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How The Hobbit Extended Editions Improve the Trilogy for the Better


I saw my first Peter Jackson film at the cinema when I was nine. At nearly three hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was the longest film I saw in my pre-teen years. That was before I heard of extended editions and director’s cuts. Edited cuts of previously-released films are rare (nowadays they’re usually only released on Blu-ray), but with Jackson I came to expect them almost as often as Christmas presents. His films were released in December, then the following year the extended editions arrived on DVD. To my knowledge, he has released seven of them to date: extended version of the Lord of the Rings films; his remake of King Kong; and most recently, the Hobbit films. They all offer viewers the chance to go deeper into the worlds Jackson and his crew brought to life, and to see new scenes left on the cutting room floor. However, the question of whether they make the films better is hotly debated by fans and filmgoers. The Hobbit films are a special case - given the troubles they faced, they needed the extended treatment more than any other film Jackson has made.


Based on the book by J. R. R. Tolkien, the Hobbit trilogy takes place sixty years before LotR. Bilbo Baggins, a reclusive Hobbit (played by Martin Freeman), is recruited by Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen) for a dangerous quest: to reclaim the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor (a.k.a. The Lonely Mountain) from the dragon Smaug. Bilbo joins a company of thirteen Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield, the last heir to Erebor’s throne (Richard Armitage), who doesn’t look kindly on Bilbo at first. However, with Gandalf’s support - and that of Thorin’s followers Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, and Ori - Bilbo soldiers on. Together, they face hungry trolls, grotesque goblins, and vengeful orcs (among other creatures) on the road towards Erebor. Meanwhile, Gandalf investigates clues along the way that hint at the coming of a greater evil than Smaug. And, of course, Bilbo has some close encounters of his own - including a run-in with a certain gangrel creature with a certain gold ring.


I chose to write about the Hobbit films because they had a much harder journey from page to screen than LotR. Jackson wanted to make the films since 1997, but couldn’t because the rights to adapt The Hobbit were split between Warner Bros. and MGM Pictures. While the studios struggled to make a deal to fund the films, Jackson and his crew began writing with Guillermo del Toro. They had planned to have del Toro direct the films, but MGM’s financial troubles delayed the project again and again until del Toro left. In 2010 a deal between Warner and MGM was finally reached, and Jackson stepped up to direct the films. However, the concept designs del Toro approved for the films were scrapped and Jackson had to start over. The studios gave him only five months to prepare for the films, which forced him to start filming without scripts, sets, and creature designs finalised. Jackson’s design crew had to develop things as they went along, and they were forced to rely on more CGI than they had on LotR. Worst of all, the producers at Warner and MGM ordered Jackson to write in a subplot that wasn’t in the book: a love triangle between Kili, the new Elf character Tauriel, and Legolas from LotR. The change was slammed by fans not only because Tauriel was written as a love interest, but because Legolas didn’t appear in the Hobbit novel at all (even though his father, Elvenking Thranduil, did appear). It had a terrible impact on Jackson’s plans for the last two films, forcing him to focus more on the subplot than the main story. Many battle scenes planned for the last film, The Battle of the Five Armies, were cut or even left unfinished, resulting in the film running shorter and getting worse reviews than its predecessors. Overall, the Hobbit films are shorter and less acclaimed than LotR - all because Jackson was denied the time and freedom he needed to do them justice.


Because of the films’ flaws on their theatrical run, I came to see the extended editions as a second chance for The Hobbit. Peter Jackson was allowed to put an hour’s worth of footage back into the films; it’s small compared to the amount of footage returned to LotR (more than two hours), but it makes a huge difference. The extended cuts run more smoothly than the theatrical ones, and include scenes Jackson left unfinished the first time around. His crew were even allowed to fix continuity errors between the films - the biggest being Smaug’s design. In An Unexpected Journey, the dragon had four legs as he did in the book. However, his design wasn’t final; when Jackson filmed the sequel, The Desolation of Smaug, he had Smaug’s front legs removed so his actor - Benedict Cumberbatch - could use the dragon’s wings in his performance. For the extended edition of AUJ, the prologue was reshot using Smaug’s new design. The new shots only amount to a few seconds, but they help change the first film for the better; and they’re not the only changes that improve the films.


With the extended editions, Jackson revealed more of Thorin’s backstory and gave the rest of the Dwarves more screen-time. In DoS, the opening scene is extended to bring Thorin’s father, Thrain, into the story; and Gandalf’s scenes are also extended to reveal Thrain’s fate. This is one of my favourite additions, and one I’m sure Tolkien’s fans will appreciate because it draws on appendices from LotR as well as The Hobbit. Tolkien planned to rewrite The Hobbit after he finished LotR to link the books more closely, but since he changed his mind before he passed away, the films’ extended editions are now the closest thing to the adult retelling he wanted to write. In fact, some of the new scenes are so violent they raised the films’ age rating from 12 to 15. However, the biggest and best changes come in the last instalment, The Battle of the Five Armies.


