Do I have any idea why the Instagram page for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings just randomly announced twenty new cast-members for the upcoming series this morning without doing the same on their Twitter account, and seemingly without any warning? No, I do not. Today is not a holiday in the Tolkien fandom, and it has no great significance in the chronologies of Middle-earth (Frodo spent all of December comfortably and unremarkably hunkered down in Rivendell). That being said, am I objecting in any way, shape, or form? No, I most certainly am not. The twenty new additions widen and diversify the series’ main cast dramatically, giving us a little more insight into what Amazon Prime is aiming for with their epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings.
Unlike today’s date, the number twenty is especially significant in Tolkien’s deep lore, as it’s the number of Rings of Power that were forged in the Second Age, all but three under the influence and guidance of Sauron. Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings, as we’ve discussed many times, takes place sometime during the Second Age, three-thousand years before the events of the novel itself. This Age of Middle-earth’s history is only vaguely sketched out in the pages of The Lord Of The Rings, with more information coming from the book’s extensive appendices – and mostly from Tolkien’s posthumously published works, including Unfinished Tales. But if you want to read more about that, you can check out several posts I’ve written on the subject, including my timeline of the Second Age; right now, let’s get to the good stuff!
First up, the casting announcements confirm some things we’ve already known or strongly suspected for a while now. Simon Merrells, Maxim Baldry, and Augustus Prew, all of whom have been rumored to be appearing in the series, have now officially joined. A special shoutout is in order for Fellowship Of Fans, who expertly pieced together the theory that Prew had joined The Lord Of The Rings just a few weeks ago. By a truly bizarre coincidence, Benjamin Walker, the husband of actress Kaya Scodelario, is also among the newly announced cast-members: Scodelario, of course, was recently believed to have been cast in the series, although that turned out to be untrue. But she now has a connection to the show anyway, so that’s actually pretty cool.
The new batch of casting also includes a number of BIPOC actors, including Ghanaian-American actress Cynthia Addai-Robinson (star of Spartacus, Arrow, and Power, and now among The Lord Of The Rings‘ most well-known, mainstream, stars); Jamaican-English comedian Lenny Henry; Sri Lankan stage actress Thusitha Jayasundera; Māori-Niuean-Samoan actor Alex Tarrant; actress Sara Zwangobani; and actress Maxine Cunliffe. The commitment to hiring a diverse, multi-ethnic cast is admirable.
Additionally, the cast now includes Ian Blackburn, Christopher Chapman, Anthony Crum, Trystan Gravelle, Fabian McCallum, Geoff Morrell (who has a very impressive beard; if I were in the business of clickbait, I would already be theorizing that he’s playing Gandalf, even though Gandalf doesn’t appear in Middle-earth until the Third Age), Peter Mullan, Lloyd Owen, Peter Tait (who played Shagrat and a Corsair of Umbar in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy), and Leon Wadham. If I learn anything particularly interesting about any of these actors’ backgrounds and/or past film credits, I will be sure to update this post accordingly, although it seems most of them are either complete unknowns or hail from a background in theatre.
We will, of course, be breaking all of this down in the near future, as I begin to compose my thoughts on who each actor could be playing, etc., but for now this is the breaking news – and exciting news indeed! It’s been a long time since The Lord Of The Rings‘ official social media accounts have posted anything (the last occasion being a tribute to the late Sir Ian Holm), and we’ve all been growing very impatient over here in the Tolkien fandom.
So what do you think? Do you recognize any of these newly-announced actors, and if so, do you like their work? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about my favorite topic, The Lord Of The Rings and all things Tolkien (it really hasn’t, since I somehow manage to bring it up in most completely unrelated posts, but that’s beside the point), or since I’ve written a “top ten” list like the ones I did sometime back in March, where I discussed things I wanted to see in Amazon Prime’s upcoming adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings on the Second Age of Middle-earth, as well as things I didn’t want to see, and characters I hope the series will handle with the utmost care. In the meantime, the Tolkien fandom has found other things to argue about – most recently the topic of sexuality in the Professor’s works, something I will address later in this post, and which was in fact the inspiration for this post. After seeing how shocked and outraged a portion of the Tolkien fandom was in response to the news that nudity and sexuality might be present in the Amazon Prime series, I asked myself: what other things might similarly shock them, if it’s mature content they’re opposed to? Things straight from the Tolkien canon, things that the Professor himself sketched out in detail or tantalizingly hinted at, and which will now have the opportunity to be realized onscreen?
Of course, this list will only be dealing with shocking events and themes of the Second Age of Middle-earth, which is when the Amazon Prime series will be set (no, it’s not reallyThe Lord Of The Rings, and I still don’t understand why they haven’t given us some indication of what the actual title will be). The Second Age just so happens to be the second darkest era in Middle-earth’s history (the First being, both figuratively and, until the creation of the sun and moon quite literally, the darkest), which means there’s a great deal of strange, terrifying, controversial or just uncomfortable things for Amazon to draw from for their adaptation. And now, without further ado, let’s get into it.
10: Different Magic. Let’s ease into this and start out fairly tame, with something that Amazon doesn’t necessarily have to include, but definitely should if they can find a way to do so naturally without alienating a massive part of the Tolkien fandom. In Tolkien’s assorted early writings on the Blue Wizards of Middle-earth, he briefly mentioned something that has always fascinated me and has always intrigued me because of how it seemingly challenges the loose rules of his soft magic system. “I fear that they failed…,” he wrote of the two Wizards, “and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and ‘magic’ traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.” Tolkien would later rewrite the story and have the Blue Wizards play an active, heroic role in bringing about Sauron’s downfall secretly from the east, but the idea of the duo spreading the knowledge or understanding of magic throughout Middle-earth is almost too irresistible to pass up on – even if Tolkien put magic in quotes, and clearly didn’t intend for it to mean real magical power like that possessed by Gandalf or the Elves. We’ve never seen magic used quite to this extent before in Middle-earth, certainly not with regards to cults or occult practices. And considering how Tolkien’s magic system is often used as the gold standard for soft magic systems in fantasy, it could be risky to explore this in too much detail – though it could be rewarding because it would give the show a chance to explore uncharted territory.
9: The Valar. As with occult magic, this has the potential to be both a good idea and a bad idea, depending on who you ask. Most hardcore fans know and love the Valar, but more casual fans might be weirded out by the reveal that Tolkien’s world comes with an entire pantheon of gods, goddesses and other minor deities – like the sun, and the moon…and Gandalf. In the semi-biblical narrative of The Silmarillion, the presence of the Valar feels very natural and I would argue it’s no different with the Second Age – but I’m just one person, and I have previously seen some quiet backlash to the idea of the Valar ever physically appearing. Some simply feel like it’s too radical a departure from the Middle-earth that most people know from The Lord Of The Rings, while others specifically don’t like The Silmarillion because of the gods and goddesses and other somewhat religious elements of the story. Amazon will have to include the Valar either way, because they’re critical to the story, but I’m interested to see what the reaction will be from the fandom. Personally I’d be thrilled.
