A handful of older films, games, and TV shows that I enjoyed in 2021

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

At this time of year, practically every outlet – from dying newspapers to new social media channels – churns out list upon list of the best entertainment products of the year. The top threes, top fives, top tens and more of 2021 abound! I have something similar in the pipeline, but today I wanted to take a look back at a handful of films, games, and TV shows from previous years that I found myself enjoying in 2021.

I have long and seemingly ever-growing lists of films, games, and TV shows that I keep meaning to get around to! I still haven’t seen Breaking Bad, for example, nor played The Witcher 3, despite the critical and commercial acclaim they’ve enjoyed! I also have a huge number of entertainment properties that I keep meaning to re-visit, some of which I haven’t seen since we wrote years beginning with “1.” In 2021 I got around to checking out a few titles from both of these categories, and since there are some that I haven’t discussed I thought the festive season would be a great opportunity for a bit of positivity and to share some of my personal favourite entertainment experiences of 2021… even though they weren’t brand-new!

Film #1:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)

We’ve recently marked the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s magnum opus. The passage of time has done nothing to detract from these amazing films, and this year a 4K Blu-Ray release has them looking better than ever before.

The early 2000s had some serious pitfalls for film and television. CGI was becoming more mainstream and many filmmakers sought to take advantage of it, but just look to the Star Wars prequels and how outdated the CGI in those titles is; it hasn’t held up well at all. The majority of the special effects in The Lord of the Rings were practical, and combined with clever cinematography even incredibly dense and complex battle sequences still look fantastic two decades on.

Though I don’t re-watch The Lord of the Rings every single year without fail, I’m happy to return to the trilogy time and again – and I almost certainly will be for the rest of my days! The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Middle-earth was one of the first fantasy worlds I encountered as a young child; I can vaguely remember the book being read to me when I was very small. The conventional wisdom for years was that The Lord of the Rings was unfilmable – but Peter Jackson proved that wrong in some style!

Film #2:
Despicable Me (2010)

I spotted this while browsing Netflix one evening, and despite having seen at least one film with the Minions, I hadn’t actually seen the title that started it all. I have to confess that I didn’t have particularly high expectations, thinking I was in for a bog-standard animated comedy. But Despicable Me has heart, and there were some genuinely emotional moments hidden inside.

The Minions got most of the attention in the aftermath of Despicable Me, and can now be found on everything from memes to greetings cards! The critters are cute, but they’re also somewhat limited – and I think it’s for that reason that I didn’t really expect too much from Despicable Me except for maybe a few laughs and a way to kill an empty evening. I was pleasantly surprised to find a much more substantial film than I’d been expecting.

There were still plenty of laughs and a ton of cartoon silliness to enjoy and to keep the tone light-hearted. But there was a surprisingly emotional story between the villainous Gru and the three children he adopts – especially Margo, the eldest. I can finally understand why the film has spawned four sequels, fifteen shorts, and a whole range of merchandise!

Film #3:
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

The Final Frontier has a number of issues that I’m sure most of you will be aware of. It arguably suffered from a little too much involvement from William Shatner, who sought to put Captain Kirk at the centre of the story at the expense of others. But The Final Frontier has some truly great character moments, including one of the final times that Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy would be together before The Undiscovered Country brought an end to Star Trek’s original era.

The film has some truly funny moments, too: the scene where Uhura catches Chekov and Sulu pretending to be caught in a storm being one, and Scotty’s moment of slapstick being another that never fails to win a chuckle. The Undiscovered Country was a great send-off for Star Trek’s original crew, but it was quite a heavy film with a lot of tense moments and high-octane action. The Final Frontier brings more light-hearted moments to the table, and that’s something I can appreciate when I’m in the right mood.

There are some exciting sequences too, though. The shuttle crash is a very tense and dramatic moment, and the final confrontation with the entity at the centre of the galaxy, while silly in some respects, does succeed at hitting at least some of those same dramatic highs. Though I wouldn’t suggest that The Final Frontier is anywhere near the best that Star Trek has to offer, it’s well worth a watch from time to time.

Game #1:
Control (2019)

Though hardly an “old” game, I missed Control when it was released in 2019. It had been on my list for a couple of years, and I was pleased to finally get around to playing it this year. The game had a far creepier atmosphere than I’d been expecting, with protagonist Jesse having to battle an unseen enemy called the Hiss.

One thing I really admire about Control is the way it made incredibly creative use of some fairly plain environments. The entire game takes place in what’s essentially a glorified office building, and rows of cubicles or the janitor’s workspace could, in other games, come across as feeling bland and uninspired. But Control leans into this, using the environments as a strength, juxtaposing them with incredibly weird goings-on at the Bureau of Control.

