The Rings of Power: first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Spoilers are also present for The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and other J.R.R. Tolkien works.

The Rings of Power – or to give it its full, clumsy title: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – got underway yesterday on Amazon Prime Video. As one of the shows I’d been most interested in all year, I tuned in almost as soon as the opening pair of episodes were available, curious to see what Amazon’s sky-high budget and years of planning could bring to the high fantasy genre.

For me, and doubtless for many other viewers as well, The Rings of Power simply cannot escape three massive sets of expectations. Firstly, the show has a legacy to live up to in the form of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Secondly, as the first-ever “billion dollar” television show, The Rings of Power must demonstrate an ability to go above and beyond pretty much anything else present on the small screen. And finally, there are inevitable comparisons with the show that set the bar for multi-season serialised high fantasy television shows: Game of Thrones. I think it isn’t unfair to say that there hasn’t been a television project in a generation that finds itself under so much pressure to deliver.

Galadriel and Gil-Galad on a promotional poster for The Rings of Power.

As we discussed back in February when I previewed the series, some viewers have taken to pre-judging The Rings of Power. Partly there seems to be a bloody-mindedness in hoping that Amazon would fail, and there were definitely racially-motivated criticisms of some of the casting choices – something that’s been incredibly disappointing to see. But there are also some genuine concerns: could the series possibly live up to the legacies of one of the most successful film trilogies and one of the most influential television shows of the past twenty years? How would it fit in with the “established lore” of Tolkien’s Middle-earth? And more fundamentally, is there even a story here that’s worth telling?

Some folks seem to have arrived at their answers to these questions already, deciding that The Rings of Power is going to be irredeemably awful and taking to social media at every opportunity to denounce it to anyone who’d listen. In the past couple of days the show has even been subjected to a degree of review-bombing. But speaking for myself, I wanted to see The Rings of Power before rushing to judgement. While two episodes of an eight-episode season aren’t enough to paint a full picture, I feel like I can at least share my first impressions of the series with you today.

The Rings of Power has finally arrived.

I liked The Rings of Power. The acting performances were solid, the visual effects were competent, its aesthetic style harkened back to The Lord of the Rings films, and when the story got going it held my attention well enough that two episodes passed by in what felt like a matter of moments. As the credits rolled on the second episode, Adrift, I felt myself curiously interested to see what happens next.

The two-part premiere did a decent job at introducing us to what seems to be the primary characters whose stories The Rings of Power intends to follow. One of my criticisms of Game of Thrones back in 2011 was actually how dense its first few episodes felt; had I not binge-watched Season 1 I may actually have stopped watching the series, as keeping track of so many characters and storylines was pretty confusing. In that sense, The Rings of Power did a good job not to overwhelm viewers with too much all at once.

Lenny Henry as Sadoc, one of the Harfoots.

So I felt that The Rings of Power got off to a good start – but perhaps not a spectacular one. After two episodes, the show feels like it’s trying to play it safe; I didn’t note much by way of risk-taking that could take a decent, competent series and elevate it to the kind of phenomenon that The Lord of the Rings films or Game of Thrones became. By sticking relatively close to the visual style established by The Lord of the Rings, for example, The Rings of Power has tried to both find a ready-made identity and pluck at the nostalgic strings that its producers hope will bring in viewers in droves. But by re-using this aesthetic style, The Rings of Power has surrendered its opportunity to construct its own identity.

It’s also worth talking about the story framework that we saw in the premiere. The trope of a hero who finds evidence of an impending threat or disaster, only to be ignored by their superiors, may have been brand-new when Tolkien was writing in the first half of the twentieth century, but it doesn’t exactly make for a groundbreaking or unique story in 2022. Yet this is the outline of both Galadriel’s story with the Elves and, to an extent, Bronwyn’s story in the Southlands. A common trope like this doesn’t necessarily make for the strongest introduction to a new story.

Galadriel found herself opposed by Elrond and other Elves, despite presenting them with evidence of Sauron’s survival.

Though The Rings of Power did a solid job at introducing us to its main characters, there were definitely moments where I felt some background knowledge of Tolkien’s works was something that the series expected from its audience. These mainly concerned elements of backstory – who the villainous Morgoth is, what a Silmaril is, the relationship between factions like the Elves, Men, and Dwarves, and how Sauron fits into the story of a conflict between the peoples of Middle-earth and Morgoth. A very brief sequence at the beginning glossed over some of these points, but not in sufficient depth that a newcomer to the world of Middle-earth would find them easily understandable.

In terms of laying out the world of The Rings of Power, though, I felt that the series did a good job. After two episodes I feel that I understand who lives where, where locations are in relation to one another, and the layout of the world and the primary locations we’ve visited so far. The relatively simple construction of a map, shown on screen for no more than a few seconds at a time, actually ended up being a very effective tool for communicating these things, and I felt it worked well. The seamless transition from the map to the sea at one point was also a neat effect.

The inclusion of a map was a simple but effective visual tool.

Sticking with visual effects, there weren’t many in the first two episodes that I felt were sub-par. There were a few moments where the blending of real actors and sets with CGI backgrounds wasn’t entirely perfect, but those issues can be noticeable even in big-budget productions, and none of those handful of moments really pulled me out of the immersion. I’d particularly call attention to the “falling star” seen in A Shadow of the Past as one of the better CGI creations; it really managed to feel like a meteor of some kind was hurtling toward Middle-earth.

If I were to nitpick, I’d say that perhaps the physical fake snow used in the first part of A Shadow of the Past wasn’t particularly impressive, managing to have the same flat, non-reflective look of similar set dressings that have been in use for decades. The CGI snow used elsewhere in these sequences looked decent, but when Galadriel and her team were seen up close, there was a noticeable difference in texture. Otherwise, physical props and costumes used throughout the first pair of episodes were solid.

A closer look at the fake snow used in the season premiere.

One of the most interesting props is the darkly enchanted sword hilt that Theo uncovered. It’s fascinating from a story point of view, of course, and may well belong to Sauron or one of his most-important minions. But it manages to look fantastic on screen, too – a dark, intimidating design that seems to harken back to the image of Sauron in full armour from The Lord of the Rings films.

Speaking of harkening back to The Lord of the Rings: surely I’m not the only one who noticed that Halbrand actor Charlie Vickers was doing an almost over-the-top impersonation of Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn as he made his first appearance! The way his hair was styled, the way he held himself, and even the way he opened his mouth all felt like they had been carefully choreographed to mimic that iconic portrayal. Halbrand is not a canonical character from Tolkien’s works, and the aforementioned mimicry could be a deliberate red herring, but part of me thinks we’re going to learn that this character has some kind of connection to Aragorn in the episodes ahead!

Halbrand channelling his inner Aragorn…

Some of the battle and post-battle scenes early in the season premiere carried a very strong First World War influence, and I have to assume that was done deliberately. Tolkien was himself a veteran of that conflict, and its influence can be felt in the massive scale of the wars and battles that he created for The Lord of the Rings in particular. This level of destruction, with battlefields reduced to mud, trees stripped of all of their branches, and huge piles of bodies, also succeeded at communicating the scale of the Elves’ conflict against Morgoth and Sauron in a relatively short sequence that didn’t have time to go into a lot of detail, so as an effect it worked well.

Even a century on from the First World War, the way its battlefields looked is still seared into the minds of many people here in the west, and The Rings of Power took advantage of this to use a familiar visual cue to communicate, in a short sequence, just how destructive and devastating this war was as it set the stage for the story to follow.

Galadriel stands on a battlefield that feels reminiscent of the First World War.

A good television soundtrack is unobtrusive. It subtly tells audiences what emotional state certain characters are in, whether danger is just around the corner, or fills an otherwise-awkward gap during silent moments. While a theme tune can become iconic, the soundtrack of episodes themselves should be a relatively toned-down affair. The Rings of Power didn’t get this right, in my view, bringing an incredibly dominating soundtrack that, at several critically-important moments, seemed to hit levels rarely seen outside of soap operas.

The old-fashioned, heavy soundtrack came booming in during several crucial scenes, drawing attention away from the characters and the action instead of backing it up. This is obviously the opposite of what a good soundtrack should be doing, and there are criticisms of both the composition and the sound mixing in both of the first two episodes that I really shouldn’t be needing to make. When we’re at this level, these are some of the basic competencies that a television production should be pulling off flawlessly without even thinking.

One of the moments between Bronwyn and Arondir had music that was, for me at least, too heavy and intrusive.

I’m not a Tolkien super-fan, so I can’t be sure whether some of the dialogue in The Rings of Power has been lifted directly from works like The Silmarillion. But what I would say is that much of the language used in the first two episodes, particularly in scenes featuring the Elves, was very flowery and old-fashioned, as if it had been written decades ago. That was almost certainly intentional, perhaps to tie in with Tolkien’s own writing style or perhaps to give The Rings of Power a “classiness” or even just to distinguish it from other modern shows. However, the effectiveness of this kind of flowery, old-fashioned language is very much a subjective thing, and how well it will work isn’t exactly clear at this early stage.

Some of the lines of dialogue in the first two episodes felt scripted and clumsy – partly as a result of this choice of language – and while I didn’t feel knocked out of my immersion once I got used to it, it was definitely something that took a little getting used to. In any work of fantasy, actors have to work hard to make strange and unusual words and phrases seem normal, but that really isn’t the issue in this case. I can easily accept conversations about warp cores in Star Trek or dragons in Game of Thrones, but here in The Rings of Power, choices as far back as the scriptwriting stage made otherwise innocuous or basic conversations feel almost stilted, as if the production itself, despite its modern visual style and impressive CGI work, was from a much earlier era. For some fans, that’ll make The Rings of Power feel even better. For others… I think it has the potential to detract from the story.

There were several clunky or unnatural-sounding lines of dialogue in the opening two episodes.

As I said, though, once my ears had acclimatised to this way of speaking I didn’t feel it was horribly awkward – but it’s worth noting that, at least for me, it was something that took some getting used to before I could fully immerse myself in Middle-earth. Perhaps I should’ve re-watched The Lord of the Rings before watching The Rings of Power, because now I can’t really remember whether this issue of flowery, old-fashioned language was present to the same degree. I don’t remember it ever being a problem, and I regard that trilogy as one of the best ever brought to screen. But it would be interesting to take a look and compare!

So let’s talk story. Although I find myself curiously interested to see where The Rings of Power goes next and how it will weave its disparate narrative threads together, I don’t feel absolutely gripped by the story after the first two episodes. I’m not desperately awaiting next Friday in the way I can be for new episodes of Star Trek, or in the way I was for Game of Thrones or even shows like Lost.

The Elves of Lindon.

I think partly this is because of the “prequel problem” that I’ve talked about here on the website on more than one occasion. In short, we know where these characters will go and what the ultimate outcome of this story will be. There’s no real sense that Galadriel will ever be in serious danger – because we know she survives for another four thousand years after the events of The Rings of Power. While the series is doing its own thing to an extent by introducing new characters and telling its own story, it’s also billing itself as being firmly set in the world of The Lord of the Rings – heck, that’s the first part of the show’s title. So given that we know the story of The Lord of the Rings and how characters like Elrond, Galadriel, and Sauron fit into it, it’s difficult for The Rings of Power to really reach out and grab me in the same way as a new story with an unknown outcome could.

When we look at The Silmarillion and other Middle-earth books set millennia before The Lord of the Rings, one of the key points is that the characters involved don’t know who Sauron is, whether he’s still around, whether he can come back, etc. But as the audience watching The Rings of Power, we know how this ends: Sauron returns, raises an army, and it takes an alliance of Men, Elves, and Dwarves to defeat him on the slopes of Mount Doom – as seen in the introduction to the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring. Knowing what’s coming robs a story like this of at least some of the tension and excitement, and while it can still be fun to see how the characters arrive at their ending points, we know the destination.

Sauron’s presence looms large over the story.

Even someone like me – and I’m no super-fan of Tolkien by any stretch – knows the basic outline of the story of Sauron’s rise and fall in this era, and just like other famous prequels have struggled to keep up the tension and excitement, I feel that the same issue is already hampering The Rings of Power – at least to an extent. The fates of characters like Nori, Bronwyn, Arondir, and Halbrand are definitely up in the air and ripe for exploration, and I’m absolutely interested to see what comes next for them. But characters like Galadriel, Elrond, Celebrimbor, Durin, and Gil-Galad have their futures written.

