Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Chewbacca and Boba Fett vacation in Exmouth

Holidaymakers were greeted by surprise visitors from a galaxy far, far away... when Chewbacca, best friend of Han Solo and co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, and bounty hunter Boba Fett appeared on Exmouth seafront (photo: Peter Hopkins) this week.

The odd couple have emerged from lockdown and seemingly become friends despite the notorious bounty hunter capturing Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back and taking him, frozen in carbonite, to the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.

Boba Fett (Jonathon Curtis-Kroeger) and Chewbacca (David Wellbeloved) appeared on BBC Spotlight and were interviewed by Devon Live. The screen-accurate cosplaying Star Wars fans are members of Southern Troopers who fundraise for various charities including Children's Hospice South West - I recently donated rare Doctor Who memorabilia, raising hundreds of pounds for the charity.

So, if you're by the Jurassic Coast don't be surprised if you bump into Boba Fett and Chewbacca this summer. Socially distanced and wearing a mask (exceptions apply). You wouldn't want to end up frozen in carbonite whilst eating an ice cream...

Monday, 3 August 2020

Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep this September

Following the success of The Power of the Daleks, The Faceless Ones, Shada and The Macra Terror, another classic lost Doctor Who serial gets the animated treatment from BBC Studios this September.

Fury from the Deep is told across six episodes and stars Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon and Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield, in her last televised adventure.

The storyline concerns a colony of sentient, parasitic seaweed, last seen in the eighteenth century, returning to attack a number of gas instillations in the North Sea in an attempt to take over humanity.

The three-disc release gives fans the opportunity to enjoy Fury from the Deep in high definition, either in full colour or in black & white. The release will include the surviving clips from the original 1968 production as well.

The six new animated episodes are being made in full colour and high definition and will include the following exclusive special features:

Audio commentaries
The Cruel Sea – Surviving Fury from the Deep
Original surviving footage
Behind The Scenes 8mm footage
Animating Fury from the Deep
Archive interviews with Peter Day and Victor Pemberton
Teaser Trailer
Photo Gallery
The Slide Audio Drama
PDF scripts

Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep, coming 14th September, is available as DVD, Blu-ray, Steelbook and digital download. You can pre-order now from Amazon (affiliate link) and Zavvi (referral link).

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Beam back aboard Discovery this October

Comic-Con@Home featuring a Star Trek Universe panel (including past and present cast members) may have ended. However, there's more exciting news for Star Trek fans.

Star Trek: Discovery season three begins on CBS All Access on 15th October and will be available on Netflix outside the US.

Discovery's second season ended with Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her crewmates facing an uncertain future (930 years into the future thanks to a wormhole) as Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Science Officer Spock (Ethan Peck) returned to the USS Enterprise to continue its mission. The latter deservedly garnering their own highly-anticipated spin-off series, Strange New Worlds.

"Now living in a time filled with uncertainty, the U.S.S. Discovery crew, along with the help of some new friends, must together fight to regain a hopeful future," CBS All Access teased.

In addition to Martin-Green, the cast for the third season of Discovery includes Doug Jones (Commander Saru), Anthony Rapp (Lt. Commander Paul Stamets), Mary Wiseman (Ensign Sylvia Tilly), Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber), David Ajala (Cleveland “Book” Booker) and Michelle Yeoh (Philippa Georgiou).

If Discovery, Picard, Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks weren't enough Star Trek spin-offs for you. Star Trek: Prodigy is in development for Nickelodeon. Clearly, CBS All Access is for all things Trek.

Star Trek: Lower Decks, a new animated spin-off, starts streaming on CBS All Access on 6th August and, again, will be available on Netflix outside the US.

Are you looking forward to the return of Discovery? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 31 July 2020

Beyond Light on Game Pass

Amidst all the hullabaloo surrounding Halo Infinite and that bold brute. During July's Xbox Games Showcase it was all too easy to overlook Bungie's surprise announcement that current and future Destiny 2 content will be included on Game Pass from this September. Especially as Bungie and Microsoft were estranged bedfellows after a parting of ways following years of critical and commercial success with the Halo franchise.