At two hours and twenty minutes, BoFA’s theatrical cut is the shortest of the Hobbit films and the worst hit by their rushed filming schedule. I was very disappointed in the trilogy’s “defining chapter” because of its rapid pace and lack of emotional punch. The extended edition changed it for the better. Although he couldn’t remove the love triangle, Peter Jackson added twenty minutes back into the film. Most of the new footage takes place at the battle itself, and includes scenes that went unfinished at the time of the film’s first release. The arrival of Dain (Billy Connolly) now includes a cavalry of goat riders who attack the Elves before the Orcs appear. As well as padding the scene out, it answers the question of where Thorin and his friends found goats to ride to the film’s finale. The Dwarves get their own scenes in the battle too, giving it some much-needed comic relief. A particular highlight is a chariot chase featured in the trailers, which didn’t appear in the film’s theatrical cut. Finally, Thorin’s story gets the closure it deserves in a funeral scene, where he and the Arkenstone are laid to rest. My biggest issue with the film’s theatrical cut is that the stone - the ultimate goal of Thorin's quest - disappeared when the battle started and was never seen again. The extended edition changed that. Although it didn't surpass the ending of The Return of the King, it did bring the Hobbit films to the tragic conclusion they needed - true to the book and, more importantly, a fitting end to Peter Jackson's Middle-earth films. Since its release two years ago, the extended edition of BoFA has gained far better reviews than its theatrical cut. I have yet to meet anyone who prefers the theatrical cut.


If, like me, you were disappointed by the Hobbit films in the cinema, I strongly urge you to follow Bilbo and Thorin one last time. The extended editions are a rare case among films where bigger is better. If you've seen them already, let us know what you think and tell us your favourite new or extended scene on Facebook and Twitter!

Why The Walking Dead Is Now Barely Watchable


The Walking Drag

Remember when this show used to be about zombies? In the months running up to each season or mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead, I usually get asked if I’m looking forward to it. For the last couple of years, I've usually responded with a “meh”. 

When asking myself if I’m willing to invest 50 minutes of my life each week for another 16 episode series, my gut instinct tells me I’ll get more of the same: “Rick makes a speech about working together and/or surviving. The squad heads out on a mission or a slightly convoluted plot. Things seem like they’re going smoothly. Oh no, things are suddenly not going so smoothly. Will that person die? Probably not. Repeat 16 times until the finale”.


Watching the Season 8 premiere, I was still slightly optimistic but much less than I have been with seasons that came before. Being the 100th episode, titled “Mercy”, also being a tribute to both the show’s deceased stuntman and horror icon, George A. Romero, you’d have expected something special. Not like a parody of Night of the Living Dead or anything but perhaps a deviation from the episodic formula that’s been batted into the ground over the last few seasons (just like Glenn). So was the episode a tribute to the stuntman and Father of the Zombie drama as such? Ha ha. No.
The episode opened with Rick standing in front of all of his followers. Giving a speech, talking about the bad guy they need to go have yet another slightly tense shoot-out with. Saying they’re not just friends or colleagues, they’re family, for what feels like the 45th time. The Fast & Furious franchise has less repetitive dialogue and I never thought I’d have to make that comparison but that’s the world we live in now I suppose.


Rick and co. drive off to Negan’s. I mean Negan drove to his last time so it’s only fair, yeah? Daryl, Carol and a few whose names I can’t remember (they’re not important enough to Google), jumpstart the gang’s latest convoluted plot of luring a mass horde of Walkers, led by a cool-looking Daryl on a motorcycle. Aside from the pre-tense to the shoot-out, this is basically the plot of the Season 6 premiere. Is poking critique at that picky? Maybe, although it being only two years ago feels patronising. This episode had a very slight pay off to it but the whole inclusion of this sub-plot in the episode felt like a run-time filler pulled out of the plot device recycle bin, slightly polished up and reused as if we wouldn’t notice.


So Rick and his brand of The Super Best Friends get to Neagan’s, call him and his squad out, chat a bit with guns pointed. Neagan trash talks in retort, makes threats under his charismatic persona, shooting starts, roll credits. It all just feels so tired. Similar to that feeling when you’d get dropped off at a grandparent’s on school holidays and you had no choice but to rewatch that one film they own on VHS. We’ve seen this all before in The Walking Dead. It’s not that it isn’t entertaining for some but many have seen this all too many times.


The reason for Neagan’s inclusion in the show, back in the season 6 finale, was an attempt to rejuvenate the direction of the show forward. To give audiences a charismatic face of evil that they’d just hate to love and love to hate. As infuriating his introduction was teased and drawn out, Neagan was a success. Before the finale of season 6, I could barely tell you anything what happened during the show’s previous couple of seasons. I simply remember them as big blocks of the same formulaic episodes mentioned earlier.  That formula grew tired by The Walking Dead’s 4th season and unfortunately, the Neagan-infused version of the show is now suffering the same fate.