Overall, though, the first pair of episodes did a good job at setting up this idea of a slowly-awakening evil; a gathering storm. We saw the slow build-up to the discovery of Sauron’s survival through Galadriel’s eyes, then saw how the Southlands are slowly being corrupted and attacked by Orcs in the stories of Bronwyn and Arondir. The proto-Hobbit Harfoots also had comments to make on the unusual goings-on in Middle-earth, and of course were present for the “falling star” that brought a character currently known as the Stranger into the story. The idea that the world is on the edge of some drastic changes, and that the ruling Elves are oblivious or perhaps wilfully blind to these problems was well-established and conveyed through these different storylines. The latter part – leaders ignoring or trying to downplay serious problems – feels rather timely at the moment, too!

The “shooting star.”

I definitely felt Galadriel’s frustration at being dismissed by Elrond and Gil-Galad, and I think that’s a testament to some strong performances from Morfydd Clark, Robert Aramayo, and Benjamin Walker. Though I called this setup a trope earlier, there’s no denying that it works in this context. The aloof presentation of the High Elves gives their leaders an arrogance that absolutely succeeded at getting me firmly on Galadriel’s side. While again this isn’t something that can be said to be unique to The Rings of Power (look at how the Vulcans are portrayed in Star Trek: Enterprise, for instance) it was pitch-perfect in the way it was deployed.

The sequences at sea with Galadriel, Halbrand, and (briefly) Halbrand’s companions were among the best in the premiere. I’m not certain how or where this was filmed, but the water was so incredibly realistic, managing to look like deep ocean instead of a shallow sea or pool – and this one visual cue did so much to ramp up the tension as the duo survived an attack by a sea monster. The dark water felt dangerous, not only because of what it was hiding but because deep water like that is usually only seen far from land. Look at how films like The Bounty use this same deep water effect to signal how isolated and far from safety characters are; The Rings of Power really did a great job here.

Galadriel and Halbarad’s raft.

And these scenes with Halbrand and Galadriel also took the story in somewhat of a different direction. Galadriel’s choice to swim back to Middle-earth could have been a simple one, perhaps even one that was resolved off-screen, but putting her in this “shipwrecked” situation was a definite change of pace for a character who had been on a mission.

The Harfoots’ camp recaptured at least some of the idealised, pastoral feel of the Shire in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Showing how the Harfoots live in a temporary camp, migrating with the seasons, was a neat addition that made it feel even older, somehow – like some depictions of Native Americans prior to European colonisation.

The Harfoots’ encampment.

Within that framework we got the traditionalist Harfoots to contrast with the more adventurous Nori; her story was set up well enough by leading some of the camp’s children to a berry bush, but I didn’t feel that the danger posed by a wolf was properly paid off – though I suppose it’s something that could be revisited in later episodes, the wolf’s presence was very brief and although it did feel like a threat to the diminutive Harfoots, it seemed to be rushed past and quickly forgotten by a story that had other priorities.

Nori’s relationship with the Stranger is still something that The Rings of Power is building up – beautifully, in my view. Her care for this mysterious giant who fell from the sky humanises her and takes her from being a somewhat rebellious child to someone that I’m sure we’ll be able to get behind as the story progresses. Although I’m sure there’s a lot of speculation as to the identity of the Stranger, I felt that the impact crater and fire seemed to resemble an eye – and a flaming eye definitely carries with it memories of a certain Dark Lord!

Am I overreaching, or does this look like “a lidless eye wreathed in flame” to you?

Of all the settings we’ve seen so far in The Rings of Power, none felt quite so familiar as the Dwarves’ mountain home of Khazad-dûm. We’d spent a lot of time with Dwarven mines in The Lord of the Rings and particularly in The Hobbit trilogy, and The Rings of Power seems to borrow heavily from those projects in practically every way. From the design of the Dwarves themselves all the way to the aesthetic of their subterranean kingdom, The Rings of Power really succeeded at recapturing how the Dwarves have been presented in the past.

It was also in Khazad-dûm that I felt The Rings of Power beginning some of its more delicate and character-driven storylines. Stories focusing on Arondir and Galadriel feel epic in scale because of their focus on this growing darkness and the impact it will have on Middle-earth, but the conflict between Elrond and Prince Durin brought The Rings of Power back down to an understandable level. Durin was upset that Elrond, a long-lived Elf, had simply disappeared from his life for such a long time – and it took Elrond a moment to fully grasp that. For me at least, this became one of the best and certainly most-relatable storylines in the opening pair of episodes.

Elrond and Durin’s falling-out went a long way to bringing the story of The Rings of Power down to a relatable level.

The Rings of Power is off to a good start – but not a great one. Visually, the series is well-made. It borrows from The Lord of the Rings in many ways, but it also incorporates new design elements that help it feel distinct; part of the same world, but not a carbon copy of what came before. There were definitely some issues with the soundtrack and sound mixing that shouldn’t be present in a series that aims to compete at this level, and that’s something I hope can be addressed promptly. There have been some wonderful moments of characterisation that really pulled me in… and a handful of others that weren’t quite reaching that same high bar. Overall, I’d say that the series has left a good first impression and I’m happy to return to it next week to pick up the story. But I’m unlikely to be spending much time between now and then speculating, theory-crafting, or even really just thinking about The Rings of Power very much.

Am I nitpicking too much or being too harsh on The Rings of Power? Well, that’s up to you to decide. But what I will say is this: The Rings of Power is the most expensive television series ever created, and that brings with it expectations in terms of quality that basic competence doesn’t cover. Moreover, as much as I want to judge The Rings of Power entirely on its own merits, by very deliberately leaning into The Lord of the Rings films, the show has invited comparisons to that trilogy – and other works in the high fantasy genre.

What’s going to happen next in The Rings of Power?

I’m glad that I gave The Rings of Power a fair shake and didn’t make a snap judgement. Although I can understand a certain amount of schadenfreude at wanting to see a massive corporation like Amazon meet with financial and critical failure, speaking for myself what I really want to see is another success in the high fantasy genre. I don’t want The Rings of Power to be disappointing – I want it to be entertaining! The first episodes, while they had some issues that I’ve tried to elaborate on, broadly speaking managed to entertain me, and I came away from them feeling satisfied with what I’d seen.

I’m hopeful that The Rings of Power now has a foundation upon which to build a successful series. With five seasons having been planned – and potentially somewhat of a soft reboot coming in Season 2 thanks to a change in filming locations – there’s a long story to get stuck into, one that, like Game of Thrones before it, will unfold over the next few years. There’s time for some of the production’s weaker elements to be addressed, even if it doesn’t happen this season. Whether The Rings of Power will still be talked about in the same breath as Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings by future audiences… well, that’s still an open question. But it feels as though all of the elements exist for this series to reach those high bars. I genuinely hope that it will.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the copyright of Amazon Studios, New Line Cinema, and Amazon. The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and other works mentioned above are the copyright of the Tolkien Estate. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Looking ahead to The Rings of Power

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for The Lord of the Rings films and for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

It’s been several years since Amazon announced that it had purchased the rights to make a television series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. In that time, the corporation has kept a tight lid on the show’s progress, and very little news has trickled out. However, with the series aiming to premiere later this year, Amazon has kick-started the marketing push! After the show’s actual name was finally revealed a couple of weeks ago, we got a few different poster designs, and then a few images featuring some of the cast, before the first official teaser trailer made its debut a few days ago.

Today I thought it could be interesting to look at what’s been revealed and teased so far, and see what we might be able to gleam about The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. This is going to be the most expensive television series ever created, and was greenlit out of the gate for five seasons. Intended to be Amazon’s answer to Game of Thrones, the show aims to build on the renewed success that the high fantasy genre has been experiencing. Based on Amazon’s financial commitment we should be in for a series with high production values and great visuals – one which can push boundaries and set a new high bar for television in general. That might sound like I’m asking for too much, but with a billion dollars on the line and competitors like Disney doing some incredible things with visual effects on streaming shows like The Book of Boba Fett, anything less would be underwhelming in the extreme.

Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in a promotional image.

First up, let’s talk about the title. I’m sorry, but The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is an incredibly clunky, unwieldy title for a television series. In its short form, I guess we’ll be referring to the series as The Rings of Power, which is better! But the first thing that struck me was that it wasn’t a particularly inspired or original title. It frames the new series entirely around the rings Sauron had made for the Elves, Dwarves, and Men of Middle-earth, and that seems to take the series back to the familiar story that we’ve already seen play out.

Rather than this prequel using Tolkien’s work as a base for building its own story, the title seems to suggest that we’re really going to be seeing earlier chapters in the story we already know. There was scope, when stepping back literally thousands of years, to do something different. Early rumours suggested that the series might look at the rise and fall of Númenor, one of the kingdoms of Middle-earth that was extinct by the time of The Lord of the Rings, and while Númenor’s story may indeed play a role, the title of the series now suggests that we’re really going to be focusing more on Sauron and his rise to power.

Is this Númenor?

Such a focus makes The Rings of Power more of a direct prequel to the events of The Lord of the Rings and less of an expansion of Middle-earth and Tolkien’s work on the small screen. That isn’t to say it will be bad as a result – but The Rings of Power will be confronted by the typical “prequel problem” that many such productions face: namely, we already know how this story ends. We’ve already seen what is arguably the more interesting part… so just convincing people to stick around and see what came before is automatically a challenge for The Rings of Power to surmount, one that wouldn’t have been present if the series had been structured differently.

Over the past few years since Amazon announced this project, I’ve heard a lot of people saying that the corporation shouldn’t be using the placeholder title “The Lord of the Rings on Prime” because the new series isn’t going to be about The Lord of the Rings. But it now seems that it actually is going to be all about the One Ring, Sauron, and his rise and fall. I’m not the only one who had been expecting the series to go in a different direction, and I think that the decision to stick closer to the established, familiar story represents a lack of boldness on Amazon’s part. Having spent all of this money for the rights to Middle-earth, there may have been a fear that steering away from established characters and storylines would be detrimental to the show’s prospects.

The character of Bronwyn – a healer and single mother, played by Nazanin Boniadi – was created for The Rings of Power.

On the flip side, I’ve heard fears from some fans that The Rings of Power will stray too far from Tolkien’s stories, so I guess there’s no way to satisfy everyone! For those folks, though, I would suggest that the title of the series, and the fact that characters like Elrond, Galadriel, and others will play significant roles means that it can’t be diverting too far away from storylines we might be familiar with.

It’s been a long time since I read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, and I don’t claim to be a Tolkien super-fan who knows all of the ins and outs of Middle-earth and the stories set there. So from my point of view, if the show’s central story arcs are engaging and exciting, they can dip in and out of the so-called “established canon” of Tolkien’s world at will. The same applied in some respects to Game of Thrones, a series which moved progressively further away from its source material season by season. If the stories continue to be well-written and entertaining, and the world populated by fun characters, that’s going to go a long way to making up for any deviations from the stories Tolkien wrote.

Charging horses seen in the teaser trailer.

In terms of the look of The Rings of Power, there’s definitely a heavy influence from the Peter Jackson films. I noted in the poster of King Durin in particular that the Dwarves seem to be modelled on those we remember from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. In other areas, The Rings of Power has seemed to move away and begin to chart its own course, but this will likely be a balancing act that the series will need to keep up for its entire five seasons. New showrunners, designers, and other creatives will always want to stamp their mark on their creation, but if Amazon is banking on fans of The Lord of the Rings films turning up in droves – and nostalgia for those films being a driving force – then it makes sense to expect to see many familiar visual elements.

There will be a marked change after Season 1, though, with production moving from New Zealand to the UK. New Zealand has become practically synonymous with Middle-earth for many folks because of The Lord of the Rings being produced there, and the country has even traded on that, using Middle-earth to bring in tourism. Unfortunately it’s the fault of the pandemic that production had to be moved, but we won’t see the consequences of that – in either a positive or negative sense – until next year. It’s possible, in my view, that if Season 1 is deemed underwhelming the second season could be a soft reboot, changing up the look and feel of the series. Time will tell!

Robert Aramayo as Elrond and Morfydd Clark as Galadriel.

The trailer itself was action-packed and looks exciting. We saw different races (Men, Dwarves, and Elves) featured, as well as a few magical creatures and CGI monsters that I confess I’m not familiar with. But the whole thing was well constructed and cut together, and I think it showed off a diversity of characters and locations without revealing too many spoilers or too much about the potential storylines. It was a tease to get viewers interested, and I think it largely succeeded in that regard.

I noted what could be either a sinking ship or, perhaps, the sinking/destruction of the island of Númenor among the clips in the trailer, something that was also shown off in one of the behind-the-scenes photos. There was also what appeared to be a large battle taking place; this can’t be the climactic battle between Sauron and the Last Alliance, surely, because it was that battle that led to Sauron’s defeat and the loss of the One Ring. So I assume that this battle is taking place somewhere else between different groups of forces.

A battle scene from the teaser trailer.

