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New Escapist Column! On How “The Rings of Power” Balances Itself Between “The Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones”…

I am doing weekly reviews of The Rings of Power at The Escapist. They’ll be dropping every Friday morning while the show is on, looking at the Lord of the Rings prequel as it progresses from one episode to the next.

The Rings of Power is very obviously a prequel to the events of The Lord of the Rings, and so exists in the shadow of Peter Jackson’s earlier cinematic adaptation. However, it emerges into a very different landscape, twenty years later. Audience expectations have shifted, along with their relationship to the larger fantasy genre. The Rings of Power asks what it means to be a Lord of the Rings prequel in a post-Game of Thrones world, and finds itself navigating the boundaries that have been reset.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On How “The Heirs of the Dragon” Places House of the Dragon in Daenerys’ Shadow…

I am doing weekly reviews of House of the Dragon at The Escapist. They’ll be dropping every Sunday evening while the show is on, looking at the Game of Thrones prequel as it progresses from one episode to the next.

Part of what is so interesting about the first episode, The Heirs of the Dragon, is the way in which the show immediately positions itself in the shadow of Daenerys Targaryen, perhaps the biggest breakout character from Game of Thrones. The first three scenes of The Heirs of the Dragon place the show firmly in the context of Daenerys, fixating upon the idea of what it means to be a Targaryen Queen of Westeros. It is a bold move from the show, and a strong statement of purpose, one that immediately establishes House of the Dragon as a series in conversation with Game of Thrones.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

New Escapist Column! On What We Talk About When We Talk About Looking for “the next Game of Thrones”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Wheel of Time this week, there’s been a lot of publicity describing the show as potentially “the next Game of Thrones.”

It’s interesting to ponder what people actually mean when they talk about “the next Game of Thrones.” After all, Game of Thrones existed in a category unto itself. If anything, it answered the question of what “the next Lostor “the next Sopranosmight look like, with those perhaps answering the question of “what the next E.R.or “the next Twin Peaksmight look like, and so on. Game of Thrones was a smashing success that nobody saw coming, and which looked utterly unlike anything on television. That means that “the next Game of Thrones” probably won’t look anything like Game of Thrones.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the Legacy of “Game of Thrones”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the tenth (or “iron”) anniversary of Game of Thrones coming up, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the show’s enduring legacy – in particular, the disconnect between the internet’s narrative of that legacy and the reality of it. To listen to the internet, Game of Thrones ended in such a way as to erase its cultural footprint and any residual cultural goodwill towards it. It’s not uncommon to hear people talk, at length, about how nobody talks about Game of Thrones anymore. However, there’s a fascinating dissonance here, because Game of Thrones appears to be thriving by any quantifiable measure. You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Video! On Paralleling “The Expanse” with “Game of Thrones”…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This week, with the penultimate season of The Expanse winding down and with the frequent comparisons to Game of Thrones, I took a look at what the two shows have in common – and where they differ from one another.

New Escapist Column! On What “The Expanse” Learned from “Game of Thrones”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Since I binged The Expanse and since the season finale is out this week, I figured it was worth taking a look at the show in comparison to Game of Thrones.

From its launch, The Expanse has been likened and compared to Game of Thrones. Part of this is simply down to the show being an epic within a familiar genre framework, but there is something to the comparison. While the comparison might be somewhat obvious and straightforward, it is also informative: not only in the ways that The Expanse evokes Game of Thrones, but the ways in which The Expanse differs from Game of Thrones.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the Fan Reaction to the Final Season of “Game of Thrones”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. It’s the one year anniversary of the end of Game of Thrones, so it seemed appropriate to look back on the fan reaction to that final season.

The final season is admittedly a flawed season of television. However, that doesn’t quite explain the level of vitriol that it provokes online. After all, the finale was widely enjoyed by general audiences, performed reasonably well at the Emmys and is doing very well for itself in streaming in social isolation. This contrast is interesting, suggesting that there’s something particularly prickly about the final season that alienated its most vocal fans so extremely.

