LONDON: The “Baldur’s Gate” series dates to 1998 and this latest incarnation (available for both PC and PS5) allows gamers into a vast and hugely complex fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons, with hundreds of customization options as you weave your story from the depths of the Underdark, to the glittering rooftops of the Upper City.
For those unfamiliar with the series, adjusting to this world, its history and lore, as well as the practical aspects of turn-based role-playing game, or RPG, combat, can be difficult. But, if you are willing to persevere, you are rewarded with a story of incredible depth all shaped by your choices.
The story begins — following significant time choosing your character’s class and appearance — with you trapped on a nautiloid ship where you witness an Illithid also known as “mind flayer” place a tadpole into your brain. One dramatic air battle with dragons later and you are free and desperate to cure this contagion.
As ever with RPGs, you balance a central quest alongside a steadily increasing number of side quests. There is a fair amount of dialogue but the choices within it, which often involve going to the role of a dice, feel substantive and the silky tones of the narrator give you greater immersion into the impressive world that you find yourself in.
Combat is turn-based and akin to a game of chess with each of your four-person team possessing certain skills and strengths that need to be knitted together for success. Again, the pace of this style of game is very different from the quick reactions of other more conventional fighting fantasies like “Elden Ring” but again after a time complexity becomes familiarity.
Movement around the battle space is limited, jumping becomes an important attribute and enemy spells or actions like throwing grease can force some of your party to miss their turn, sometimes with lethal implications. Leveling up is a serious affair offering a host of new skills, but patience is required to read and understand each.
The dice mechanic can seem a bit arbitrary at first but once you get to grip with the logic of a character’s developing strengths it can reinforce the sense that your choices matter. Charismatic characters can persuade non-playable characters to do what they want, whilst stronger ones can try and use intimidation to get to a similar outcome. Again, it is worth spending time slowly understanding the menus, dialogue histories and item effects to really get the most out of the game.
The world is varied and can be fast-travelled. Music and atmosphere are both solid but one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is the relationship between your tadpole-infected group of four. It is your choices that determine who you travel with, and the world’s history will mean some companions will not get on with each other. Time spent resting in the game’s “camp” facility offers further dialogue and the chance for your characters’ relationships to become stronger. This all means that “Baldur’s Gate 3” creates a very human experience despite the outrageous fantasy world in which it is based.
Naomi Campbell stuns at Red Sea film premiere of ‘The Absence of Eden’
Updated 14 sec ago
JEDDAH: British supermodel Naomi Campbell was among the many celebrities spotted on the red carpet at the MENA premiere of “The Absence of Eden,” on the third day of Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival.
“I love what Red Sea has become and that it’s growing and growing and growing. And it’s really amazing and phenomenal what the team and Mo (Al-Turki) and Jomana (Al-Rashid) have created,” said Campbell in a video posted on the RSIFF Instagram page.
Starring Marvel actress Zoe Saldana, best known for her role in “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Absence of Eden” marks the feature directing debut of her renowned artist husband Marco Perego. The duo was also spotted at the screening. Also gracing the red carpet was the film’s other star, Garrett Hedlund.
Hedlund plays an ICE agent struggling with the moral dilemmas of his job who unites with an undocumented woman fighting to escape a ruthless cartel, played by Saldana, to save the life of an innocent girl.
The Red Sea festival runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9 and boasts 11 categories of films.
This year’s celebrity-studded festival jury is presided over by director Baz Luhrmann, joined by Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman (“Suicide Squad”); Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”); Egyptian actor Amina Khalil (“Grand Hotel”) and Spain’s Paz Vega (“Sex and Lucia,” “The OA”).
The festival began with a gala screening of Dubai-based Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri’s “HWJN,” modelled on a YA novel by Saudi writer Ibraheem Abbas. Set in modern-day Jeddah, “HWJN” follows the story of a kind-hearted jinn — an invisible entity in Islamic tradition — as he discovers the truth about his royal lineage.
Lebanese actress Njeim spoke to Arab News on the red carpet, saying: “The festival marks a turning point for every ambitious Saudi filmmaker, providing excellent support for young talents to showcase their work at international festivals.”
Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha
The Tunisian filmmaker and actor’s latest feature was shot in Saudi Arabia, but will ‘resonate anywhere’
Updated 03 December 2023
DUBAI: There are two things that cinema can do better than any other form of artistic expression. First, it allows us to immerse ourselves in parts of the world we’ve never seen, and second, it empowers us to empathize with people we’ve never met. Tunisian megastar Dhafer L’Abidine’s lyrical directorial effort “To My Son,” which will hold its world premiere on December 3 at the Red Sea International Film Festival, excels at both. After scoring a huge global distribution deal the night the fest began, it is now poised to introduce the world to a part of Saudi Arabia never before immortalized on the big screen.