It cannot be denied that Neagan was a breath of fresh air. He was the reason to get keen on watching TWD again. For the first half of the seventh season anyway. Regrettably, because Neagan became the only reason to watch the show, the Neagan-esque formula quickly got tired by the season finale, ending an exhaustingly stretched out run of filler episodes with bouts of PG-13 violence as checkpoints.
Season 8 has basically been marketed as “they’re going to war!”. Isn’t that what the second half of season 7 was about? So we’re basically in for another full drawn out season of a few bullet-riddled conflicts padded with filler episodes - unless it’s all been a clever marketing ploy and everyone just goes back to fighting zombies in an awesome survival gore fest. I say this because this is what’s missing from the show. The  Walkers. The zombies that were once the driving allure of the show have been pushed into the background, being nothing more than mere props. They’re now more decorations for aesthetic than the horrifying creatures they’re meant to be known for, adding a theme of decay to a showcase of mediocre gun violence and worn out story lines of conflicting societies.


Absence of the Walkers’ weight onscreen carries further disappointment because it’s a sign of the series dropping its roots in order to be mainstream complaint-proof. It’s safe to say we’ll never see the level of perfectly brutal, bloody violence that made the Season 7 premiere so perfect when the series needs some inevitable jazzing up. Following the brain-smashing batting to death of Abraham and Glenn, beautiful eyeball popping included, parents, TV fans and many others with too much time on their hands were quick to cry in outrage. Despite the Glenn-smashing being faithful to its comic book roots, The Walking Dead has become a victim of its own success. If it were 4 or 5 years ago, barely anyone would have bat an eye. Now due to its mass viewership, any complaints are picked up and inflated immediately, with pressure to reduce its levels of gory violence reaching its producers almost instantaneously.


This was evident in the Season 8 premiere. Despite being a show about zombies overflowing the world, with hundreds being in this particular episode, only one person got eaten alive and it was all off screen. Rick fiercely stabbing a baddy in the stomach was all implied. Fear of mass criticism over violence and not being Marvel-film family friendly has caused showrunners to only stick with what’s safe, and we’ve already seen what’s safe 99 times before.

Up to season 4, The Walking Dead was one of the best shows on television. Being the concluding series of a war between clashing societies before it got as dull as a spoon, everything grew at an appropriate pace. Characters steadily developed, the stories felt fresh and the violence was abundantly fitting for the world its set in. This is where The Walking Dead peaked. After finally setting up a safe haven for our cast of survivors and clashing with a human villain, The Governor, for the first time, there was no room left to grow. Beyond a few tweaks to the particular baddie, each season has repeated itself with the stakes only being slightly raised to make viewers think otherwise.

The Walking Dead is now what I believe to be the television equivalent of stale white bread. If I was starving to death with no alternatives to satisfy my hunger for entertainment, sure, I’d wolf down the whole load. Yet I know whatever new episode I’m going to watch will be identical to reruns from previous seasons but with a fresh coat of paint. Seasons I’ve never once been tempted to re-watch as there are so many alternatives: new and interesting films or television series with unique stories and concepts that’ll tether my attention to the screen. A full season is around 14 hours. Spare time is precious. If you want to spend your time watching something that’s repetitive and stale, watch a Transformers film. At least they’re only around 2 and a half hours.

Gaming's Greatest Spooks: Silent Hill


A Story by Hugo Aranzaes 

I am what you would call, a skeptic. I tend to base my arguments on empirical evidence and a rational way of thinking. This wasn't always the case though. As a teenager I had a strong interest in the supernatural. I devoured magazines and books about mythical creatures and alien encounters. During my early adulthood though I developed a habit of asking people if they had ever seen a ghost and, if so, if they could tell me their stories. I asked family members, friends, and even taxi drivers. By my early 20s I had probably heard dozens of personal tales about apparitions, and seen none. While my skeptic attitude was slowly starting to develop, I was still intrigued by the subject. I was about to enter a period of big changes in my life. But before that, came Silent Hill.

It was the early 2000s and I had recently acquired a PlayStation. If you lived in a third world country at the time, this meant two things: Games were insanely cheap, and there was little to no information about them. My university granted me one hour of Internet access a day, and I spent most of that time downloading Anime JPEGs and custom Duke Nukem 3D maps to my dying collection of floppy disks. So, for most game purchases, I was forced to judge the book by its cover. One day, while browsing through some games, I found a very intriguing CD. The screenshots weren't particularly helpful and the cover was confusing to say the least. The only thing clear on it was a short title in red letters: Silent Hill. The name ringed a bell. I had heard things about this game. Good things.

