Categories
Scene

‘House of the Dragon’: A worthy heir

There have been few disasters in entertainment history comparable to the final season of “Game of Thrones” back in 2019. In only six episodes, the once worldwide phenomenon that drew in millions of viewers collapsed, ridiculed for outright bad writing, ruining even its previous seasons in the eyes of many fans. When the “Game of Thrones” prequel show, “House of the Dragon” was announced shortly after, many were skeptical that it could succeed, considering how audiences had soured on the series. So, does “House of the Dragon” stumble as Thrones did, or does it soar?

Based on George R.R. Martin’s novel “Fire and Blood,” the series takes place about 180 years before the events of the main show. “House of the Dragon” (HOTD) chronicles the reign of King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), a time of peace and prosperity for the seven kingdoms. In the first episode, Viserys names his daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock/Emma D’Arcy) his heir, making her the first woman ever to be in line for the throne. This causes immense controversy and conflict, especially after the birth of Viserys’ son Aegon (Ty Tennant/Tom Glynn-Carney), whom many consider to be the rightful heir.

HOTD follows after the early seasons of Thrones by featuring a story rife with family drama and political scheming that takes its time to develop the characters and their relationships. The showrunners do an amazing job of building up the stakes and the tension from one episode to the next while at the same time exploring very interesting themes of gender, power and politics. Although the writing is solid, the show occasionally jumps the shark when it favors spectacle over logic. Most instances of this are gratuitously violent scenes that feel thrown in to keep viewers awake as the characters argue endlessly about inheritance law and succession.

The acting is another highlight of the series. Be it from newcomers like Emily Carey (young Alicent Hightower) and Milly Alcock or industry veterans like Matt Smith (Daemon Targaryen) and Olivia Cooke (Alicent Hightower), “House of the Dragon” features some of the best performances on television right now. Of special note, however, is Paddy Considine with an Emmy-worthy performance as King Viserys. Simultaneously tragic and endearing, one can’t help but sympathize with him, even as he makes the worst possible decisions to stop his family from falling apart. Considine’s performance is so incredible, in fact, that even George R.R Martin admitted, “Your Viserys was better than my Viserys.”

The show’s pacing is simultaneously its greatest strength and weakness. While every episode feels action-packed and thin on filler, the fact that the story takes place over more than 20 years means the writers are frequently forced to put huge time skips between episodes. Characters are born, die and get married, and there is even a war entirely off-screen. The viewer is left to piece together what happened off the air through contextual clues, which may leave many puzzled. This is not helped by the frequent and questionable recasting to age up many of the younger characters, and although the acting remains strong, it is still jarring.

In all honesty, I was one of the countless disillusioned “Game of Thrones” fans who thought “House of the Dragon” was going to be a dumpster fire, but I am glad to say that it has far surpassed any expectations that I had. The showrunners successfully emulate what made Thrones great in the first place in a way that still feels unique to HOTD. Even with severe pacing problems, the show is still consistently great, and season two promises to be even better, with more fire and blood.

Show: “House of the Dragon”

Starring: Matt Smith, Paddy Considine, Olivia Cooke, Emma D’Arcy

Favorite episodes: “The Lord of Tides,” “The Green Council,” “The Black Queen”

If you like: “Game of Thrones,” “The Crown,” “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”

Where to watch: HBO Max

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

Contact Matheus Herndl at mherndl@nd.edu.

Categories
Scene

The ‘GTA VI’ leak scandal

Released in 2013, Grand Theft Auto V, “GTA V,” was one of the most successful video games ever with more than 170 million copies sold worldwide as of 2022 and an average score of 97 on Metacritic, Rockstar Games’ landmark title has been a major influence on nearly every other open world sandbox game released in its wake. Naturally, fans eagerly awaited a sequel, but it seems that some were eager enough to commit one of the biggest cybercrimes in gaming history.

After nearly a decade of waiting, Rockstar Games announced that the development of the next GTA title was “well underway” back on Feb. 4. However, to the dissatisfaction of many online, Rockstar Games did not share anything else, not even promotional images or a trailer.

Six months later, we finally got more information regarding the game, albeit from a less-than-legal source.

On Sept. 18, the popular message board “GTAForums” and later the image-sharing site “4Chan” were flooded with over 90 clips, assets and even the source code from the still-in-development title, which quickly spread to other social media sites like YouTube and Twitter. The leaker, going by the name “teapotuberhacker” claims to be the same person that hacked the ride-hailing app Uber on Sept. 15.