8: The Burning Of The Entwife Gardens. Let’s get a little more specific now. In the cinematic Middle-earth franchise thus far, the most explicit act of desolation we’ve seen has been a single vision of a ruined Shire in the Mirror of Galadriel, and the wreck of Dale by dragon-fire in The Hobbit. But we’ve never seen anything on the scale of the torching of the Entwife gardens near the end of the Second Age. The Entwives cultivated a tranquil land east of the River Anduin, which unfortunately fell directly on Sauron’s warpath as his armies returned from defeat in Eriador to Mordor. In an attempt to deplete the approaching Last Alliance’s resources, he torched the Entwife gardens, and the Entwives themselves disappeared from recorded history. Were they burned? Enslaved and put to work in Mordor (in which case, that will be even more disturbing content to watch out for)? Or did they escape to happier lands? Whatever their fate may have been, watching their gardens be uprooted and scorched will be shockingly brutal enough. Not unpredictable, but definitely the stuff that season finale cliffhangers are made of.
7: Celebrimbor, Gil-galad And Anarion’s Deaths. The Second Age is filled with a lot of very violent deaths. Nobody knows this better than Celebrimbor of Eregion, the Elven smith who forged most of the Rings of Power and was later betrayed by his partner and confidante, Annatar – who turned out to have been Sauron in disguise all along. Sauron and his orc armies attacked Eregion with the hope of locating the Three Rings that Celebrimbor had made for the Elves: they pillaged the city without any luck, and eventually Sauron captured Celebrimbor and tortured him mercilessly for information. Celebrimbor refused to relent, and so, of course, he was killed. But Sauron wasn’t content with just murdering one of the last of the Fëanorian bloodline. No, he also horribly mutilated the Elf, shot him full of arrows, and had his body hung from a flagpole and carried into battle like a banner by his orc army. That’s straight out of Game Of Thrones right there, and is almost certain to land the show a TV-MA rating no matter what. As for Gil-galad, last High King of the Noldor, he was apparently burned alive by the fiery heat of Sauron’s hand during their duel on the slopes of Mount Doom. And Anarion…well, he got his whole head bashed in by a rock thrown from the parapets of Barad-dûr, killing him and crushing the crown of Gondor. I don’t know which of these three fates was the worst, but all will certainly be graphic and stomach-churning onscreen.
6: Death And Mortality. Speaking of death, it’s actually one of the major recurring themes throughout the Second Age – and when the series begins to tackle the subject of Númenor and their relationship with death and mortality, that’s when it’s going to abruptly steer away from the realm of fantasy and into disturbing, cynical, psychological horror. For many fans of The Lord Of The Rings, it might come as a shock to realize that Tolkien’s world isn’t always escapist entertainment, but can be horrifyingly realistic when it needs to be. It’s in Númenor where this will surely be most apparent, as the island kingdom’s long-lived people slowly begin to lose their famous longevity and wither away: in desperation, they cling to life but fall into madness, chaos and a frantic search for a cure to death, or an antidote to their fear – which some of them find in Sauron’s evil, or in the nihilistic worship of the dead. They turn away from the wisdom of the Valar and the Elves, and descend into an abyss of their own making (and ultimately into the very real abyss beneath their island. Too soon?). It’s really grim.
5: Commentary On Imperialism. Tolkien was no fan of the British Empire’s global expansion, and his works reflect that: much of the trouble in Númenor first begins to emerge after the island kingdom starts occupying lands in Middle-earth across the sea, starting wars with the native peoples there and bringing back riches to fuel and fund ever more conquests. For our own sake, I hope that any violence against the native peoples of Middle-earth will be shown as it is – an unjust brutality – and not glorified or normalized. Some will complain that it’s politicizing Tolkien’s work or “pushing an agenda”, but they will be purposefully ignoring the fact that Tolkien’s work is already very political and itself pushes a very anti-imperialist agenda. The Númenóreans are also responsible for deforesting almost the entirety of Middle-earth’s western shore from the Elven kingdom in Lindon all the way to Harad at least, but probably even further. Remember in The Lord Of The Rings, when Treebeard the Ent laments the vast forests that once covered the earth? Yeah, Númenóreans tore them all down and used the wood to build ships. If you’re not shocked by that, you probably should be.
4: Human Sacrifice. Just a little bit more graphic violence, don’t worry. When the Dark Lord Sauron arrived in Númenor and began playing on the growing fears and prejudices of the Númenórean people to increase his own power, he also had a plan to try and make Middle-earth great again – a plan which involved sacrificing political prisoners to the memory of his former master and mentor, the fallen angel Morgoth. So he built a truly massive domed temple in Númenor and used it to perform these sacrifices: we don’t know exactly how, but we know the bodies were disposed of with fire, because smoke rose from the temple so often that the dome was stained black by soot. The first victim to the flames was the original White Tree, which had stood in the King’s Court for years and was a symbol of the friendship between Elves and Men. Sadly, many Númenóreans fell for Sauron’s lies and gladly gave up their friends and families to the Dark Lord’s altar.
3: Ar-Pharazôn. If you’re wondering who allowed all this to happen, well, you should probably blame Ar-Pharazôn, the last King of Númenor and the guy who decided it was a good idea to bring Sauron into the very heart of his empire. He makes this list not only because he was a corrupt leader who allowed Sauron to slaughter his own people, declared war on the Valar, and doomed his entire nation to a watery fate, but because of what he did in his personal life. You know, the whole bit where he usurped his kingdom’s throne by forcing his first cousin, Míriel, to marry him against her will – thus stealing the rule of Númenor from her, the rightful heir. It’s probably one of the greatest tragedies in Middle-earth’s history: that a capable woman could have been so close to averting all the horrors that would befall her kingdom, but because of an unqualified man was forced to the sidelines, where she could only watch and wait for the inevitable. Her last act was to try and plead with the Valar to show mercy on her people, but she died in the cataclysm like all the rest. You might be noticing a pattern at this point, and yes, the Second Age really is this hopeless and horrible.
2: Commentary On Gender. Since we’re now on the topic, I feel like we have to talk about this (though I’m well aware that a certain subsection of the Tolkien fandom would rather not). Truth is, you can’t read the tale of The Mariner’s Wife, the most complete extant writing by Tolkien on the Second Age, and not see how it’s a story about gender. I mean, it’s not even subtext. Erendis, the story’s protagonist, literally has an extended, passionate monologue about male privilege and how men will do anything in their power to undermine women, even the great women of history – whose heroic deeds they diminish and leave out of their legends. No matter how much it may cause some people to squirm and start muttering under their breath about “social justice warriors”, I want this entire speech recited onscreen. It’s among the most important and exceptional things Tolkien ever wrote, and it’s true, both in-universe and in real-life. But Amazon shouldn’t stop there: considering what we’ve just discussed about how Númenor’s downfall might have been averted by a woman, I think they could find further opportunities to comment on the empire’s oppressive, patriarchal system.
1: Sexuality. At last we come to it: the great battle of our time. Is sex and sexuality wholly foreign to Tolkien, or is it instead woven subtly and cleverly throughout his work, a thematic goldmine waiting to be properly explored? Both answers are nearly right, in my opinion, but the latter more so. Tolkien’s depictions of sexuality aren’t gratuitous, something I feel the series should reflect, but they’re there: prominently, in the First and Second Ages. For examples, read The Mariner’s Wife (no, but like, seriously, read The Mariner’s Wife: it’s amazing), and you will find that the whole story is bristling with sexual energy. Erendis and her husband have an epic back-and-forth about how he leaves her bed cold, to which he replies that he thought she preferred it that way. Tar-Ancalimë accidentally interrupts a mass wedding and then has to stay the night, listening in embarrassment to the sounds of “merrymaking” all around her as the bridal-chambers are occupied one-by-one. Amazon is going to have to expand on all of this because they’re creating something in a visual medium, but it’s also just common sense to be more explicit rather than less so because it helps to make the existing commentary on gender and sexuality more explicit as well, lending thematic depth to the entire story of Númenor. And for those worried about “the children”…well, I’m honestly not sure you can make a series about the Second Age child-friendly without actually rewriting the entire thing anyway.
