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Reboots, remakes and reimaginings

Posted April 18, 2014 by

In among the slew of sequels and prequels and endless spinoffs of already exhausted franchises, this year also promises its fair share of the latest fashionable money-spinner: the reboot.

Already we’ve had the latest Jack Ryan (the first since 2002, and the fourth incarnation of the character), there’s been a new Robocop, there’s a new Godzilla on the horizon and a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Added to the mix are the reports that Universal is developing a new Battlestar Galactica, taking the already rebooted TV series into a new medium.

Ultimately, a reboot is designed to reignite interest, acclaim and revenue in a product – a film, a franchise, a character – by instigating a do-over. A reboot signals several things: audiences have forgotten about the pre-existing incarnations, or they waned on the pre-existing incarnations, the producers are unhappy with the direction the series took, or the socio-cultural climate of the time brings an unexpected relevance to the character or the story that warrants exploiting.

It’s hard to not be cynical about reboots, they are easily seen as just elaborate ways of wringing more money out of the same material.

This week is the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the follow up to the 2012 reboot of the character and the franchise. It’s hard not to be ambivalent about this, and early reviews seem to suggest that this rebooted series of the old series suffers from redundancy and irrelevance. It’s a logical feeling, given that Sam Raimi’s three Spider-Man films were released between 2002 and 2007, which gives the overall franchise five films in twelve years, and two more due in the next three years.

Why reboot the character so soon? Given that so much of The Amazing Spider-Man felt like a retread of Raimi’s films, with slight tweaks to details and characters, Marc Webb’s newer film felt like an echo of Raimi’s. It tried to function as its own interpretation of the character, seemingly looking at more of the youth of the character (yet casting an actor well into adulthood), it still managed to work its way through the same character beats, the same arc of growth and realisation that Peter Parker traversed in the originals.

This is the problem with this reboot. It’s far too close to the original – only five years between Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man – and the audience for the separate incarnations haven’t really changed too much. There hasn’t been an expanse of time to forget, or long for a newer version, and Webb’s Spider-Man has smacked of milking a character (and an audience) for the sake of it. Given that Raimi’s films came before the boom of Christopher Nolan’s Batman and Marvel’s Avengers juggernaut, it does appear that Sony are trying to cash in on a newly-enabled audience for comic book films.

Nolan’s efforts at least show how reboots can function, with his three Batman films a complete revision over Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s earlier films. And while there is only eight years between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins, Nolan was rebooting a franchise off the back of largely forgettable and embarrassing films, and the last critically acceptable film – Batman Returns – was made back in 1992, an entire generation away.

In the case of this year’s Godzilla, the producers are openly acknowledging that the 1998 version was not a success, and are attempting to erase that from memory. A reset, rather than a reboot. This approach is also evident in the X-Men series, that lost its way after X-Men and X2 with two poorly received continuations – X-Men: The Last Stand  and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It is interesting to note how little the following films – X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine – have entirely glossed over the middle two, discarding any efforts those films made to canonically affect the series.

So a reboot essentially resets the audiences, and acknowledges that there is a reason to start over. This is why certain reboots work, and others seem unnecessary. While Raimi’s films weren’t perfect, they were still successful, and the audience for Spider-Man would be right to question why they had to start over again so soon. It would have been better to continue the series, with a different actor, rather than get caught up in telling yet another origin story.

So when is a reboot not a reboot? Robocop is basically a remake. The original film tapped into the wellspring of paranoia about genetic engineering, the advance of robotics and the fear of the police state that dominated 80s pop culture. By transplanting that story into the 21st century, the audience is expected to then understand that there is a relevance, applicability and universality to this character and this story that transcends eras. And while that might be true of Robocop the character, to call this a reboot is disingenuous. However, to call it a remake would be creating an anticipation in the audience that there is nothing new here, just an update. It has become unfashionable to call remakes what they are, whereas a reboot is the promise of something more.