The first areas of Silent Hill put you in control of a character in a third person perspective. You are in the middle of an abandoned town, surrounded by mist. This prevents you from seeing a few feet ahead of you. Early in the game though you are given couple of tools to protect yourself. A gun, some type of melee weapon, and a radio that produces static every time an enemy is near. The sense of threat is present during the whole game. In fact, it's the only thing keeping you alive. Later, Silent Hill introduces you to a new unexpected feature. Every now and then a loud and creepy alarm can be heard. The environment turns from a misty abandoned town to nightmarish dark and deteriorated streets. On this new world, the first building you find is an abandoned school.

The halls and classrooms are particularly dark. But luckily, you have a flashlight. The weak beam can only illuminate a few steps ahead. As opposed to what happened with the mist, now you can only see what is right in front of you. Turn, and whatever you were looking at becomes engulfed in darkness. And from this darkness, in a particular room of this building, I heard a strange and weak noise.

The high pitch sound lasted only an instant. I barely noticed it and thought it was just part of the background. But then it happened again. It sounded almost like a very light squeaky toy. It became clear then that, whatever it was, it was coming from the same room I was exploring. I slowly moved the flashlight to the right to face whatever was making that noise. I was expecting movement; maybe an object falling to the floor, as a sign of a ghostly presence. And, to some extent, that is what I got. A small figure, not taller than a toddler, appeared in front of me. Its shape was hard to distinguish. It was like a small child made out of shadows. I didn't have time to react. I barely got a glimpse of it, walking and stumbling forward. It let a small whine out, and then, it was gone.

We remained still for a couple of seconds. Both me and my avatar. I didn't know how to react to what I just saw. It was unexpected and eerie, but there was something else about it. Something I couldn't figure out right away. The sounds, the sudden appearance of a figure, the confusing dark shapes, and the quick departure. It was all just so familiar. And then it hit me. These were all elements I had heard before. But not from gamers, but from people all around the city. People opening about their own lives. Telling me their very own personal stories of fear and confusion. These elements were what all those ghost stories had in common. "That's how it felt!" I thought, "It felt like seeing a ghost!". I un-paused the game and continued playing. Now more interested in the mysteries of Silent Hill than ever. A couple of weeks later, I had finished the game. 

Through the years I have come to appreciate Silent Hill and the work their developers put into it. I still wonder though: How did they manage to replicate the experience of seeing a ghost? Who did they interview? More importantly: What did they see?

The Best Games of EGX 2017


EGX is the UK's biggest exhibition of new and upcoming video games for those beautiful consoles we all love so much. Despite being in Birmingham, the city equivalent of Mordor; listing everything amazing about EGX could fill a tome. The latest blockbusters; passion-fuelled indie titles, tournaments, talks from developers, a paradise of retro classics... and then there's all of the sexy gamer merch (my new Pokémon Elite Four hoodie is a masterpiece). Despite wanting to grab the controllers for every game there, two days sadly wasn't enough to cover it all. However, I certainly got to play the ones that mattered.


Dissidia Final Fantasy


Released on Japanese arcades in 2015, the single/multiplayer fighting game is a cocktail of past Final Fantasy characters coming to a ps4 port in early 2018. Featuring hack n' slash and spell 'em up gameplay, Dissidia is absolutely insane, and the way its demo was set up made it totally addictive.


Taking twelve players from the queue at a time, we were entered into a two-stage tournament. Put into teams of three, we were given a chance to play a couple of practice rounds with different characters against another team before a qualifying round. If you won that round, you were put through to a best-of-three final round with the other winning team. The best ranked players of each team were streamed on big screens, open to industry commentary and to be viewed by audiences.

Even though I played mostly as Cloud, experimenting with varied characters of past Final Fantasy games (most I've never played but still) with different move sets is so much fun. There's what feels like a million things happening at the same time but the overall aim of each match is to have three deaths happen on each side. That can means opposing team members can die once each or you could coordinate with your teammates to cause one enemy to die three times.


Even after only playing a couple of matches; the crazy structure of the matches forces you to adapt your strategy with your team. As you're made to put so much thought into it, you get a sense of adrenaline and satisfaction every time you land a hit or hopefully a kill that makes you want to go back for more (which is why I went back to play it again).

Release Date: 30th January 2018


Super Mario Odyssey



With my experience of Mario games mostly being the classic 2D games and Mario Kart, the series' new upcoming entry - a 3D platformer - got me curious. The demo gave a choice of two worlds to visit: New Donk City and The Desert Oasis. It's a shame we weren't allowed to explore both but it was understandable given the huge demand to play the game.


