Friday, 14 May 2021

20 years of Xbox and Halo

Microsoft is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Xbox and Halo through November with a plethora of related products and events.

Like myriad gamers in 2002, I bought an original Xbox solely to play Halo: Combat Evolved.

Bungie's seminal first-person shooter (FPS) had captured my imagination when Halo was unveiled by Steve Jobs at Macworld in 1999. Ultimately, Microsoft would acquire exclusivity of Halo, as the first killer app for its fledgeling console, much to Jobs' annoyance.

Master Chief and Cortana's story had me enthralled in what is lauded as one of the most influential video games of all time. As mentioned previously, I wouldn't return to the Halo franchise until Halo 4, after winning an Xbox 360 S from LOVEFiLM, in 2012. Halo 4 was the perfect homecoming for this lifelong fan of storied space operas.

Xbox also introduced me to BioWare's fabled Mass Effect trilogy - arguably one of the greatest space operas in any medium. What gave Mass Effect 2 its edge was working with the enemy, lead by Martin Sheen's Illusive Man, propelling the game into The Empire Strikes Back of the saga. So, I'll be playing Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (affiliate link) this weekend as FemShep (Jennifer Hale).

The next game in the Halo franchise, Halo Infinite, is set to launch later this year after being delayed due to the pandemic.

343 Industries‘ studio head Chris Lee said: “The extra time will let us finish the critical work necessary to deliver the most ambitious Halo game ever at the quality we know our fans expect.”

Personally, Halo Infinite evokes nostalgia for Halo: Combat Evolved and I'll be downloading day-one on Game Pass Ultimate.

What are your favourite Xbox and Halo memories? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Star Wars Celebration returns May 2022

Star Wars Celebration is coming back to Anaheim in 2022 following a brief hiatus during the pandemic.

The official Lucasfilm fan event, which originally began in 1999 to celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and expanded outside of the US with Star Wars Celebration Europe in 2007, has moved forward from August to May of next year.

"Current ticket holders that wish to keep their existing tickets will have their order automatically transferred to the new event dates and will receive a new confirmation email in the coming months. If fans want to keep their tickets, no further action is required on their part," an announcement on said. "If a ticket holder wishes to request a refund for their 2022 ticket order, they can do so by visiting Ticket refunds requests must be submitted before June 11, 2021. All ticket holders will receive an email with detailed instructions on how to submit a refund request, if they choose to do so."

Lucasfilm uses Star Wars Celebration to announce upcoming projects. The runaway success of The Mandalorian, propelled in part by Grogu AKA Baby Yoda, will be bolstered by Star Wars: The Bad Batch, The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ahsoka and Andor spin-off series on Disney+.

Are you attending Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2022? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

An Arthurian tale in The Green Knight

The Green Knight, a fantasy retelling of the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from director David Lowery (Pete's Dragon) and starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander and Joel Edgerton, was delayed last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A24, the studio behind Lady Bird and Ex Machina, released a new trailer, which has become an internet sensation amongst fantasy fans (myself included).

Arthurian tales captured my nascent imagination in George Lucas' Star Wars saga, and The Green Knight distils the visionary oeuvre of directors Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits) and Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth). Incidentally, Edgerton is reprising the role of Owen Lars in Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+.

The Green Knight is in cinemas on 30th July.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Star Wars: Andor filming on Jurassic Coast

Game of Thrones' House of the Dragon isn't the only prequel series shooting in South West England.

Star Wars: Andor, featuring alleged cameos from Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), has begun filming in the UK. One of the locations is a Dorset quarry on the Jurassic Coast, which was used for the classic Doctor Who serial Destiny of the Daleks in the late seventies and Blake's 7 in the early eighties.

The upcoming live-action Disney+ Star Wars spin-off, starring Diego Luna in the titular role, is a prequel to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Sharing his excitement at reprising the fan-favourite role, Luna said: "I think it's a nice challenge, it's a good way to approach a show.

"What happens when you already know the ending? Everything is in how you tell the story, how many layers you can find, this cant be a show where we surprise you, like oh no it wasn't him, he didn't die.

"We know the ending... the last scene was a scene we all know so it makes a different part of your brain work, you cant use the same storylines people are used to, now we start with a character that people already know what he's capable of."

Winspit Quarry is closed to the public until the end of May for filming.

Roger Khanna, Worth Matravers parish clerk, said: "It's a major enterprise.

"I've been impressed by how well it's being controlled and managed. There's been no impact on locals. They've been very considerate of the area."

Star Wars: Andor is one of several Star Wars spin-offs for Disney+. Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi is currently being filmed in Los Angeles and The Book of Boba Fett opens in time for Christmas on Disney+.

Excited for Star Wars: Andor? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Rosario Dawson uses the Force over Zoom

Rosario Dawson, who plays the live-action Ahsoka Tano in The Mandalorian on Disney+, appeared on Jimmy Kimmy Live to celebrate Star Wars Day.

"Rosario talks about Star Wars Day, her significant other Cory Booker posing with a lightsaber, keeping spoilers from him, revealing Baby Yoda’s name, her new movie The Water Man, her new Star Wars series for Disney+, and she shows Jimmy how she has learned to harness the Force over Zoom."

Rosario Dawson will be back as Ahsoka Tano in her own live-action Star Wars spin-off series on Disney+.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Elon Musk as Wario on SNL

Elon Musk, the tech tycoon who founded Tesla and SpaceX, hosted Saturday Night Light (SNL) this weekend.

The announcement was greeted with some controversy. However, Musk took to the stage with an opening monologue in which he revealed a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, which touches many of our lives directly or indirectly.

"I don't always have a lot of intonation or variation in how I speak... which I'm told makes for great comedy," he joked in his opening monologue. "I'm actually making history tonight as the first person with Asperger's to host SNL."

