Tuesday, 19 January 2021

The Muppet Show is coming to Disney+

The Muppet Show is coming to Disney+. The original series ran for five seasons from 1976-1981 and featured memorable guest star appearances including Mark Hamill (Star Wars).

"It's going to be great to welcome back longtime fans, and to give a new generation of fans a chance to see how we got our start, how Miss Piggy became a star and so much more,” Kermit the Frog said in a statement.

"Today, I’m proud to say: 'It’s time to play the music, light the lights and meet the Muppets on Disney Plus tonight!'" Kermit added. "And as for Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys in the balcony, I can only add: 'Sorry, guys, but... here we go again.”

Kermit, Miss Piggy and friends hold a special place alongside Doctor Who and Luke Skywalker. So much so, my parents gifted Muppet memorabilia to the children's hospital where my life was saved, against the odds, in 1977. If we ever meet when it's safe to do so, over tea and cake I may tell you the full story of the boy who lived.

Still no sign of Muppets Tonight, which is a travesty as Sandra Bullock is an all-time great guest and a crush of mine.

All 120 episodes of the original The Muppet Show start streaming 19th February on Disney+. Are you excited? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Apple TV+ free trial extended to July

Apple is extending its free 1-year trial for Apple TV+ until July 2021. A win-win for consumers (myself included) who took out a free subscription, included with an eligible device, before or during the pandemic.

This is a smart move by the Cupertino-based tech giant.

The streaming market has become saturated with Netflix, Amazon Prime, BritBox, HBO Max, NOW TV and many more all vying for your money during socio-economic uncertainty. And Disney+ dominates with its live-action Star Wars and Marvel Studios spin-offs, and decades-spanning back catalogue soon to be further bolstered by Twentieth Century Fox film and television assets under the Star brand from February.

So, the $2 trillion dollar company is building a strong catalogue of originals to hook subscribers for the long term. During the holidays, I finished Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet and Servant ahead of its second season this month. However, and perhaps ironically, I've yet to watch For All Mankind from Ronald D. Moore who was behind the seminal Battlestar Galactica reboot. Personally, after availing myself of the free trial, I'll switch to Apple One, which combines Apple TV+ and Apple Music.

Will you continue to subscribe following the free trial? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Lucasfilm Games expands Star Wars galaxy

Following Disney's revival of Lucasfilm Games, there has been a steady stream of positive news this week including a new Indiana Jones adventure from Bethesda. Finally, EA loses exclusivity for all things Star Wars from 2023, and Lucasfilm Games has already announced a story-driven, open-world title from third-party developer Ubisoft Massive utilising the Snowdrop game engine for Tom Clancy's The Division.

“EA has been and will continue to be a very strategic and important partner for us now and going forward,” Sean Shoptaw, senior vice president of Global Games and Interactive Experiences at Disney, told WIRED. “But we did feel like there's room for others.”

EA has cancelled more in-development titles than released games since acquiring exclusive rights to the Star Wars brand. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Star Wars: Squadrons being highlights in the wake of microtransactions souring Star Wars Battlefront II. EA pivoted but presumably only due to pressure from Disney during the release of The Last Jedi. The optics were poor, very poor.

"We’re looking to work with best-in-class teams that can make great games across all of our IP," Lucasfilm Games' VP Douglas Reilly said. "We’ve got a team of professionals here at Lucasfilm Games who can work with the developers, shape the stories, shape the creative, shape the games, to make them really resonate with fans and deliver across a breadth of platforms, genres, and experiences so that all of our fans can enjoy the IPs that they know and love."

By opening up the franchise to more diverse developers, Lucasfilm Games expands the creative possibilities for telling compelling interactive narratives in the Star Wars universe.

This is the way.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Indiana Jones is back at Lucasfilm Games

A day after Disney's announcement that Lucasfilm Games is returning for all things Star Wars, an all-new original Indiana Jones video game is coming from developer Bethesda (part of Xbox Game Studios) sometime in the future.

The Indiana Jones franchise, from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, spawned classic LucasArts point-and-click adventures during the 16-bit era. Most notably, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, which I last played with a friend on an Amiga A500. Alas, Indy is still lost in a frozen tundra all these decades on.