Going into New Donk City to sample a taste of what Odyssey had to offer, I was left in awe. The best part of it was the demo had nothing to do with fighting koopas or any other of Bowser's minions. It focused on enthralling players in the sense of fun and exploration. Scurrying about amongst real world-looking humans on a side mission, blazing across the city in a scooter to collect coins and moons, throwing your magic hat around to possess rocket ships that'll take you elsewhere. It's all accompanied with variations of the angelic theme song, Jump Up, Super Star, playing in the background. I loved every second. You can even perform some sweet acrobatics and skip rope. What more could you want? Despite not being given a chance to explore any other worlds yet, I know for sure that Odyssey is definitely going to be a console seller for the Nintendo Switch.


Release Date: 27th October 2017 on Nintendo Switch


Dragon Ball: FighterZ 



When you hear the term "2.5D fighting game", you might think of it as a downgrade. Arc System Works' new take on converting the Z fighters into gaming form is anything but. It will leave you in visual awe. There are far too many specialised combinations for each character to master during a quick play session, so most of the time I found myself hyper-actively button mashing, as if I'd just downed a Red Bull. However, when you start to get used to basic commands, the combat flows seamlessly, being hard hitting and exhilarating.
Whenever a hit or combo landed, the gloss, animation, and the subtle transitions between 2D and 3D is all absolutely breath taking. In Dragon Ball: FighterZ, players will finally feel like they're taking part in a video game and anime simultaneously.



Release Date: February 2018 on PS4, Xbox One & PC


Star Wars Battlefront II (Game of the show)



The first Battlefront back in 2015 left an EA-flavoured sour taste in our mouths with a lack of maps, no real story mode and the remaining half of the game being held hostage in an overpriced expansion pass.


Battlefront 2's demo proves this is the game that was originally promised years ago. After standing in what felt like the longest queue of the day, you're sadly not treated to any of the upcoming story mode. Instead, you're treated to a full course of a multiplayer, but it made the wait oh so worth it. Being either a member of the clone or droid armies from the Prequel Trilogy, players got to choose from the classes of Assault, Heavy, Specialist and Officer to go up against players from the other army. Luckily, we were given a generous amount of time to try out each class. The Heavy class is a lot less mobile but you're equipped with an epic assault blaster and a shield which was the most fun to mess around with but the Officer class was by far the most effective for death matches. Equipped with a sentry turret skill and a powerful pistol, it's what got me closest to taking out Darth Maul, even though seeing Maul felt like staring death in the face.


But what I love most about Battlefront 2 most however, is the point system. As you score damage and rack up kills, you accumulate points that add up when you die. When you meet the death screen, you can spend points on respawning as a vehicle or character, the characters being the most expensive. Whether you want to be a Tie Fighter, Rey, Han Solo or Boba Fett, you'll be able to spend hundreds of hours messing with all of the skill sets in different matches. Battlefront 2 seems like the ideal blend we always dreamed of: spectacular gameplay with the right aesthetics to throw you into that world. Not to mention that the standard Stars Wars battle soundtrack is still present in all its glory.

Release Date: 17th November on PS4, Xbox One and Windows

It (2017 Movie Review)



For fifty years Stephen King’s stories have shocked, awed, and terrified readers. However, many of his best works didn’t become famous until they were adapted for film and TV. His most iconic horror novel, It, is no exception. Originally published in 1986, it was adapted into a TV miniseries by Warner Bros. in 1990. The series was praised for the performances of its child cast and, especially, for Tim Curry’s performance as the evil clown Pennywise - but it was mild compared to the book… and child’s play compared to the film I’m going to talk about. Twenty-seven years after the series aired, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema have made a new version of It directed by Andy Muschietti (writer and director of Mama). It’s been a long time coming, having lurked in development hell for seven years - but the film’s made a strong impression worldwide, with King himself saying “he was not prepared for how good it really was”. Now It’s out in the UK, and I went to see it on opening day to see how it measures up.
 
 
Like the book before it, the film takes place in Derry, Maine, and starts with a paper boat floating down a gutter swollen with rain. The boat’s owner, six-year-old Georgie Denbrough (played by Jackson Robert Scott), is attacked while playing with it on a rainy afternoon and disappears. The next summer, his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) sets out to find his attacker. Bill is joined in his search by six other kids from around Derry: Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Eddie Kasprak (Dylan Grazer), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). Drawn together by unhappy family lives and local bullies, Bill and his friends band together to face a much worse threat: a monster that has preyed on the children of Derry for centuries. It takes many forms - always changing to reflect their worst fears - but It’s best known to its victims as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). And, despite the name, dancing is the last thing on its mind.
 