So there you have it. Ten examples of things that are either going to shock the Tolkien fandom, or already have (though, to be quite blunt, it seems to be mostly the thought of nudity that has people all riled up: because apparently graphic violence and human sacrifice is fine, but some bare skin is where our fandom draws the line?) It should go without saying that I love the Tolkien fandom, and this isn’t meant as an attack on anyone in particular. So what did you think of my list? Feel free to share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below – and if you have any more shocking things to add to the list, say so!
Out of all the main cast of The Witcher, no one changed outfits more frequently throughout season one than Yennefer of Vengerburg, the farm girl who transformed into a regal Mage and then spent decades losing herself to a life of opulence and luxury anywhere she pleased in The Continent. Her magic and her exquisite fashion sense combined meant that virtually every time she would reappear after one of her long, mysterious absences, she would have an entirely new wardrobe. And, as a Mage, she had absolutely no qualms about one such dress – a long silver and black number decorated with fringes and tassels – into battle at Sodden Hill, on that fateful night when she wrecked the Nilfgaardian Army with purging flames. It was the last time we saw her in season one, because when the smoke cleared she was nowhere to be found: in-universe, most everyone seems to think she’s dead, having used up all her magic to save Sodden. But new first look images reveal that’s not the case: Yennefer survived, she was imprisoned, and all while still wearing the same dress.
Depending on how you look at it, you could say it’s either slightly anticlimactic from a marketing standpoint or slightly worrying from an in-universe standpoint because you know Yennefer’s in a bad way when she doesn’t even have time to make a quick costume change. No significant upgrade or eye-catching new look seems to be in store for the mighty Mage, unlike the rest of her Witcher castmates. The first of the two new images shows the wounded Mage walking, almost as if in a trance, through the burning forests around Sodden Hill. It’s unclear where she’s headed, but my guess is that she’s trying to find Geralt. Both Geralt and Ciri received visions of the burning battlefield where Yennefer was last seen just after her disappearance, suggesting that the three are “linked by destiny”, as the saying goes…it stands to reason then that Yennefer might have received visions of where Geralt and Ciri are, as well. Her face is bloodied and streaked with ash and grime, and she’s still dressed in filthy, tattered clothes (although she has covered herself with a heavy black cape), but at least she’s alive. Even though we saw many other Mages begin to bleed profusely or even die after expending every last drop of their reserve of chaos magic, Yennefer has somehow been able to survive the traumatic incident mostly unscathed. Mostly, that is, because the second image finds her in an entirely new predicament.
Someone has taken Yennefer captive. We know it must be soon after her misadventure at Sodden Hill, because she’s still wearing the same dress, but her captors have added a new accessory to her look: a dimeritium shackle, which in The Witcher universe is used to restrain the flow of chaos magic and is thus often the only thing capable of containing a powerful Mage. In The Witcher video games, it is mentioned that, in extraordinary cases, Mages have been able to break free of dimeritium bonds, although Yennefer will have to take a little time to recover some of her chaos before she can manage anything that spectacular. She’s gripping her shackled hand as if it’s giving her great pain, which in turn is giving me great pain because I can’t stand seeing anybody hurt our precious Yen.
So who has her imprisoned? Well, Netflix hasn’t said anything officially, but Redanian Intelligence does believe they know the answer, and it’s a minor spoiler for events that probably happen in the first or second episode of the show. If you want to go in completely unprepared, I’ll leave you with this hint: it ties back into other things we’ve been talking about recently, and promises us further exploration of The Witcher‘s world-building. It also means we’ll get to see some very interesting interactions between Yennefer and an important character we still don’t know much about.
Unfortunately for us, these two latest images reveal very little else about Yennefer’s plight, and so we’re left having to play guesswork. My biggest relief is that this means Yennefer will definitely have her own subplot occurring parallel to the Geralt/Ciri arc. Netflix isn’t trying to keep her fate a big mystery, which I like, because I want to be able to spend more time with this amazing character. As many of you know, Anya Chalotra’s excellent performance as Yennefer was one of the things that kept me hooked on The Witcher, and I am extremely excited to see how her character develops in season two. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any more images from The Witcher tomorrow (where is Jaskier, Netflix?!), so now we have to settle down and wait for…whatever’s next, I suppose. A poster? A little snippet of footage to get us all hyped? The Witcher is currently filming, and is still predicted to release sometime in 2021.
So what do you think? How do you feel about Yennefer’s same old look, and what are your thoughts on the reasoning for her imprisonment? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
No, Geralt of Rivia’s fresh new look and upgraded suit of armor wasn’t a fluke: the entire cast of The Witcher has been absolutely thriving, as evidenced by our first look at Geralt’s apprentice/child of surprise, Ciri, in the new outfit she’ll be wearing in season two of the hit Netflix fantasy series. The Witcher‘s season one finale left off with Ciri and Geralt finally reunited after being linked to each other by a mysterious bond of destiny long before Ciri’s birth, and now we can see where Ciri’s destiny has led her: to the isolated castle of Kaer Morhen, domain of Vesemir and his small brotherhood of monster-hunting Witchers. Here, as in the books and video games, Ciri will train to become the first female Witcher in history while learning about her own magical powers.
And that’s, of course, why the new images of Ciri revealed today on Netflix’s social media accounts show the usurped Princess of Cintra looking particularly stoic and grim while donning a practical suit of lightweight leather armor, wielding a small wooden practice sword, and tying her hair back into a braid because long hair whipping in your face and obstructing your vision probably isn’t a great idea in the heat of battle (*glances meaningfully at Geralt*). Unfortunately, since only a side-view of her costume is available to us, it’s impossible to see if any cool detailing or ornamentation has been worked into the front of Ciri’s new armor. My first thought was that this is unlikely, considering that the Witchers of Kaer Morhen seem like a relatively simplistic lot, but then again, Geralt did come out of there with a whole set of abs sculpted into his armor, so anything’s possible, I guess?
What’s immediately clear is that this particular outfit, at least, is only loosely inspired by the video game version of Ciri, and even that’s a stretch. In The Witcher games, Ciri’s look has become iconic: the choppy silver hair, the loose, long-sleeved white shirt and assortment of extremely large belts…many fans of the games have been hoping to see some version of this adapted to live-action, but it looks like they’ll have to wait a while longer. The Netflix version of Ciri’s Witcher outfit appears to be more armor than travel wear, and it would be rather bizarre for her to be wearing thin shirts in the middle of winter while snow is falling. The behind-the-scenes photos revealed recently did show Ciri wearing what could have been an outfit more directly inspired by the games, but this seems to be that same outfit (the long, gray-green sleeves are identical), and these high-quality images confirm that this is not going to be much like The Witcher video game version of the character.