A reimagining seems to just be the extension of a reboot. In the case of Battlestar Galactica and the recent Star Trek films, the promise to the audience isn’t just to restart a series and do it differently, it’s also to ask the audience to be open-minded enough to challenge initial preconceptions about the form of the series, and the characters within it. Or, to give the producers enough leeway to cherry-pick the originals for whatever useful elements they can find while they transplant them into a wholly different story. Either way, reimagine. The entire James Bond franchise has operated along these lines for decades.

I can understand the limiting nature of labelling a remake for what it is, and therefore the idea of a reboot as a label and marketing tool is beneficial and understandable. But I do think perhaps we need to question why we’re treated to ongoing reboots year after year, and whether they’re entirely justified for each series, or if we’re treading too closely into reboots just becoming cynical exercises of cashing in.

Excerpt: Troll Mountain: Episode II by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 17, 2014 by

A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest.

 

Journey to the mountain … 

The only unguarded entrance to Troll Mountain is the abandoned kingdom of the hobgoblins. 

With no other route available to them, Raf and his newfound friends, Ko and Düm, enter the dark, dank world of the hobgoblins. 

But is it truly abandoned?

IN THIS, THE SECOND OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.

Chapter 10

The realm of the hobgoblins was a dank collection of dark tunnels and immense stone caves, all cut out of the living rock. Exposed sections of a strange rust-colored stone could be seen in its walls. These sections were framed by long-abandoned scaffolds and ladders.

“What is this strange stone?” Raf asked, touching it.

Ko said, “This ‘kingdom,’ it would appear, was actually once a mine. Similar mines were common in my homeland, for that substance you see is raw iron which, when smelted in a furnace, can be used to make very effective weapons.”

“I have heard tales of an ancient tribe of men who lived in these lands,” Raf said. “They were clever men, and they wore shiny armor and bronze helmets with red plumes. But they left when their home city, across the sea to the south, was attacked, and they never returned.”

A short way down the first tunnel, Raf’s group came to a broad pit in the floor, spanning the entire width of the passageway. At the base of the pit were a dozen upwardly pointed wooden spikes. In among the spikes, Raf saw the remains of a troll, skewered by no fewer than five of the deadly stakes.

The troll, he noticed, was not very decomposed. “That corpse hasn’t been here long,” he said.

“A rogue troll seeking shelter, I would guess,” Ko said.

“It must have entered from the other side,” Raf said, “for the spider web sealing our entrance was undisturbed.”

Düm just nodded in agreement, saying nothing.

Two small stepping stones protruded from the right-hand wall of the pit: the only way across.

Raf and Ko skipped easily across the stepping stones, but Düm needed the help of a rope to get across. It was a simple but effective trap to stop a troll from entering the cave system.

They passed through two massive mine-caves, each connected by long straight tunnels that contained other traps. Grim hobgoblin decorations flanked the walls: more troll skulls, and some bear and wolf skulls.

In the first of those caves, Düm found a large wooden sledgehammer near some other mining tools. For a human, it was a large thing, to be wielded with both hands in a slinging over-the-shoulder motion, but Düm held it lightly in one hand.

Flanking the entrance to the next tunnel were the rotting corpses of not one but two trolls: they were both affixed to the wall with their heads sagging and their arms spread wide, their giant hands nailed to the stone wall.

Raf stared up at the dead trolls in disgust.

Düm just averted his gaze.

“Hobgoblins did this?” Raf gasped.

“Yes,” Ko said softly.

They passed between the two hideously displayed trolls, entering the narrow stone tunnel beyond them.

“Why would the hobgoblins leave this place?” Raf asked. “It gives ample shelter and good defense against the trolls.”

Ko said, “Hobgoblins are most unpleasant creatures, not just because of their cunning but because they only consume. They do not build anything. They do not domesticate animals or plants. They do not renew. Hobgoblins live in places built by others and they simply consume what is available for as long as it is available. Then they move on to another place and slowly destroy it. Hobgoblins cannot see beyond the needs of the present moment. They stayed here for as long as it sustained them and then moved on.”

