets, some bigger than others. When the feeling of regret becomes overwhelming, depression may not be far behind. That’s what I see in Luke: regret, heartbreak, shame, and depression. His depression was caused by circumstances he believes himself responsible for, so he withdrew. Feeling himself a failure, considering himself incapable of guiding a new generation of Jedi, and ashamed of his actions, he became bitter and jaded, and travelled to Ahch-To to hide away and await the end of his life.

When you try your utmost at something and truly give it your all – as Luke did when training his young Jedi – failure can be devastating; even more so if that failure feels like it’s your own fault. Telling someone in such a situation to “just try again” is missing the point and demonstrates a clear lack of empathy. Luke wasn’t ready to train anyone else. He felt that the rise of Kylo Ren and the deaths of his students was his own fault; training anyone else could lead to a similar disaster, and he just can’t handle the thought of that. It takes time for someone feeling this way to even be willing to try, and it isn’t something that can be forced.

It took time – and the arrival of Rey – for Luke to confront and overcome his depression.

The lack of empathy for Luke shown by some critics of The Last Jedi was truly sad to see. Even with very limited knowledge of mental health, seeing someone suffering as Luke was should prompt a degree of empathy – at least, in anyone with a heart. When I saw the misunderstandings and the lack of empathy from people attacking the film, saying things like “Luke Skywalker is a hero, he would never be depressed!” I honestly felt upset. These kinds of statements, born of ignorance, not only went after what I saw as the film’s core emotional message, but they also showed that, on a fundamental level, as a society we have a long way to go when it comes to understanding mental health.

And this is why someone like Luke Skywalker becoming depressed is so important. It shows clearly that anyone, no matter how “strong and brave” they seem on the surface, can fall victim to this insidious illness. In Luke’s case we can find the cause – the loss of Kylo Ren to the dark side, and the deaths of his students, all of which he blames himself for. But in many cases, depression can hit someone from nowhere, coming out of the blue and bringing someone’s world crashing down. Seeing a character like Luke Skywalker go through this is incredibly powerful because it tells people suffering from depression that they aren’t some kind of freak; depression is normal and can happen to anyone.

The story of Luke becoming depressed is incredibly powerful and shows how anyone can suffer from mental health issues.

Young men in particular need to hear that message. The availability and quality of mental healthcare is improving compared to even a few years ago. But there is still a huge stigma around mental health, particularly for men. There’s a sense among men that in order to be “macho” or “masculine” you mustn’t show any weakness or vulnerability, and admitting to something like depression carries with it a stigma as a result. To take one of the most important characters in a massive entertainment franchise which probably still has a majority-male audience shows to young men that depression is real, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and maybe, just maybe, the way Luke was presented in The Last Jedi actually helped someone out here in the real world. I know that it helped me.

It’s okay to be disappointed in a work of fiction, especially if it’s something highly-anticipated. I don’t pretend to tell anyone how to feel about The Last Jedi or the way Luke is portrayed in it; works of fiction are, despite what some of the film’s detractors like to say, subjective. But where I absolutely feel that people need to be willing to consider things from “a certain point of view” (as Ben Kenobi said in Return of the Jedi) is the way the film deals with mental health. You can disagree with me about Luke till you’re blue in the face if you believe he acted “wrong” or you didn’t like the performance or the storyline or for any one of a number of reasons, but don’t make the ignorant, asinine argument that “Luke would never be depressed.” Depression does not work that way; you don’t get to choose if it afflicts you, and being a strong, heroic character is no guarantee of avoiding it.

We can disagree about Luke’s characterisation in The Last Jedi. But mental health is an important subject that shouldn’t be ignored in fiction.

I sat down to watch The Last Jedi several months after it premiered in cinemas. My health precludes me from going in person these days, so I’d heard much of the criticism already. I had relatively low expectations for the film as a result, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did it tell a different story within the Star Wars universe, one which didn’t attempt to be a beat-for-beat retelling of a previous title, but specifically because of how Luke was presented. Here was the hero of Star Wars shown to be human. Vulnerable. Relatable. And as much as I disliked The Rise of Skywalker when I saw it earlier this year, it continued a theme we saw in the final act of The Last Jedi: hope.

Yes there was hope for the resistance, for Rey, and for ultimate victory in the galactic war. But that wasn’t all. Luke himself had found hope; he found a reason to believe in something again. Depression isn’t usually something one can just “snap out” of, and in that sense perhaps it’s the least-realistic part of the narrative. But it’s hard to tell a story about depression in two hours that doesn’t have at least an element of that if a character is to find a way out of depression by the end, so I give it a pass on that front.

Luke eventually found something to believe in again.

Not only did Luke himself find hope, but The Last Jedi conveys to sufferers of depression a sense of hope. After everything Luke experienced, he was able to move on. He found inspiration and was able to begin the process of getting back to his old self, a process we see continued in his ghostly appearances in The Rise of Skywalker. The way Luke came across in The Rise of Skywalker can feel like fan-service and certainly was a conscious effort to overwrite his portrayal in The Last Jedi, but if you remember that they’re two parts of one story, it’s possible to see the way Luke behaves as indicative of his overcoming depression.

