Saturday, 13 May 2023

Doctor Who trailer ahead of Eurovision

A new trailer announcing the titles of the three specials for Doctor Who's 60th anniversary dropped before the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final, which is being held in Liverpool.

The three titles announced in the exclusive trailer:

Special One: The Star Beast
Special Two: Wild Blue Yonder
Special Three: The Giggle

The Star Beast is in homage to the first appearance of Beep the Meep in Marvel UK's Doctor Who Weekly. It's also the original title for Alien.

Doctor Who returns for three 60th anniversary specials, starring David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Catherine Tate (Donna Noble) this November on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland.

Russell T Davies, Showrunner said: “The titles are just the beginning of the Doctor’s biggest adventure yet. Autumn is coming, with three hours of danger, Donna and disaster about to be unleashed!”

What did you think of the trailer and the titles of the three specials? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 11 May 2023

Wes Anderson-inspired The Lord of the Rings

The debate surrounding the controversial use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the creative process rages on.

Curious Refuge follows up an AI-generated Wes Anderson-inspired Star Wars trailer with The Lord of the Rings featuring deepfakes of Bill Murray as Gandalf and Timothée Chalamet as Frodo Baggins.

Read the synopsis for Lord of the Rings by Wes Anderson Trailer | The Whimsical Fellowship:

"Embark on a fantastical journey to Middle-earth reimagined through the eccentric and charming lens of Wes Anderson in "The Whimsical Fellowship." This delightful fan-made trailer offers a fresh and whimsical take on the classic Lord of the Rings saga, blending Anderson's signature visual style with J.R.R. Tolkien's epic narrative.

Follow the adventures of Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and the rest of the whimsical fellowship as they traverse a world filled with pastel-hued landscapes, symmetrical compositions, and quirky inhabitants. Witness the unlikely heroes face off against the dark forces of Sauron in a quest to destroy the One Ring, all while exuding the charm and quirkiness that can only be found in a Wes Anderson creation.

From the quaint and idyllic Shire to the majestic and intricate architecture of Rivendell, "The Whimsical Fellowship" pays homage to both the beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy and Anderson's iconic filmography.

Join us in celebrating the magic of storytelling and the power of imagination with this one-of-a-kind fan edit. Be sure to like, comment, and subscribe for more spellbinding content. Venture forth, and may your journey be filled with whimsy!"

Hugh Howey, the creator of Silo streaming on Apple TV+, speculates entirely AI-generated productions are only a few years away: “We are less than a year or two away from giving AI a film script and then watching that film the same day. Production costs are going to go to ZERO. Within 5 years, great-looking films will be made this way. Within 20 years, almost all films will be made this way.”

Prescient given the current writers strike and we all know what happened last time to Heroes, Lost and Battlestar Galactica!

What did you think of the AI-generated The Lord of the Rings fan film? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 8 May 2023

40 years of Atari's Star Wars

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Atari's Star Wars arcade game.

It's summer 1983, and my family have stopped for a break at Gordano Services, Bristol. Clasping a cherished copy of Peter Davison's Book of Alien Monsters, I wander into a smokey, neon-lit arcade after hearing Obi-Wan Kenobi's digitised voice! A childhood dream of becoming Luke Skywalker and flying an X-wing into the Death Star trench is within my grasp as I step inside the cockpit...

The classic Atari title, with its dazzling vector graphics and use of original music, sound effects and dialogue from Star Wars, was soon followed by Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi arcade games.

Star Wars Insider issue #218 features an interview with Mike Hally, project leader on Atari's arcade classic.

“We had a research group led by Rick Moncrief, and a guy on his team named Jed Margolin was developing this hardware called ‘warp speed.’ It was 3D vector hardware that wasn’t really being built for a game, but I took a look at it and thought, ‘Man, this would be perfect for Star Wars.’ So, I worked up a proposal, and Atari approved me being in charge of it,” Hally smiles. “I remember getting to work and being very excited.”

What self-respecting Star Wars fan wouldn't want to pilot an X-wing, dogfight with TIE Fighters and destroy the first dreaded Death Star?

“To me it was really, really simple. I mean, the whole climax of the movie was about Luke Skywalker flying his X-wing, shooting TIE fighters, trying to get down to the Death Star past the gun turrets, and then diving into the trench to get to the exhaust port,” Hally says. “It was perfect for a video game.”

Atari's arcade game spawned clones for 8-bit home computers. I remember playing 3D Starstrike on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum whilst listening to John Williams' Star Wars soundtracks and surrounded by Star Wars toys. Incidentally, Parker Brothers released official Star Wars game cartridges for the Atari VCS. I have fond memories of holding off AT-AT walkers in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with fellow Rebel and childhood friend Kevin Simpson.

What are your memories of playing Star Wars video games? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 7 May 2023

Magic: The Gathering enters the Whoniverse

Magic: The Gathering and Doctor Who fans (myself included) rejoice!

Wizards of the Coast, a Hasbro subsidiary, has announced Doctor Who Command Decks, which will be released 13th October in time for the 60th anniversary of the BBC's beloved sci-fi series. More details to follow.