Instead we can be certain that this season, like the first, will draw most heavily from the original books by Andrzej Sapkowski. With the books as our guide, we can predict that Ciri will be trained by Vesemir, despite suffering from recurring nightmares, hallucinations, and visions of impending death. She’ll encounter the Mage Triss Merigold (who had a small role in season one), and the kind-hearted sorceress will also aid in her training, teaching her the Elder Speech (the language of most magic users in The Witcher universe). Throughout season one of The Witcher, Ciri would randomly cause outbursts of chaotic and destructive magic whenever she felt threatened, usually triggered by her screams, and I thoroughly believe that the show will delve into the explanation for that a little bit more in season two: in the books, Ciri’s incredible power derives from her being a “Source”, a person born with untapped resources of magic due to their Elven heritage. The first official synopsis for season two, released yesterday, mentioned that it’s Geralt’s responsibility to protect Ciri from her own power, and it also intriguingly referenced wars between elves and humans in the world outside Kaer Morhen’s walls. In season one, there were a couple of Elven characters and a handful of times that we actually got to observe their ways, but season two might do a better job of exploring the Elven societies that exist within this universe, and how Ciri fits into their delicate political situation.
Another important event in Ciri’s character arc is her first meeting with the Mage Yennefer of Vengerburg. In the show, Ciri hasn’t met Yennefer yet (although she has had some sort of vision of her: her last line in season one was literally “Who’s Yennefer?”), and Geralt currently believes the Mage to be dead following her disappearance at the Battle of Sodden Hill, which suggests to me that bringing Ciri and Yennefer together will be a main plot-point in season two. Personally, I’m hoping that they meet sometime before the season two finale, but it’s probable that, no matter when or how it happens, it will be a life-changing event for both characters: Yennefer has always wanted a child, and in the books she becomes like a mother figure to Ciri, while also acting as her mentor and traveling with her across the Continent. Ciri, for her part, never really had a chance to know her own mother, and so Yennefer will begin to fill a void in Ciri’s life. As much as I’m excited to see how Geralt and Ciri interact, I’m even more curious to see what kind of dynamic will exist between the two women. The Witcher has done a great job fleshing out its female characters and making them complex and interesting, and I expect that to continue as more women join the mix and begin to form more compelling relationships.
Thankfully, we won’t have long to wait before we see what Yennefer herself has been doing ever since she vanished in a burst of fire and smoke at Sodden Hill, because more first look images are coming tomorrow, and will probably reveal the Mage in all her glory. The question of what exactly happened to her has weighed heavily on the minds of all The Witcher‘s fans ever since the season one finale: but the likelihood, in my opinion, is that Yennefer was able to weakly manifest a portal and make her escape while everyone was distracted by the flames she summoned to obliterate the Nilfgaardian army. But why? And where did she go? These are the questions I hope to have answered sooner rather than later.
So what do you think? How do you feel about Ciri’s new look? And which character from The Witcher are you most excited to see return in season two? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The Witcher is back – and apparently, a couple of months in quarantine and self-isolation have done him wonders, as he’s emerged with a fabulous new look and a costume upgrade. I can’t say the same for the rest of us, but I’m excited to see some small signs of normalcy returning: it’s been months since The Witcher and virtually every other film and TV production around the world got delayed due to the sudden advent of the coronavirus crisis, and only just recently has filming been able to resume, with new safety protocols in place on set. Thankfully, the team at work on The Witcher‘s upcoming second season have been unusually generous, and have already gifted us two first look images of our fan-favorite protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher himself.
Henry Cavill is returning as expected to the popular role, but The Witcher costuming department has received a bit of a shake-up, with Lucinda Wright replacing Tim Aslam as lead costume designer. Wright, known best for her work on Doctor Who and a multitude of fashionable period pieces, has already brought a fresh, eye-catching new style to the fantasy series’ clothes, putting Geralt into a practical suit of armor. For much of season one, Geralt traveled around the Continent wearing loose-fitting or comfortable clothing: such as the now-iconic baggy shirt/tight leather pants combo (the subject of many a meme), and the padded leather pauldrons and breastplate, but season two appears to be heading into darker, grittier territory – Wright’s new design for Geralt’s outfit features almost Greco-Roman sensibilities, with armor sculpted around Henry Cavill’s muscles (a wise decision, since in season one, his muscles actually wore down his leather armor), and covered all around in studs and straps. He strikes an imposing figure, with his distinctive new silhouette.
My only complaint is with his new set of plated pauldrons: the armoring which covers his shoulders and upper arms. Even in season one, they didn’t look great, but these ones are slightly more unattractive, if I’m being honest. Then again, I’ve never been a big fan of pauldrons in any form: it’s an aesthetic thing. They’re usually too big and too bulky. Unfortunately, they’re also usually the first thing that I notice when I look at any suit of armor, as is the case here. Thankfully, a closer observation turns up many interesting little details on Geralt’s new costume that I do find genuinely exciting: for instance, his new thigh belts come with a whole bunch of sheathes, which I suppose are meant for knives and daggers. The sculpted detailing has already gone over very well with the fandom, which never misses an opportunity to lavish praises on Henry Cavill’s physique. As a side-note, Cavill’s silver wig also looks a lot better this time around: the long, tousled mane can be hit-or-miss depending on circumstances, but these photos caught it in a perfect state of realistic disarray.
Along with the new look, Netflix has also given us a brief synopsis for season two, which confirms a little bit of what we already knew: in their words, “Convinced Yennefer’s life was lost at the Battle of Sodden, Geralt of Rivia brings Princess Cirilla to the safest place he knows, his childhood home of Kaer Morhen. While the Continent’s kings, elves, humans and demons strive for supremacy outside its walls, he must protect the girl from something far more dangerous: the mysterious power she possesses inside.” In the books, Cirilla (or Ciri, the name most people know her by at this point) is raised at Kaer Morhen to become the first female Witcher, and behind-the-scenes photos have already shown the Cintran princess sporting what looks to be an almost video-game-accurate outfit while training in the forest. This short synopsis also indicates that we won’t see Yennefer and Geralt reunite until later in the season, although we’re all pretty certain Yennefer isn’t dead despite expending all her chaos magic in defense of Sodden during the season one finale. Hopefully this just means Yennefer will have her own independent subplot happening simultaneously with the Geralt and Ciri arc: I would hate to have to wait throughout most of the season to see her again, after she was the best character in season one.
Netflix’s social media accounts have already hinted that we’ll get further material in the coming days: probably first look images for both Ciri’s armor and Yennefer’s new look (unless they’re keeping her resurrection more of a surprise, which I hope is not the case). There’s also a chance we might see Jaskier the bard again – in-universe, it’s been years since he was last seen, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s aged at all, or if The Witcher really is just going to ignore that entirely. And with new spinoffs being considered and greenlit (a new one, focusing on The Continent’s order of Mages, was unofficially revealed just a few days ago), it looks like we’ll have much more Witcher content coming our way in no time. This first look is just the beginning.
What do you think of Geralt’s new suit of armor, and how do you feel it compares to his season one look? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
I’m not sure whether any of my readers have been anxiously waiting for me to start reviewing trailers for upcoming video games, but the lack of gaming content on my channel has bothered me for a while – even though it really shouldn’t, since I’m not a professional gamer by any stretch of the imagination. But the thing is: video games are increasingly growing more and more cinematic as time goes by, and the industry of adapting them to the big screen has become very profitable over in Hollywood. In fact, one could even say they’re becoming very prestige, with the recent news that Cate Blanchett will star in Lionsgate’s Borderlands adaptation.