There is definitely a contingent of people who want to see The Rings of Power fail, either because they dislike Amazon in a general sense, or because they see The Rings of Power as moving too far away from their understanding of Tolkien’s works. Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to pre-judge the series at this stage, with a one-minute-long teaser and a handful of photos being all we’ve seen, and I’d encourage everyone to try to lower the temperature in some of these discussions. There’s definitely a racial edge to some of the attacks I’ve seen thrown at The Rings of Power, with some so-called “fans” decrying the inclusion of non-white performers.

Because of Amazon’s status as one of the biggest companies in the world, I guess I can understand the bloody-mindedness of wanting to see it fail – even though it isn’t a sentiment I share. But to have decided already, months before the premiere, that The Rings of Power is somehow going to be unenjoyable – particularly if one of the primary reasons for thinking that way is because non-white actors are in it – seems utterly ridiculous to me. For some of these so-called “fans” to be actively willing the series to fail because it isn’t as white as they wish it would be is just pathetic.

The Rings of Power is coming soon.

As a fan of fantasy, and as someone who has enjoyed Tolkien’s work since I first read The Hobbit before I was ten years old, I want to enjoy The Rings of Power and for it to be an enjoyable and entertaining ride. Some of Amazon’s past productions in the sci-fi and fantasy genres – like The Expanse and The Wheel of Time – have been great, and while this project is certainly bigger and more ambitious, and thus has farther to fall if it doesn’t work, the potential exists for a fantasy series that could be on par with, or even eclipse, those early seasons of Game of Thrones. Amazon certainly has precedent and knows how to make some excellent television shows.

But I will judge the series on its merits when it’s here, and if I review it either as a whole season or as individual episodes I’ll be sure to give my honest thoughts and opinions at the time. I’m not a cheerleader for Amazon, but I’m certainly not going to go on the attack this early on. In my view, the trailer and photos show promise. Everything from costumes and set design to CGI work looked impressive, and The Rings of Power should be on course to make good use of its high budget in that regard. Whether the show’s writing, pacing, editing, acting performances, and the like are up to scratch… the jury is still out and we won’t know until September! But anyone pre-judging the series this early is, in my view, misguided.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will premiere on Amazon Prime Video in September. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the copyright of Amazon, and The Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth, and other properties are the copyright of the Tolkien Estate. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

End-of-Year Awards 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

It’s the end of 2021, so it’s time to look back on a few of the entertainment highs (and lows) of the year! Like I did last year, I’ve picked out a few of my favourite entertainment experiences from the worlds of cinema, gaming, and television, and I’ll be giving each a totally official Trekking with Dennis award!

Most categories have a winner and a runner-up; some just have one title and in those cases they’re the winners by default. I’ve put Star Trek episodes into their own category, otherwise I’d just be saying that every TV show that I liked this year was Star Trek!

Caveat time! Obviously I haven’t watched or played anywhere close to everything that was published or released this year! The exclusion from these awards of titles such as The Last Duel or For All Mankind doesn’t mean they aren’t good; I just have no experience with them so I can’t comment. It goes without saying that everything here is entirely subjective! This is just one person’s opinion – so feel free to disagree vehemently with some or all of my choices!

With that out of the way, let’s get started!

Best Documentary:

🏆 Winner 🏆
Half-Life Histories series; Kyle Hill

There have been some interesting documentaries this year, but I wanted to highlight a semi-professional series that has been quietly ticking up views on YouTube. Kyle Hill has crafted a series of absolutely fascinating documentaries about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear accidents – some of which were familiar to me, but several of which actually weren’t.

Nuclear weapons are an incredibly controversial topic, of course, but nuclear power is something I firmly believe that we as a species need to embrace. At least in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power offers a reliable way for humanity to meet our growing power needs while phasing out fossil fuels.

Kyle Hill’s documentaries show how early nuclear experiments could and did go wrong, but they aren’t alarmist. Hill has a gentle, almost understated style that tells these serious (and occasionally fatal) stories with due dignity and gravitas, but without sensationalising the events in question. For anyone interested in the likes of the Chernobyl disaster or the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the entire series is well worth a watch.

Best Web Series:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
The Jimquisition; Jim Sterling

I’d like to highlight a fellow non-binary creator here. Jim Sterling – also known as James Stephanie Sterling – is a video games critic on YouTube. Their main weekly series, The Jimquisition, often highlights bad practices in the games industry and draws attention to misbehaving corporations. The Jimquisition was one of the first shows to criticise the practice of lootboxes a few years ago, for example, and this year Sterling has worked relentlessly to call out the likes of Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard.

Too many publications – even blogs and social media channels – now work hand-in-glove with big corporations in the video games industry, leading many so-called independent publications to, at the very least, be cautious in what they say about both their corporate friends and the games they review so as to maintain their level of access. The Jimquisition has always been different because it’s self-funded, leaving Sterling free to criticise as they see fit.

On a personal note, seeing Jim Sterling come out as non-binary was one factor among many as I made my own decision earlier this year to discuss my gender identity in public for the first time, and I want to thank them for their brave decision.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Tasting History with Max Miller

There really isn’t anything quite like Tasting History. There are a plethora of cooking shows and channels online – many of which are fantastic! And there are some great history shows as well, everything from mini-documentaries to living history re-enactments. Tasting History blends these two things together, as host Max Miller cooks a variety of different historical dishes, and uses those as an entry point to talk about some of the historical events and personalities associated with the food.

I love history and I love cookery shows, so Tasting History is absolutely the kind of thing that was going to appeal to me! But a fun premise alone wouldn’t be enough, and Tasting History has a well-spoken host who makes both sides of the show entertaining as well as interesting. I’ve learned a lot about different dishes and historical cultures this year, things I never would have found out about if not for Tasting History.

Best TV Special:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

After 2020’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special had been a ton of fun, I was pleasantly surprised to see Disney+ bringing back Lego Star Wars for another outing this year. Terrifying Tales was a fun Halloween special, one which drew on many classics of the thriller and horror genres for inspiration while maintaining a child-friendly atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so this lighter tone was just perfect for me!

Focusing on Poe Dameron, Terrifying Tales used a frame narrative to tell three different spooky stories set in all three of the Star Wars franchise’s main eras. The first short, which focused on Kylo Ren, contained more backstory for the character than the entire sequel trilogy – and I would argue that it was actually better than the minuscule character development that Kylo/Ben Solo got in the films!

Palpatine was hilarious in the vignette that featured him, and I adored the way that Terrifying Tales used the character. The third and final vignette was a parody of a Twilight Zone episode and featured Luke Skywalker, and that was pretty fun to see as well. Overall, Terrifying Tales was a cute, funny, and lightly spooky way to get ready for Halloween!

🏆 Winner 🏆
The Grand Tour: Lochdown

As we approach the pandemic’s second anniversary, we need things like Lochdown to poke fun at what’s been going on in the world. In a unique way that only Hammond, Clarkson, and May can really pull off, The Grand Tour’s special episode made a trip to Scotland one of the funniest and most entertaining bits of television I enjoyed all year.

The trio have found great success at Amazon, and free from the constraints of the BBC (both financially and in terms of content), I’d argue that The Grand Tour is leaps and bounds ahead of Top Gear. As the show has switched its focus to these kinds of special episodes, there’s been a lot of fun to be had!

I’m not really a car person. Cars have always been a means to an end for me; a mode of transportation. But the enthusiasm of the three hosts for their vehicles is infectious, and the fun they have on their wacky adventures always manages to succeed at pulling me in and making me feel like I’m right there with them.

Worst TV Series:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Rick and Morty Season 5

After four pretty strong and funny seasons, Rick and Morty stumbled this year. It felt to me like the writers had become a little too aware of the show’s success and place in pop culture – and didn’t really know how to handle that. Season 5 was bland and forgettable, with several episodes that didn’t even win a smile, let alone a laugh.

Rick and Morty crossed over from being a fun series with a cult following and really hit the mainstream somewhere around its third season, and clearly that’s been a double-edged sword. Too many of the attempted jokes this year came across as either desperate or else simply as gross-outs or edginess for the sake of it.

Though the show had a few successful moments, such as the scenes between Rick and Birdperson toward the end of the season, Season 5 has to be considered a failure.

Best TV series:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Foundation

The first season of Foundation was imperfect but nevertheless good. The novels upon which Foundation is based are incredibly dense works that can, at points, feel more like philosophy than sci-fi, so bringing something like that to the small screen was no small challenge – but Apple TV+ stepped up.

Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance as Hari Seldon, and was joined by several actors with whom I was less familiar – but who all did an outstanding job. Foundation is also a visually beautiful series, one which makes great use of Apple’s high CGI budget. A second season has already been confirmed – so that’s something to look forward to in 2022!

🏆 Winner 🏆
The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time was the first of Amazon’s two big-budget fantasy shows to make it to screen. We’ll have to wait until next year for the corporation’s Lord of the Rings prequel/adaptation, but The Wheel of Time is definitely a show worth watching in its own right. It has struggled, at times, to break out from the shadows of both Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Tolkien adaptation, but I’m so glad that I gave it a chance to impress me on its own merits.

Outside of the Star Trek franchise, The Wheel of Time is unquestionably the best television show I’ve seen all year. Amazon managed to adapt the first part of a long and complex story in a way that was understandable and easy to follow, bringing a new high fantasy world to the screen for the first time. There are some fantastic performances from Rosamund Pike and Madeleine Madden in particular, making The Wheel of Time a series to get lost in.

The first season concluded recently, and a second is already on the way! I can hardly wait.

Worst Video Game:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

This is a difficult one. There were plenty of bad games this year – games with horribly intrusive monetisation, overladen with bugs, or that just plain sucked. But for me, the year’s most egregious video game failure is a so-called “remaster” that was lazy, that didn’t feel like much of an upgrade, and that left me incredibly disappointed when I consider what might have been.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition contains a number of bugs that were present in the original versions of its three constituent games; bugs that BioWare failed to fix. Its visual upgrade, coming less than ten years after the third game in the series, was already going to be a hard sell, but there seem to be many textures that BioWare either didn’t touch at all or else did the absolute bare minimum to.

And that’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in a nutshell: it’s a “remaster” that tried to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum. The sad thing is that I adore the Mass Effect games – but this version was so much less than it should’ve been.

Best Video Game:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Road 96

Road 96 is quite unlike anything else I’ve played all year – and probably for quite a long time before that too! The game focuses on characters, introducing players to dozens of completely unique NPCs during a branching quest to escape a totalitarian state. It’s a road trip game… but that definition scarcely does it justice.

Road 96 has a beautiful art style, too, one that really brings to life its characters and American Southwest-inspired locales. There’s a wonderful soundtrack that accompanies the game, one with a definite ’80s inspiration – which I’m totally there for! It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling Road 96, and it’s an experience I really think you should try for yourself in as unspoiled a manner as possible.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Kena: Bridge of Spirits

When I was thinking about my pick for “game of the year,” there was never any doubt in my mind that Kena: Bridge of Spirits would take the trophy. It’s one of the most visually beautiful games that I’ve ever played, bringing an almost Disney-esque art style to life in the most fantastic way possible.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a modern-looking game with a distinctly old-school feel to it. The game combines elements of puzzle-solving and 3D platforming with some tight, focused combat, and the addition of the Rot – little critters that accompany Kena – is both adorable and incredibly useful. Collecting things in video games can feel like busywork, but because Kena’s power grows with every Rot she picks up, even this aspect of the game manages to feel worthwhile.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year. It didn’t just meet my expectations – it surpassed them by a country mile.

Worst Film:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried to be dark and edgy and in doing so ended up robbing its source material of any of the fun and entertainment value it could’ve had. DC Comics has struggled to compete with Marvel, failing to recognise that it’s Marvel’s blend of humour and action that makes those films so appealing to many viewers. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a case in point – and a great example, in my opinion, of a film that completely misses the mark.

Perhaps to distinguish it from the likes of The Avengers, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was packed with gimmicks, too. An incredibly dark and boring colour palette drowned the film in grey, black, and brown tones, and some scenes were so poorly-lit that following the action became difficult. It was also shot in a weird 4:3 aspect ratio – again, seemingly for the sake of a gimmick.

I’m genuinely happy for fans of DC who worked hard to secure the so-called “Snyder Cut” after a long campaign. But the end result was, for me, the worst film I’ve seen all year. And this was a year where I watched Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Best Film:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Raya and the Last Dragon

I paid a lot of money (by my standards, at least) to watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+! Maybe I should’ve waited the extra couple of months, but I was genuinely interested to see the latest big Disney animated picture. The one surprise was the lack of any musical numbers, but despite that I had a good time with Raya and the Last Dragon.