The leaked footage revealed a lot of interesting information about the game, such as a diner robbery mission, the Miami-inspired setting of “Vice City” and the two playable characters: a man named Jason and a woman named Lucia, the first ever female protagonist in the series. It also showed that “GTA VI” will have an in-game social media mechanic inspired by Facebook and WhatsApp.

Of course, it’s difficult to say if any of these features will make it to the final game as most of it seems to come from an early development version of the game.

In the same day, Take Two Interactive (Rockstar Games’ parent company) began issuing copyright takedown notices on YouTube and Twitter in an effort to contain the leaks from spreading and seemingly proving that the leaks were legitimate. At this point, many online were still skeptical of the videos and believed them to be an elaborate hoax.

On the Sept. 19, the “GTAForums” and the GTA subreddit were both temporarily deactivated, and threads containing links or comments about the leaks were deleted. Also on Sept. 19, Rockstar Games’ Twitter account issued a message confirming the hack and proving the veracity of the leaks.

The situation further escalated Sept. 20 when Uber announced that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice had begun an investigation of an international hacker group known “Lapsus$,” who were allegedly behind theirs and by extension, Rockstar Games’ cyberattack. The same group was apparently behind other attacks against Microsoft, Nvidia and even the Brazilian Ministry of Health earlier this year, all of which resulted in the theft of confidential information for extortion.

On Sept. 22, City of London police confirmed the arrest of a 17-year-old teenager in Oxfordshire in connection with the crimes, and later, Brazilian police issued a warrant for the arrest of another suspected “Lapsus$” member, although authorities believe that there are up to five others involved with the group.

Although the primary reason for the attacks seems to be simply money, many people online theorize that Rockstar Games was specifically targeted after early reports controversially indicated that “GTA VI” would have a “culturally sensitive story” and a female protagonist to the disdain of some image-sharing sites like “4Chan” where the footage was initially leaked.

In the aftermath, fans speculated on how the leaks might affect the development of “GTA VI.” A lot of the footage has received criticism regarding the game’s graphics and gameplay looking underwhelming, which might cause Rockstar Games to change their development and even delay the release.

Contact Matheus at @mherndl@nd.edu.

Categories
Scene

2022: The year of the prequel

The trend of endless movie sequels is by no means a recent one. Ever since the 70s and the birth of summer blockbuster franchises like Jaws or Star Wars, the sequel has been a staple in yearly releases to the joy of some fans and the detriment of others. Indeed, the market dominance of big-budget sequels has always been contentious, with some arguing that they are lazy and unnecessary additions to already completed stories. While the sequel tradition stands strong even today, 2022 has seemingly marked a shift in Hollywood’s mindset, with more and more prequels being released as opposed to straight-up sequels.

“Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore,” “Rings of Power,” “House of the Dragon” and “Obi-Wan” are only a few of the prequels that have already premiered this year, all to great commercial success but mixed fan reception. This is especially interesting as in the past, prequels have not always had the best history, with films like the Star Wars prequels and the Fantastic Beasts movies being widely derided by critics. So why is Hollywood so determined to turn back the clock this year and what could be its consequences for the film industry as a whole?

As always context is necessary, as the last few years saw the ending of some of the most famous and lucrative franchises on film and television: Game of Thrones, Star Wars and the Marvel Infinity saga all ended in 2019 to varying degrees of success. Another important event was the rise of Cinematic universes popularized by the immense success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Suddenly every studio wanted to have their own MCU by investing in their more recognizable IPs, even ones with finished stories like HBO with Game of Thrones and Amazon with the Middle Earth universe. But this doesn’t explain why prequels specifically; why not just expand on preexisting stories? 

The advantage that prequels have over sequels is that they are inherently safer for studios to produce because they can distance themselves from the ending of their original works no matter how good or bad they were. The original Star Wars trilogy, for example, was beloved by fans, especially for its ending, so for George Lucas making the prequels was the obvious choice. While they are controversial to this day, they did not affect anyone’s enjoyment of the old movies because they can still be watched without the prequels. When Disney made the sequels, however, they failed to justify continuing a finished story, needing to make retroactive decisions about the characters and plot of the Original Trilogy which “ruined it” in the eyes of many fans.

