Category Archives: Free Time

All kind of things I do in my free time

Movie of the Week: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There is no point in denying that I’m a big Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the movies countless times, read a lot of Star Wars books and played a lot of Star War video games. When Disney bought the rights for the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas I wasn’t sure what to expect. But when it was announced that J.J. Abrams would direct Episode VII, the next Star Wars movie, I was mildly optimistic. He had after all managed to breathe new life into the Star Trek franchise.

The story of Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after the events in the original trilogy.  A fanatic group called the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire and seeks to destroy the Republic. Leia Organa leads a military force called the Resistance that tries to stop the First Order’s advance. Her brother Luke Skywalker has disappeared and both the First Order and the Resistance are desperately looking for him. The Resistance hopes to gain a powerful ally while the First Order wants to eliminate a dangerous threat. When the Resistance’s mission to acquire a map with Luke’s location fails a lone droid is once more on the run with information that could decide the fate of the galaxy.

The movies from the original Star Wars trilogy are among my all-time favourite movies. For over thirty years I’ve been waiting for a proper successor to Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. The prequel trilogy had its moments but was overall disappointing. Fortunately the long wait is finally over. Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings back the magic into Star Wars. There are no annoying muppets, no boy group members and no midi-chlorian. The movie is instead darker and more grown up. An ensemble of the old heroes and new likeable characters tell both a human story and a great adventure in this latest instalment of the epic space opera.

Silke and I both greatly enjoyed watching this movie. It was the movie we were both hoping for. If you already know Star Wars it is an absolute must. If not this film is a very good way to get to know this fascinating universe. I’m already looking forward to Episode VIII.

Game of the Month: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

I had heard and a read a lot about the game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. But I was not sure whether I wanted to play this game, because the setting seemed to be a very dark. It was the recommendation of a fellow worker that finally convinced me to give it a try.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt takes place in a dark medieval world. Over a thousand years ago a cataclysm called the Conjunction of the Spheres unleashed numerous monsters like ghouls, griffins and trolls into the world. Ever since they pray on the population and their live stock. There are also racial tensions between the humanoid races like humans, elfs and dwarfs which often lead to violence. To make matters worse a war between the Nilfgaardian Empire and the northern kingdoms is ravaging the continent.

The player follows the adventures of the witcher Geralt of Rivia. Witchers are magically mutated monster hunters with superhuman strength, speed and senses. They make a living from hunting and killing monsters for money. Geralt is contacted by his former lover Yennefer of Vengerberg, a powerful sorceress. She tells him that Cirilla, Geralt’s adopted daughter, has reappeared and is apparently being chased by the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt is a powerful group of spectres that leaves death and destruction in its path. Together Geralt and Yennefer must try to find Cirilla first and protect her from her dangerous pursuers.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an open world, third person, hack and slash game with role play elements. The game world is absolutely massive and full of interesting locations like monster nests, bandit camps or hidden treasures. Besides the lengthy main quests there are a huge number of interesting side quests and witcher contracts available. All this is combined with excellent story writing and compelling dialog spoken by brilliant voice actors. The combat system is also very well designed: there are no win buttons and no quicktime events. The outcome of a fight depends on the right mix of preparation, clever use of Geralt’s magic powers and good old reflexes. The game never spams you with enemies to increase the difficulty. It instead presents you with very well designed and thereby challenging opponents and forces you to learn from your mistakes. But it is never unfair in doing so. Spectacular graphics depicting breath taking landscapes and impressive cities, realistic character animations and excellent sound complete this outstanding game.

I greatly enjoyed playing The Witcher  3: Wild Hunt. It felt like an interactive fantasy story full of interesting characters and rich lore. It is possibly the best game not released by BioWare that I have ever played. Along the way you have to make a lot of decisions for Geralt. And it is usually challenging to tell what the correct choice is. More often than not it turns out that there is no correct choice, there are always unfortunate consequences. You can only decide for yourself which is the lesser evil. I was also happy that Geralt gets a good farewell at the end of his trilogy (the first two Witcher games are not available for PlayStation 4 unfortunately). I still have unfond memories of the disappointing ending of another trilogy.

If you like open world games, story driven games or hack and slash games you should definitely consider The Witcher  3: Wild Hunt. It excels in all of these areas.

Movie of the Week: The Martian

After reading Andy Weir‘s novel The Martian I wondered how long it would take until somebody tries to turn it into a movie and more importantly if that movie would be any good. When I learned that no other than Sir Ridley Scott would direct the film adaption I was sure that it would be either epic or absolutely awful.

In The Martin NASA’s third manned Mars mission has to be aborted because a powerful sandstorm is threatening to destroy the space ship that the crew needs to leave Mars. During the emergency evacuation astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead and left behind. Stranded on an uninhabitable planet with limited resources he needs to figure how to survive for four years until a rescue mission from Earth can reach him. But as NASA doesn’t even know that Mark is alive that rescue mission might never come.

The film adaption of The Martian is very close to the original book. It doesn’t change the excellent plot much and features all the important characters. The second half of the original story is however strongly compressed, most likely to keep the run time of the movie under 2.5 hours. The only letdown is the Iron Man Sequence towards the end of the movie. While the science in the rest of the film seems plausible (even if it isn’t always correct) this scene features the usual unrealistic and over the top Hollywood action. It is even more annoying because one of the characters points out that the plan cannot work in the first place. But it is carried out nevertheless and succeeds in complete ignorance of the laws of physics. The spectacular but unobtrusive special effects, the breathtaking Mars scenery (in particular in 3D) and Matt Damon‘s excellent portrayal of the main character fortunately make up for that. The latter aspect is very important considering that most of the movie features Mark Watney by himself .

Film adaptions of books often butcher the original. This is fortunately not the case for The Martian. The movie is instead an excellent visualisation of the source material. I greatly enjoyed watching it even though I had very high expectations. But I’m now wondering whether we will get a Director’s cut on Blu-ray which features more of the plot from the second half of the book. That would make an already good movie even better.