Kelly Marie Tran put in an outstanding performance as the titular Raya, a young woman on a quest to restore the life of a dragon and reunite a fractured land loosely based on Southeast Asia. The film was dramatic and exciting, with a fun cast of characters. It’s also noteworthy that all of the main characters – heroes and villains – were women.

Now that it’s on Disney+ (and out on DVD and Blu-Ray) it’s definitely worth a watch.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Dune

I was worried that Dune would once again prove to be too difficult to adapt, but I was thrilled to see that I was wrong! Dune is a sci-fi masterpiece, and if its second instalment comes anywhere close to living up to this first part, I think we’ll be talking about the duology alongside the likes of The Lord of the Rings in years to come as being an absolute classic.

Dune is a long and occasionally dense book, so condensing it down and keeping a cinematic adaptation with a large cast of characters easy to follow was no mean feat. Director Denis Villeneuve did an outstanding job, and every aspect of the film, from its dialogue to its visual effects, are pitch-perfect.

I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline for a while, so stay tuned in the new year – I might finally get around to finishing it!

Most Exciting Announcement:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Wicked

Picture Credit: Wicked the Musical London.

I was very lucky to have seen Wicked on the stage in London early in its run, and the soundtrack has to be up there as one of the best modern musicals. The announcement of a film adaptation came as a truly welcome surprise this year, and I will follow its progress with anticipation!

A spin-off from The Wizard of Oz, Wicked purports to tell the story from “the other side” – i.e. the Wicked Witch’s point of view. Disney in particular has shown in recent years that this concept can work exceptionally well, and Wicked pulls it off. The musical and the book that inspired it are very different, but both are enjoyable in their own ways – and I hope the film will be as well!

🏆 Winner 🏆
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Early in 2021 there were rumours of a Knights of the Old Republic game being in development, but it wasn’t until September that its existence was finally confirmed. A full-scale remake of the first game in the series is being worked on, and the idea of being able to go back and replay one of my favourite Star Wars games of all time is a truly exciting one!

So far all we’ve seen has been a CGI teaser, so the game is probably a couple of years away. But it’s still good to have something like this to look forward to! After several years of very limited success under Electronic Arts, Star Wars games are now being tackled by more developers and publishers – meaning we should see more from the franchise in the years ahead. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a remake of Knights of the Old Republic II after this one!

Best Star Trek Episode:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
There Is A Tide…
Discovery Season 3

There Is A Tide is basically “Star Trek does Die Hard!” If that sounds like fun to you, then we are definitely on the same page! Featuring a desperate plan to re-take the USS Discovery following its capture by a villainous faction, Michael Burnham, Tilly, and several members of the bridge crew all get their chances to be action heroes.

It isn’t an entirely self-contained episode, as it brings to a head Starfleet’s conflict with the aforementioned villainous faction that had been running for much of the season, as well as containing other ongoing story threads. But it works well as a single episode, too, with an explosive and action-packed story that feels like it was lifted right out of an action blockbuster!

There Is A Tide is a great episode for Michael Burnham, but it’s also good for Admiral Vance as well. He truly seems to embody the values that Starfleet and the Federation have always held, and anyone who feels that Discovery has placed less of an emphasis on that should pay attention to Vance’s scenes in particular.

🏆 Winner 🏆
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

First First Contact is an incredibly well-done episode of Lower Decks. The series’ trademark sense of humour is still present, but we see the entire crew of the USS Cerritos working hard to overcome an incredibly difficult challenge and save not only an ailing Starfleet ship but also an entire planet. The crew rise to the occasion as we always knew they could, and First First Contact hits all of the emotional highs you could ever want from an episode of Star Trek.

It’s also an episode that truly embraces the spirit of the franchise. The Cerritos’ crew aren’t faced with some horrible monster or alien to defeat, instead the puzzle that lies before them is scientific – and the solution to it has to be as well. All of the main and secondary characters get moments in the spotlight, and First First Contact even found time to further advance the relationship between Ensign Mariner and Captain Freeman.

Finally, there was an incredible moment of symmetry toward the end of the episode, as the Cerritos saved the day in a very similar fashion to how it had to be saved in the Season 1 finale. That moment was pitch-perfect – and I won’t lie… I teared up!

So that’s it!

We’ve dished out a handful of awards to some of the best – and worst – entertainment experiences of the year. 2021 is a difficult one to summarise. The ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic has been noticeable, with delays and even some cancellations getting in the way and spoiling the fun. But there were some fantastic projects across cinema, television, and video games too – including some brand-new titles that I feel have the potential to lead to ongoing franchises, or to be talked about a lot in future as classics of their various genres.

As 2022 approaches, I hope you’ll stay tuned for a lot more to come from Trekking with Dennis! In the days ahead I plan to look forward to some of the films, games, and television shows that we could enjoy throughout the coming year, so definitely stay tuned for that! And I have a number of reviews and other articles in the pipeline.

So the only thing left to do is to wish you a very Happy New Year! Whatever you have planned for tonight, I hope you have an amazing time. See you next year!

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


Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:

Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

Rick and Morty Season 5

The Wheel of Time

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Raya and the Last Dragon

Wicked

Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Discovery 3×12 There Is A Tide…

Lower Decks 2×10 First First Contact

How Sega and the Dreamcast offer a valuable lesson for streaming platforms

In 2001 I was bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Dreamcast – a console I’d only owned for about a year and had hoped would carry me through to the next generation of home consoles. For a variety of reasons that essentially boil down to mismanagement, worse-than-expected sales, and some pretty tough competition, Sega found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. The company responded not only by ending development on the Dreamcast, but by closing its hardware division altogether.

At the time, Sega seemed to be at the pinnacle of the games industry. For much of the 1990s, the company had been a dominant force in home video game consoles alongside Nintendo, and as the new millennium approached there were few outward signs of that changing. It was a massive shock to see Sega collapse in such spectacular fashion in 2001, not only to me but to millions of players and games industry watchers around the world.

The Sega Dreamcast failed in 2001.

Thinking about what happened from a business perspective, a demise like this was inevitable in the early 2000s. Both Sony and Microsoft were arriving in the home console market with powerful machines offering features like the ability to play DVDs – something that the Dreamcast couldn’t do – but at a fundamental level the market was simply overcrowded. There just wasn’t room for four competing home consoles. At least one was destined for the chopping block – and unfortunately for Sega, it was their machine that wouldn’t survive.

But the rapid demise of the Dreamcast wasn’t the end of Sega – not by a long shot. The company switched its focus from making hardware to simply making games, and over the next few years re-established itself with a new identity as a developer and publisher. In the twenty years since the Dreamcast failed, Sega has published a number of successful titles, snapped up several successful development studios – such as Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, and Amplitude Studios – and has even teamed up with old rival Nintendo on a number of occasions!

The end of the Dreamcast was not the end of Sega.

I can’t properly express how profoundly odd it was to first see Super Mario and Sega’s mascot Sonic the Hedgehog together in the same game! The old rivalry from the ’90s would’ve made something like that impossible – yet it became possible because Sega recognised its limitations and changed its way of doing business. The board abandoned a longstanding business model because it was leading the company to ruin, and even though it does feel strange to see fan-favourite Sega characters crop up on the Nintendo Switch or even in PlayStation games, Sega’s willingness to change quite literally saved the company.

From a creative point of view, Sega’s move away from hardware opened up the company to many new possibilities. The company has been able to broaden its horizons, publishing different games on different systems, no longer bound to a single piece of hardware. Strategy games have been published for PC, party games on the Nintendo Wii and Switch, and a whole range of other titles on Xbox, PlayStation, handheld consoles, and even mobile. The company has been involved in the creation of a far broader range of titles than it ever had been before.

Sega’s mascot Sonic now regularly appears alongside old foe Super Mario.

So how does all of this relate to streaming?

We’re very much in the grip of the “streaming wars” right now. Big platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are battling for subscribers’ cash, but there’s a whole second tier of streaming platforms fighting amongst themselves for a chance to break into the upper echelons of the market. The likes of HBO Max, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Peacock, BritBox, and even YouTube Premium are all engaged in this scrap.

But the streaming market in 2021 is very much like the video game console market was in 2001: overcrowded. Not all of these second-tier platforms will survive – indeed, it’s possible that none of them will. Many of the companies who own and manage these lower-level streaming platforms are unwilling to share too many details about them, but we can make some reasonable estimates based on what data is available, and it isn’t good news. Some of these streaming platforms have simply never been profitable, and their owners are being propped up by other sources of income, pumping money into a loss-making streaming platform in the hopes that it’ll become profitable at some nebulous future date.

There are a lot of streaming platforms in 2021.

To continue the analogy, the likes of Paramount+ are modern-day Dreamcasts in a market where Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ are already the Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation. Breaking into the top tier of the streaming market realistically means one of the big three needs to be dethroned, and while that isn’t impossible, it doesn’t seem likely in the short-to-medium term at least.

Why did streaming appeal to viewers in the first place? That question is fundamental to understanding why launching a new platform is so incredibly difficult, and it’s one that too many corporate executives seem not to have considered. They make the incredibly basic mistake of assuming that streaming is a question of convenience; that folks wanted to watch shows on their own schedule rather than at a set time on a set channel. That isn’t what attracted most people to streaming.

Too many corporate leaders fundamentally misunderstand streaming.

Convenience has been available to viewers since the late 1970s. Betamax and VHS allowed folks to record television programmes and watch them later more than forty years ago, as well as to purchase films and even whole seasons of television shows to watch “on demand.” DVD box sets kicked this into a higher gear in the early-mid 2000s. Speaking for myself, I owned a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS in the 1990s, and later bought the entire series on DVD. I had more than enough DVDs by the mid-2000s that I’d never need to sign up for any streaming platform ever – I could watch a DVD every day of the year and never run out of different things to watch!

To get back on topic, what attracted people to streaming was the low cost. A cable or satellite subscription is easily four or five times the price of Netflix, so cutting the cord and going digital was a new way for many people to save money in the early 2010s. As more broadcasters and film studios began licensing their content to Netflix, the value of the deal got better and better, and the value of cable or satellite seemed ever worse in comparison.

Streaming isn’t about convenience – that’s been available for decades.
(Pictured: a 1975 Sony Betamax cabinet)

But in 2021, in order to watch even just a handful of the most popular television shows, people are once again being forced to spend cable or satellite-scale money. Just sticking to sci-fi and fantasy, three of the biggest shows in recent years have been The Mandalorian, The Expanse, and The Witcher. To watch all three shows, folks would need to sign up for three different streaming platforms – which would cost a total of £25.97 per month in the UK; approximately $36 in the United States.

The overabundance of streaming platforms is actually eroding the streaming platform model, making it unaffordable for far too many people. We have a great recent example of this: the mess last week which embroiled Star Trek: Discovery. When ViacomCBS cancelled their contract with Netflix, Discovery’s fourth season was to be unavailable outside of North America. Star Trek fans revolted, promising to boycott Paramount+ if and when the streaming platform arrived in their region. The damage done by the Discovery Season 4 debacle pushed many viewers back into the waiting arms of the only real competitor and the biggest danger to all streaming platforms: piracy.

Calls to boycott Paramount+ abounded in the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 mess.

The streaming market does not exist in a vacuum, with platforms jostling for position solely against one another. It exists in a much bigger digital environment, one which includes piracy. It’s incredibly easy to either stream or download any television episode or any film, even with incredibly limited technological know-how, and that has always represented a major threat to the viability of streaming platforms. Though there are ethical concerns, such as the need for artists and creators to get paid for their creations, that isn’t the issue. You can shout at me until you’re blue in the face that people shouldn’t pirate a film or television show – and in the vast majority of cases I’ll agree wholeheartedly. The issue isn’t that people should or shouldn’t engage in piracy – the issue is that people are engaged in piracy, and there really isn’t a practical or viable method of stopping them – at least, no such method has been invented thus far.

As more and more streaming platforms try to make a go of it in an already-overcrowded market, more and more viewers are drifting back to piracy. 2020 was a bit of an outlier in some respects due to lockdowns, but it was also the biggest year on record for film and television piracy. 2021 may well eclipse 2020’s stats and prove to have been bigger still.

The overcrowded streaming market makes piracy look ever more appealing to many viewers.

Part of the driving force is that people are simply unwilling to sign up to a streaming platform to watch one or two shows. One of the original appeals of a service like Netflix was that there was a huge range of content all in one place – whether you wanted a documentary, an Oscar-winning film, or an obscure television show from the 1980s, Netflix had you covered. Now, more and more companies are pulling their content and trying to build their own platforms around that content – and many viewers either can’t or won’t pay for it.