I also liked that, for the first time in years, we got full-motion video sequences in a game! FMV was a fad in gaming in the early/mid-1990s I guess, primarily on PC, and titles like Command and Conquer and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy made use of it. It had been years since I played a game with FMV elements, and it worked exceptionally well in Control – as well as being a completely unexpected blast of nostalgia!

Game #2:
Super Mario 64 (1996)

Despite the serious limitations of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Nintendo Switch, which I picked up last year, I can’t deny that it’s been fun to return to Super Mario 64. One of the first fully 3D games I ever played, Super Mario 64 felt like the future in the late ’90s, and even some titles released this year, such as Kena: Bridge of Spirits, owe parts of their 3D platforming to the pioneering work that Nintendo did with this game.

Super Mario 64 is and always has been good, solid fun. There doesn’t need to be an in-depth, complex story driving Mario forward to collect stars, because the game’s levels and bosses are all so incredibly cleverly-designed. Jumping in and out of different painting worlds is relatively quick and feels great, and the sheer diversity of environments is still noteworthy in 2021. Mario goes on a journey that takes him through snowy mountains, a sunken shipwreck, sunlit plains, cities, clouds, and more.

I can’t in good conscience recommend Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The way these games have been adapted for Nintendo Switch isn’t worth the asking price. But even so, going back to Super Mario 64 has been one of my favourite parts of 2021, a chance to reconnect with a game I played and loved on the Nintendo 64. If you’ve never played it, track down a copy and give it a go. You won’t regret it.

Game #3:
Red Dead Redemption II (2018)

I’d been meaning to get around to Red Dead Redemption II for three years – but I’d always found a reason not to pick it up (usually it was too expensive!) It took forever to download on my painfully slow internet connection, but it was well worth the wait. I’ve had a fascination with America in the 19th Century for as long as I can remember – I guess partly inspired by playground games of “the wild west” that were fairly common when I was young. I even had a cowboy hat, toy gun, and “Davy Crockett” hat when I was a kid!

Red Dead Redemption II transported me to that world in a way that I genuinely did not think was possible. Films and TV shows can do a great job at pulling you in and getting you lost in a fictional world, but the interactive element of video games can add to that immersion – something that was absolutely the case with Red Dead Redemption II. The amount of detail in the game’s characters and open-world environments is staggering, and having finally experienced it for myself I can absolutely understand why people hail this game as a “masterpiece.”

I wasn’t prepared for the many emotional gut-punches that Red Dead Redemption II had in store. In many ways the game tells a bleak and even depressing story, one with betrayal, death, and many examples of the absolute worst of humanity. But every once in a while there are some incredibly beautiful moments too, where characters sit together, sing, play, and revel in their bonds of friendship. Red Dead Redemption II gave me the wild west outlaw fantasy that my younger self could have only dreamed of!

TV series #1:
Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69)

I’ve re-watched quite a lot of The Original Series this year, probably more episodes than I’d seen in the past few years. Because of its episodic nature, it’s easy to dip in and out of The Original Series, firing up an episode or two to spend an hour with Captain Kirk and the crew without feeling the need to commit to an entire season of television.

The Original Series started it all for Trekkies, and I’m always so pleased to see that modern Star Trek hasn’t lost sight of that. In this year’s episodes of Lower Decks and Discovery we’ve gotten many references and callbacks to Star Trek’s first series, keeping the show alive and relevant as we celebrated its fifty-fifth anniversary – and the centenary of its creator, Gene Roddenberry.

Though dated in some ways, many of the themes and metaphors present in The Original Series are still relevant today. Society has changed since the 1960s, but in some areas we’re still fighting the same or similar fights for acceptance, for equality, and so on. The Star Trek franchise has always had a lot to say about that, being in some ways a mirror of society and in others depicting a vision of a more enlightened, optimistic future.

TV series #2:
Fortitude (2015-18)

I went back to re-watch Fortitude this year, for the first time since its original run. The series starts very slowly, seeming at first to be little more than a murder-mystery in a different setting. But it builds up over the course of its first season into something truly unexpected, crossing over into moments of political thriller, action, and even horror.

There are some truly shocking and gruesome moments in Fortitude, and it can be a harrowing watch in places. But it’s riveting at the same time, and I managed to get hooked all over again by the complex characters, the mysteries and conspiracies, and the bleak but beautiful arctic environment.