It’s highly unlikely that a game like The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum will ever get that same treatment, but the reason I’ve selected this as my first video game trailer to review is simple: firstly, I’m familiar with this franchise, and I can think of things to say about it. Secondly, I’ve been considering reviewing certain video game trailers for a while, and this one just happened to land at an advantageous moment. So here we go!
The teaser trailer for Daedelic Entertainment’s Gollum is extremely brief, and features no glimpse of actual gameplay. In theory, the game is supposed to be stealth-based, with the player doing their best to control the frail, diminutive protagonist (I use that term loosely) as he switches back and forth between his two wildly different personas: the cunning, manipulative Gollum, and the kinder, gentler Sméagol. The player technically controls which persona they can play as, although game designer Martin Wilkes described it in an interview with IGN as being akin to “maneuvering a truck with two flat tires and trying not to drive it off a cliff”, which sounds…challenging, to say the least. As for exciting, well, that’s a different question entirely. Since Gollum isn’t particularly strong and rarely uses any weapons more advanced than a rock, the game is not going to feature a heavy focus on combat, but will instead force the player to use their survival-instincts to endure the horrors of Mordor and other inhospitable regions of Middle-earth.
In the teaser trailer, we see only two areas: Gollum’s cave in the Misty Mountains, littered with bones and what looks to be a recently deceased viperfish, and the rocky wastelands of Mordor, where Gollum finds himself after being taken captive by Orcs. The game will follow the events of the books and their detailed appendices more closely than Peter Jackson’s movies, although certain stylistic decisions have been made which appear to have no basis in either – most strikingly, the design of Sauron’s tower, Barad-dûr, which appears in the trailer as a thin, metallic spire with strong sci-fi influences. Since this game is set between The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, Gollum’s journey in the game likely has to end with him being captured by Aragorn and imprisoned by the Wood Elves of Mirkwood, but hopefully there’s room to explore, and/or mess about with the actual chronology of events just a little bit.
It was revealed that several characters from the books will have small but crucial appearances in the game, and off the top of my head I can think of a few who might show up: the Nine Ringwraiths, with whom Gollum appears to have had unpleasant interactions; the Orc commander Grishnákh, who instantly recognizes Pippin’s impression of Gollum’s voice in The Two Towers and knows or guesses about the One Ring; Shelob, the great hulking spider-demon dwelling in the mountains above Mordor who aligns herself with the miserable creature in exchange for new victims delivered to her doorstep; Aragorn, who captures Gollum and delivers him into Elven custody; and Legolas, who may very well have been one of the hunters tasked with trying to find Gollum, and was one of his eventual captors at any rate. Whether these characters will have wholly original designs (if they appear at all, though Shelob at least seems a given) remains to be seen.
As for Gollum himself, our main character bears a passing resemblance to the CGI version of the slinking rogue seen in both The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings trilogies, although he has more hair in the video game (an attempt to make him more relatable, apparently). Andy Serkis is not believed to be reprising his role voicing the character, which is a big loss for the game studio if true: Serkis’ iconic performance as Gollum is commonly cited as one of the films’ strongest, and he still routinely slips back into character.
Will you be playing Gollum when the game arrives on PS5, Xbox Series X and PC next year? Is Serkis’ voice a deal-breaker for you? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
We’re all hungry for more news and information about Amazon Prime’s adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, and so, unsurprisingly, many of us have taken up the habit of theorizing to try and piece together our own news and information. But while many theories have no basis in factual evidence, there’s one that’s been making the rounds recently that actually sounds pretty plausible. I speak of the rumor that actress Kaya Scodelario has possibly joined the cast of The Lord Of The Rings and is moving to New Zealand to begin filming.
The theory came to my attention when it was posted by TheOneRing.net on their Twitter account, but their post did not credit the original theorizer, kayascodsnews, a Kaya Scodelario fan account on Instagram that actually did some very nifty sleuth work and managed to construct a fairly elaborate and convincing theory about Scodelario’s new whereabouts.
As they noted in their theory, Scodelario has been talking on her Instagram about moving away from her home country (the United Kingdom) to an unidentified new location: but she seems to only plan on moving for a year, suggesting that this is for her career, not for any personal reasons. Just a few days ago she embarked on a flight, which she mentioned in her Instagram story would last up to 27 hours – pretty much the exact time it takes to fly between the U.K. and New Zealand. As a going-away present, Scodelario’s friends gifted her a poster for The Hobbit with their faces edited over the thirteen Dwarves and other characters: a funny gesture, or something with a little more significance? If Scodelario has already told that many of her friends that she’s working on The Lord Of The Rings, then she’s not doing a very good job of keeping Amazon Prime’s secrets: but it wouldn’t be at all uncommon for this to happen. Besides, Amazon Prime has been a bit too secretive for my taste recently: since the main cast reveal, we’ve gotten hardly anything from any of their official channels.
That’s the extent of the theory, and since then we’ve had no updates: Scodelario hasn’t yet confirmed where in the world she is now. But with all this in mind, let’s imagine for a minute that Scodelario is, in fact, onboard The Lord Of The Rings series in what I have to assume will be a major role. Who would she be playing? TheOneRing.net pointed out that she bears a striking resemblance to Liv Tyler, who portrayed Arwen Evenstar in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and deduced that Scodelario could be playing Arwen’s mother, Celebrían (she can’t be playing Arwen herself, because Arwen isn’t born during the time period when the Amazon Prime series takes place; during the Second Age, over three-thousand years prior to the Quest of the Ring). In the histories of Middle-earth, Celebrían is a bit of a background player until the Third Age, when she gets abducted and brutally tortured by Orcs, leading to her eventually leaving Middle-earth entirely and setting sail for the West. In the Second Age, all we really know about her is that she’s the daughter of the Elven lady Galadriel, and accompanied her during several of her travels. At some point, she met and fell in love with Elrond Half-elven. For an actress like Scodelario (who has had major roles in several franchises, including the most Pirates Of The Caribbean movie) to be attracted to this role, the character’s story would almost certainly have to be expanded through original material – which isn’t a problem, if you ask me, but anything that diverges even slightly from the books is bound to court with controversy. Whoever she’s playing, Scodelario’s recent success as an action star in the horror-thriller Crawl suggests to me that her character would have some sort of action element (and on a side-note, Scodelario’s sister in Crawl was played by Morfydd Clark, who will play Galadriel in The Lord Of The Rings according to all sources: would it be so much of a stretch for Scodelario to now play her daughter?).
But now we’re moving away from the facts. Simply put, we don’t know whether Kaya Scodelario is in The Lord Of The Rings: it’s possible she’s filming something else entirely (the Resident Evil reboot, for instance), or not filming anything at all. It’s possible she’s not even heading to New Zealand. But while this is merely a rumor for right now, it’s a rumor with a grain of truth – which means we shouldn’t discount it just yet, but should instead keep a close eye on Scodelario’s next move.