Some companies are trying to push streaming platforms that aren’t commercially viable and will never be commercially viable. Those companies need to take a look at Sega and the Dreamcast, and instead of trying to chase the Netflix model ten years too late and with far too little original content, follow the Sega model instead. Drop the hardware and focus on the software – or in this case, drop the platform and focus on making shows.

Some streaming platforms will not survive – and their corporate owners would be well-advised to realise that sooner rather than later.

The Star Trek franchise offers an interesting example of how this can work. Star Trek: Discovery was originally available on Netflix outside of the United States. But Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks went to Amazon Prime Video instead – showing how this model of creating a television show and selling it either to the highest bidder or to whichever platform seems like the best fit for the genre can and does work.

Moves like this feel inevitable for several of these second-tier streaming platforms. There’s a hard ceiling on the amount of money folks are willing to spend, so unless streaming platforms can find a way to cut costs and become more competitively priced, the only possible outcome by the end of the “streaming wars” will be the permanent closure of several of these platforms. Companies running these platforms should consider other options, because blindly chasing the streaming model will lead to financial ruin. Sega had the foresight in 2001 to jump out of an overcrowded market and abandon a failing business model. In the two decades since the company has refocused its efforts and found renewed success. This represents a great model for streaming platforms to follow.

All films, television series, and video games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, developer, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Thoughts on a potential Mass Effect television series

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers present for the Mass Effect trilogy.

Have you heard the latest rumour? Amazon is apparently very close to securing a deal to make a television series based on the Mass Effect video game franchise. I thought it could be fun to discuss this rumour – given that it seems to be close to being officially confirmed – as well as the merits of big-budget television shows in general.

Many film adaptations of video game properties have proven to be disappointing. There are a number of reasons why that’s the case, and it varies from project to project, but one thing absolutely worth considering is the fundamental, irreconcilable difference between how long the average film lasts and how long the average video game lasts.

1993’s Super Mario Bros. is an… interesting film.

Many video games – especially those with strong stories, like the Mass Effect series has – can require many, many hours of playtime. Despite what I said a moment ago, there really isn’t such a thing as an “average” video game length; it can vary from a couple of hours all the way to dozens or even more than a hundred. But most video games that have seen disappointing film adaptations in recent years have been these kinds of long, story-driven titles – and condensing a whole video game’s worth of story into a two-hour film is difficult to get right.

This is also the problem a lot of novel adaptations face, so much so that “the book was better than the film” has become an overused cliché! Even adaptations that have been widely praised overall – like the Harry Potter series, for instance – had to make significant story cuts to squeeze an entire book’s worth of plot into a standard cinematic runtime. Exceptions exist, of course, and the Lord of the Rings films from a few years ago are an example. But in that case, the extended editions of the films are widely considered to be superior to the shorter theatrical cuts, and the extended edition of the trilogy clocks in at well over eleven hours long.

The Lord of the Rings films are an exception to the rule!

What I’m trying to say is that a story like Mass Effect will be far better served by a television series adaptation than it would’ve been by a film adaptation. If it’s true that this is the route Amazon wants to go down, I’ll be very interested to see what will become of the project in the months and years ahead.

In the aftermath of big serialised shows like Lost and Game of Thrones, audiences have become used to story arcs that run across multiple seasons, something that would be a perfect fit for a long story like the one seen in the Mass Effect games. Even just the original story of Mass Effect 1 could itself be two seasons’ worth of television without feeling padded or bloated, so there’s potential in this project to really bring the Mass Effect galaxy to life.

Saren, the main villain of Mass Effect 1.

Amazon is still a relative newcomer to the television series game, but the company has already got an impressive track record. Shows like The Man in the High Castle and Jack Ryan were great, The Wheel of Time, which debuted just last week, is off to a fabulous start, and the company also picked up The Expanse following its cancellation, putting out two amazing seasons of the show so far. Amazon has also played host to Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks, giving Prime Video a solid lineup in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. And we haven’t even mentioned the upcoming Lord of the Rings series!

Projects like The Lord of the Rings have demonstrated Amazon’s willingness to spend vast sums of money on their television shows, and if they do pursue a Mass Effect series, I would hope they’d be willing to invest there too. One of the great things about the Mass Effect galaxy is how “alien-feeling” some of its non-human races are. Races like the volus, hanar, and krogan were able to be created for the video game series because the animators weren’t limited by the need to use human actors – and recreating those races for the small screen will be a challenge.

Bringing a hanar to the screen in a live-action series will be a challenge!

I don’t like to speak ill of Star Trek, but in that respect I think Mass Effect actually gives the franchise a run for its money! Many alien races in Star Trek – and other live-action sci-fi shows and films too – are naturally limited by using human actors. There have been some very different-looking aliens, of course, but the majority of the main cast are humanoid, something that’s also true of Star Wars. Mass Effect shook that up with races like the krogan being part of the player’s crew from the very first game, and I’d be curious to see how well that would work in a live-action production.

The story of the Mass Effect trilogy, with Commander Shepard on a quest to save the galaxy from the Reapers, would be absolutely fascinating to see retold as a television show! It would definitely need multiple seasons to do justice to such a long story (my playthrough earlier in the year of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition clocked in at almost 80 hours) but I think it could be done exceptionally well.

I recently replayed the Mass Effect trilogy.

Some fans have expressed concern about retelling the story of the Mass Effect trilogy. Not only would doing so mean recasting characters that fans have come to know and love, but it would also mean setting in stone a number of key decisions which form the core of the games’ role-playing and branching storylines.

On the first point, I think that we’ve seen so many franchises recast key characters over the years that I’m not particularly worried. In Star Trek we’ve had characters like Spock go through three iterations at this point, and while many fans have a favourite portrayal, I don’t think anyone disagrees that all three versions of the character work as intended in their various stories. Just like many actors have played roles like Hamlet or Richard III over the years, there’s room for more than one actor to play Commander Shepard. Heck, the original Mass Effect games already have two Commander Shepards – a male and female version of the character!

There are already different Commander Shepards…

On the second point, the Mass Effect galaxy absolutely feels like a vast setting in which different stories could be told. The story of the Reaper War is exciting and I think would make for engrossing television, but equally a Mass Effect television show could tell an original story in the same setting. Amazon is doing precisely this with its Lord of the Rings adaptation – the new show won’t be a retelling of the books nor a remake of the films, but a prequel set millennia earlier.

There’s huge potential in a Mass Effect television series, and there are many different ways to jump into the setting and tell stories. It wouldn’t have to be a straight adaptation of the video games and Commander Shepard’s story, because there are so many other stories out there in the Mass Effect galaxy. But at the same time, why not? The Reaper War is one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve seen in many years, and even though its rushed and imperfect final act did put a downer on things, that’s something that a television series could actually fix. An adaptation doesn’t have to be a like-for-like copy, so there’s scope to go back into the story and fix things that didn’t go to plan in the original games.

So watch this space! The rumour mill suggests that an announcement may be imminent, and while I don’t have “sources” of my own, I’m picking up this story from a number of different outlets – some of which are more reliable than others! For my two cents, I think a series like Mass Effect would work far better as a television series than a film, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. If and when we get any major news be sure to check back as I may have more to say.

The Mass Effect series is the copyright of Electronic Arts and BioWare. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What will the Discovery decision mean for Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and the rest of Star Trek?

The fallout from the atrocious and unfair Star Trek: Discovery decision rumbles on. The ViacomCBS share price continues to tumble in the wake of their truly awful decision to piss off most of the fans of their biggest franchise, the rollout of Paramount+ continues at a snail’s pace with no specific launch dates even entering the conversation, and unfortunately we’re now seeing some divisions in the fandom itself, with North American Trekkies pitted against those of us in the rest of the world as arguments break out over the series. What a stinking mess.

At time of writing, both Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Discovery are “Paramount+ exclusives” all across the world – meaning the shows are locked behind a paywall that fans can’t actually pay for because the incompetently-managed streaming service hasn’t launched in the vast majority of countries and territories. I feel even worse for Trekkies in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia in some ways, though, because although Paramount+ has already arrived there, Discovery Season 4 still hasn’t been made available. If you needed any more evidence that ViacomCBS is one of the worst-run corporations in the entire entertainment industry, look no further than that arbitrary nonsense.

The logo of the mediocre streaming service at the heart of all these problems.

But Prodigy and Discovery aren’t the only Star Trek shows in production at the moment. In 2022 Trekkies have been promised Star Trek: Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and Lower Decks Season 3 at a minimum. In the wake of the truly selfish and awful Discovery decision, however, I can’t help but feel very nervous about each of those shows. Will Trekkies around the world be able to enjoy any new Star Trek in the months ahead? Or will we see repeat after repeat of the Discovery mess?

Strange New Worlds seems all but certain to be denied any kind of international streaming deal. If you’re hoping to see the series hit Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you might as well forget it – it’ll be a Paramount+ exclusive for sure. What that means in effect is that anywhere in the world without Paramount+ will miss out on Strange New Worlds. That feels like such a sure thing right now that I’d put money on it.

Don’t bet on seeing Captain Pike on your screens next year. At least not through the usual channels…

Currently, Picard Season 2 is scheduled for a February premiere. If the season runs for ten episodes, as Season 1 did in 2020, it’ll conclude sometime in late April or early May, meaning that Strange New Worlds could debut anytime around then – and certainly well before the middle of the year. At present, the UK and parts of Europe are promised Paramount+ in “early 2022” – which could be before the Strange New Worlds premiere, but it could also be long after the show has kicked off in the United States. And unfortunately, many countries and territories in Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world have no planned launch for Paramount+ at all, which means it could be 2023 or later before the service launches there. If it survives that long.

I simply don’t believe the promises ViacomCBS has made of an “early 2022” launch. Paramount+ has been so poorly managed and so incompetently handled by the corporation that a delay to these plans feels inevitable, so I’m not betting on the service launching here before the end of 2022. But even if, by some miracle, ViacomCBS actually manages to launch Paramount+ on time in Europe, that could still mean Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2 won’t be broadcast simultaneously with North America.

Picard could well be pulled from Amazon Prime Video before Season 2.

As mentioned, Paramount+ has already arrived in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia – and it isn’t exactly brand-new, they’ve had it since March. But despite that, Discovery Season 4 isn’t being shown there at the same time as it’s being shown in North America… so even being very generous to ViacomCBS and assuming that the incompetent morons manage to get Paramount+ to the UK and Europe in “early 2022,” that still doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be able to watch any of the new shows on the damn thing.

As I discussed the other day, ViacomCBS paid Netflix a large sum of money to ensure that Discovery Season 4 wouldn’t be available around the world. If they had done nothing, the show would’ve come to Netflix under existing contracts and licenses – but the corporation chose to intervene, hoping to boost sign-ups to Paramount+ (though the backlash may have actually cost the platform subscribers thanks to a fan-led boycott campaign). What’s to stop ViacomCBS from doing the same thing with Amazon Prime Video, the current home of Lower Decks and Picard?

Will Amazon Prime Video lose its Star Trek shows, just like Netflix?

One of the stupidest and most offensive things about the Discovery decision is that Paramount+ is unavailable across most of the world. If ViacomCBS had pulled Discovery from Netflix because Paramount+ had already launched and they wanted to keep their own shows on their own platform, it would still be frustrating, and the timing would still be awful, but at least there’d be a vague logic to it. But because Paramount+ isn’t even available, the decision has locked the show behind a paywall that no one is able to pay for. Which, as I’ve argued on more than one occasion, means you have the absolute moral justification to pirate the series.

But this kind of decision could well be repeated. I doubt very much that Paramount+ will be available here in the UK by February, in time for Season 2 of Picard. And on current form, there’s nothing to stop ViacomCBS from doing to Amazon Prime Video what they’ve just done to Netflix – pulling the series from broadcast with days to spare. I don’t think it’s safe to assume we’ll be watching Picard Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video… let alone Lower Decks Season 3, which likely won’t be broadcast until later in the year.

Lower Decks Season 3 could also be going exclusively to Paramount+.

Rather than the Discovery mess being a one-time thing, I think as international fans we need to get used to the idea that, at least for the next year or so, watching Star Trek along with our North American friends may not be possible – or at least may not be possible via conventional methods. Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds Season 1 feel the most vulnerable, but realistically we’ll soon see the entire franchise disappear behind Paramount+’s paywall – regardless of whether Paramount+ is actually available.

I’d like to be proven wrong, of course, but I fear that this is the direction of travel for Star Trek as we move into 2022. This will not be a move free of long-term consequences for ViacomCBS. The corporation’s share price continues its fall, many Trekkies have pledged never to subscribe to Paramount+, and one of the biggest single pushes toward piracy since the advent of streaming will lead many fans and viewers to realise just how easy it is to pirate the latest episodes – making it even harder for Paramount+ to tempt them back in future.