Another reason why prequels are safe is that they are by nature easier to write than a continuation. Writers must come up with an entirely original story that builds upon previous entries. Prequels, however, have the luxury of already knowing where a story will end. We know that Bilbo is going to find the One Ring and return to the Shire in the Hobbit trilogy because we have seen Lord of the Rings and for those who don’t know, prequels also serve as great entry points for new fans because they don’t rely on the knowledge of previous movie’s events like a sequel.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also undoubtedly influenced Hollywood’s current paradigm as studios lost billions in potential revenue with cinemas closed, so investing in what’s already popular and familiar to consumers guaranteed to turn a profit rather than betting on something new and untested.

But in the end, prequels contribute to the monopolization of the industry in the same way that sequels do because it seems Hollywood’s money and attention are evermore drawn to the same few brands and universes. When was the last time that an original movie or show has the same garnered popularity or success as a franchise like Marvel or Game of Thrones? The average moviegoer seems to be more and more limited in their options, as every year the same IPs dominate box offices and cinema spaces.

Contact Matheus Herndl at mherndl@nd.edu.

Categories
Scene

‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’: The generational excellence of Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is one of the most important and influential voices in his generation and one of the artists who defined the music of the 2010s. Starting with 2011s “Section.80,” Lamar has shaped the sound of mainstream hip hop, earning the Compton-born rapper 14 Grammy wins during his career. Even then, Lamar stands out from his peers with his deeply personal and poetic lyrics as well as his sonic versatility, excelling in multiple genres from the West Coast Gangsta rap of “good kid, m.A.A.d city” to the jazz rap and neo funk soundscapes of “To Pimp a Butterfly.” In 2017, “DAMN.” proved to be Lamar’s most bombastic and commercially successful album, and now, five years later, his newest record “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” proves once more why Lamar is one of the most acclaimed artists in recent memory.

The opener “United in Grief” begins with a woman urging Lamar to “tell them the truth,” setting the confessional tone of the record. And while all his records are extremely personal, “Mr Morale” is perhaps his most revealing work, with the rapper closely dissecting his status as a star and artist, as well as examining how the world and society around him has changed through the last five years. In the second track “N95,” Lamar rails against the hollowness of modern life, such as the overvaluation of wealth and fake wokeness, an idea that he develops on the next track. In “Worldwide Steppers,” Lamar describes both himself and those around him as zombies. In the song “Savior,” Lamar reflects on his position as one of the most prominent Black artists in modern music and rejects his status as an exemplar for others to follow.

Lamar’s family life is another main focus of the album. “Father Time” deals with his broken relationship with his father and how he never felt free to express his emotions to his dad, because “men should never show feelings.” The most powerful song is “We Cry Together,” a simulated domestic argument between Lamar and Taylour Paige. While it’s a song that I wouldn’t ever put on my playlist, the slur-filled insults and the hateful language presents one of the most realistic depictions of a toxic relationship I have ever seen. This demonstrates one of Lamar’s greatest talents — his ability to put listeners in his narrators’ shoes and understand their experiences. Even though I’ve never been in a relationship like the one presented here, I feel sorry for both these people whose love for one another has degenerated into this sickening screaming match. The other hard-hitting familial track is “Auntie Diaries,” in which Lamar discusses the experience of seeing his aunt and cousin transitioning into men and having to deal with his own and his community’s homophobic and transphobic presumptions, finally concluding that everyone deserves respect regardless of their sexual orientation and gender.

Lamar’s production team also deserves high praise, as every track feels lush and expressive. The trap-inspired beats in “N95” and “Silent Hill” show that Lamar can still produce bangers like he did in “DAMN.” There are, however, a few tracks where Lamar’s writing falls a bit flat. “Crown,” for example, feels like a glorified interlude with repetitive piano passages that don’t seem to build up to anything. “Mother I Sober,” while one of the most emotional moments of the record, disappoints in Lamar’s monotone vocal performance and the underuse of Beth Gibbons of Portishead, who takes backing duty.

Overall, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” feels like the quintessential Kendrick Lamar album: dark, confessional and emotional, featuring some of the rapper’s most poignant lyrics to date. And while the album does occasionally slip in quality and is probably not his best, it is still a remarkable musical achievement as memorable as his previous records.

Artist: Kendrick Lamar

Album: “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”

Label: PGLang and Top Dawg Entertainment

Favorite tracks: “N95,” “We Cry Together,” “Silent Hill,” “Die Hard”

If you like: Kanye West, BROCKHAMPTON, Logic, Run the Jewels

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5