The untitled project is from acclaimed executive producer Todd Howard (The Elder Scrolls) and MachineGames, a first-party studio that handily has a storied history in fighting Nazis in the Wolfenstein reboot, in collaboration with Lucasfilm Games.

You have no idea how exciting this news is to a lifelong Lucasfilm fan and gamer such as myself. It'll be interesting to see if Indiana Jones' next adventure is an Xbox exclusive for Series X and S. Many will remember the controversy surrounding timed-exclusive Rise of the Tomb Raider, itself inspired by the matinee adventures of Indiana Jones.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Lucasfilm Games returns for Star Wars

Disney has announced that it's bringing back the Lucasfilm Games brand for Star Wars video games and more as Lucasfilm celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021.

Lucasfilm Games was originally founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas in 1983, during the release of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, before popularising point-and-click adventures with Maniac Mansion and becoming LucasArts in 1990.

Read the official press release:

"Lucasfilm’s legacy in gaming stretches back decades. And with Lucasfilm and the galaxy far, far away entering a new and unprecedented phase of creativity, so will the world of Lucasfilm Games — developed in collaboration with the finest studios across the industry."

The brand has so much nostalgia for generations of gamers (myself included). Rescue on Fractulas!, Ballblazer, Koronis Rift and The Eidolon are amongst my all-time favourite video games from the 8-bit era on Commodore 64. And I vividly remember playing the Labyrinth movie tie-in video game whilst listening to David Bowie and Trevor Jones' soundtrack.

What are you hoping Lucasfilm Games will mean for Star Wars, Indiana Jones and more? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

WandaVision two-episode premiere on Disney+

WandaVision, the first Marvel Studios live-action spin-off series for Disney+, premieres with two half-hour episodes this Friday.

The $225 million dollar 9-part sitcom format series, starring Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda) and Paul Bettany (Vision), begins Phase 4 and is the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) instalment since Spider-Man: Far From Home. Vision perished in Avengers: Infinity War. So, fans (myself included) are speculating this is all in Wanda's traumatised mind.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was initially going to launch the MCU on Disney+ last October but got delayed due to the pandemic.

WandaVision will directly tie into the events of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (currently filming in London and rumoured to introduce the X-Men) and Spider-Man 3. The series appears to be inspired by the House of M and Vision comic book storylines.

Here’s the official synopsis for WandaVision:

“Marvel Studios’ “WandaVision” is a blend of classic television and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which Wanda Maximoff and Vision—two super-powered beings living idealized suburban lives—begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems.”

The initial reaction from critics, taking to social media, is positive. Citing the series' ambitious blend of comedy and mystery with knowing nods to the soap noir genre popularised by director David Lynch (Twin Peaks).

“I hope it says get ready for the new and the different,” said Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige during Sunday’s Zoom press junket, “I hope all of our movies have said that one after the other over the years but certainly with the Disney+ opportunities, it has allowed us to expand creatively what we do. This show being our first one, I love how bold it is. I love how different it is. We have things that you will only be able to see initially in theaters. We have things that are made for that. This is very much made to be seen week after week on television which is very different for us and was very fun.”

Phase Four continues with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiering the first of six episodes on 19th March. The delayed Black Widow standalone movie is expected in cinemas in May.

Checkout Funko's full range of Marvel Pop! figures (affiliate link).

Are you looking forward to WandaVision and do you think the Olsen twins, Elizabeth's sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley, will cameo? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Blake's 7: Star Wars for cynics

When BritBox, a joint venture between the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV, announced it was adding a classic sci-fi and fantasy collection, many of us hoped Blake's 7 would be included. Indeed, I hadn't seen the beloved cult sci-fi series since the early nineties. BritBox, the exclusive home of all things classic Doctor Who, didn't disappoint.

Blake's 7, from Dalek creator Terry Nation, soon joined the subscription-based streaming service, and I had every intention of binge-viewing. It all started promisingly enough with the realisation I couldn't remember anything at all about season one: noting it drew heavily upon the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker eras of BBC stablemate Doctor Who. But I got distracted over the holiday season by the return of Baby Yoda on Disney+.