A decision intended to push fans toward Paramount+ has actually led to piracy – and threats to boycott the platform.

As self-defeating as these plans may be, don’t expect to see ViacomCBS move away from them. And if you’re especially unlucky, living in a region of the world that ViacomCBS has apparently forgotten even exists, it may be the case that Paramount+ never arrives – or if it does it won’t be till 2023, 2024, or beyond. Star Trek has always told stories of people coming together – of a United Earth free from borders and division. But the ViacomCBS board haven’t even watched their own shows, or if they did the message went far over their shrivelled little profiteering heads.

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but as I see it, the Discovery decision is just the first of many. Strange New Worlds, which has never had an international broadcaster announced, will certainly be a Paramount+ exclusive. Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 could very easily follow the Discovery model and be pulled from Amazon Prime Video. And the rest of the Star Trek franchise? Currently the older shows are on Netflix, but the films aren’t. However, I wouldn’t bet on being able to watch any Star Trek series next year unless you have the DVD or are prepared to sign up for Paramount+.

The Star Trek franchise 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: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 6: The Spy Humongous

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2.

For the second week running, Lower Decks managed to strike the right balance in terms of stories and characters. The Spy Humongous spent time with the bridge crew, gave Boimler his own story, and gave Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford something to do as well. Crucially, the episode managed to make each of these three components feel significant; none felt under-developed.

Most importantly, all three storylines were fun! The bridge crew split up for this episode, with Captain Freeman and Shaxs on an away mission to the Pakled homeworld on a peace initiative, while Ransom and Kayshon played host to a Pakled “guest” aboard the ship. These two halves comprised a single story, while Boimler separated from the other three ensigns for his own character journey.

The Pakled spy got into a little trouble…

Tendi, Mariner, and particularly Rutherford took smaller roles this time in a story which put Boimler at the centre, but their paths crossed in a significant way toward the end. I’ve spoken numerous times about how amazing Mariner’s character arc across both seasons has been, and how enjoyable it has been to watch her grow. The Spy Humongous gave us some comparable character development for Boimler, as he came to realise that chasing a promotion isn’t everything – and that imitating great captains of the past isn’t any use in a crisis.

Several Lower Decks stories have felt like they could’ve been set in a school had the characters been different. I’m thinking of Mariner making up rumours about herself in Mugato, Gumato, as well as the “love triangle” in Cupid’s Errant Arrow last season. This time, the story of Boimler ditching his friends after being poached by a group of “cooler kids” likewise felt like it could’ve been about schoolkids. I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way, if anything it’s a commentary on how the series takes familiar situations and gives them its own Star Trek-themed twist.

Boimler with the Redshirts.

Having only just settled his conflict with Mariner regarding his decision to prioritise promotion over their friendship in last week’s episode, as well as seemingly learning a lesson in the process, it was a little jarring for that moment to immediately be followed up by Boimler again ditching Mariner (and the others) in order to hang out with a new group who he feels – at least in the moment – are more likely to be useful to his ambition. This is a consequence of scheduling more than story; I said last week that both pairs of ensigns got stories that resolved lingering conflicts from Season 1, and that those stories might’ve been better-served by coming earlier in the season. Boimler’s plotline this time only reinforces that; at the very least this episode shouldn’t have immediately followed on from last week as it makes it seem that Boimler learned nothing – or very quickly forgot the important lesson he’d learned about friendship.

Scheduling aside, The Spy Humongous gave Boimler a satisfying arc. He began the episode enticed by the “cool kids” to ditch his friends and follow only his ambition, and for a time went along with their shenanigans. But when Tendi was in danger, Boimler knew what to do, and while the other wannabes tripped over one another to try to give “inspiring” speeches copied from past captains that they admired, Boimler recognised the problem and took the necessary steps to solve it. Even though doing so meant abandoning the new group of “cool kids” and by extension his aim of getting promoted again, Boimler prioritised problem-solving and friendship. His reward was a compliment from Commander Ransom, something which clearly meant a lot more to him than any “acting captain” role.

Being noticed by the Commander and receiving a compliment for his work was worth it for Boimler.

This was, unquestionably, a deeply satisfying character arc for Boimler to go through. Had it not come immediately following a similar moment last week it would’ve worked better, but that’s the scheduling issue again. The way that the episode tied this arc into the B-plot following Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi as they collected “anomalies” that the senior staff had been working on was neat as well.

Tendi actually got one of the more emotional moments this week. I think we’ve all had an experience, at some point in our lives, of either feeling genuine excitement for something or trying to show excitement for the benefit of others, only to have someone else shoot it down. That feeling of being crestfallen or deflated is exactly what Mariner and Rutherford inflicted on Tendi after shouting at her for being too enthusiastic and eager during one of their most-hated assignments aboard the ship.

Haven’t we all been Tendi in this situation?

This moment set up the remainder of Tendi’s story – as she was transformed into a scorpion-like monster by a strange artefact – as well as led to the crossover with Boimler. But as a purely emotional moment that I think a lot of us can relate to, it was one of the highlights of the episode for me.

I created this website in part to share my love of Star Trek with a wider audience. But I can remember many occasions where being a Trekkie or even simply mentioning Star Trek was enough to have someone react with derision or dismissiveness. Even within the Star Trek fan community and among friends, I can remember moments where expressing passion for the “wrong” part of the franchise became an issue. When talking to a Trekkie friend excitedly about 2009’s Star Trek shortly after the film premiered I was hit with that feeling when they reacted angrily having pledged to never watch the reboot. So in a very meta Star Trek way, I can relate to what Tendi must’ve been feeling! That sense of showing someone you care about something you’re excited for only to have that excitement ripped away is a very real feeling.

Tendi was transformed into a scorpion-monster.

Mariner didn’t get very much to do this week. The episode put her through a montage of unpleasantries to emphasise how bad this particular assignment was and build up to her shouting at Tendi. Aside from that she was relegated to a background role alongside Rutherford, whose characteristic love for all things Starfleet apparently doesn’t extend to Anomaly Collection Day either!

On first viewing I felt that Tendi’s loud and rather rude laugh at Boimler’s mess hall mishap at the beginning of the episode was a little out-of-character, but on reflection I can see that this was an attempt to set up the conclusion to her and Boimler’s stories. It’s not the first time that we’ve had an out-of-place moment like this which has become important later; Lower Decks isn’t always subtle in that regard!

This moment at the beginning of the episode became important later on.

The mysterious artefact that transformed Tendi was just a macguffin at the end of the day, but it was one that didn’t feel out of place in Lower Decks. The first episode of the season set up how “strange energies” were something Starfleet regularly has to put up with, and across the season we’ve also seen Lieutenant Kayshon turned into a puppet and met a self-duplicating species, so it definitely doesn’t come from nowhere! Star Trek has, in the past, leaned into this kind of weirder, inexplicable macguffin for many different episodes across basically every series, so again it’s right in keeping with the way the franchise has always operated.

As mentioned, Boimler was the hero of the day. He figured out that the macguffin was feeding off or amplifying Tendi’s emotions (though exactly why she became a giant scorpion is still not crystal clear!) and that the best way to save her – and everyone else – was to make her laugh. Looping back to what made her laugh uncontrollably at the beginning of the episode, Boimler used the mess hall’s replicators to cover himself in food, much to Tendi’s amusement and the disgust of the “cool kids” he’d been hanging out with all day.

Boimler saved the day – and his friend.

Though much of Boimler’s time with the other ensigns followed a familiar trope, one moment which stood out was his inspirational speech. This sequence was also incredibly well-animated, as the empty stage faded into a truly outstanding recreation of the bridge of the Enterprise-D. Boimler gave a great speech, one which could’ve been given by any of Star Trek’s past captains. Though he may suffer from anxiety and be more than a little neurotic, Boimler can make a difference when it counts. We saw that not only with the speech, of course, but also with the way he saved Tendi.

I was reminded of Boimler’s speech in the episode Veritas from last season. The joke in that episode (which I felt fell flat, sadly) was that he and his shipmates were never in danger, and on this occasion he similarly gives an inspiring speech when there are no real stakes. But his ability to speak well and to give that kind of rousing address is in keeping with where we saw him last season, and I felt it was worth making note of that.

This was a great moment in the episode, both in terms of the speech and the animation work.

I really thought that the Pakled spy was going to turn out to be something different, perhaps something that challenged the notion that the Pakleds were all as stupid as they appear to be. For the entire time the spy was on the ship, and especially when he snuck away, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for some kind of revelation. Was Shaxs – recently and inexplicably back from the dead – going to turn out to be the real spy? Was the spy actually better at his job than he let on? It was a hilarious double-bluff that, in reality, the Pakleds truly are as dumb as they seem to be.

There’s somewhat of an old-school cartoonish charm to the way Lower Decks presents the Pakleds. An alien race who all seem stupid in comparison to the rest of the galaxy could easily fall into the trap of stereotyping folks with learning difficulties, but because of the overly-exaggerated way the Pakleds’ stupidity is presented, it doesn’t come across as offensive. It manages to just be funny – and even though there’s surely more to come from this Pakled conflict before the season is over, I can’t predict where it’ll go or how it’ll end. There was a mention this week of a Pakled bomb being sent to Earth, but it seems as though Captain Freeman will be able to alert Starfleet in time to prevent anything bad from happening.

The Pakleds were back in The Spy Humongous.

Lower Decks has usually been great when it comes to depicting different-looking, aesthetically interesting planets. Pakled Planet was a little disappointing in that regard, as it felt rather generic. The action that took place there was fun and exciting, of course, but the background could’ve used a little spicing-up in my opinion. It could still have been kept simple – in keeping with the show’s depiction of the Pakleds – but a different colour palette (Pakled Planet was very heavy on yellow and brown tones) or some item or landmark of visual interest would’ve improved these sequences.

It was funny to see the various Pakled “leaders.” A queen, a king, and an emperor all seem to be parts of an overall hierarchy, one determined solely by the size of their helmets. I can’t help but wonder what consequences – if any – there will be for the Pakled revolution and overthrow of the previous leadership. Perhaps that’s something routine on Pakled Planet that won’t make any difference – but if so, why show that on screen? I can’t help but feel it’s setting up something that may be of importance later!

The Pakled Emperor.

It was particularly funny how the group of “cool kids” referring to themselves as “The Redshirts” – a Star Trek fandom expression dating back to the days of The Original Series. Redshirts were disposable minor characters who often ended up dead on away missions! Seeing the Pakled spy drifting through space after accidentally shooting himself out of an airlock was also a really funny moment.

So I think that’s about all I have to say this week. There was a great story for Boimler – albeit one that might’ve benefitted from taking place at a different point in the season – as well as some advancement of the Federation-Pakled conflict. There were some hilarious moments for all of the main characters, and particularly the Pakleds. Ensign Mariner took a backseat for the first time this season, but giving her an occasional break is no bad thing.

All in all, a great episode.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties 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: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 4: Mugato, Gumato

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Minor spoilers are also present for The Original Series and The Next Generation.

Mugato, Gumato was a fun episode with some good jokes and perhaps more meta-humour than any other episode so far this season. It consisted of a main A-story and two much smaller B-plots, which in turn focused on Tendi, Dr T’Ana, and Captain Freeman. This week, however, the stars were Boimler and Rutherford, with Mariner playing a significant but smaller role.

Though we’ve seen them interact on a number of occasions already, it was a pleasant surprise how well the central Rutherford-Boimler pairing worked. Season 2 of Lower Decks has shaken things up from the usual first-season story pairings of putting Boimler with Mariner and Tendi with Rutherford, and the result overall has been that the four ensigns feel more like a group of friends who all like one another and work well together than ever before. There was less of a commentary on Rutherford and Boimler’s friendship than there had been with Mariner and Tendi in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris last week, but the duo arguably had a stronger foundation to build on as they’d been seen working together on several prior occasions. There’s also far less of a personality clash than with Tendi and Mariner!

The main story this week starred Rutherford and Boimler.

I’m not much of a “shipper,” but is it too late to start shipping Boimler and Rutherford as a couple? Some of their scenes together in Mugato, Gumato were just too cute, and though Rutherford and Tendi also make a great pair, I felt there was real chemistry between the two – and between actors Eugene Cordero and Jack Quaid. Maybe that’s one I’ll just have to settle for fantasising about… but if you ask me, it could work exceptionally well!