Fortitude featured some star names among its cast, including Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, and Dennis Quaid – the second-most-famous Dennis to be featured on this website! Although it was fun to watch it weekly during its original run, Fortitude is definitely a show that can be enjoyed on a binge!

TV series #3:
Family Guy (1999-Present)

Family Guy’s sense of humour sometimes runs aground for me, dragging out jokes too long or failing to pay off neat setups with decent punchlines. But with the full series (up to midway through Season 20 at time of writing) available on Disney+, I’ve found myself putting it on in the background a lot this year. The short runtime of episodes, the lightheartedness, and the way many of the jokes are often disconnected from whatever nonsense plot the episodes have going on all come together to make it something I can dip in and out of while doing other things.

There are some insensitive jokes, and some entire storylines in earlier episodes have aged rather poorly. But Family Guy seldom strikes me as a show punching down; it satirises and pokes fun at many different groups. In that sense it’s kind of halfway between The Simpsons and South Park; the former being more sanitised and family-friendly, the latter being edgier and meaner.

I rarely sit down and think “gosh, I must watch the latest Family Guy episode.” But if I’m in need of background noise or something to fill up twenty minutes, I find I’ll happily log into Disney+ and put on an episode or two.

So that’s it.

There have been some great films, games, and television shows that were released in 2021. But there were also plenty of entertainment experiences from years past that, in different ways, brightened my year. As we gear up for New Year and for everyone’s end-of-year top-ten lists, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, or just a relaxing day yesterday! I did consider writing something to mark the day, but I found that I had remarkably little to say that was different from the piece I wrote last year. 2021 has been “2020 II” in so many respects, unfortunately. However, unlike last Christmas I will be able to visit with some family members – I’ll be seeing my sister and brother-in-law later this week, which will be a nice treat! So here’s to 2021’s entertainment experiences – and as we enter the new year, it’s worth keeping in mind that we don’t only have to watch and play the latest and newest ones!

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

What might we watch and play in 2021?

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

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

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

Cinema

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

Number 1:
Dune

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

Number 2:
No Time To Die

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

Number 3:
Jungle Cruise

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

Number 4:
The Matrix 4

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

Number 5:
Raya and the Last Dragon

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

Number 6:
The Suicide Squad

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

Number 7:
The King’s Man

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

Number 8:
Uncharted

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

Number 9:
Death on the Nile

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

Number 10:
Free Guy

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

Gaming

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

Number 1:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

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

Number 2:
Hogwarts Legacy

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

Number 3:
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

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

Number 4:
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

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

Number 5:
Skull & Bones

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

Number 6:
Outriders

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

Number 7:
GhostWire: Tokyo

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

Number 8:
Diablo IV

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

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

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

Number 10:
Humankind

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

Television

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

Number 1:
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

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

Number 2:
Star Trek: Prodigy

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

Number 3:
Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series

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

Number 4:
Station Eleven

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

Number 5:
Foundation

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

Number 6:
Star Trek: Lower Decks

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

Number 7:
The Expanse

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

Number 8:
The Witcher

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

Number 9:
Star Wars: Andor

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

Number 10:
Clarice

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

So that’s it.

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

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

Mark your diary for some upcoming releases!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So it begins.”

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

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

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

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

Perry the Platypus.

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

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

Number 3: Ghostbusters II (1989)

A crowd singing Auld Lang Syne in Ghostbusters II.

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

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

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

Timestamp: 00:01:52 (DVD)

Fry in Space Pilot 3000.

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

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

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

Timestamp: 00:43:58

Commanders Shelby and Riker in The Best of Both Worlds.

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

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

Bonus #1: Last year’s London fireworks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previewing Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series

Spoiler Warning: Beware of minor spoilers for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Though disrupted by the pandemic, filming for Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel series resumed earlier this year, and the series currently has a tentative 2021 release date. That could easily slip back into 2022 depending on production-side factors, but I don’t think it’s too early to begin considering what the series could be – and what I’d like to see from it.

The Lord of the Rings was part of my childhood. Not the films – those came years later – but the books. I remember my father reading The Hobbit to me when I must’ve been only six or seven years old, and I later read The Lord of the Rings while still quite young, so it’s not unfair to say they spurred a lifelong interest in fantasy that I still enjoy today. I came to enjoy Tolkien’s works years before I watched Star Trek, so you could even call it one of my earliest fandoms!

The films, which were released from 2001-03, are many folks’ first and only encounter with The Lord of the Rings, and many elements from the films – like the music – which didn’t come from the original books are now considered inseparable from the realm of Middle-earth. The new series has a line to walk between respecting that and trying to do its own thing.