“Are trolls any different?”

“Oh, trolls are much smarter,” Ko said. “Why, this is the cause of your current dilemma. The trolls deduced that they needed to secure their food and water supply for the future. They did this by damming the river and essentially enslaving the human tribes downstream. They give you just enough water to survive and you give them food. This enforced tribute feeds the trolls with minimal labor on their part. In this regard, the troll is much smarter than the hobgoblin.”

They edged further down the tunnel.

“What exactly is a hobgoblin?” Raf asked.

Ko shrugged. “Hobgoblins are smaller than men, but they speak like men. They have hands and feet just like ours but their skin is coarser, leathery, more bristled. If they were not once men then maybe they were once apes—it is as if they are an animal caught halfway between the two, for they share features of both.”

As Ko said this, Raf realized that the tunnel through which they were walking was becoming oddly warm and humid.

They came to a doorway and stepped out into an enormous cavern.

Raf stopped at the sight that met him.

A broad lake of steaming water filled the floor of the mighty space. Raf had seen thermal springs before, but not an entire subterranean lake.

A low wooden bridge spanned the hot lake, giving access to a most unusual feature that dominated the far wall of the massive cavern: a railless stone path cut into the rock wall itself. It switched back and forth up the three-hundred-foot wall, steadily ascending. Any slip or stumble would result in a fall into the steaming pool at its base. Bored into the huge rock wall from the path were many man-sized mini-tunnels.

At two places up the path’s length there were ancient guardhouses with drawbridges folding down from them that spanned gaps in the vertiginous walkway. At the moment, the lower of the two drawbridges was folded down and open, while the upper one was folded up, barring passage across its void.

At the very top of the path, Raf saw an imposing stone doorway like the one through which they had entered the old mine: the exit.

Raf stared up in awe at the incredible feat of engineering.

Beside him, Ko wasn’t looking at it at all. He was peering at something on the ground nearby. He dropped to his knees to inspect it. “Oh, dear, this is not good.”

Düm saw what Ko was examining and sniffed with distaste. “Droppings…”

“These are mountain wolf droppings,” Ko said. “And they are fresh.” He drew his sword with a sharp zing.

“Mountain wolves…” Raf said. He was already gripping his flint knife.

Düm hefted his sledgehammer.

Ko said, “Something did move in after the hobgoblins abandoned this place…”

A sudden cackle of laughter echoed out from the upper reaches of the cave.

Raf spun.

Düm turned.

“I seeeeeee you!” a thin reedy voice called from the darkness.

“I see you, too!” another voice called from another direction.

“I see you three!” a third voice called.

Raf spun again, eyes scanning the cavern, but he saw nothing, no movement.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” a lower voice said from somewhere much closer. “Because now you must die.”

Raf’s heart was pounding as he turned once more to face the tunnel through which they had come and abruptly found himself staring into the eyes of a hobgoblin holding a sword.

The sword came rushing at Raf’s face.

 

Troll Mountain: Episode II is available now for $1.99 where all good ebooks are sold

Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 2 – The Lion and the Rose

Posted April 15, 2014 by

This weekly Game of Thrones recap is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t. While I won’t discuss any future spoiler in the series, I will acknowledge how the episodes tell the story of the books, where they’re similar and where they’re different. For those who have read the books, if you feel like commenting please keep any spoilers unsaid.

If last week was all about picking up the pieces after the Red Wedding, this episode was clearly about re-establishing the powerplays of Westeros. Once again the lure of the Iron Throne has set in motion wheels within wheels of deceit, motives, jealousy and murder.

King Joffrey is dead. The irony is palpable, for those of us who watched Joffrey’s infantile glee at Robb Stark’s death at a wedding, Joffrey is now killed – poisoned, even, a coward’s murder – at his own wedding. Last week’s episode showed us how Tywin Lannister’s actions could bring about even more immoral actions and villains, this week we see that writ large. As Lady Olenna says to Sansa:

‘Kill a man at a wedding? Horrid. What sort of monster would do such a thing?’