The episode’s opening scene didn’t feel great at first; I didn’t really like seeing the ensigns fighting one another to the point of drawing blood. There was a “girl power” vibe to it as Mariner was able to easily defeat Rutherford and Boimler – despite the fact that we’d seen that Rutherford has great martial skills in Season 1’s Envoys, but perhaps we can overlook that little inconsistency! As the title sequence kicked in I felt that the anbo-jyutsu match was going to be a let-down, but it actually set up the main thrust of the episode’s story well, and on reflection it was a solid way to open the story. It established that Rutherford and Boimler have been on the receiving end of Mariner’s fighting skills, so when they were confronted with the notion that she might be a super-spy it didn’t come from nowhere. While I didn’t like it in the moment – though seeing Shaxs calmly sit down and wait his turn was funny – overall I have to give it credit for setting up the plot quite well.

The opening act of the episode saw an anbo-jyutsu match.

I believe that Mugato, Gumato marks the first time that we’ve seen Denobulans outside of Star Trek: Enterprise – where main character Dr Phlox belonged to that race. It’s interesting to note that they seem to be Federation allies – or perhaps even Federation members – as of the late 24th Century, and perhaps that’s an indication that we might see more Denobulans in future. One of the anachronisms created by Enterprise being a prequel was that some races – like the Denobulans, but also including the Suliban and the Xindi – appear to have been known to the Federation in the mid-22nd Century but made no appearances in the 23rd or 24th Centuries. The question of why that might be (from an in-universe point of view, of course) is potentially interesting, and I wonder if we’ll see more from the Denobulans or other Enterprise races and factions in future.

The Denobulan couple were only on screen for a few seconds, but set up the main story. They encountered a mugato – an ape-like creature originally seen in The Original Series second season episode A Private Little War – and because the mugato are not native to that world the USS Cerritos was called in to investigate. This setup was neat, and combined elements from different eras of Star Trek, which was great to see.

A titular mugato. Or should that be “gumato?”

The name of the mugato – or “mugatu,” as Captain Kirk repeatedly called it – has long been confused, and this episode’s title made note of that. “Gumato” was the name of the animal in the script for A Private Little War, but this was changed during filming. Officially the animal is called the mugato, but as noted it has been pronounced several different ways on screen. Boimler voicing aloud that this is “inconsistent” was just one of several meta-jokes he made this time, including using the title of The Next Generation first season episode The Last Outpost to refer to the band of Ferengi that the away team encountered.

The use of the Ferengi as this week’s antagonists worked surprisingly well. The Ferengi were originally created for The Next Generation with a view to having them fill a role vacated by the newly-friendly Klingons as a recurring antagonist for Picard and the crew, but their appearance in The Last Outpost – in which future Quark actor Armin Shimerman played one of the Ferengi leaders – didn’t work as well as any of the writers and producers had hoped. The Ferengi would return in this capacity in episodes like The Battle, but the general feeling was that they didn’t work as well as intended in the antagonist role, and were subsequently shaken up to be more money-oriented, capitalistic, and arguably comedic by the time of Deep Space Nine. Lower Decks, however, very deliberately chose to play up the early depictions of the Ferengi on this occasion – and I have to say that I feel it worked exceptionally well.

The Ferengi were this week’s antagonists.

The Ferengi’s lightning-whip weapons made a return for the first time since Season 1 of The Next Generation, and while the special effects of 1980s live-action struggled to have them work as intended, in animation they actually come across as genuinely threatening weapons. The Ferengi’s motivation, while arguably basic, was very much in line with all of their prior depictions: their desire to capture and slaughter the mugato (or should that be mugatoes?) was entirely driven by a lust for gold-pressed latinum. Even the likes of Quark wouldn’t be above a scheme like this – though if this were a Deep Space Nine episode we’d have seen the Ferengi take on a more bumbling, slapstick look rather than the over-the-top villains ultimately portrayed!

There was also an ecological message buried in this side of the story, as the Ferengi’s treatment of the mugato was very much comparable to modern-day poachers hunting for rhino horn in Africa. At one point the Ferengi leader even made reference to mugato horn potentially being an aphrodisiac, which is one of the key factors encouraging real-world poaching. This was perhaps more of a minor point than it could’ve been; background to establish a related plot rather than being the driving force. But it came back into play at the story’s resolution, which was nice.

Shaxs confronts the Ferengi poachers. Note the energy whip weapons.

Speaking of which, unfortunately I felt that the way in which Boimler and Rutherford were able to convince the Ferengi to shut down their poaching operation in favour of a mugato conservation area was rushed. This is a consequence of the episode trying to jam three stories into its short runtime, and the result was that the resolution to the main story came and went in what felt like the blink of an eye. Nothing was wrong with the concept itself, and I like the idea of this eco-friendly solution, as well as Boimler and Rutherford using their brains and their mathematical and diplomatic skills rather than trying to attack the Ferengi head-on or use brute force. But it would’ve benefitted greatly from just an extra couple of minutes to play out.

If I had to choose one of the B-plots to cut it would’ve been the one involving Captain Freeman. Not for the first time this season Lower Decks has wanted to spend time with the captain and the bridge crew, but has simply lacked the runtime to successfully include everything needed to make much of their stories. Captain Freeman being the victim of a scammer was kind of funny – it definitely had its moments – but overall it feels more like a sub-plot that took away from the others without really giving much back. In an episode that already had Tendi and Dr T’Ana, Shaxs leading an away team, the Mariner super-spy story, Boimler’s team-up with Rutherford, and the Ferengi poaching mugato (or mugatoes?) there just wasn’t time for this bit with the Captain. It didn’t accomplish much of anything, and as much as I enjoy Captain Freeman as a character – and the performance by Dawnn Lewis – not for the first time in Season 2 I’m left feeling that perhaps Lower Decks needs to be a little less ambitious when it comes to the number of stories and the number of characters it tries to cram into a twenty-minute episode.

Captain Freeman got a story this week, but it arguably came at the expense of a better resolution to the main A-plot.

Though Ensign Mariner took a back seat for much of the story, her wonderful character arc was furthered in a big way by a significant moment in Mugato, Gumato. The revelation that she started a rumour about herself basically because she’s lonely and isn’t used to having friends really tugged at the heartstrings. As someone who’s also experienced loneliness and has few friends, I can empathise with Mariner. Likewise, Boimler and Rutherford’s willingness to believe the rumour because they’re not used to having a cool friend like Mariner is something that’s also very relatable.

What we seem to have learned here is that Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi may be the first real friends that Mariner has made in a long time. In Season 1 we saw that she’s drifted far apart from some of her Starfleet Academy friends – like Captain Ramsey – and it seems as though Mariner’s desire to avoid certain types of people has caused her to feel quite isolated and lonely at times. She felt genuinely hurt at the notion that Boimler and Rutherford would believe the rumour she started – and I have to credit both the animators and a beautifully emotional voice performance by Tawny Newsome here for bringing that across in a pitch-perfect manner. As I’ve said before, Mariner’s character arc across Season 1 was wonderful to watch, and this moment follows on from her team-up with Tendi to continue that arc through Season 2 as well.

A dejected Ensign Mariner.

Mariner set up Boimler and Rutherford for their big moment, saving the day by convincing the Ferengi to give up poaching. Though I felt this moment was rushed, as mentioned, the fact that Rutherford and Boimler came up with a solution on their terms was great to see. After a story that had been partly about fighting and that started with an intro where the duo had tried to go toe-to-toe with Mariner in the anbo-jyutsu ring, the ultimate resolution was peaceful. This kind of story tells us that there are different ways to win – and not all of them have to involve violence. It’s okay not to be the strongest, because everyone has their own skills. I like that kind of message.

The mugato (or mugatoes) themselves were portrayed in basically the same way as they had been in The Original Series. Lower Decks kept the same design, and while it perhaps played up some of their more monkey- or ape-like qualities, for the most part I think what we got was a portrayal of the critters that was very much in line with their first appearance. They were present to serve as the background for a character-centric story rather than being the focal point, so that makes sense.

The Ferengi were convinced to give up poaching – in a moment that was, sadly, a little rushed.

The only story left to talk about is the B-plot which featured Tendi and Dr T’Ana. After her big outing last week it was fair enough for Tendi to drop back this time, but despite having a smaller story it was great to see that her characterisation is becoming more settled. This time we saw her go from being timid to assertive, not only with her colleagues and patients but also with Dr T’Ana herself. Though I don’t necessarily think we’re going to see her become the dominant force in her friend group any time soon, the lesson she learned this week about asserting herself may yet come into play in a future story.

Was it silly for Dr T’Ana to be so reluctant to have a basic medical scan? Absolutely. Do I care? Absolutely not, because it set up a truly hilarious sequence in which Dr T’Ana – already one of my favourite characters on the show – got to show off her most cat-like tendencies, which is a joke I swear I will never get tired of! Seeing her meowing and hissing as she ran through the Jeffries tubes was so funny, and poor Ensign Tendi struggled to keep up. Tendi’s broken arm was perhaps as close as Lower Decks has come to out-and-out goriness this season, but it worked well and allowed her to complete her mission. Tendi is nothing if not dedicated!

Ensign Tendi finally gives Dr T’Ana her medical scan.

Dr T’Ana also seems to be on the verge of renewing her relationship with Shaxs following his unexpected return, and their dynamic actually works really well. As the two gruff, short-tempered characters on the Cerritos, they work so well together. I hope a future episode can pair them up for more than just a few moments at a time – even if they don’t progress their relationship in a romantic way, I think they’d play off one another exceptionally well in any story.

There were plenty of fun moments in Mugato, Gumato, and two out of three stories worked really well. Other smaller things I liked seeing were the bartender with a strong New England accent – he seemed like a character right out of a Stephen King novel! The character of Patingi seemed like a less competent Steve Irwin, and that was fun too. Tendi’s montage of scanning different characters was clever, and saw her use a wide range of skills, including on the holodeck. But what I’ll remember the episode for most of all is how it progressed Ensign Mariner’s characterisation in such a relatable and downright emotional way. That, to me, is the real success of this week’s outing.

So I think that’s about all I have to say about Mugato, Gumato. As we approach the halfway point, Lower Decks’ second season has delivered plenty of entertainment and enjoyment. There’s a lot to love about the series, and I hope that Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike are finding their way to Lower Decks by now. I’m certainly encouraging everyone I know to give it a try!

Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties 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.

Lower Decks and Prodigy at Comic-Con

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Prodigy, including for upcoming episodes.

For this year’s Comic-Con @Home digital event the Star Trek franchise was more streamlined than last year, with panels for only two upcoming productions: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 and Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1. Though it would’ve been nice to see something from some of the live-action productions as well – not least Strange New Worlds, about which we’ve seen very little – the two panels were interesting! There’s more than enough to get stuck into as we look ahead to August and the autumn.

With Discovery Season 4 also scheduled to begin airing before the end of 2021, it seems like Star Trek will hardly be away from our screens starting in less than three weeks’ time, which is fantastic news. Prodigy doesn’t yet have a definite broadcast date, but the Comic-Con panel confirmed that the series will debut this autumn. If ViacomCBS wants to stick to one Star Trek show at a time, perhaps that’ll put it in late October, but watch this space!

Star Trek: Prodigy is coming soon!

In addition to the panels we also got a new trailer for both shows, which was great to see. This is the first time we’ve seen Prodigy in action, and I have to say that the show looks amazing. The animation is visually impressive, easily on par with the best offerings from the likes of Disney and others, and the spirit of exploration and adventure that’s been at the core of past Star Trek shows for so long seems to be present in the series in a huge way.

As I’ve said before, the best children’s shows manage to have things to offer to adults as well, and it seems like Prodigy will absolutely be that kind of series. The main characters appear to come together on some kind of junkyard or shipbreaking planet, which is where they encounter the USS Protostar – a pretty neat name for a ship! This setup could mean that the kids are orphans or even slaves, and the idea of escaping to a better life via Starfleet is a surprisingly grown-up theme for a series targeting a younger audience.

The USS Protostar will be the kids’ home in Prodigy.

The inclusion of a couple of familiar Alpha Quadrant races (a Medusan character and a Tellarite character) is also interesting. How did these individuals come to be so far from home? Perhaps they were kidnapped or taken by slavers, though this would be a very dark starting place for a kid-friendly show! I’m curious to learn more about the characters and in particular their backgrounds – were they simply born on this world with no idea how they came to be there? The original premise of Prodigy stated that none of the kids had ever heard of the Federation or Starfleet – but considering the Tellarites are Federation members and the Medusans had contact with the Federation at least a century earlier, the reason why could be interesting. Or I could be getting over-excited about minor points of canon again!

Zero, a Medusan character.