This claim is debatable as Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters), also diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, has previously hosted SNL.

An avid video game player himself, Musk appears as Wario in court facing an allegation of Mario's murder during a Mario Kart race.

Did you see Elon Musk on SNL? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Mortal Kombat

My earliest memory of playing Mortal Kombat is during a gap year in the early nineties. I would visit a local seafront amusement arcade to play the newest releases and share a KFC bucket with friends.

Mortal Kombat instantly captured our imaginations with its lurid digitised animations.

The video game franchise’s signature fatalities - sparking a moral panic - a gory alternative to Street Fighter II in arcades and on Nintendo and Sega 16-bit home consoles. The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive was the cool kid on the block and the console of choice for an uncensored experience.

The latest Mortal Kombat live-action movie adaptation arrives in cinemas and on HBO Max. Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, returns from Victorian times for a bloody showdown.

Guest post by Nick Smith

In the illustrious and diverse history of movies, we’ve seen epics based on the works of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and The Wiggles. Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat is not a literary adaptation. Spawned by a video game, it has pretensions to be something greater – a Hollywood blockbuster with a Chosen hero, a comedic sidekick, people spinning impossibly through the air and an unsympathetically evil bad guy. It does not achieve that greatness.

Mortal Kombat isn’t as facile as last year’s Jui Jitsu, which was a string of skirmishes calling itself a movie. But it still lacks the depth to make it a stand-out flight flick. The humour helps; the hero Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is fallible, Kano (Josh Lawson) is a splendidly despicable loudmouth and there’s even a joke about the spelling of the title.

Mortal Kombat follows a Hollywood action formula without really understanding why. The archetypal hero has a family so that the audience can relate to him. Here, Cole’s family is an afterthought. The Chosen One should be reluctant, otherwise what’s special about him being chosen? The prophecy should be deep-seated in the life and culture of the Outworld, not a couple of lines of dialogue that are present because, hey, that’s what other, successful movies do.

This new take on a 29-year-old franchise is entertaining, there are some satisfying salutes to the original games and the actors are likeable. Jessica McNamee stands out, doing her best to give token tough girl Sonya Blade some edge. The most novel aspects are the gory deaths - a crushed head is particularly memorable - and the redemption of amputee veteran Jackson ‘Jax’ Briggs. He learns to overcome his depression and live with prosthetics. Now that is a successful adaptation.

Watch Mortal Kombat (affiliate link).

What are your Mortal Kombat memories? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 7 May 2021

Eleven's origins in Stranger Things 4?

"Eleven, are you listening?"

Netflix has released a second teaser trailer for Stranger Things 4, suggesting Eleven's (Millie Bobby Brown) dark origins are going to be explored in flashback.

Stranger Things deeply resonated when it premiered on Netflix in 2016 whilst I was with friends at Star Wars Celebration Europe. Not since JJ Abrams' Super 8 had I been so enthralled by a Nancy Drew mystery peopled by characters that could have been my childhood friends (growing up in suburbia) as I underwent rehabilitation for a life-changing trauma.

Poignantly, Eleven reminded me of a girl, whom I'd befriended in a children's hospital (circa 1977), but, tragically, she died due to complications. However, I never forgot her or the times we excitedly watched Doctor Who and The Muppet Show on Saturday teatimes, solved jigsaw puzzles and played Sorry!

Disappointingly, there's still no official release date for Stranger Things 4. However, fans are looking for clues embedded in the trailer.

Are you excited to see Stranger Things 4? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Game of Thrones prequel first look

HBO has released an official first look at its upcoming Game of Thrones prequel series based on author George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood.

House of the Dragon.

The spin-off series is set 300 years before Game of Thrones and will centre on Daenerys Targaryen's (Emilia Clarke) ancestors' civil war. Bloodmoon, a prequel series set thousands of years before, starring Naomi Watts and written by Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class), was shelved following an abortive pilot in 2019.

House of the Dragon began filming in Cornwall in April, as reported by BBC Spotlight and ITV News West Country, for release sometime in 2022.

HBO was forced to officially confirm the multimillion-dollar series was in production when leaked images shot on location in and around St Michael's Mount, which is a favourite holiday haunt of my family, were shared on social media.

Photos showed Matt Smith (Doctor Who) and Emma D'Arcy as Prince Daemon Targaryen and Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen respectively. Olivia Cooke, Rhys Ifans and Steve Toussaint co-star.

The official press release description for Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen reads: “The king’s first-born child, she is of pure Valyrian blood, and she is a dragonrider. Many would say that Rhaenyra was born with everything… but she was not born a man.” And Prince Daemon Targaryen’s reads: “The younger brother to King Viserys and heir to the throne. A peerless warrior and a dragonrider, Daemon possesses the true blood of the dragon. But it is said that whenever a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin in the air…”

Game of Thrones ran for eight seasons and ended controversially for some fans. However, aside from a few minor reservations, I really enjoyed the fantasy series and am eager to return to Westeros.

House of the Dragon is the first of several spin-offs based on the Game of Thrones franchise and is expected to premiere on HBO Max and presumably Sky Atlantic in 2022.

Are you looking forward to House of the Dragon? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Disney teases 'real' Star Wars lightsaber

"Light. Darkness. A balance." Disney revealed a first look at its 'real' lightsaber with a Disney Parks cast member cosplaying as Rey on Star Wars Day. The 13-second clip caused quite a sensation amongst fans (myself included) on social media.

"Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser at Walt Disney World Resort will take you to a galaxy far, far away starting in 2022 for an all-immersive, two-night vacation experience that goes beyond anything Disney has ever created before."

Impressive. Most impressive.

Is Disney's new retractable lightsaber the ultimate Jedi cosplay accessory for Star Wars Celebration and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge? Let me know in the comments below.