Longtime readers may recall I was a huge fan of the original Destiny in 2014 and embraced the notion of a decade-spanning story. However, the release of Destiny 2 marred the experience to the point where I stopped playing, entirely, within weeks. More slog than compelling sci-fi space opera and it was deserted of players.

When Bungie broke free of Activision and Destiny 2 went free-to-play, I briefly revisited the looter shooter but it failed to rekindle my enthusiasm. Foolishly, I'd overlooked cross-save and created a new Titan (the original Titan remained trapped in PSN purgatory, her story unfinished).

The Game Pass announcement spurred this lapsed Guardian out of retirement and last evening imported his female Titan - via the wonder of cross-save - from the original Destiny on PS4, to be greeted by a story so far sequence that resonated more powerfully than expected.

An absence of 2-3 years made the heart grow fonder and suddenly I was reunited with old friends; struck at how much I'd missed the banter with Ghost (filling the gaping void left by one of gaming's most beloved characters, Halo's Cortana). After completing the opening story mission for Shadowkeep and a few live events. Shoot me to the moon! It's fun again, Guardians!

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Beyond Light has been delayed until November. However, there'll be plenty of content when Destiny 2's current expansions arrive on Game Pass. This should give new and lapsed Guardians (myself included) time to level up in readiness for exploring the frozen wastes of Europa.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

15 Emmy nominations for The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian, the Disney+ Star Wars live-action spin-off about a man in a mask (highly topical) protecting a child, fittingly has multiple Emmy nominations for its first season.

A total of 15 nominations: Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series (Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon), Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance (Taika Waititi as IG-11) along with Outstanding Production Design, Outstanding Cinematography For A Single-Camera Series, Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes, Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Drama Series, Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup, Outstanding Music Composition, Outstanding Sound Editing, Outstanding Sound Mixing, Outstanding Special Visual Effects and Outstanding Stunt Coordination.

"Having so many categories recognized for our team this morning was a lovely reminder of the outstanding camaraderie and vision we experienced making this show," said Matthew Wood, Co-Supervising Sound Editor. "All of us are Star Wars fans at heart, and it’s been a dream to be able to put our energies behind that love and be heard! This is the way!"

The Mandalorian's second season is still on track for later this year on Disney+.

Baby Yoda deserves an Emmy don't you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Virtual Comic-Con needs nerd herd

Comic-Con@Home has ended. Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, reflects on the highs and lows of the five-day event as we all try to navigate our way through the Upside Down.

Guest post by Nick Smith

After a gentle start on Wednesday, Comic-Con kicked into high gear with panels featuring Marvel executive VP Joe Quesada, Henry ‘Fonz’ Winkler, the cast of BBC/HBO’s His Dark Materials and Bugs Bunny (who turns 80 this year!).

The Con was jam-packed with instructional panels geared toward kids (for example, Marvel HQ showing how to draw Venom) and adults (Comics During Clampdown covered creativity, racial politics and the shifts in working methods that have occurred during COVID). Other panels covered making action figures, breaking into comics, and making and teaching comics – the latter led by James Sturm, co-founder and director of the Centre for Cartoon Studies, a school doing excellent work producing and legitimising the medium in White River Junction, Vermont.

Some of the panels were less how-to, more chit-chat; during “All the Starfleet Ladies: Then and Now,” an all-female roster of writers and pro-fans held an in-depth discussion about the early marginalization, and later prominence, of women in Star Trek.