On the design of the USS Protostar, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Obviously there’s a degree of canon-bending taking place; this starship design is new and the ship itself looks too large to have been docked aboard Voyager during the latter’s journey through the Delta Quadrant. I had wondered if we might’ve got something like a runabout or even a Delta Flyer, but now that I think about it, a “classic” Star Trek design with a clear bridge, saucer section, and dual warp nacelles makes a lot of sense from an aesthetic point of view. It’s obviously ViacomCBS’ aim that fans of Prodigy will go on to check out other parts of the Star Trek franchise and become long-term fans, so keeping things relatively simple and consistent in terms of the basic designs and visual styles makes a lot of sense.

Though we only saw the Protostar’s bridge very briefly, I got the impression that it was a mix of Kelvin-timeline and Discovery-era styles, giving the ship’s command centre perhaps more of a modern look than one directly inspired by Voyager and other Star Trek shows of that era. Again this is something that probably makes sense; some younger viewers may feel that, compared to more modern offerings, ’90s Star Trek (and other sci-fi) doesn’t look quite as flashy and futuristic as it could!

The bridge of the USS Protostar.

Both internally and externally I like the ship’s design, and I’m looking forward to seeing more and really getting to grips with the show and its characters. The Prodigy panel told us a little more about some of the characters, and we got to meet several of the voice actors as well. I liked what Kate Mulgrew had to say about the show, and I’m really feeling positive about Prodigy now. It’s something that feels like it has the potential to really inspire a new generation of Trekkies, and that inspirational aspect of Star Trek is something that has been present since the beginning.

We learned a little more about some of the main characters from the panel, too. Rok-Tahk, the large rock-like alien, is in fact the youngest member of the crew (something we knew already when the cast was announced). But this seems like it will play exceptionally well into a fairly typical children’s show theme: don’t judge a book by its cover! The co-creators of Prodigy talked about how she’s a character who looks tough, as though she could be a security officer, but is in fact much more of a scientist and doesn’t like fighting. These kinds of story beats can work beautifully, and can often be teaching moments for adults just as much as for children!

A closer look at Rok-Tahk.

Let’s move on to Lower Decks now. There was a panel and trailer for the show’s upcoming second season, and we got a lot of new information! Firstly, perhaps the biggest reveal from the Lower Decks trailer is the return of another Voyager star – Tom Paris. It seems as though Paris isn’t exactly going to make an appearance in the show, but rather will be a figment of Boimler’s imagination. It looks like a fun scene, though, and there’s already a prop replica that’s been announced of the “Tom Paris plate” that Boimler talks to!

Boimler and his Paris plate.

There’s a lot to unpack from the trailer, but here’s a rundown of the things I noticed having seen it a few times now:

  • The Pakleds are back! The Pakleds were responsible for the attack on the Cerritos and her sister ship in the Season 1 finale.
  • Riker and Troi are also back, as is the USS Titan.
  • Boimler is an ensign again. How that will happen is still unclear, but there were more than enough scenes with him in his ensign’s uniform to confirm he’s been demoted and reassigned to the Cerritos. That seemed inevitable!
  • The Cardassians and Ferengi will make an appearance, with the latter looking set to be antagonists.
  • Mariner and Tendi seem to get into a bar fight with a group of Nausicaans – in what looks like a callback to Picard getting into a similar situation in The Next Generation Season 6 episode Tapestry.
  • Shaxs’ replacement is a Tamarian! Also known as the Children of Tama, this race appeared in The Next Generation Season 5 episode Darmok. Their distinguishing characteristic is the way in which they talk exclusively through the use of metaphors. I think this could go on to be a significant point of humour across the season!
  • The ensigns appear to visit Freecloud – a planet first seen in the Picard Season 1 episode Stardust City Rag.
  • A possible visit to Deep Space Nine is on the cards – though this could be a different Cardassian ship or facility. I love that Lower Decks is unapologetic in its re-use of the aesthetic of ’90s Star Trek, though! The Cardassian hallway with its panels and buttons was instantly recognisable.
  • Promotion was mentioned – perhaps for Tendi and/or Rutherford? Having seen Boimler promoted at the end of last season, it would be funny to see the other three all get promoted (and him to not be) this time!
  • Is Mariner in the brig?
  • Boimler was briefly depicted as a Locutus-style Borg – but does he really get assimilated or might that be a nightmare?
  • The Cerritos appeared to encounter the Crystalline Entity!

Phew! That was a lot, and I have no doubt I missed just as many things!

The ensigns watch as the USS Cerritos warps away!

In the panel that accompanied the trailer, creator Mike McMahan explained that the second season will be “funnier and bigger” than Season 1, which lines up with what I said last time! Having found its feet last year and definitively proved its concept, Lower Decks is now free to really go all-in, let its hair down, and crank everything up to eleven!

A Tamarian character could make for some great moments of humour.

Lower Decks managed to retain much of what makes Star Trek “Star Trek” while at the same time having a lot of fun. It used so many different elements from Star Trek’s past as a source of humour without ever coming across as mean-spirited or laughing at the franchise and its fans. Not every aspect worked and not every single joke landed in Season 1, but everything I heard from the panel and saw in the trailer has got me genuinely hyped up to see more of the same in Season 2.

The four ensigns, reunited!

One character arc that worked extremely well in the latter part of Season 1 was Mariner coming to terms with her role in Starfleet and her relationship with her mother – Captain Freeman. Tawny Newsome, who voices Mariner, had something to say about their relationship during the panel, and I like the fact that Season 2 hasn’t simply abandoned or reset this dynamic. Watching some of these characters continuing to grow and embrace their roles is something I’m genuinely looking forward to.

Ensign Mariner in the new trailer.

Lower Decks Season 2 is now less than three weeks away, and I cannot wait!

The panels and trailers are available to watch on YouTube and the official Star Trek website at time of writing, but just before we go I need to have a little rant. ViacomCBS and the Star Trek social media teams make it far more difficult than they should to access some of these things. For example, the official Star Trek Twitter account put out the trailer for Lower Decks Season 2… but if you’re in the UK at least it was unavailable to watch! And the official Paramount+ YouTube channel doesn’t have either trailer at time of writing, nor does the official Star Trek YouTube channel, despite the panels and trailers debuting more than 48 hours ago.

What the heck is this? ViacomCBS, this is no way to run a social media marketing campaign.

Big brands in 2021 need social media followers, and making it difficult for your fans to find something as basic as a trailer (which I can only access via third-parties that re-uploaded it) is beyond poor. It’s shocking, and ViacomCBS needs to work on this and get serious about the way it publishes marketing material. If you’re trying to bring in fans and viewers, this is not the way to go about it.

Rant over! And now the article is over too. I hope this was a bit of fun and brought you up to speed if you missed the panels and trailers.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 will debut on the 12th of August on Paramount+ in the United States, and within 24 hours on Amazon Prime Video in other countries and territories. Season 1 is available to stream now. Star Trek: Prodigy is due to be broadcast on Paramount+ in autumn 2021 and may be broadcast internationally on Nickelodeon. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks, Prodigy, and all other properties 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.

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.

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.

Amazon’s Wheel of Time series – will it work?

A few months ago I took a brief look at Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series, and that show has been getting a lot of attention, both for its Middle-earth setting and due to inescapable comparisons to Game of Thrones. But Amazon has another high fantasy series in the pipeline, and this second series hasn’t been getting quite as much interest – at least, not yet.

The Wheel of Time is a fifteen-novel epic; a magnum opus totalling almost four-and-a-half million words. It was written by Robert Jordan, with the final three novels completed by Brandon Sanderson following Jordan’s death in 2007, and is now complete. There has been a previous attempt to adapt the series for television, with a pilot being filmed in 2014-15, but it was generally regarded as a badly-made piece of TV so the series was not picked up.

Rosamund Pike as Moiraine in a short teaser.

It seems as though Amazon – and former CEO Jeff Bezos in particular – have been chasing their own version of Game of Thrones almost since that show premiered in 2011. Greenlighting two major television projects simultaneously is both a bold, expensive move, as well as one that could spell doom for one of the shows if there’s a clear preference from viewers.

Lord of the Rings on Prime – or whatever its final title will be – was a massively expensive commitment from Amazon, with the rights alone reportedly setting the company back $250 million. That’s before even a single frame had been shot, a single prop created, or an individual actor hired. The rights to The Wheel of Time were positively cheap in comparison!

A blade of some kind seen in a separate teaser.

Game of Thrones proved hands-down that a television show in the high fantasy genre based on a series of books that, let’s face it, most people will never read can be a resounding success, and I would assume that The Wheel of Time is about as well-known today as A Song of Ice and Fire was circa 2010-11. In short, there’s no reason I can see why Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time should fail to find an audience, particularly if the series is well-marketed.

Amazon Prime Video, which will be the series’ home when it’s ready to be broadcast, exists in an unusual space for a streaming platform. It’s tied to Amazon Prime, which offers a range of other benefits alongside the video streaming platform, notably free next-day or two-day delivery on many items Amazon sells on their main website. Unlike Netflix and Disney+, Amazon’s diverse business model is less reliant on streaming, and thus the success of any individual series is less important than it would be for a traditional broadcaster. At least in theory!

The Wheel of Time will be available to stream via Amazon Prime Video… when it’s ready!

I’ve read the first couple of novels in The Wheel of Time series, but it was at least twenty years ago and I honestly can’t remember much about the specifics of the story. I do recall the disappointment at not being able to afford the next book in the series after finishing the second, though, but for some reason I just never got around to finishing the series even when I subsequently had the means to do so.

In recent years I’ve debated going back to The Wheel of Time, but in some ways a very long series like this feels like a huge commitment, and spending the money on a fifteen-book set is something that, as someone on a low income, I have never been able to justify to myself. I enjoyed the first couple of books when I read them, though, and from my personal perspective, Amazon’s adaptation provides an opportunity to revisit the world of The Wheel of Time.

Fifteen novels comprise The Wheel of Time.

Comparisons to Game of Thrones keep cropping up, and not only is that inevitable given the nature of the project, I think it’s what Amazon really wants audiences to keep in mind. But Game of Thrones had an ending that was, according to most of the show’s fans, disappointing, and as The Wheel of TIme is now in production, I admit to feeling a slight sense of trepidation or caution at the prospect of history repeating itself.

While Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season had a number of issues with its narrative, pacing, and even production goofs, the fundamental problem – in my opinion – was that it was cut short. There was the potential for Seasons 7 and 8 to be spun out into at least twice as many episodes across twice as many seasons, with writer George R R Martin on record saying he was hoping to see the show run until at least its tenth season. And this is where my concern with The Wheel of Time comes into play.

Game of Thrones is a natural comparison for a series like The Wheel of Time.

Fifteen books means there’s a lot of story to adapt, and even if clever cuts are made to characters and whole narrative arcs, the show will still have an awful lot going on – and the potential to run for as many seasons as there are books: fifteen. But will Amazon let the show run that long? At time of writing, only a single season is confirmed, adapting the first novel in the series. If I recall correctly, the first book – The Eye of the World – was by no means conclusive; there will be many storylines unresolved by just the end of Season 1.

As we’ve recently been discussing, some television shows can outstay their welcomes and run too long. Fifteen seasons would mean that Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time would run longer than 99% of all television shows, catching up to the likes of ER, for example. At one season per year, the series would not conclude until at least 2036 – and I’m just not convinced yet that there’s that much of an appetite for The Wheel of Time.

The Wheel of Time could run for a long time if each book is adapted to one season of television!

So here’s where we are, as I see it: this is an incredibly ambitious project. It’s far more ambitious than Game of Thrones, which only had five books (of a planned six) and some 1.5 million words to adapt, and certainly it’s more ambitious than its sister project, Lord of the Rings on Prime. Amazon’s Lord of the Rings adaptation is based in part on Tolkien’s works – The Silmarillion in particular. But the nature of that book means there’s a lot of leeway for the show’s producers and writers. They could choose to construct a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and run it over the (allegedly) planned five seasons in a way that would feel natural.

In contrast, The Wheel of Time either has to run for fifteen seasons, or condense multiple books into a handful of episodes, as Game of Thrones essentially did in its latter seasons. Both of those options have potential drawbacks.

As we’ve also recently talked about, shows that are cancelled before concluding their stories are incredibly disappointing! And I would hate to see The Wheel of Time end up in that situation. The story of the series – at least, based on my recollection – is engaging and entertaining, with the potential for a television adaptation with a sufficient budget to even eclipse Game of Thrones. That’s what I’d dearly love to see – a fantastic piece of fantasy television. I’m optimistic for The Wheel of Time, but still only cautiously so.

The Wheel of Time on Prime (working title) is currently in production and will premiere on Amazon Prime Video in the future. The Wheel of Time on Prime is the copyright of Amazon Studios. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.