The Lord of the Rings films are held in very high regard.

Expectations will be sky-high for this series. Not only because of its association with the most famous works of the fantasy genre, but because of the frankly insane budget afforded to the show. Simply purchasing the rights to use Tolkien’s world set Amazon back an eye-watering $250 million, and that was before any work had been done on the show at all; no actors had been cast, no scripts written, etc. The budget for the series, which has been given a preliminary five-season order from Amazon, may top out at over $1 billion. This makes it by far the most expensive television series of all time, surpassing the likes of Game of Thrones, and that alone generates a lot of attention and scrutiny. And speaking of Game of Thrones, despite that show’s controversial and disappointing final season, comparisons will be inescapable. The stakes could hardly be higher.

Our last visit to the realm of Middle-earth didn’t go so well. The first two parts of The Hobbit were decent, even good films, but The Battle of the Five Armies wasn’t spectacular, something caused at least in part by the entire film being adapted from a handful of pages of text instead of a whole book! In a way, the disappointment some fans felt at The Hobbit’s adaptation means that Amazon’s series has even more work to do. It has to convince sceptical fans that they want to come back to Middle-earth, and that there are stories worth telling beyond the first three films.

The Hobbit was a less-enjoyable experience overall.

The series will be set during Middle-earth’s Second Age, which makes it a prequel to the events of Lord of the Rings. Taking a setting several thousand years in the distant past could open up myriad possibilities within the story. And we’ve seen some prequels that go down this kind of route achieve success – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, for example. But the stories of Middle-earth in the Second Age are all background, building up slowly toward the events of the “main” books. The initial rise of Sauron – who is still alive in this era – may prove fascinating to see. Or it may feel underwhelming considering we’ve already seen his ultimate defeat at the hands of Frodo.

Prequels can be difficult to get right. The Hobbit trilogy attempted to bring in characters who weren’t present in the original book in order to “foreshadow” the events of The Lord of the Rings, and it was hit-and-miss. Some elements worked, and some fell flat. Telling a story that serves as a fully-direct prequel to The Lord of the Rings, with characters like Gandalf, Sauron, and the ancestors of people like Aragorn and Legolas could be tricky to get right – there will always be a sense that we’ve seen the main event, and this is just unnecessary fluff.

That’s what happened – in my subjective opinion, of course – with the Star Wars prequels. They took on the less-interesting part of the story, a story that was ultimately wholly unnecessary. We didn’t need a three-film saga depicting the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker to know that Darth Vader was an evil, yet ultimately redeemable, character. Everything we needed to know about Vader was already present in the original films, and the prequels – which had numerous other problems, don’t get me wrong – didn’t feel like they had a purpose or told a particularly compelling story. They did, at least, tell one single story, which is something the Star Wars sequel trilogy failed to do! But that comparison is not a redeeming feature, despite what some like to think.

Legolas in The Desolation of Smaug. The character was not part of The Hobbit novel but was included in the film version.

But we’re off-topic! Prequels can be troublesome and difficult to get right, so one way around that is to tell a story that’s tangentially related to the main event but is otherwise a wholly standalone affair. As strange as it may sound for a show with the working title Lord of the Rings on Prime, the fewer direct references to The Lord of the Rings the better. There’s plenty of scope to see familiar places and races, and if the show keeps to an aesthetic that fits with the films then all of that will be to the good. But where The Hobbit was less interesting was when it ham-fistedly tried to “foreshadow” the events of The Lord of the Rings, so if the new series could find a way to stick to new characters and a storyline that doesn’t stray too much into setting up the events of the earlier films, I think all of that will be to its overall benefit.

Middle-earth, much like the Star Trek or Star Wars galaxies, is a sandbox. It’s a beautifully-created world with a rich lore built up over decades, but the main works set in Middle-earth focus on a relatively narrow slice of that world across a relatively short span of time. Taking us back to the Second Age opens up a lot of possibilities – as would moving forward to a potential Fourth Age! Star Trek demonstrated as early as the 1980s that it’s possible for a franchise to expand beyond its original incarnation and do completely different things. Star Wars has yet to really attempt this, as I noted once, but this is a chance for Middle-earth to do what Star Trek did more than thirty years ago. It has the opportunity to expand beyond Sauron, Bilbo, Frodo, and the Rings of Power.

The kings of Middle-earth receive their rings of power, as seen in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The history of the Second Age is documented, in part, in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. But unlike The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which each look in detail at a few characters across a relatively short timeframe, The Silmarillion is broad, encompassing thousands of years of history and legend within a single work. There are so many opportunities within these legends and this fictional history to either expand upon events it touches on or to create something completely new. There’s certainly the prospect of doing both.