Thankfully, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, is here to save the geek galaxy from my festive fail.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, BBC’s primetime space opera Blake’s 7 was an obvious response to the success of Star Wars. Audiences wanted more spaceships, more aliens, more derring-do. There are many similarities, including rebels (Blake and crew), an evil empire (The Federation), a ruthless, bad-ass villain (Supreme Commander Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce) and a funky ship (the Liberator).

With hindsight, Blake's 7 even shares Star Wars’ bleak outcomes, from the tragic life of Anakin Skywalker to the deaths of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Master Yoda et al. But at the time, the BBC was going against the grain, eschewing the glossy optimism of Universal Studios’ Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for more adult, cynical (some might say realistic) might-conquers-all pessimism. It’s Robin Hood in space, where an elegant, indestructible Sherriff of Nottingham has more chance of winning than the outnumbered merry spacemen.

Following the gloomy bent of Survivors, a show about the plucky people who remain after a global pandemic, creator Terry Nation went darker with Blake’s 7. The hero, Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas), is convicted of ‘assault on a minor’ among other ‘moral deviations’ by a dystopian government that has already brainwashed him; the opening titles incorporate his torture. Fun!

Blake’s crew, gathered after escaping from a prison planet, is made up of thieves and murderers. Banding with Blake is no guarantee of survival, and without the lucky break of finding a high-speed alien spaceship, it’s doubtful whether the rebels would have survived for long. Blake’s idealism is sometimes dangerous, other times inspiring. Avon (Paul Darrow) and Vila (Michael Keating) are initially self-centred but they both risk their necks to help their friends.

Blake’s 7’s dark edge is one of the reasons why we’re still talking about it today, 40 years after it wrapped with a killer ending [Christmas 1981 was the stuff of childhood trauma - Ed]. It peels back the idealistic layers of freedom fighting and shows that one man’s rebel alliance is another man’s terrorist group [a theme explored in The Mandalorian - Ed]. Pacifism doesn’t work (as tried in the episode Volcano) and bold heroics can get you killed.

The deaths of beloved characters such as Gan (David Jackson) were shocking at the time of first broadcast, long before Lost and The Walking Dead made such sudden losses commonplace and far less effective. Under Federation rule, no one is safe and that sense of risk is paramount.

The backdrop of galactic politics has been mirrored, and given greater depth, in more recent shows like Babylon 5 and the Battlestar Galactica reboot. The real allure of Blake’s 7, however, is its captivating characters. All of them have entertaining traits; even the waspish Orac and the obsequious Slave are endearing, mostly thanks to Peter Tuddenham’s meticulous voice work. Vila Restal gets the best lines as the cowardly comic relief with a heart of stolen gold. Space Commander Travis (Stephen Greif), the eyepatched Guy of Gisbourne to Blake’s Robin Hood, gets his own story arc.

Kerr Avon is one of the most fascinating protagonists in the history of television. He weighs the odds but sometimes takes risks that put his life in danger or takes a great toll on his friends (especially in the Season 3 closer, Terminus and Season 4’s Blake). He appreciates the irony of his situation, smiling to himself at the futility of fighting the Feds. With his enigmatic grin, he’s a Milky Way Mona Lisa and his performance is a joy to watch.

The show is dated. The hair is permanent. Some of the monsters defy belief (the giant insect in The Harvest Of Kairos is terrible in the wrong sense of the word). The writing is clever and engaging, the situations gripping, with toe-tappingly rhythmic dialogue and a sense of impending doom. But the scripts are seldom as witty or imaginative as Blake’s 7’s televisual bedfellows, Star Trek and Doctor Who.

Despite its production flaws, there’s plenty to make Blake’s 7 worth watching today: the model and prop designs, the themes and visuals (like a giant space brain!), the strong female protagonists and antagonist, and the sheer impetus of Blake’s crusade are all highlights of this very special slice of sci-fi.