But for most of us, the stars were the real draw of this Con. This year’s line-up included Charlize Theron, Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead), Ron Perlman, Famke Janssen, Felicia Day, Keanu Reeves, Kelly Overton and Tricia Helfer (Van Helsing). And that was just the actors. Production-wise, contributors included Eric ‘Supernatural’ Kripke, Kevin Smith, Seth McFarlane, Robert Rodriguez and J. Michael Straczynski (Thor); from comics we saw Quesada, who’s been attending since before he went pro; Todd McFarlane, the wonderfully talented Matt Kindt, Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), John Ostrander (Suicide Squad) and Jeff Smith (Bone). Quesada was particularly positive about the way Comic-Con is fuelled by, ‘the power of comics, the power of genre.’

Not a lot of big genre movies were present, because no one’s going to the pictures right now. This really gave TV shows a chance to shine, with established hits like The 100, Power Rangers and The Goldbergs rubbing shoulders with new streaming efforts from NBC’s new Peacock service and the struggling blip-length platform QuiBi.

One of Thursday’s highlights was definitely a panel uniting the cast of Amazon’s The Boys, along with producer Kripke. Everyone was energetic, looking forward to their second season. Another panel celebrated the forthcoming New Mutants, with cast appearances including my fellow Bristolian Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones, Doctor Who) and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things).

Thursday’s crème de la make-it-so crème, however, had to be the Star Trek Universe panel, which not only included a table read of a Discovery script by the original actors, but also linked up the main Picard cast for the first time since they wrapped season one of the CBS show.

More than anything, this virtual version of Comic-Con gave attendees the chance to dip into panels. Not your cup of tea? You could jump to another YouTube video without having to get up, leave a room and try to creep into another one without everyone staring at you. This allowed regular Con-goers to soak up a wider variety of content, catching dozens, if not hundreds of the panels. There was a real sense that the organisers wanted to make this more accessible than ever and more inclusive than ever, without losing a charming social awkwardness best represented by their ‘welcome to Comic-Con’ video. The big-name events were not as slick as expected, with audio issues (Titan), semi-rehearsed introductions (Rooster Teeth) or downright disorganisation (they know who they are). Others, such as Marvel HQ’s offerings, were entertainingly edited. The sloppier panels were more like Dunder Mifflin Zoom meetings than publicity drives from a movie studio; Informality is not always a bad thing and we got to see people like Patrick Stewart warts and all.

Toy reveals have been a big part of Comic-Con for decades. This year Mattel announced new Halo Master Chief micro action figures; NECA Gremlins, including a Target Exclusive Back to School Gremlin, based on the original movie ad; a NECA glow in the dark xenomorph from Alien; Witcher toys from McFarlane. My favourite exclusive offering was a talking Dennis Nedry figure from Jurassic Park in a fake Barbasol can. My only disappointment was that it didn’t come with a real can of shaving cream.

In my Comic-Con preview I made a crack about orcs. I’m the last person to paint genre conventions as being populated by grown-ups dressed in rubber (that would be a different kind of convention) but it’s always fun to see cosplayers wearing garb from their favourite shows. Can Klingon fans still enjoy themselves when they can’t get suited up, show off and hang out together? According to the play “Klingon Lifestyles,” the answer is yes. For the 27th episode of this series, the producers have come up with a plot about singing alien warriors on vacation in ‘The Home Alone Year.’

‘I feel like I’ve learned new techniques on how to do things, especially during filming,’ said actress Denise Hanon who plays Captain Novax, ‘…and how to do fights with people who are far distant, that’s a pretty interesting thing.’

Cosplayers were encouraged to record themselves (using social distancing) and submit the videos for a contest called the Comic-Con@Home 2020 Virtual Masquerade Costume Competition.

Voting for the Con’s Eisner awards was shut down early this year due to concerns of a privacy leak and mixed-up accounts, according to Gizmodo. But the Eisners still covered a good, wide range of voices. Image’s Bitter Root won Best Ongoing Series. Top Shelf’s They Called Us Enemy, written by George Takei, won Best Reality-Based Work. This graphic novel about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II tells a story still lacking from history books, and one that is sadly still relevant today.