 
Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: It isn’t a remake of the 1990 miniseries. Instead, it’s a new adaptation that strikes a balance between being faithful to the book and doing something new. The setting has changed from 1958 to 1989, and unlike previous versions of the story, the film focusses solely on Bill and his friends’ childhood years. This may put people off, but the changes actually work in the film’s favour. The book is over a thousand pages long and essentially two stories in one; it would’ve been impossible to adapt it all into one film. Thankfully, Muschietti decided to make two films - and the changes he’s made in Chapter One have all been for the right reasons. The newer setting allows people new to the story to immerse themselves in it more easily, and allows Muschietti to use new scares to keep fans of the book on their toes. In any case, fans will be pleased to find that Bill and his friends - the Losers’ Club - are still Losers. The film spends a lot of time fleshing them out as the book does, including the horrors they face at the hands of the people around them as well as Pennywise. The Losers face bullies, domestic abuse, manipulative parents, and the harsh realities of growing up throughout the film’s two-hour length - and the young ensemble that plays them are more than up to the task. Lieberher and co. give great performances as the Losers. They play, joke, and fight with each other as children do in real life; and when things get tough they pull together as only true friends can. However, as so often happens with ensemble casts, some characters get less attention than others. Mike (Jacobs) and Stan (Oleff) are the worst hit, but they still get the screentime they need to avoid being pushed to the sidelines. You will believe in them as much as you will in the other Losers - and when the horrors of Derry rear their ugly heads, you’ll want them to win. This is both true to the novel and a huge advantage over most horror films today - the Losers aren’t meat for the grinder, but living, breathing people you’ll believe in and care for.
 
 
Tim Curry’s Pennywise was the highlight of 1990’s version of It, but to compare his performance with Bill Skarsgård’s is the same as comparing Jack Nicholson’s Joker with Heath Ledger’s. Skarsgård is in a league of his own. Through a mix of practical makeup and CGI, he brings the Pennywise of King’s novel to terrifying life. He’ll still make you laugh occasionally, but the rest of the time his goal is to wreak terror, and feed on the flesh and fear of children. Skarsgård does so to chilling effect, helped by his height (he’s 6ft 4in in real life!) and natural ability to look in two directions at once. He also does more than scaring kids in his clown form; true to the book, the new Pennywise changes his shape to tap into his victims’ worst fears. In the book and miniseries, he mainly changed into monsters from the 1950s, e.g. Michael Landon’s Teenage Werewolf. In the film, however, you won’t see him change into Freddy Krueger. Instead, Muschietti has created new forms for Pennywise that draw on the Losers’ personal fears. Disease, parental abuse, racism, and even everyday objects are just four of the things he uses, and they’re all things children fear in real life. For me, this makes Skarsgård’s Pennywise even more terrifying. The only downside is that the CGI shots are hit-and-miss; some are far more convincing than others.
 
 
Muschietti’s decision to adapt It into two films allows him to take Chapter One into much darker territory than the miniseries - but it may be too intense for some viewers. The film is rated R in America (15 in the UK) for strong violence and language; from the beginning, children are attacked in graphic detail and everyone - even the Losers’ Club - swears throughout. While true to Stephen King’s work, the sight of children being bitten, clawed, and even shot to death may be too much for some people. Thankfully, there are some scenes in the book even an R-rated film couldn’t get away with, and Muschietti has wisely left them out. You won’t notice their absence if you’ve never read the book, but if you have you’ll know exactly which scenes are gone; and you’ll be glad for it. Of course, the film’s final act had to be changed dramatically - but it’s all to the good for the end result. Before the credits roll, you will seethe, cringe, cheer, jump, and finally cry as the Losers face their demons above and below Derry. It's a far more satisfying end than the miniseries', and one that will leave you eager to find out what comes next. Fortunately, with the film's warm welcome and its success at the box office (it's made nearly $210 million at the time of writing), the fate of Chapter Two's all but assured.
 
 
It: Chapter One is neither a remake of the 1990 series nor a strict retelling of the book - but it needed to be neither. All it had to be was a film about more than just a killer clown, and Andy Muschietti has made just that. It's horror with a heart. Stephen King has the right to be proud.

Let's Talk About: Fairy Tail



This month marks the anniversary of one of the most popular manga series today. On 23rd August 2006, manga artist Hiro Mashima published the first chapter of Fairy Tail, a fantasy adventure inspired by the works of Akira Toriyama and J. R. R. Tolkien. It’s come a long way since then, having printed 260 million copies and spawned an anime series currently in its seventh season. But sadly, all good things must come to an end; the manga’s last chapter arrived last month, and the anime is set to follow with a final season airing next year. So, for those of you who just got on the bandwagon - and those who are considering it - allow me to fill you in on the weird and wonderful world Mashima-san has created. Spoiler warning: you’re in for a wild ride.