Are you looking forward to Magic: The Gathering's Doctor Who card collection? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 6 May 2023

Glee and Frozen star joins Doctor Who

From Glee to Frozen and Hamilton to Doctor Who. Award-winner Jonathan Groff is cast in a mysterious role in the long-running BBC sci-fi series.

On joining Doctor Who, Jonathan Groff said: “I am so thrilled to jump into the extraordinary mind of Russell T Davies and watch the incredible Ncuti Gatwa soar in this iconic role!”

Showrunner, Russell T Davies said: “This is an incredible coup, and a great honour, to get such a huge star striding on to our set. So strap on your space boots, this is going to be a blast!”

Groff's no stranger to sci-fi after starring in The Matrix Resurrections.

Doctor Who returns for three 60th anniversary specials, starring David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Catherine Tate (Donna Noble) this November on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland. Ncuti Gatwa takes over control of the TARDIS during the holiday season.

Are you looking forward to the new series of Doctor Who? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 5 May 2023

Celebrating Carrie Fisher on May the Fourth

Carrie Fisher, who most famously played Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy (in the process becoming my first and greatest silver screen crush 45 years ago), was poignantly remembered on May the Fourth AKA Star Wars Day!

Her daughter Billie Lourd, Star Wars co-star Mark Hamill, C-3PO and R2-D2 assembled for Fisher's Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony.

Hamill read out a note he'd written shortly after his friend's death in December 2016.

“I thought, this is as relevant today as it was when I wrote it,” Hamill said about the note.

“Carrie was one of a kind. She belonged to us all, whether we liked it or not,” Hamill’s note reads. “She was our princess, dammit! And the actress who played her blurred into one gorgeous, fearlessly independent, ferociously funny, take-charge woman who took our collective breath away. Determined and tough, but with a vulnerability that made you root for her and want her to succeed and be happy. She played such a crucial role in my professional and personal life. Both would’ve been far emptier without her.

“Was she a handful? Was she high maintenance? No doubt,” the note continues. “But everything would’ve been so much drabber and less interesting if she hadn’t been the friend that she was. I’ll never stop missing her, but I’m so thankful we had her as long as we did. I’m grateful for the laughter, the wisdom, the kindness, and even the bratty, self-indulgent crap my beloved space twin drove me crazy with through the years. So thank you, Carrie. I love you.”

With my best friend, I met Fisher and Hamill at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016. A kiss from a princess, a hug from a Jedi Knight and tears of joy. It's not every day you meet childhood heroes who turn out to be amazing in person.

Thursday, 4 May 2023

Return of the Jedi on Star Wars Day

Happy Star Wars Day! Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is back in cinemas to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its original theatrical release.

Fans have returned to see it on the big screen making millions of dollars at the box office.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, returns for this extra special celebration. Is the final chapter in the original Star Wars trilogy still as exciting as it was a long time ago...

Guest post by Nick Smith

I sit on my couch in my Darth Vader pyjamas sipping iced water from my Stormtrooper glass, ready to celebrate a big anniversary. 40 years. Four decades of living with a beloved, if imperfect, movie known by millions. A movie anticipated since I breathlessly left a screening of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, wanting to know what would happen next; a movie teased with the working title of Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi.

I was 11 years old when Episode VI of the Star Wars saga was released, a space-obsessed nipper with the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back poster transferred on my favourite t-shirt, a subscription to Bantha Tracks (the official fan club newsletter) and enough pocket money to buy a Star Destroyer playset and a monthly monochrome Star Wars comic.

Speculation in the letters' page of Star Wars Weekly was rife. Was Darth Vader Luke Skywalker’s father? Who was the other hope (Chewbacca, maybe)? Would Han Solo (Harrison Ford) ever be rescued and live happily ever after with the Organa of his dreams?

Three years is a long time for a child and a heck of a long time to wait for answers to those questions. Marvel Comics helped fill those years with exciting new characters like Shira Brie and Fenn Shysa, the original Mandalorian. But as anticipation mounted in the spring of 1983, nothing seemed better than seeing a new Star Wars film on the big screen. When it finally arrived in June, this kid was not disappointed. I went to see it five times, with friends, with family and by myself. I was a happy fan.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi had a lot of heavy lifting to do, answering those burning questions and wrapping up the trilogy in a satisfactory manner. It also had to top 1982’s bumper crop of sci-fi films, greenlit thanks to Star Wars’ success – Blade Runner (starring Harrison Ford), E.T., Tron, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. The cream of this crop had a sophisticated edge that would help them stand the test of time. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, with its straightforward storytelling and big happy family of Ewoks, lacked that mature edge.

A rebooted weekly comic was published to coincide with Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, reprinting American strips in colour. The technique wasn’t quite ready for prime time and the colours bled over the lines sometimes, and the comic geared more and more towards younger readers until eventually, I stopped reading.

As time went on, the movie itself suffered a backlash – the Ewoks were too cute and commodifiable, the plot was unoriginal (how did they build a second Death Star so fast?), Richard Marquand’s directing wasn’t as nuanced as Irvin Kerschner’s had been for the sublime Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (see Icons Unearthed: Star Wars). Compared to that latter masterclass in filmmaking, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was seen as the weak sauce. I held a torch for it, though, riding a Caravan of Courage through a gauntlet of Sith-worthy negativity [I see what you did there - Ed].

