Weekend Reads: “Halo,” Underrated Movies, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the Metaverse

Recommended weekend reading material for November 6, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the very first Halo game, and to mark the occasion — and prepare for the December release of Halo Infinite — Polygon is diving deep into the world of the Master Chief.

The month of November is upon us, and nothing evokes an alien Covenant, galaxy-destroying rings, and super soldiers in big green suits quite like a nice fall breeze. It may be regular old November to the rest of the world, but to Polygon, it’s Halovember.

I’ve probably played the Halo games more than any other video game, and in fact, I’m currently playing through all of the Master Chief games in preparation for Halo Infinite. As such, I’m currently writing my own tribute to the franchise for its 20th anniversary, so look for that to drop in the coming weeks.

Somehow I totally missed that there’s an official Lord of the Rings anime currently in production. The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim will be an original anime feature film that “explores and expands the untold story behind the fortress of Helm’s Deep, delving into the life and bloodsoaked times of one of Middle-earth’s most legendary figures; the mighty King of Rohan - Helm Hammerhand.” The film will be directed by Kenji Kamiyama, who has previously directed Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Eden of the East, and Ultraman.

Last year, Wired released a list of the 20 most underrated movies of the last 20 years.

Like so many other things in 2020, Hollywood is in the midst of a sea change. Even if you wanted to, it might be hard to name 10 great films that came out this year off the top of your head. That said, 2020 hasn’t been a total loss for great movies — as long as you know where to look. And if you want to look back even further (as any serious cineaste should), you’ll see that there are lots of movies that you’ve probably overlooked in the past 20 years that are definitely worth revisiting. They’re not all streaming on the major networks, but they can be rented from Amazon, Apple TV+, or YouTube.

A few of the titles on the list include Annihilation (2018), The One I Love (2014), The Fountain (2006), and The Believer (2001).

In light of its opening weekend success, a sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s Dune has already been greenlit (which only makes sense, given that the first Dune movie only adapts part of the book). But now Villeneuve is talking about a third Dune movie.

“I always envisioned three movies,” Villeneuve says. “It’s not that I want to do a franchise, but this is Dune, and Dune is a huge story. In order to honor it, I think you would need at least three movies. That would be the dream. To follow Paul Atreides and his full arc would be nice.”

But as Villeneuve points out, the Dune novels get progressively weirder, which would present even more adaptation challenges. But given how well he did with the first Dune movie — I finally saw it earlier this week, and it did not disappoint — I have faith in Villeneuve.

Germain Lussier makes a convincing case that 1993’s Last Action Hero, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was released several decades too early. Audiences at the time just weren’t quite ready to fully appreciate its meta-ness.

Most people today think of Last Action Hero as one of Schwarzenegger’s biggest ‘90s film disappointments — and, by many metrics, they’d be right. Nevertheless, if you actually watch Last Action Hero today you realize, like the characters in the film itself, the movie was just misplaced. Had the film been released in 2021 instead of 1993, it almost certainly would’ve been the smash it was destined to be. It’s a film made for 21st-century audiences released in the wrong millennium.

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer did an honest-to-goodness musical episode titled “Once More, With Feeling” and it has since become a huge fan favorite.

The passage of time hasn’t diminished the Season 6 entry’s bold artistic statement, either — even if the reputation of its writer-director, “Buffy” creator Joss Whedon, has been tarnished by allegations of on-set misconduct. So in honor of the episode’s anniversary, The Times’ resident musical lovers and “Buffy” fans — Dawn Burkes, Tracy Brown, Ashley Lee and Jevon Phillips — gathered to discuss its momentous airing, standout scenes and continuing impact on musical storytelling on television.

I’m not a big fan of musicals, but even I will admit that “Once More, With Feeling” is an absolute delight.

I know I often make light of the Right’s complaints concerning “Big Tech,” but that’s not to say that there aren’t any valid causes for alarm. Case in point: Facebook and Google made a secret deal, which they codenamed “Jedi Blue,” to increase their dominance of the online advertising market (where they’re already pretty dominant).

In March 2017, Facebook announced that it would support “header bidding,” an advertising technology being pushed by outside companies to challenge Google’s adtech dominance. But a year later, Facebook suddenly changed its mind. That’s because in 2018, Google and Facebook quietly agreed to use a Google-managed system for bidding on and managing online ads. Google would give Facebook preferential rates and first dibs on prime ad placement. Facebook would support Google’s efforts and decline to build competing ad technologies or to use header bidding. Both Google and Facebook would benefit while ensuring their continued co-dominance of the online ad market, from which they reap billions of dollars in annual profits.

Facebook made a big deal about the metaverse being a driving factor behind their recent Meta rebrand. Clive Thompson, however, argues that the metaverse is already here — and it might just surprise you.

The truth is, a thriving metaverse already exists. It’s incredibly high-functioning, with millions of people immersed in it for hours a day. In this metaverse, people have built uncountable custom worlds, and generated god knows how many profitable businesses and six-figure careers. Yet this terrain looks absolutely nothing the like one Zuckerberg showed off.

It’s Minecraft, of course.

I’m sure my kids would love to know that they’re already more meta than Mark Zuckerberg. Via Kottke.

Related: Did Meta steal their name from another company?

To say that the pandemic has affected how people work (e.g., working from home) would be a gross understatement. But now that more and more companies are trying to get people to come back into the office, Anne Helen Petersen suggests that workers look out for a few red flags.

With this newsletter, I want to highlight some poorly camouflaged red flags, because in the end, this isn’t just about your organization’s skill in developing a single policy. How your organization approaches this particular hurdle — much like how they approached the first, rapid transition to working from home in the first place — is symptomatic of the organization’s overall health. Put differently: how an organization negotiates the return to the office is how they approach everything. You might be fine with that. But it’s worth seeing it, and its red flags, clearly.

I’m very fortunate to work for a company that has really embraced working from home as well as hybrid home/office plans. Plus, the nature of my job (web development) makes it pretty easy to work anywhere so long as I have a decent internet connection. But as Petersen’s article points out, not everyone is quite so lucky.

In her review of Victoria Smolkin’s A Sacred Space is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism, Ana Siljak finds some parallels between Soviet atheism and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated (aka, “nones”).

Religious groups in the United States have conducted few in-depth investigations of the Soviet type, to figure out where they might have “lost people.” One exception is Tara Isabella Burton’s Strange Rites, which combines statistical analysis and close investigation to illuminate the beliefs of the nones. Burton discovers that, much like their earlier Soviet counterparts, the younger “indifferent” generation of the West clings to ritual. Whether in the occult, in Harry Potter, in online chat groups, or in SoulCycle, the nones crave “a sense of meaning in the world and personal purpose within that meaning, a community to share that experience with, and rituals to bring the power of that experience into achievable, everyday life.”

From the Blog

One of my favorite musicians, synth-pop maestro Ronnie Martin, just released his first new music in several years. Martin is probably best known as the mind behind Joy Electric, but his new single has been released under his own name — and it’s a real treat to hear him again after so long.

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