Fairy Tail is set in the fictional kingdom of Fiore, and follows the hijinks of two young wizards: Lucy Heartfilia and Natsu Dragneel. After running away from home, Lucy decides to join Fairy Tail, a famous guild where wizards take jobs including (but not limited to) hunting monsters, mooks, and malevolent mages. She’s saved from one such enemy by Natsu - a hot-headed dragon slayer who wields fire - and his flying cat Happy, who take an immediate liking to Lucy and invite her to join the guild. However, it isn’t quite as she hoped it to be. Despite its heroic deeds, Fairy Tail is the wildest guild in Fiore - its members fight, bicker, and flirt with each other to insane degrees. And worse, they tend to cause more damage than the threats they’re paid to deal with. It seems like the worst possible crowd for Lucy to fall in with… but she soon discovers that Fairy Tail’s wizards are the most loyal, loving, and hard-working folk she could ever meet. Despite their differences, they can’t imagine life without each other. In short, they’re one big, punch-happy family. Over several jobs, Lucy bonds with Natsu’s other friends - ice wizard Gray Fullbuster and swordswoman Erza Scarlet - and forms a team with them. Together, they make the strongest team in the Fairy Tail guild. And that’s just the beginning.


I didn’t start getting into Fairy Tail until four years ago, and it was a long process. The sheer number of volumes and episodes didn’t help, nor the sexy artwork (both official and fanmade) I found on the Internet. I almost bailed out, but stayed with it at the recommendation of a friend at university… and I’m pleased to inform you there’s much more to the series than fanservice (although there’s plenty of it for both sexes). Friends, family, and adventure are series’ main themes, and they’re brought to the forefront by a huge cast. The number of characters in the guild alone is so large, it makes the roster of Dragon Ball Z look tiny. The miracle is that no matter how crowded it gets, everyone gets their turn in the spotlight - from Mirajane and Elfman Strauss, two siblings coping with the loss of their sister; to Cana Alberona, a sorceress who’s fallen on tough times and become the guild’s heaviest drinker. Every character has a tale to tell, slowly revealed through the course of the series. And just when you think you have someone figured out, something new is revealed that puts them in a new light. You may dislike a character one day, then warm up to them the next. This is because Hiro Mashima drew inspiration from real people when making his characters; and like real people, they have good and bad traits that will surprise, shock, and move you. They just tend to be overshadowed by the guild’s crazier habits. You’ll see when you follow Natsu, Happy, and Lucy into Fairy Tail’s hall for the first time.


As good as its main characters are, Fairy Tail wouldn’t have last long if its villains weren’t up to the same standard. Fiore is teeming with dark wizards who strike fear in the hearts of its citizens, from small-time thugs who attack Team Natsu to illegal guilds out to unleash horrors upon the world. Some are even official, rival groups who pick fights with Fairy Tail to see who’s stronger (and make some quick money on the side). However, the most interesting baddies of all aren’t the thugs, the rogues, or rivals - but wizards with bad histories with Natsu and company. In the manga’s first sixteen volumes (or the anime’s first forty-eight episodes), Fairy Tail is pitted against Lyon, an ice wizard who blames Gray for the death of their teacher; the blue-haired Jellal, a childhood friend of Erza’s who plans to wake a demon; and Laxus, an electric dragon slayer trying to take over the guild from his grandfather. These are only three of the enemies the guild faces, and the further you go in the series, the stronger they get. It sounds a lot like Dragon Ball, but what sets Fairy Tail apart - besides magic - is that no matter how serious it gets, it always gets plenty of laughs in both at the heroes’ expense and the villains’. This, together with their variety, will help keep you interested well into the series’ later chapters. And if you think you can’t keep up, don’t worry; Mashima-san’s got you covered.


Like all ongoing series, Fairy Tail’s biggest and most intimidating quality is its length. The manga ended last month at five hundred and forty-five chapters, and the anime currently stands at two hundred and sixty-five episodes (minus nine OVAs, a prequel, and two films). It’s a lot to take in, so if you’re checking out the series for the first time, you’d be forgiven for getting cold feet now; I almost gave up at the third volume before switching to the anime. However, it doesn’t drag on as much as you’d think. The first storylines, or arcs, run for two to ten episodes, and as they grow they continue to move forward at a fast pace. Even the filler arcs, which are more frequent in the anime, breeze by. Best of all, both the manga and anime are structured so you can drop in and out after each arc; good news whether you’re a newcomer or a fan returning after a long break. The anime also tries to keep you hooked by hinting at future plot threads in each arc, something Mashima-san had less time to do with the manga. Beside the obvious - like Fairy Tail’s conflict with the dark guilds - there are other, subtle clues spread across the series that lead to arcs for other characters. For example, a certain guild member might freak out at the sight of Lucy, while another gets down in the dumps when a senior member comes back. You probably won’t notice until they come into focus, but thankfully, there’s no pressure to see them through to the end. When a main arc ends, you’re free to keep going or tune out. Where and when is up to you - and like the occasional guild member who leaves, you’re welcome to come back any time you like. Just don’t expect the madness to stop while you're gone.


Whether you’re a new recruit, or an old fan returning to mark its anniversary, now is as good a time as any to get into Fairy Tail. Let us know if you’re reading the manga or following the anime - and if you have a friend who got you into it, show them some love! (This feature is dedicated to Amy, my best friend at uni, who helped me into the series one episode at a time. Thank you!)