What are your memories of watching Blake's 7? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Luke Skywalker returns in The Mandalorian

Having waited almost a month in the hopes of not spoiling surprises for fellow Star Wars fans, I wanted to share my reaction to Luke Skywalker's return in the second season finale of The Mandalorian on Disney+.

After a torrid year spent self-isolating due to being at high-risk from coronavirus, seeing a childhood hero at the peak of their powers during the holiday season was 'emosh', as I originally tweeted without giving anything away to my followers on Twitter.

A week before Christmas, Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni and the fine folks at Lucasfilm had left this lifelong fan (as well as many others) in tatters and shaking - such was its raw emotional power. Overwhelmingly so.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) had answered Grogu's AKA Baby Yoda's summons from an ancient Jedi temple, destroyed Moff Gideon's (Giancarlo Esposito) Dark Trooper army with aggression worthy of his late father Anakin Skywalker AKA Darth Vader, and would train the tyke in the ways of the Force if he wished to leave Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal).

Grogu decides to follow Luke and the goodbye between the pair evoked the finale of E.T. - the Extra-Terrestrial. As Ashoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) warned, Grogu has formed an attachment to Din and we all know the consequences for a Jedi coupled with what happens to Luke's academy before The Force Awakens.

If that wasn't enough. R2-D2, Luke's faithful droid companion and my first Star Wars action figure, appears. All too much for this fan - at least I spared social media the ugly mess of my live reaction. Triggered by composer Ludwig Göransson effortlessly segueing from an eclectic fusion of Brad Fiedel and Ennio Morricone to John Williams' lush leitmotivs with goosebump-inducing aplomb as a familiar X-wing flies into view.

Looking to the future of The Mandalorian and the live-action spin-offs already announced. It's increasingly clear showrunner Jon Favreau's endgame is to introduce Grand Admiral Thrawn for a live-action Heir to the Empire trilogy adaptation on Disney+.

Author Timothy Zahn's sequel to the original trilogy was released 30 years ago and ushered in a new era for the franchise created by George Lucas.

If so, then we'll see more of Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. He's the hero we deserve as hope leads us out of these dark times...

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Star Wars: The High Republic launches

Star Wars: The High Republic, an interconnected mega-story successor to Shadows of the Empire, was announced by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and launches today.

Like stablemate the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the story will be told in phases: Phase I: Light of the Jedi, Phase II: Quest of the Jedi and Phase III: Trials of the Jedi.

"Phase I runs through 2021 into 2022. I'm not going to tell you how far it goes into '22, but I can say that there will be a steady stream of books, comics, and magazines coming your way on a monthly basis, which is really exciting," revealed Lucasfilm Publishing creative director Michael Siglain during a virtual panel Monday. "When we talk about this being a multi-year initiative, that is true. We are absolutely playing the long game here."

The book series should satiate fans (myself included) whilst waiting for The Book of Boba Fett this December exclusively on Disney+.

Buy Phase I: Light of the Jedi (affiliate link) today.

Are you excited for Star Wars: The High Republic? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Star launches with The X-Files on Disney+

Star launches on Disney+ on 23rd February - a month after my birthday (hint, hint). The Walt Disney Company has announced the first films and television series coming to the new adult brand.

Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy, The X-Files, Die Hard and much more will be available to stream on Disney+ from next month. Hopefully, the Alien and Predator franchises won't be too far behind once pre-existing distribution deals have lapsed. Incidentally, Marvel is now publishing all things xenomorph and cloaked alien hunter following the acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox film and television assets.

Star Originals is expected to include Hulu's live-action Aliens series outside the US. Channel 4 is currently showing The Handmaid's Tale but that will most likely be added to Star, too.

All this extra content comes at an inevitable cost.

As Star isn't optional, Disney+ will rise from £5.99 to £7.99 a month. However, I'm using the streaming service daily and have no plans to cancel as lockdowns continue over the coming months.

NOW TV will most likely be a new year cancellation casualty as I'm watching 4K UHD content on Apple TV+, Amazon Prime and Netflix (a subscription was gifted at Christmas).

Are you looking forward to Star showing mature content on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.