This is Tywin’s monstrous world, and now he has to live in it. If the shaky hold House Lannister has on the throne was hinted at last week, it’s well and truly out in the open now, with all manner of machinations edging their way to usurp.

The wedding dominates this episode, almost like no other sequence has in the series’ run. There are only a few token scenes elsewhere, once again establishing King’s Landing as the setting-du-jour, and confirming that this season will focus on select characters each episode, rather than trying to show all.

It’s a necessary move, as the show was beginning to lack a core focus – the Red Wedding notwithstanding – and in trying to tell all the stories, previous episodes were coming across more as postcards from Westeros, rather than in-depth storytelling. This season we now have had two episodes that draw the reader into particular narratives, trusting that more time spent with one set of characters will allow us greater familiarity in transitioning back and forth.

There’s also still a sense that the show runners are reminding the audience of certain implications in the plot – also a necessary move after thirty hours of story – and when this episode does deviate from King’s Landing to other locations, it’s brief and yet to the point. We sense that the scant details of other characters are still highly significant, each scene screaming out ‘Pay attention! This is important!’

Firstly, at The Dreadfort, Ramsay is leading Theon (now answering to Reek) on a hideous chase after a woman, with Theon forced to watch as Ramsay first shoots an arrow through the woman and then sets his dogs on her. It’s horrible, and torturous, and this death is in strong contrast with Joffrey’s at the end. One has been called for by audiences everywhere, the other has not. In Game of Thrones, all death is bad, and it comes to all.

Once again reasserting some important characters, Roose Bolton shows up for the first time this season, demonstrating his hold on the North, and that until now, all believed Bran and Rickon dead. But as Theon reminds us, more of the Stark family are alive than many were aware, and Roose knows he must work to keep the North his.

And again with the irony, as Theon is forced to look at himself clearly, once complaining over his treatment by the Starks when he was their ward, now tortured and maimed as yet another ward to another family, in the spoils of war. This scene is unbelievably well-acted, with Alfie Allen getting to do perhaps his best work on the show so far.

At Dragonstone, Stannis is knee-deep in Melisandre’s control, and possibly beginning to wonder whether it’s leading him anywhere good. Selyse, his wife, has taken complete leave from the world of the sane, and Stannis suddenly realises that his daughter Shireen could be in danger with their obsession over the Lord of Light.

Given the curse placed on Joffrey by Melisandre, and his subsequent death, the drama now arrives in how much Stannis believes, or how much he is prepared to use his belief to get what he wants, with the throne now vacant. And how much is poor Ser Davos prepared to stand by and watch, given that he is the moral compass of Dragonstone?

And in the North, Bran is delving ever deeper into his warg powers, and Jojen and Meera warn him about forgetting himself, and his purpose. This strand has always bordered on tiresome with some viewers, though it clearly is important for the series. Bran is taken to what looks like a weirwood tree and has a vision of what appear to be things past, present and future, and undoubtedly this brief flash will be endlessly dissected until the show gives further clarification.

Either way, Bran’s journey clearly gets to the heart of where the series is heading. While all about him are concerned with war and the spoils of war, Bran has avoided all of this to head along his own path. Yes, it’s frustrating as there’s clearly information that is being withheld from us, but no doubt it will only grow in significance as the story continues.

But this episode is all about the wedding at King’s Landing. Joffrey and Margaery are married, thus confirming the Tyrell’s ties to the throne, and seemingly cementing the Lannisters’ hold as well. Behind the scenes, Tyrion is forcing Shae to leave, and is increasingly aware at just how low his stocks have fallen, and how precarious his position is, and is reminded of this fact by Varys, who we know only serves the realm.