40 years on, I wondered if the film would still hold the same charm it did after so many repeated viewings? Would I still find it as exciting as, say, Star Wars: A New Hope’s dramatic climax?

I chose to rewatch Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in the comfort of my own home, even though it was playing several times a day at my local movie theatres. I didn’t think the rest of the audience would appreciate my clapping and cheering, my Wookiee impressions and my tears at the end.

Yes, I blubbed!

For once George Lucas’ special edition tinkering paid off, showing victory celebrations across the Star Wars galaxy. And that’s how Star Wars: Return of the Jedi works best, as a celebration of the saga, a party for the power of the Force.

There’s a sense of fun throughout, with slapstick moments edited alongside wounded Ewok casualties and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) being deliciously evil. With hindsight, the film’s imperfections add to its charm. The dialogue is repetitive as if it needed one more polish, but Mark Hamill’s performance is so earnest that it works.

The Ewoks build a throne for C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and weapons to fight the Empire in record time, making them perfect candidates for a new HGTV show. Meet the hosts of ‘Flip this Forest!’.

At the village, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has either brought a dress with her or borrowed one from an abnormally tall lady Ewok. Harrison Ford’s reactions to his furry yub-nubbing co-stars, the revelation that Luke and Leia are related, and to almost becoming an Ewok edible, all make the movie worth a rewatch.

Despite the baggage, the parodies, the criticisms and comparisons, somehow Star Wars: Return of the Jedi succeeds in wrapping up a mythical story and concluding the adventures of Luke Skywalker without getting trite, balancing humour with pathos, light and dark.

Watching it and cheering the heroes on, I feel like a kid again, 40 years falling far, far away...

What are your memories of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

Wes Anderson-inspired Star Wars

An ethical debate surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) is dominating mainstream media as the 'godfather of AI', Geoffrey Hinton, warns of human extinction as he steps away from Google.

Are we facing a nascent moral panic?

From deepfake technology to replacing creatives in the pursuit of profit, AI is deeply embedded in our daily lives. Been using Bard from Google for a few weeks but have no plans to relinquish creative chores to AI (as yet)!

An AI-generated Star Wars fan film, featuring deepfakes of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, has been created in the style of director Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and it's gone viral ahead of Star Wars Day.

Read the synopsis for Star Wars by Wes Anderson Trailer | The Galactic Menagerie:

"Welcome to the "Galactic Menagerie," a whimsical and visually stunning fan-made fake trailer that reimagines the classic Star Wars universe through the eccentric lens of Wes Anderson. This enchanting mashup brings together iconic Star Wars characters with Anderson's trademark symmetrical compositions, pastel color palettes, and quirky humor.

Journey to a galaxy far, far away and experience a unique adventure featuring Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and other fan favorites. Watch as they navigate the Galactic Menagerie, a universe filled with eccentric creatures, charming droids, and peculiar locations reminiscent of Anderson's beloved films such as "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Don't miss out on this one-of-a-kind fan edit that celebrates the magic of storytelling and the power of imagination. Be sure to like, comment, and subscribe for more extraordinary content. May the force be with you!"

One fan wrote: “I want to see this so much more than any contemporary official Star Wars project.”

“Wow, I need this in my life – this would be actually fun to watch,” wrote another, while someone else added: “The detail in this is astounding. I actually thought this was a Wes Anderson short. Very, very well done!”

What did you think of the AI-generated Star Wars fan film? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 2 May 2023

Find the Force with Fortnite x Star Wars

"This is where the fun begins!" Star Wars returns to Fortnite to celebrate May the Fourth!

Read the announcement from Epic Games:

"Running until May 23, 2023, at 9am ET you’ll be able to choose your trainer. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as your Jedi trainers or Darth Maul as your Sith trainer. Use Force abilities taught by one of these lightsaber-wielders to show your opponents the way of the light… or dark side."

I haven't played Fortnite since the last lockdown and will be diving back in on Xbox.

Will you be playing Fortnite x Star Wars? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 1 May 2023

LEGO Death Star II for May the Fourth

LEGO Star Wars celebrates May the Fourth AKA Star Wars Day and the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi with new building sets and related gifts with purchase.

The miniature X-wing is free with purchases of £35 or more. The VIP coin set is free with purchases of £80 or more. The LEGO Death Star II is free with purchases of £130 or more.

For example, the Emperor's Throne Room and Executor Super Star Destroyer sets will meet the threshold for all three LEGO Star Wars gifts available from the 1st thru the 7th of May. I will be ordering these sets myself. Combined with the Death Star II gift with purchase, it's a cool Star Wars: Return of the Jedi-themed collection.

LEGO Star Wars is available from LEGO AU, CA, UK and US (affiliate links).

During the May the Fourth event, new and existing VIP members (myself included) will be able to get Double VIP Points on all LEGO Star Wars sets as well as redeem multiple VIP offers.

Which LEGO Star Wars building sets are you getting? Let me know in the comments below.