In hindsight, this seems to be the actions of Daenerys Targaryen in the second half of the season. In the home strange, Daenerys ceased to be seen as a “liberator” of the continent, and instead became a conqueror. She did what all conquerors do, raining down death and destruction on those civilisations that do not welcome her. This was all very clearly seeded across the previous seven seasons, but it turned rather sharply against the audience’s sympathy for Daenerys. In doing so, it made the audience complicit in the carnage. One suspects that complicity stings.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On Uncanny Valley of “The Witcher” Between Prestige and Tradition…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine the week before last, looking at the Netflix streaming show The Witcher.

There are a lot of interesting things about the eight episode introductory season of The Witcher, which is adapted from two books of short stories and which seems to exist largely to set the table for more impressive seasons to follow. However, what is most immediately striking about The Witcher is the way in which it exists in the uncanny valley between modern prestige television and a more traditional model of episodic storytelling, looking like a hybrid of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Game of Thrones. To be clear, this is not a bad thing.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! “His Dark Materials” Could Only Exist in a Post-“Game of Thrones” World…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday evening. This one took a look at the new BBC/HBO co-production of His Dark Materials, adapting Phillip Pullman’s fantasy epic for a new generation.

It feels appropriate that somebody should take another crack at Pullman’s novels now. New Line Cinema attempted to adapt The Golden Compass back in 2007, using the same model that they applied to The Lord of the Rings. However, that was never going to work; Pullman’s work was too subversive and too radical to ever fit the traditional cinematic narrative template. In contrast, this feels like the perfect moment for another adaptation, as Game of Thrones has pushed the boundaries in terms of television fantasy, both in what is possible and what audiences will accept.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Avengers – Infinity War

There is a solid argument to be made for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as blockbuster television series that only releases three or four films in a given year.

There’s a lot of evidence to support this argument, perhaps most notably the directors chosen for “phase two” of the grand experiment. Joss Whedon might have directed Serenity and Much Ado About Nothing, but he remains known for his game-changing work on television series like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse. Removing Patty Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World and replacing her with Alan Taylor only reinforced this sense. Drafting in the Russo Brothers from Community to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier cemented the notion.

Purple reign.

Indeed, the elevation of the Russo Brothers within the Marvel Studios hierarchy with Captain America: Civil War and with Avengers: Infinity War suggests the obvious similarities between managing the sprawling continuity of the shared cinematic universe and the day-to-day management of a television show, where individual instalments might be credited to individual authors, but it is also important to maintain consistency of tone and vision across the entire line. Infinity War suggests the sort of organisational ability associated with long-form television storytelling more than any single cinematic narrative.

There are moments in which this approach works. Infinity War is full of knowing winks and callbacks, allusions and references. There is a sense of set-up and pay-off to certain threads and arcs seeded across the eighteen previous films within the established brand. Characters get emotional scenes that play upon established relationships and dynamics, which are clearly articulated within the film itself, but building off years of watching (and rewatching) these actors play off one another in these roles. There is an undeniable weight to Infinity War that simply would not be possible without that television storytelling style.

Avengers assembled.

At the same time, there are reminders of the limitations of this approach, of the challenges of balancing individual stories with a larger plan for the narrative universe in which they unfold. This is particularly notable because Marvel Studios recently shifted towards a more director-friendly approach in some of its standalone productions. Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 are both undeniably James Gunn productions. Black Panther could only have come from Ryan Coogler. Thor: Ragnarok worked as well as it did because of the unique directorial stylings of Taika Waititi.

Watching Infinity War, it becomes clear how far these directors deviated from the established style sheet, and the difference in approach between these directors and the Russo Brothers. It occasionally feels like Infinity War was constructed by people who watched those movies, without understanding why they worked as well. There is a tonal awkwardness when these characters are woven back into the fabric of the shared universe, in a manner that is occasionally unquantifiable but sometimes fundamental.

Guardians… Get In There?

Infinity War is good, clean fun. Perhaps too good and too clean. In order put the jigsaw pieces together, all of the rough edges have been sanded off. Anything that might generate friction has been stripped away, creating the impression of a very smooth and very functional storytelling engine. Midway through the film, Thor ruminates upon the existence of fate and how it has led him towards this particular moment and beyond to a greater purpose. Doctor Steven Strange perceives one single happy ending to this crisis.

There is a sense that Thor and Strange perceive the vast narrative machine of Infinity War working around them. It is an impressive machine, if a somewhat inhuman one.

Things look pretty Stark.

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