If there’s a central character in this episode, it’s Tyrion. We repeatedly return to his perspective during the wedding, as he grows ever-more aware of his inability to cloak himself with the Lannister colours for protection. The threat now is from his own family – with Tywin discovering Tyrion’s ongoing relationship with Shae, Joffrey tormenting Tyrion to untold extremes during the wedding feast, and Cersei’s final accusation that Tyrion is to blame for Joffrey’s murder. It’s excruciating to watch Tyrion out of moves, and unable to extricate himself from peril, like he has done through all three seasons previously.

Joffrey’s tormenting of him is torture on a par with Ramsay’s flaying of Theon last season. The re-enacting of past challenges to the throne by hired short-statured people is manufactured by Joffrey purely for Tyrion’s mocking, and we can sense Joffrey’s rage in Tyrion’s refusal to play along. Never has the character appeared more in danger, and yet formidable, as when Tyrion refuses to kneel for Joffrey, and Dinklage plays Tyrion’s threatened stoicism perfectly beat-for-beat in this scene.

This episode was written by George R. R. Martin, and despite readers of the book knowing who was behind Joffrey’s poisoning, Martin scripts this sequence perfectly, illustrating how it’s not a question of who did kill him, but who wouldn’t want to. Almost every character present at the least had ample reason and opportunity – Tyrells, Martells, Sansa, even Brienne and Varys – though we are clearly led down the path of seeing how impossible it is to not accuse Tyrion, as Cersei does. For the careful viewer, we are shown exactly how Joffrey is murdered, and who is to blame, but that’s all beside the point when the drama now is whether anyone will care that Tyrion takes the fall.

The final moments of this episode give us further direction for the season, much like they did in ‘Two Swords’: Joffrey dead, Tyrion accused and Cersei vitriolic, while everyone else bristles with opportunity that this destabilising moment creates. There may not be open warfare this season, but there clearly will be a race for control, much like Season One offered up. Unsettlingly for Tywin and House Lannister, control and power are not tied to the throne anymore, and Joffrey’s death shows us how one can be a king and yet still vulnerable.

  • Valar Morghulis: King Joffrey, and the woman chased by Ramsay and Theon at the opening. Which one will be remembered more?
  • Noah Taylor’s character Locke turned up again, joining the immoral bunch at the Dreadfort. This can only mean evil things.
  • A note on poisoning: it was John Arryn’s death by poisoning that drew Nedd Stark to King’s Landing back in Season One. Then, he blamed Cersei. How do Nedd’s accusations stack up now that Joffrey has died by similar means?
  • There was some by-play between Cersei and Maester Pycelle at one point, which drew yet another reference to Qyburn, who is clearly going to become a character of greater significance, though he’s been rarely seen until now.

Cover reveal: The White List by Nina D’Aleo

Posted April 14, 2014 by

We are thrilled to reveal the cover for Nina D’Aleo’s new novel, The White List.

 

Chapter 11 is watching you. 

Silver is an intelligence operative working for an agency that doesn’t officially exist—beyond any government and above the law. Chapter 11 is the kind of place a person can join but never leave. And it keeps a third of the world’s population under constant surveillance. At work. On the street. In their homes.

Why? Because of Shaman syndrome.

One in three people are born with Shaman syndrome, which endows them with abilities they cannot control and do not even know they have. It is Chapter 11′s responsibility to cap and surveil these walts—as they are known—to ensure their talents don’t turn ugly for the ordinary people around them.

After Silver partner, Dark, is seriously injured by a walt, Silver is driven to investigate. What starts as a routine investigation isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, especially when she discovers there’s a price on her head.

Chapter 11 might be watching the world, but it can’t see the division in its own ranks. Someone wants the white list—the list of every known walt that Chapter 11 has capped—but for what purpose? Silver needs to find out the secret behind Shaman syndrome, before it’s too late.

The White List will be available from 13 May 2014 where all good ebooks are sold for $5.99

Nina D’Aleo’s previous novels, The Last City and The Forgotten City, are available now.

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