Erica Eng’s Fried Rice was named Best Webcomic. Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran’s Snow, Glass, Apples won Best Adaptation from Another Medium. Mariko Tamaki (Harley Quinn) was crowned Best Writer, while Raina Telgemeier won Best Writer/Artist for her Guts.

Meanwhile back at the panels, there were loads of filmmakers and TV studios present with stuff to selling stuff. That included Kevin Smith’s new film Killroy Was Here. Smith stood in front of a camera and talked for an entertaining hour. That guy’s a talker! Also represented were NOS4A2, Archer season 11 (!) and Amazon Prime’s Upload.

The action movie Deep Blue Sea 3 was promoted by its director, producer and cast in an event hosted by Anthony C. Ferrante (Sharknado). Deep Blue Sea 3 will be released online this week in the US, with a disk in August. The cast talked about shooting in South Africa and how to act as if the movie’s digital sharks were real; Nathaniel Buzolic (who plays Richard) compared them to his mum… in a good way. She helps him to self-tape for auditions and he has to imagine a good actor in her place!

Beyond the hoopla there were also people who simply love comics and have devoted their careers to the medium. Karen Green (Columbia University), Dean Mullaney (The Library of American Comics), Peter Maresca (Sunday Press), and Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) discussed reprinting classic comics, their love of newspaper strips and artists like Milton Caniff. You could almost smell the musty pulp paper while they enthused about their subject. Maresca pointed out that all the panellists had helped each other in the past. ‘Once someone’s locked onto a book, the entire community is right behind them and that’s a great thing.’

And that’s the one thing this virtual con is lacking – the sense that crowds of enthusiastic fans are rooting for the Con and its participants. Views ranged from one for a live sketch event (two if you count me), to hundreds for the studious discussion panels, to thousands for the Big-Name panels.

The fans are the ones who will make this a flop or a success, and this virtual set-up brings Comic-Con closer than ever to the online culture that has helped popularise or extend the life of certain characters/franchises, such as Deadpool, Spider-Girl and Family Guy.

For many this will be their first experience of San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), and at ticket prices running at $69 a day for the live version last year, I don’t know if they’ll think it’s worth the money when the Con returns to normal. Yet a live audience can be an incredibly powerful thing and I hope some viewers get bitten by the bug and visit San Diego when they get the chance.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Strange new times in His Dark Materials

HBO dropped an official trailer for the second season of His Dark Materials during ComicCon@Home. Whilst the upcoming season has one less episode, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it does see the reunion of Fleabag's Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Andrew Scott.

"I'm really thrilled about that because it's all about companionship and friendship and loyalty and that's what I feel about Phoebe in my real life so it's wonderful that it's happening," said Scott, who will play explorer Colonel John Parry.

A standalone episode starring James McAvoy (Lord Asriel) has been cut. This would have explored Asriel's journey into an alternate world in the wake of killing Lyra’s (Dafne Keen) best friend Roger (Lewyn Lloyd) in the season one finale.

“Really we did have an incredible piece of luck,” executive producer Jane Tranter said during a special His Dark Materials panel at Comic-Con@Home. “We were filming when the pandemic hit, and we did have to stop filming.

“But we were in a peculiar situation where our main unit had wrapped just before Christmas 2019. And we had one standalone episode that we were filming in March, and it was separate from the other seven episodes, because it was a standalone episode.”

“Jack had written [the episode] with the blessing and with input from Philip Pullman, which looked at what Asriel had been doing between going through the anomaly at the end of season one, and when we see Lord Asriel at the beginning of book three, the Amber Spyglass,” Tranter said.

“Because Asriel isn’t actually in The Subtle Knife. He’s very much talked about, his presence is very much felt, but he’s not actually there. So we played kind of detective with The Subtle Knife and figured out what Asriel might have been doing.”

McAvoy can be heard in Audible's The Sandman (affiliate link), an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's seminal comic book series, directed by Dirk Maggs (Batman: Knightfall).