What say you? Does it seem likely to you that Scodelario has joined the cast, or are you wary to jump to conclusions? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Dust off your old suit of armor (I hope you still have yours, and it hasn’t been worn down by your muscles, like Henry Cavill’s), sharpen your ancient broadsword, and toss a coin to your Witcher, because it’s time to return to The Continent. Netflix has just announced today that, while they’ve been waiting for filming to resume on season two of The Witcher series, early work has begun on a prequel spinoff series, titled Blood Origin, which will explore the life and times of the very first Witcher, over a thousand years before Geralt of Rivia. You may think it’s a bit early for spinoffs (and particularly prequels) when the franchise is still so young, but technically this won’t be the first – an animated film was also announced several months ago, which will follow the Witcher Vesemir and be titled Nightmare Of The Wolf (who else is loving these ridiculously over-the-top names?).
Blood Origin will be six episodes long, a short amount of time to pack in so much worldbuilding and deep lore from the Witcher books. Thankfully, writers Lauren Hissrich and Declan de Barra will be joined by the author of the original Witcher books, Andrzej Sapkowski, who will serve as a creative consultant on the series. Together, they will tackle the story of how the Witchers came into being, and how humans and monsters first clashed during the aftermath of the Conjunction of the Spheres.
Let’s go over the basics real quick, because even I didn’t know much about this period of Witcher history before researching for this post. In Sapkowski’s universe, there are several dimensions, or Spheres – each inhabited by different types of people: the Continent, the world in which The Witcher takes place, was originally only home to Elves, Dwarves, and Gnomes. During the event known as the Conjunction of the Spheres, dimensions collided violently, scattering people across the universe and in worlds where they were afterwards trapped when the gateways between dimensions closed. The first humans, and a number of gruesome monsters, were left behind on the Continent – and with them came the magical force known as “chaos”, which Witcher fans will recognize as the power that fuels mages like Yennefer.
Blood Origin is supposed to take place a few hundred years after this event: monsters have overrun the Continent and are busy ripping people to shreds on a daily basis; the Elves are caught up in the middle of all the bloodshed; and the Mages, those few gifted individuals able to channel the power of chaos, are working on a solution to the problem – a solution which will manifest itself in the very first Witchers: a unique breed of superhuman killing machines designed to hunt monsters into extinction and liberate humankind. We don’t actually know the identity of the first person to survive the grueling process one has to undergo in order to become a Witcher, so the show will be working with a blank slate. In fact, we know startlingly little about this entire chapter in the chronology: the names of the two Mages who designed the Witchers, Cosimo Malaspina and Alzur, are some of the only details available from the books and video games.
But in the long run, that might be for the best. With so much uncharted territory to explore, there will be plenty of room to build new storylines and invent new characters – some of this material could then be brought over into the main series (yes, they’re separated by a thousand years, but it’s fantasy: immortality and indestructibility are always valid excuses), tying the two together, perhaps even allowing us to draw parallels between the first Witcher and one of the last. Either that, or it will just be a really interesting and expensive bit of backstory for the world, and I love some backstory. I also really enjoyed The Witcher, so I’m excited that there’s even more content on its way. We don’t have a release date for Blood Origin yet, but it’s probably going to hit Netflix sometime around late 2022 or early 2023.
So what do you think? Are you excited for Blood Origin? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords may be no basis for a system of government, but it is a pretty decent hook for a Netflix series. Cursed, the streaming service’s epic new Lady Of The Lake retelling, definitely mangles the Arthurian source material (and takes an extremely long time to get to the whole Lady Of The Lake bit), and even as a standalone it suffers from a number of problems, but it still tells a crafty little story about wizards, witches and Vikings (you heard me correctly), all wrapped up in the standard Netflix package.
That standard package can sometimes be very standard (characters falling hopelessly in love with each other after approximately fifteen seconds! How original!), but the show does go through several highs and lows in terms of quality – with some of its highs being extraordinary (the entire climax to episode four) and some of its lows being abysmal (pretty much every attempt at heterosexual romance). The series takes a little while to get going: the first two episodes, unfortunately, are the weakest, as we follow our reluctant protagonist Nimue (Katherine Langford) on the first steps of her journey, but episode three is good and episode four is great. After that, the quality takes another dip, but the series regains its footing in time for the finale.
Our heroine Nimue begins her epic quest as a Fae villager living comfortably far away from the merciless brutality of the Catholic Church’s servants, the Red Paladins, whose mission it is to wipe out magic across England (it’s best to just accept that they live in England, despite the wonky geography and the constant references to a nearby “desert kingdom”). Nimue is soon entrusted with a powerful sword which grants her increased power, strength, and, as time goes on, an unceasing blood-lust. Langford’s performance as the cursed young woman is a strong one, though she clearly falters in romantic scenes when partnered with her love interest, the handsome young Arthur (Devon Terrell). That’s entirely fair – the romance is boring and conventional, and the dialogue meant to build chemistry and passion is unoriginal. Langford’s greatest strength is when she’s in the thick of battle, wielding Excalibur (sorry, the Sword Of Power) alongside her Fae magic.
But the thing that makes Nimue’s arc most interesting is that she’s not technically supposed to be wielding the sword. In fact, the words “Take this to Merlin” echo through her head over and over again. The Merlin in question is none other than Merlinthe Magician (Gustaf Skårsgard), the legendary sorcerer of Arthurian legend who is deeply entangled in all the myths surrounding the English king’s rise to power. Here, he is even more intimately entwined in Nimue’s story. Skårsgard does a good enough job conveying the ancient wizard’s inner turmoil and pain, but he brings significantly less fun to the role – and the character of Merlin, who in this version stumbles around drunk half the time and uses his wits to escape any number of situations, needs that quirky dash of humor. The lack of it is surprising, and makes Merlin far less engaging than he might have been.
The supporting cast surrounding these three main characters is vast and filled with highlights – Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin), a sorceress in the making, treads a fine line between good and evil while various demonic entities try to make her their pawn; Pim (Lily Newmark), is a cheery, wide-eyed Fae who makes the impulsive decision to join a pack of Vikings; Sister Iris (Emily Coates), a frighteningly intense young nun, is set up to be this show’s answer to Game Of Thrones‘ Arya Stark – only Iris is more like a mix between Little Red Riding Hood and The Terminator. And Peter Mullan fully transforms into the series’ villain, Father Carden, the friendly, smiling leader of the Red Paladins’ genocidal crusade. Carden’s Paladins make perfectly decent villains: but while they have no problems burning or crucifying innocents and pillaging the defenseless, they aren’t a well organized military force and thus their battles are often on the weak side. But that’s where the Vikings come in.
The Vikings are everywhere in this series. All the time we spend on the longships of TheRed Spear (Bella Dayne) with Pim might seem pointless at first (though I stopped feeling that way once we were treated to a hilarious montage of Pim, who was enlisted as the crew’s healer, trying desperately to keep up with the raiders’ never ending brutal injuries), but it is integral to the events of the finale, which sees multiple Viking clans clash in epic warfare: and, based on the secret identity of one specific Viking character, it will prove to be integral to the events of future seasons of Cursed, if there are any. All that being said, it’s hard to stop from laughing when King Cumber (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) arrives about halfway through the season with a ridiculously mangy platinum blond wig that appears to have been loosely glued to the top of his head. If you thought Henry Cavill’s wig in The Witcher was bad, then you’re going to be horrified by Cursed, which has plenty such awkward hairpieces.
