If 2011 was a mixed bag in entertainment terms, 2012 has the potential to either be one of the strongest years in living memory or bomb like no other. Hollywood seems to have lined up its every major blockbuster for release, the next generation of gaming could be announced at E3 in June and in this golden age of television, it might be the last year when all those glorious but low-rated programmes get to share our airspace while the networks decide on their fate (or already have, in the case of the departing Chuck). Plus there's that whole impending apocalypse thing the History Channel keeps going on about, which should be a hoot.
Before the world is consumed by a wall of flame or crushed by an errant asteroid and what have you, here are my selections for the five most promising entertainment highlights of 2012.
The Mayans supposedly predicted a major upheaval on December 21st of this year and, to be fair, all the signs are there. The financial system in meltdown. Civil revolution in the Middle East. Riots on the streets of the world. Duke Nukem Forever being released. Doomsday is basically a checklist at this point.
At least, that's what certain quarters of the media would have you believe. You can be sure there will be thousands of terrified viewers watching in horror and deciding they need to prepare themselves for the disasters to come: seeing exactly what they come up with is certain to be one of the most potent sources of hilarity over the coming year. Given the nonsense that the Daily Mail and Fox News are already only too happy to run features about, it's a given that every last one of them will be given time to expound the full spectrum of their lunacy to an audience of millions, all of whom will be guffawing so hard that THE EARTH WILL RUN OUT OF OXYGEN AND WE WILL ALL DIE.
(I guarantee that will be one of the saner theories to be put forward in the months leading up to December)
4. The Wii U kicks off the next gaming generation
Despite the Wii being one of my all-time favourite consoles, its HD successor inspires the same doubts in me that it does for many others. Will the controller be too big for comfort? Will Nintendo finally sort out their online infrastructure? (Although hopefully they won't be as frivolous with gamers' personal details as Microsoft and Sony have this generation). Will Wii users be expected to revert to twin analogues for FPS' again? Is the console powerful enough to not be ignored by third parties once Microsoft and Sony throw their new consoles into the mix? Where the Wii had a clear design philosophy behind it, the Wii U seems to be lacking a singular purpose and is passing that confusion onto potential customers. Not a great start for the console supposedly designed to bring Nintendo into the hearts of mainstream gamers.
That said, some of the tech demos showing off what the console can do are pretty fascinating and the tablet controller has the potential to tidy up gaming's ongoing trouble with unwieldy on-screen interfaces. Nintendo's history with controller ergonomics suggests they should be given the benefit of the doubt over size and comfort issues, borne out by hands-on press impressions lavishing the device with praise. There are still many questions to be answered, but whichever way you spin it, Wii U is going to be one of the most discussed pieces of gaming technology in 2012.
3. Marina's Electra Heart starts beating
Marina & The Diamonds, purveyor of the catchiest feminist pop this side of Kathleen Hanna, is gearing up to release sophomore album Electra Heart at some point this year. Two tracks, Radioactive and Fear And Loathing, are already up on YouTube for the pleasure of your ear tongues and Marina's synopsis of the ideas underpinning her latest set of work sounds like everything that made The Family Jewels so much fun, with the barminess factor kicked up to 12. From Wikipedia:
"Electra Heart is the antithesis of everything that I stand for. And the point of introducing her and building a whole concept around her is that she stands for the corrupt side of American ideology, and basically that’s the corruption of yourself. My worst fear - that’s anyone’s worst fear - is losing myself and becoming a vacuous person. And that happens a lot when you’re very ambitious."
"[Electra Heart] epitomises and embodies the lies, illusions and death of American ideologies involved in the corruption of self."
In other words: ironically trashy, pseudo-intellectual earworms and gaudily-coloured videos on the way. Can't wait.
2. Don Draper returns, makes all men ever feel inadequate
After a two-year wait, television's greatest drama is set to return in only two short months. On March 25th, we'll finally start getting answers to whether Don is going to see through his engagement to secretary Megan, how the newly promoted Joan handles sticking around the SCDP offices while carrying Roger's baby (and with rapist fiancée Greg set to run into trouble at his Vietnam posting) and how Peggy continues to kick all sorts of arse as she delves deeper into the beatnik movement with her lesbian friend whose name no-one can remember.
Creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner has been teasing some of the upcoming season's key themes, suggesting that the characters are going to have to confront the fact that life isn't always fair, that their problems are not necessarily other people's priorities, all the while hoping that things will just get back to 'normal' in a world changing more rapidly than the older generation can wrap their heads around: certainly an appropriate sentiment right now. In four years, Mad Men has only had (maybe) two or three episodes be anything less than superb, so its return for the penultimate season is certainly something to raise a neat whiskey to.
1. Bond vs Batman vs Bilbo
It wouldn't be much of a shock to discover that the not-always-rational denizens of Hollywood were genuinely terrified by the prospect of an apocalypse in 2012 - see the crappy movie I nicked this article's header image from - which would explain why this year is set to see an unprecedented smackdown of major property blockbusters. After all, The Lord Almighty wouldn't look too kindly on the producers at Warner Bros if He never got to see the final entry in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, would He?
While The Dark Knight Rises will be this summer's biggest tentpole, it's testament to how enormously anticipated Nolan's film is that any one of its competition would have dominated movie discussion in another year. There's the twenty-third entry in the James Bond franchise, Skyfall, whose cast and crew is so replete with talent that the series' 50th anniversary seems certain to go off with an appropriately spectacular bang this October (November in the US). Peter Jackson will be returning to Middle-Earth in December with his adaptation of The Hobbit, in my opinion the finest of J.R.R. Tolkien's works. That's not to mention The Avengers, the multi-superhero project that Marvel have been building towards for the past three years, or Quentin Tarantino's slavery-themed Western, Django Unchained. Or The Amazing Spider-Man. Or Cloud Atlas. Or World War Z. To understand quite how big a year in blockbusters 2012 will be, take a look here and weep at the prospect of your empty bank account in 2013.
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