One of the few things we know about the upcoming series is that it will look, at least in part, at the land of Númenor – an Atlantis-type land that would later vanish beneath the sea. Some Númenoreans would settle in Middle-earth, and these long-lived men would be the ancestors of Aragorn and a few other familiar characters.

The destruction of Númenor is documented in The Silmarillion, and if it’s the case that the show will look at that event (or the lead-up to it) there’s still a lot of scope to expand on the familiar and branch out into something entirely new. In fact, because The Silmarillion is a single book, and doesn’t contain anywhere near enough material for a straight adaptation, the producers of the new series will have to get creative!

The Silmarillion may be the basis for the new series.

Picture Credit: Stojanoski Slave, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of the creative team, there are some very interesting folks amongst the producers and writers. Showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay both worked on Star Trek Beyond, and amongst the writing team are folks with credits on such diverse works as Breaking Bad, Hannibal, and Toy Story 4. The director of the first two episodes has also been announced: JA Bayona, the Spanish director of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Some fans were critical when Amazon debuted the creative team, but let’s try to give them a chance. Though most of their names would not be familiar to the average viewer, between them they’ve worked on some huge and very successful projects. There’s an expression that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – perhaps that’s true here. Having spend this much money, Amazon would surely not waste that on a creative team it wasn’t 100% happy with. Unlike some recent projects, there haven’t been any high-profile firings or departures, which I take as indicative of a project progressing nicely.

On the cast front, none of the main players from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings seem to be returning, at least not at this stage. I do consider cameos at least a possibility, but so far no announcements have been made. The cast that we do know of is led by Robert Aramayo, who is probably best-known for his flashback scenes as young Ned Stark in Game of Thrones. Nazanin Boniadi, who has had co-starring roles in shows like Homeland, also joins the cast along with Tom Budge, Owain Arthur, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, who played the Twi’lek Qin on The Mandalorian, Ema Horvath, Joseph Mawle, who played Benjen Stark in Game of Thrones, Markella Kavenagh, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Daniel Weyman, and Maxim Baldry. What do most of these folks have in common? You’ve never heard of them. And why is that significant (aside from perhaps saving Amazon some money)? It follows a trail blazed by Game of Thrones. Set up a series with a mostly-unknown cast, give them a chance to grow into their new roles and become household names for those roles. It was a successful formula in 2011, and for the most part, people weren’t watching that show thinking “hey, I know that actor!” That was a deliberate choice, and I assume the same is true here too.

Robert Aramayo (seen here as young Ned Stark in Game of Thrones) leads a mostly-unknown cast.

Amazon is positioning this new series as a successor to Game of Thrones. The way the casting has been handled, the amount of money being thrown at it, and the general way they’re working on the series all smacks of being an attempt to recreate the magic of one of the last decade’s most important television series. Game of Thrones built on what The Lord of the Rings films had done, and at this stage, folks who would have balked at the idea of watching anything in the fantasy genre a few years ago will surely be interested to check out what this new series has to offer. The genre has become a major part of our cultural landscape, and The Lord of the Rings films set the stage for that in a huge way.

Other than a single map of Middle-earth in the Second Age, Amazon is keeping a tight lid on this project. There haven’t been any leaks or significant rumours about the series, which is a good thing. It’s always nice to go into a new show unspoiled!

The map depicting parts of Middle-earth in the Second Age.

Despite some positive moves from Amazon, and the huge amount of money involved in this production, there are no guarantees of success. The show needs to be well-written, with interesting characters and a story arc – or multiple storylines – that are interesting and worth getting invested in. Game of Thrones, at least in its earlier seasons, came with that built-in because it was based on an already-successful series of novels. The Silmarillion is indeed a successful book, but as mentioned can hardly be adapted verbatim in the same way as A Song of Ice and Fire was for Game of Thrones’ earlier seasons. In that sense, this show represents more of a risk.

I’m hopeful for some truly awe-inspiring fantasy. Returning to the land of Middle-earth is always a treat, and by filming the show in New Zealand – where the films were all produced – it might just feel like a homecoming. Game of Thrones’ final season was a disappointment to many, but this new series has the potential to help us all forget about that and get stuck into another fantasy story all over again – one inspired by the works of the grandfather of the modern fantasy genre. I can hardly wait!

Lord of the Rings on Prime (working title) is the copyright of Amazon Studios. The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings books are the copyright of the Tolkien Estate. Film versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are the copyright of New Line Cinema and Wingnut Films. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.