Besides occasionally looking awful, the hair, costumes and makeup utilized on this show don’t even try for any semblance of historical accuracy. For instance, the court of the distasteful Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto) is a complete mix-and-match of styles, ranging from late Medieval to Victorian, with some background characters appearing to have stepped out of the 16th or 17th Centuries. I was tempted to say that Cursed is reminiscent of an Assassin’s Creed interpretation of history, but I actually think the video game series does a far better job of achieving authenticity – though the Trinity Guard, an elite sect of gold-masked Catholic warriors wielding maces and whips under the command of a solemn, vaguely reptilian abbot, feels like it would be very much at home in the game. As does The Weeping Monk (Daniel Sharman), a nimble assassin and another of the series’ roster of antagonists – but his journey takes some very interesting twists and could be relevant to the LGBTQ+ community in ways which I don’t wish to spoil here.
Cursed is well worth the long ride (and it’s a long ride indeed) for its strong lead performance, the beautiful aesthetic – insert shoutout to those absolutely lovely animated scene transitions here – the surprisingly good cinematography, and the political intrigue: one of my favorite fantasy tropes, very well executed here, with a particular emphasis on how powerful women often had to work their influence from behind the throne. Two wildly different women – the quiet, calculating Lady Lunete (Polly Walker) and the sadistic berserker Eydis (Sofia Oxenham) – both have to operate in this fashion.
The diversity is another good reason to settle in for the ten-episode ride: though some audiences will inevitably become enraged by the mere presence of people of color – and women of color, especially – in 4th or 5th Century England, I think that’s a stupid complaint because people of color have been living in England since Roman times, well before Arthur’s reign. If anything, that’s one of the few things that Cursed actually gets right when it comes to historical accuracy. Maybe instead of getting offended by black people and LGBTQ+ characters, you should direct your attention toward the swarms of Vikings coming down from Norway about two hundred years early? Just a thought.
If you’re at all interested in fantasy, you’re at least going to have a fun time with Cursed. It’s shamelessly entertaining when it wants to be (i.e. when it doesn’t get bogged down in love triangle tropes), and there’s nothing wrong with just watching something because it’s fun, and has some thrills and scares and big cliffhangers. If you’re hoping it’s the next Witcher, I’d encourage you to lower your expectations just a little bit – just a little bit, mind you. It’s not so far behind its more high-profile Netflix competitor in terms of quality that it could never catch up in future seasons (and I’m going to hazard a guess based on the finale that future seasons are planned because otherwise I’m suing Netflix), but it still needs to find its own voice amongst the crowd.
Because of the recent news that the Tron franchise is apparently still a priority at Disney and plans for franchise-expanding sequels or reboots are still underway, I thought it might be interesting to take a circuitous stroll back down memory lane and revisit one of the strangest movies from what is often considered Disney’s Dark Age, in the early 1980’s. This era of the studio’s long and storied history isn’t known for producing a whole bunch of timeless classics (if there are any hardcore fans of The Black Cauldron out there, I’d love to know about them), nor box-office hits – but how do you even begin to describe Tron? The needlessly convoluted sci-fi adventure flick about glow-in-the-dark humanoid computer programs fighting to overthrow their tyrannical leadership doesn’t seem to fit neatly into any box, and so of course it has acquired a kind of well-earned cult classic status over the years – even leading to the creation of a poorly-received sequel in 2010 which, while not a box-office flop, failed to recapture much of what made the original film so…bizarrely endearing.
There are so many things wrong with Tron from a storytelling standpoint, and yet, despite quickly falling into the classic sci-fi/fantasy trap of trying to seduce the audience with incredibly complex world building instead of, you know, a particularly good story, or well developed characters (though, considering how badly the sequel’s attempts at character development went over, perhaps we weren’t missing anything anyway?), somehow it still works – or at the very least, it works about as well as a movie about warring sentient computer programs possibly could in 1982, at the very dawn of the age of special effects. Knowing some of the story about the cutting edge technology used to create the sprawling electronic landscape of The Grid (which, to the modern viewer’s eye, probably just resembles partly-completed digital artwork of Flatland) definitely helps to make the movie interesting from a cinephile’s point of view: its influence on CGI is far less well known than the influence of, say, The Little Mermaid on animation, but the two films are arguably comparable in terms of the lasting impact they made on the industry. The difference is that The Little Mermaid was a juggernaut that almost immediately birthed an unstoppable Disney renaissance – Tron was a financial disaster for the company that was snubbed at the Oscars for the Special Effects award it clearly deserved, apparently because Academy voters thought using computers was cheating.
That doesn’t make the work that went into designing Tron any less commendable, however. The film was born out of an idea to create a neon gladiator mascot for the fledgling Lisberger Studios, which felt that the character needed a starring vehicle to sell him to audiences and establish the studio’s brand – ironically, the cost of making the film became so high that Lisberger Studios had to turn to Disney for help with financing and marketing. In a classic case of studios being afraid to invest too heavily in something radically new, Disney allowed them to make the movie but decided not to give it the marketing push it also needed until too late in the game. Behind the scenes, the process of designing the world of Tron using rotoscoping and the even more grueling technique of backlit animation (which gives the movie its one-of-a-kind glow in the dark look) had to be fast-tracked to meet its release date, with director Steven Lisberger eventually having to hire a whole separate team of animators from Taiwan to ease the stress on his own employees. Miraculously, they managed to get the job done within nine months, a true credit to the power of teamwork.
But on its own, separated from its later impact and the behind-the-scenes work that went into it, just looking at the finished film as a whole: does it hold up? That’s a bit of a harder question to answer. As I said, Tron has a lot of story issues – the audience gets handed a whole bunch of information about the cyber world right up front, and is then expected to retain all that information for the next thirty minutes, while we watch the Real World storyline play out (which itself is pretty complicated). Then the Real World completely ceases to exist as far as the movie is concerned, and we’re plunged into The Grid, where computers wage brutal warfare against each other: highly ritualistic warfare involving motor-bike/smart car hybrids, but warfare nonetheless. There are solar sailers to be flown, beacons to be lit, and electric blue water to drink (I bring that up because there’s one scene of the main characters drinking said water that seems to go on for way longer than it probably needs to). It’s all very confusing.
Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner lead the cast of mostly identical white men trapped in glowing outfits with ridiculously oversized helmets, most of whom wield Frisbees to complete the look (a look which somehow warranted an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design). Bridges’ character, brilliant programmer and arcade video game champion Kevin Flynn, is supposedly the star of the movie, though there’s no good reason for why that is when Boxleitner’s character (dissatisfied ENCOM employee Allan Ward in the real world, legendary hero Tron on The Grid) has his name in the title, has just as much if not more plot agency than Bridges’, and actually is the clear male lead for the first thirty minutes of the movie. It’s like if Star Wars: A New Hope started out being about Luke Skywalker and then changed to become Han Solo’s story partway through (interestingly, there’s actually several similarities between Kevin Flynn and Han Solo, particularly in the sequel). David Warner gives the best performance in the film as the sinister E. Dillinger, President of the ENCOM company (in his Grid form as Sark, he comes off as a sad Darth Vader ripoff). As a side note: whenever Warner’s Dillinger was onscreen, I was constantly distracted by the nagging thought that, if Disney ever reboots this franchise, they absolutely need Ben Mendelsohn for this villainous role. Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan), the female lead, shows a lot of potential as a spunky scientist, but of course this is the 80’s, so it’s not long before she trades in her intelligent and pro-active role for the part of demure, soft-spoken damsel Yori. In keeping with the Hollywood tradition of rebooting classic franchises with the original male leads but conveniently forgetting to bring back the female leads, both versions of Morgan’s character were dropped for the sequel, despite her repeated efforts to try and contact Disney.