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Overwatch Needs To Update Its Standard Lootpool


Overwatch has had me obsessive in the same way Pokémon did when I was a kid, and is only rivalled by Persona as my greatest video game obsession as an adult. I love the characters, I love the lore and even though I am terrible at it, I love the game. When I first got it, I levelled up quickly, mainly because I was enjoying the gameplay and playing as the various characters so much, but those loot boxes I got whenever I levelled up were an absolutely wonderful incentive to grind. In these boxes you find randomised items that can be used on your characters, such as cool cosmetic skins (ranging from simple re-colours to full blown alternative designs), emotes, sprays, player icons, in-game currency... the list goes on for a while, but it's always exciting. Well... to a point.


I wanted to write this article so I could get my thoughts out somewhere other than the bubbling bath of displeasure and toxicity that is the Overwatch forums. At the time I write this article I am level 185, plus I've played tonnes of arcade mode, so to cut a long story short, I've had a lot of bloody loot boxes. So many that at this point they are no longer exciting. I've unlocked all the skins and other bits I wanted for all my favourite characters as well as awesome skins for characters I don't play as much. Everything in my Hero Gallery is swell. But unfortunately, with having unlocked so many things in this game, it also means that basically every loot box I receive now contains a duplicate item, which I get currency for, but even that isn't enough to re-ignite my loot box collecting spark. So at this point you might be shouting at your screen, "but what about events?!?" and to that I say, of course, I love the Overwatch events and I love the unlockable items that come with them. It definitely re-ignites that urge to grind, but unfortunately there is always that lingering knowledge that after they event is gone, those items are gone too and cannot be unlocked presumably until next year when the event repeats (we are yet to find out). There are sometimes some great skins available for cheaper during these events, but in the most recent Overwatch anniversary event all of the unlockable skins require players to spend 3,000 coins. I've saved up for that awesome Symmetra skin but that's all I can really afford. So I grind and grind, and I get more loot boxes, but luck doesn't seem to be with me. I've unlocked no legendary skins for this event so far. Of course I could buy loot boxes with real money, but who's to say I'm even going to get anything I want?


The point is, I can't grind for weeks like I could with the non-event items and eventually get lucky enough to find one of these cool skins in a loot box or save up coins to buy them (I try my best to save up, but I only ever get enough for one skin at best, and with so many events so frequently, I can't get enough coins in time if I spend them on each event). We can go back and fourth all day about what I'm doing right or wrong as a player, but what I want to request of Blizzard (I doubt they're going to read this, but one can dream) is that they update the regular lootpool of Overwatch. No, not an event, the normal, bare bones lootpool. They add the occasional emote here and there, as well as skins for the new hero Orisa, and even added in the Nexus Challenge skins, but we need new a whole bunch of new loot for all the heroes to get in those loot boxes as standard, not ones that are locked away the moment events end. 
Of course, Blizzard need to make money from the game after its initial purchase, and this is probably the main reason for events and why those legendary skins are 3,000 coins as opposed to the standard legendary skins that are 1,000. This of course, is to bait people into spending real money on loot boxes in hopes they'll either unlock the skins they want or they'll gain enough currency to do so (it would be much simpler if they could just allow you to turn real money into in-game currency instead of gambling on loot boxes). Many will defend Blizzard to the death for this, but I am not here today to discuss that. Blizzard can still hold events, in fact, never stop, I love the new game modes and what not. But players like me wish there were new regular lootpool items, and a lot of them. I mean, those lore-related skins given away in the Overwatch Uprising event should've been in the standard lootpool, just saying. Many of them were not exciting enough to be 3,000 coins each, and the pricing was inconsistent as well. Why was the Tracer Overwatch uniform skin 3,000 coins while Reinhardt's skin, which is of him wearing the same-style uniform as Tracer, only 750? What gives?
The lootpool needs to be updated so us obsessive players aren't just presented with duplicates in every single loot box. That will re-ignite the spark for myself, and I imagine many other players.  


I hope that some people can relate to this and realise that my complaints only stem from my love for Overwatch. And while more hardcore players will find issue in what I'm saying, remember that everybody plays differently and I guess I fall into the casual category. I don't play competitively and sometimes dive in for some quick play or arcade with friends depending on how I feel, so the only thing that gets me playing this game for more than just a few hours (a few very fun hours, may I add) at a time are the prizes I can get out of loot boxes. But nowadays the only time I find myself tempted to grind on Overwatch is during events and I'm not even as tempted as I used to be because I've started to accept that I most likely won't be able to get the things I want from them. The beautiful man that is lead designer Jeff Kaplan has said he wants to add more to the regular loot pool, so hopefully this will happen sometime and I'll shut up for a while.

 
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