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Science-Fiction Weekly – Arrival, Pacific Rim, Astroneer, Rogue One

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Home theaters are relatively cheap, and are increasingly becoming the place where people view movies. I am one of those people. I tend to see most films with my wife, and we've found it's more cost-effective and comfortable to view a movie at home than the theater. Granted, we have to wait four to six months for films to come to Blu-Ray or UHD, but we are in no rush to see the majority of releases. The only exceptions we've made are for Star Wars and Marvel – we see those on day one, mostly out of excitement, but also from the fear of having them spoiled.

If you still love the theater experience, or have hermitized it like I have, you need to see Arrival on the biggest screen possible. This is one of those films that pulls you in visually and aurally, and benefits from high-end setups. I don't think a 50-inch screen with a soundbar will cut it, and whatever you do, don't watch this on an airplane or on a tablet or phone. Go as big and noisy as you can. I don't often give this advice, but like the great Contact before it, I strongly believe the theater is the way to go for the first viewing of Arrival.

I probably don't need to say this now, but yes, Arrival is a remarkable science-fiction story. I know I'm a terrible critic when I say I don't want to tell you anything about it, but like The Sixth Sense or any good mystery, the less you know the better. What I can tell you is this isn't just another "first contact" story. Director Denis Villeneuve wants you to think about issues in the real world as much as the prospect of meeting aliens for the first time. Near the end of the film, I became distracted by thoughts of my wife and daughter, but I was also clinging to my seat, hoping everything turned out well for the people on the silver screen. Amy Adams delivers a powerful and emotional performance as Dr. Louise Banks, a talented linguist called in by the government to try to communicate with the aliens. They arrived, their ships are scattered across the globe, but no one knows why they are here. Adams, with the help of scientist Ian Donnelly (played wonderfully by Jeremy Renner), must answer that question before the military (and China) act against the visitors.

The pacing is slow, and much of our time is spent looking through a murky window at aliens silhouettes, wondering what they want and look like. As uneventful as this sounds, the revelations to these questions are immensely satisfying (I even mouthed "Oh my God" to my wife twice during the film). Arrival makes you question the fear of the unknown, what life means to you, and even bigger questions that I can't go into without spoiling the entire story. See it on the big screen with as many friends as you can. You'll want to discuss it immediately after the credits roll.

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On to games! We are just one month away from the Early Access release of System Era Softworks' PC title, Astroneer. Described by the development team as a "game of aerospace industry and interplanetary exploration," Astroneer is a resource-gathering experience that allows numerous players to work together to terraform and mine a planet, all for the sake of fortune.

The video above is a lengthy developer playthrough of Astroneer. The game's official site details the drive for resources in the far reaches of space: "The sudden development of technology for rapid space travel enables fast and inexpensive journeys to the stars. Exo Dynamics, the dominant conglomerate in the new field, has opened flights to daring citizens of Earth. Like the Yukon gold rush of old, waves of adventurers sign up to launch themselves into a new frontier, risking everything to seek their fortune in the far reaches of the galaxy. These are the Astroneers.

As an Astroneer, you must find a way to dig out a life on one of a multitude of harsh new worlds. Blast through the terrain to uncover precious artifacts and materials you can use to fuel your quest to become a wealthy baron in the stars. Along the way, discover oddities, raise questions, and uncover mysteries.
Perhaps not all is as it seems."

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Later today I'm jumping into Planet Explorers, a new open-world sandbox game that just launched on Steam. This is another game that gives players the power to alter the terrain, create objects, and customize just about everything in the world – including the characters. The launch trailer above sets the tone and also provides snapshots of the combat mechanics, which look a little worrisome. I'll hopefully have more on this title in the week to come.

For those of you asking about my progress through Exile's End (which I just started playing a few weeks ago), I've vested another couple of hours into this sidescrolling Xbox One title, and sadly won't be revisiting it again. It falls apart quickly, and the satisfying exploration vibe is replaced with mindless running and gunning. Give it a hard pass.

If you're counting down the days until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (which I assume all cool people are doing), run to your bookstore to pick up Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. I'm halfway through it, and can happily report that it isn't an ambiguous side story with a loose connection to the forthcoming film; it's a legitimate prequel that follows many of the major players. Orson Krennic, the Emperor's latest puppet, is front and center, as is Grand Moff Tarkin. I wondered if Tarkin would be in the film, and it looks like he may be. Both of these established Imperial officers are heavily tied to the creation of the Death Star, which the book details intricately. We also learn about the Erso family. Jyn, her mother Lyra, and Galen (the father of the Death Star) are interesting and different characters than we've seen in Star Wars before. Again, run to the store to get it. I haven't been this pleased with a Star Wars book in a long, long time.

I'll leave you today with some tantalizing movie and television show news. Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim sequel is stomping its way into development, and is now called Pacific Rim: Maelstrom. The film hits theaters on February 23, 2018 and stars John Boyega, who is fast becoming THE face of science fiction. Another lovable giant is returning. Big Hero 6 won't hit theaters, but will instead be a new ongoing animated series, with most of the film's voice actors reprising their roles. No official date has been given for the Big Hero 6 revival, but it is due out in 2017.

Michael Bay's giants are also coming back in a way I didn't expect. After next year's Transformers: The Last Knight, which supposedly brings the Robots in Disguise to King Arthur's court, Paramount is making a spinoff movie for Bumblebee. The current release plan is simply 2018, perhaps hinting at Transformers becoming an annualized property. This spinoff sounds like a terrible idea…that will likely make a billion dollars in the box office.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks like a film that won't make nearly that much. Valerian's first trailer is…well…I can't really make out what type of story it's trying to tell. I know it's based on a comic book series, but…hmmm…it looks like a mix between The Fifth Element, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and any terrible film starring Taylor Kitsch. What's your take on it? Watch at your own risk.

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