On the flip-side, two women played an integral role in giving Tron the eerie techno vibe we know and love: composer Wendy Carlos, an openly trans woman best known for her work on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, collaborated with Annemarie Franklin on the score – parts of which, unfortunately, were removed by Disney and replaced with songs by Journey: the rock band’s contributions to the film were honored in the sequel via a slightly random use of the song “Separate Ways”. But Carlos’ iconic score is still a lasting testament, like all her work, to the often underappreciated achievements of trans people in the film industry.
I, for one, am glad that Tron will be getting another chance at proving its value to modern audiences: moviegoers (or, quite possibly, Disney+ subscribers) deserve a chance to see more stories from The Grid, told with the best new technology available to the studio, and longtime fans of the franchise deserve a continuation of a series that has been pretty much dead for a long time. We all deserve a little more Tron in our lives.
The Tolkien fandom can collectively sigh a breath of relief: several months after production ground to a halt on Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings due to the advent of coronavirus, the high-profile series is finally getting back on track, with preliminary work already underway and actual filming expected to start up again soon.
The Lord Of The Rings began shooting back in February, and we now have confirmation that, before the government-mandated lockdown in March, almost two full episodes of the series’ first season were completed. This means that Amazon Prime’s original gameplan – to film two episodes and then go into hiatus until September – won’t actually have to change that much. This lines up with Lord Of The Rings actress Morfydd Clark’s recent statement that she won’t be able to return to her home country of England “for a while”, which The Daily Mail took to mean sometime in the autumn (though it’s worth noting they also missed the memo that this isn’t actually an adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings proper, since they referenced Gollum, Gandalf and Frodo as well, none of whom should be in the series). This is very good news, not just for Amazon themselves, but also for those of us in the Tolkien fandom who are constantly having to combat negativity towards the series: there are already a number of cynical and pessimistic detractors of the show out on the internet, and they tend to cling to any bit of bad news they can find.
But why the sudden change, after so many months? New Zealand’s government has officially granted border exemptions to a number of personnel from various different TV and film productions that were set to film in the country, including Lord Of The Rings, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, and – completely coincidentally – a film starring original Lord Of The Rings trilogy star Viggo Mortensen, entitled Greatest Beer Run Ever. Over the next six months, cast and crew from all these productions will be allowed to return to the country and resume work (after first going through self-quarantine). New Zealand had one of the most comprehensive and effective responses to the coronavirus crisis anywhere in the world, which is what has allowed them to return to relative normalcy earlier than most other countries.
In fact, New Zealand’s quick action when dealing with coronavirus may pay off in many more ways than they could ever have expected – their Economic Development Minister declared the country “a global safe haven” for the film community, and that’s not really an exaggeration: most other nations are still suffering heavily from the pandemic, and have a long way to go before they can safely bring in large film crews from all around the world. In recognition of this, New Zealand is increasing funding for both international and domestic film and TV projects in their country to upwards of $230M. In exchange, New Zealand’s economy is expected to receive a massive boost from big productions like Lord Of The Rings and James Cameron’s Avatar sequels, which could bring in about 3000 new jobs and $400M for the small Pacific nation. It looks like Middle-earth will never not be a hugely profitable investment for New Zealand.
So what do you think? Is New Zealand making a wise decision allowing film crews back into their country, or is this still risky? No matter how much we may want to see The Lord Of The Rings on our screens sometime next year, peoples’ lives matter more than any piece of film or TV, and I cannot reiterate that enough. STAY SAFE, and share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below.
We’ve known for quite some time that Apple TV is planning to produce a massive, multi-season adaptation of the Foundation trilogy, one of the greatest works of science-fiction ever written and certainly Isaac Asimov’s magnum opus. But apparently they filmed a whole bunch of this series without me ever catching on, because suddenly there’s a Foundation trailer out for the first season today – and it looks brilliant, though also shockingly different from the books.
For one thing, the trailer definitely makes it seem as if we’ll be following one protagonist throughout the entirety of the first season at least: that protagonist being psychohistorian and biographer Gaal Dornick, who in the Foundation books is a very minor character whose only role in the story is essentially to introduce the reader to the actual protagonist, Hari Seldon. For the adaptation, it appears that Gaal (who has been gender-bent, and will be played by actress Lou Llobell) is going to stick around much longer, and probably have a crucial role in the story. Seldon himself, here played by Jared Harris, also seems to have a larger role than he does in the books.
But now for a little background on Foundation, for those who haven’t read the novels – and, to be clear, even I’ve only read the original trilogy: I know there’s prequels, and it appears the series is drawing some stuff from those, but I don’t know much about them so I won’t be referencing them. The story follows Hari Seldon, and later his team of talented intellectuals known as psychohistorians, as they attempt to save the universe from being plunged into a dark age that could last for up to 30,000 years – Seldon’s belief, based on his very accurate calculations, is that, while it would be impossible to prevent it entirely, he can “shorten the darkness”, to quote the trailer narration, to just one thousand years. The books quickly jump ahead, switching protagonists and time periods rapidly: in the first book, we also follow the journey of one Salvor Hardin (whom we see briefly in the trailer, played by Leah Harvey) who, years after Hari Seldon’s death, is tasked with protecting the First Foundation which was set up on the planet Terminus to subtly preserve Seldon’s original plan and prevent it from coming apart – and there are many threats to the plan over the course of the series, from telepathic mutants to bureaucratic politicians. Despite how large the story is, however, many of the heroes of the first book have only very vague characterizations, so I don’t mind the fact that the show is expanding on them – though it does confuse me why so many new characters have been included to fill out the cast.
Then again, even though I don’t know exactly who “Brother Day” is supposed to be – I’ve checked and double-checked: he’s not in the books, not even in the prequels – I do know that he’s played by Lee Pace, who is criminally underrated and definitely deserves another big role like this: he appears several times in the trailer, appears to be a villain, and, most importantly, isn’t hidden under any alien makeup (have I told you lately that it’s a travesty how Marvel costumed and designed his character Ronan the Accuser? No? Well then, here’s your reminder: it was a travesty). There’s also a “Brother Dawn” and “Brother Dusk” – the latter played by another actor I adore, Terrence Mann from Netflix’s Sense8. All three are described as being members of royalty vying for power in the Galactic Empire – in the books, the Empire is already collapsing when the story opens and its impending fall is what Hari Seldon believes will start the dark age: I’m sure Pace’s character and much of his supporting cast have been invented to give us a clearer idea of that.
The trailer, which is partly comprised of footage shot before coronavirus concerns shut down filming back in March and partly constructed from behind-the-scenes material and interviews with showrunner David Goyer, highlights the massive amounts of money that Apple TV have poured into this show. The production design looks incredible, and clearly borrows inspiration from Amazon Prime’s The Expanse, another major sci-fi series; the special effects are extraordinary and already look complete, despite the fact that Foundation doesn’t come out until next year; the level of detail put into everything is inspiring. All in all, while I’m slightly disappointed that I only definitely recognize one scene and less than a handful of characters from the books, I’m at the very least intrigued by what else the show has to offer. Their original content probably won’t ever match the deeply philosophical tone of Asimov’s writing, but if it can come remotely close, then I’ll be impressed.