His Dark Materials, my favourite drama series of 2019, is scheduled to return on HBO and BBC One this autumn.

Friday, 24 July 2020

Halo Infinite gameplay Combat Evolved?

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 at Macworld in 1999. Ultimately, Microsoft would acquire exclusivity of Halo as the first killer app for its fledgling console.

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.

During Thursday's Xbox Games Showcase, coinciding with Comic-Con@Home, 343 Industries released a first look at Halo Infinite gameplay. Microsoft's first-party studio has seemingly gone back to Bungie's original playbook for inspiration and fan reaction is divided.

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

Get Game Pass for first-party and selected third-party titles (including Destiny 2: Beyond Light from Bungie) and save money. You can thank me later. xCloud, Microsoft's cloud-based gaming service, comes to Game Pass Ultimate this September.

But what do you think? Are you excited to see Master Chief return to his roots in an open world and where's Cortana? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Stay-at-home Comic-Con

Comic-Con@Home has begun. As we all continue to make sense of the 'new normal', Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, looks back to the beginning of San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) and forward to its possible future in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic...

Guest post by Nick Smith

I have always been intrigued by Comic-Con International: San Diego but have never been able to attend due to limitations of cost, distance, time, chilblains and a totally rational fear of people dressed as orcs. You know, with big plastic axes.

If you’re like me (apart from the orc bit) then this is your year! The show will go on despite the current COVID crisis. The event is online for all to see on YouTube for a concise 5 days, from July 22nd-26th.

Despite its name, Comic-Con has always been about more than mere funny books. It started life as the Golden State Comic Book Convention exactly 50 years ago. In 1970, the big draws were writer/artist Jack Kirby and authors Ray Bradbury and A. E. van Vogt. These days the massive convention covers anything that studios and publishers want to sell, and fans want to celebrate. Anything pop culture goes.

With over 350 panels, an exhibit hall, an Eisner Awards Ceremony, game demos… the event can be overwhelming. The panels alone cover Hot Wheels, History’s Vikings show, Star Wars audiobooks, The Walking Dead TV spin-offs, Ray Harryhausen, Bob’s Burgers and American Dad, to name just a few prominent topics. The best way to get a handle on them all is to go to Comic-Con’s “My Sched” tab (whether you use the app or not). You’ll see all the panels listed here, then you can pick and choose from there. As in past years, schedules are subject to change.

Cleverly, the exhibit hall is displayed like a floor plan. Click on an exhibitor and you’ll see their merchandise. Need that Mandalorian Chia Child? Visit the Star Wars booth. On the mezzanine, click on a Fan Club table and you get more info or a link to their corresponding website.

Like all conventions, the San Diego mob thrives on its camaraderie. Not everyone dresses up, not everyone wants to socialise, but this year’s event will show a whole new crowd of fans that their interests are shared by people from all kinds of backgrounds. Comic-Con has always strived to be accessible but now fans who can’t leave their homes can attend. As the organisers joke, since you’re watching from home you can sit in a comfy seat, eat your favourite snacks and bring your pet… sort of. Orcs do not count as pets BTW.

Comic-Con International is a non-profit and the organisers are asking for donations. If enough site visitors support the Con, at least by purchasing merchandise, then this could be a format we’ll be seeing more of in the future.

How are you getting involved with Comic-Con? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge-inspired toys at Target

The Force is strong with San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) announcements.

From August US-based Star Wars fans will be able to buy an exclusive range of Galaxy's Edge-inspired toys and clothing in-store and online at Target.

The centrepiece is the Smuggler's Run Millennium Falcon, featuring electronic sound effects, from Hasbro's Kenner-branded vintage collection. Seemingly pre-orders have already sold out, listed on eBay at hugely inflated prices, to the ire of collectors. The new line also includes Black Series action figures, LEGO sets and Funko Pops!

Look out for the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Trading Post collection at Target.