I find that to be a powerful message to end a powerful storyline. Luke became depressed, just like anyone can. But he found a way out. For my two cents, different groups of fans needed to hear those messages, but in different ways. Folks going through their own difficulties needed to see someone like Luke falling victim to this condition to normalise it, to make them consider the way they feel, and perhaps even as a prompt to seek help. They could also see that, despite the way Luke was feeling at the beginning of The Last Jedi, by the end he found a way out; there is light at the end of the tunnel. And fans who have been lucky enough never to have to deal with mental health either in their own lives or with someone they care about needed to see that it’s real. That it can happen to anyone.

The Rise of Skywalker tried to overwrite large parts of Luke’s characterisation. But taken as two parts of a larger story they show his recovery from depression.

The way Luke was presented in The Last Jedi may not have been what fans expected or hoped to see. But it was a powerful story, one which resonated with me and, I have no doubt, with a lot of other people too. It built on what we already knew about Luke from the original trilogy in different, unexpected ways, but ways which were true to his character. His flicker of darkness, his occasional rashness, and his struggles were all present in those films and made Luke the kind of flawed protagonist worth supporting. Those elements remained in his characterisation in The Last Jedi, but so did his innate decency and ability to reach for the best in others and in himself. It just took him some time to rediscover that about himself; a journey that will be familiar to anyone who’s been in that position.

I don’t want to tell anyone disappointed by The Last Jedi that they have to like it. Nor do I want to say that the way Luke was portrayed is something they have to like either. Instead I wanted to present the other side of the argument, to defend Luke’s characterisation, and to explain why it resonated with me. We can disagree vehemently on this topic – and myriad others across fiction – and remain civil.

I’d like to close by saying that, however we may feel about Luke in The Last Jedi, in my mind there’s no way he wasn’t Luke. Some fans latched onto a comment by Mark Hamill saying the character felt like “Jake Skywalker” and not Luke, but I have to disagree. He was always Luke.

The Star Wars franchise – including The Last Jedi and all other titles listed above – is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This can be a controversial topic, so please keep in mind that this is all subjective. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five horror films to watch this Halloween

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

Horror has never been my favourite genre for a number of reasons. But at this time of year, with Halloween imminent, I don’t mind dabbling in the occasional spooky film or two. There’s been a resurgence of the genre since about the turn of the millennium, and many recent titles have enjoyed big budgets and great visual effects. Gone are the days when horror was a total niche or a spin-off from fantasy and science fiction, and today titles such as It, Bird Box, and the Saw series are positively mainstream.

When I was at school and university, in the nerdy circles I moved in watching horror films was something of a rite of passage! Kids would compete to show how unperturbed they were at jump-scares and gory violence, and the topic of conversation was often “which scary film have you seen lately?” I joined in, of course, for fear of being labelled a “sissy” or a “wuss” for not participating! Nowadays, though, I seldom choose a horror title if I’m looking for something to watch. I readily admit that jump-scares almost always succeed at catching me off-guard, and while gruesomeness, violence, and gore really aren’t terribly offputting, jump-scares can be for me.

The usual caveat applies – the list is in no particular order, nor am I saying that these are the “all-time top five” horror films; instead these are five examples of horror titles that I think are pretty entertaining – in my subjective opinion!

Number 1: Drag Me To Hell (2009)

Not a blockbuster by any means, Drag Me To Hell is nevertheless a well-made film with an interesting premise and some great performances. Directed by Sam Raimi (of Spider-Man fame) it centres around a gypsy’s curse, and a woman who must find a way to escape the spell before she is – quite literally – dragged into hell by demons.

The desperation on the face of lead actress Alison Lohman as she realises what’s happening to her is pitch-perfect acting, and the film is packed with gruesome imagery and some genuinely frightening jump-scares. It’s also perhaps the “most Halloween-y” film on this list, as it deals with the supernatural, demons, and curses.

As the tale of an ordinary person forced into an unsettling and terrifying supernatural world, Drag Me To Hell manages to have a relatable protagonist, someone the audience can root for throughout her ordeal. In a genre overflowing with zombies and vampires, the curse is also something different, which I think makes Drag Me To Hell stand out.

Number 2: The Fly (1986)

David Cronenberg is considered the king of body-horror, and 1986’s The Fly shows why! Starring Jeff Goldblum in one of his most iconic roles, the film sees a scientist create a teleportation machine, only for things to go wrong when he accidentally teleports with a fly – causing their DNA to merge.

The monstrous mutations that Goldblum’s character suffers are truly grotesque, even by today’s standards, and the practical special effects still hold up more than thirty years later. His transformation into the titular fly is horrifying – but at the same time impossible to look away from! The Fly is a disturbing, weird watch, but truly one of the most interesting works of the genre.

Number 3: Alien (1979)

Though many people consider 1986’s Aliens to be superior, for my money you can’t beat the claustrophobic monster-horror feel of the first entry in the Alien saga. The film has rightly become a classic of both the horror and science-fiction genres, with sequels, spin-offs, and video game adaptations still being produced over forty years later. That’s a testament to the quality of Alien.

What makes this film great is that protagonist Ripley (played, of course, by Sigourney Weaver in what remains her best-known role) is facing down a single creature. Future films would show veritable armies of xenomorphs, but here there’s just one. That emphasises how deadly these creatures can be – as well as showing a much darker side to science-fiction than