For L’Abidine, a cross-cultural performer who has long been one of Arab film and television’s most beloved stars, the Saudi-set film is a “love letter” to a country that has fully embraced him. It also marks a welcome return to a festival that helped launched the now-thriving next phase of his career, after his debut feature, the unforgettable politically-charged drama “Ghodwa,” screened to great acclaim at RSIFF 2021.
But while his last film was a deeply personal exploration of his home country’s political landscape in the wake of the 2011 Tunisian Revolution, “To My Son,” in which he also stars as a British-Saudi father named Feisal, is a leap outside of his lived experience — which has filled the 51-year-old with a range of emotions ahead of the film’s premiere.
“I’m thrilled to debut ‘To My Son’ in Jeddah. It’s exciting to share this story with this amazing community, a film that aims to capture humanity as well as the beauty of this astounding place. But there’s also a bit of excited nervousness, to be honest, because it’s so different from anything I’ve attempted before,” L’Abidine tells Arab News.
“My last film was about Tunisia, it was an idea born from my own culture. But with this film, I’m exploring a place I’m still discovering even years after first coming here. That carries with it a huge responsibility, which I kept at the front in my mind while making it. I knew that I had to do right by this place, these people, and this culture. It’s always challenging to step out of your comfort zone, but I’m always most attracted to making the choices that feel the least safe and easy, because that’s where I thrive,” he continues.
The film is set primarily in the Abha, a lush, mountainous city in the southwest of the Kingdom that is beloved by Saudis but largely unknown to an international community that has only just begun to explore the country. L’Abidine first found himself there three years ago filming a hit MBC series and was amazed by the place.
“I really didn’t know what I was in for. You have certain clichés in your head about Saudi Arabia, and then suddenly you find yourself in the middle of these huge green mountains, all with a very distinct quality to them, and so many historical places to discover. You feel really feel you’re somewhere unlike anywhere else in the world. After I left, I couldn’t get this place out of my head,” he explains.
After the release of “Ghodwa,” L’Abidine was meeting with a producer friend, who was himself considering doing a film in Saudi Arabia. He and L’Abidine began to brainstorm, coming up with an idea that became the bones of the story that the film now explores — the story of a Saudi man living in London who, still mourning the death of his wife, decides to return with his son to the home he left 12 years ago. The man’s father, however, still resents him for having left the family, and refuses to accept him back into the fold.
“As we sat there and explored the concept, it became clear we needed to really highlight that these are people from two different worlds. And Jeddah and Riyadh — as they’re so cosmopolitan and modern — couldn’t capture that difference. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this needs to be set in Abha.’ I was brought back to this place that I fell in love with that helped me see Saudi Arabia in a different way and I knew that would be valuable to this story, so I went away to write and it all developed from there,” says L’Abidine.
While Abha helped inspire the story, what became more important to L’Abidine as he developed the film was that it not become a glorified travelogue or tourism campaign. The place, rather, had to serve as a character of sorts on its own, one that could help bring viewers deeper into the emotional journey of the people that live in it. And as he got further into his research of the place’s history, it he realized how universal their struggles really are.
“Ultimately, this film is an exploration of the humanity that we all share within us, no matter where we’re from. They could be from Abha, Jeddah, Tunis, or Marrakesh. I wanted to make a film that would resonate anywhere, a film that shows that the struggles of the people of Abha — a place cinema has never taken us — are rooted in the same shared experiences that define us all as human beings. We all share stories like this, and the more we focus on that, the closer it brings us,” says L’Abidine.
In zooming in on characters locked in the struggle between individual fulfillment and duty to family, and in exploring generational divides that require honest discussion in order to get to the heart of what divides them, L’Abidine soon realized this wasn’t just a story about Saudi Arabia, or Arab societies. It was a story about all of us, even himself.
Quickly, it became clear to him that once again he was making a film about fathers and their children, this time at a period in his life when he is raising a 13-year-old daughter in London who is herself growing up in a world so different that which shaped him back in Tunisia. In the end, as much as he thought he was stepping outside of himself to find the truths of another culture, many of the answers were to be found in his own experience all along.
“Storytelling is always personal, whether you intend it to be or not. There’s so much in our heads that we have to resolve. And in raising my daughter, there’s so many lessons I’ve had to learn, so much perspective I’ve gained,” says L’Abidine. “I wanted to explore that journey through the main character from both sides, because I think so many people can relate. We all share stories like this.”
Johnny Depp praises Saudi Arabia's emerging film landscape at the Red Sea International Film Festival
Updated 03 December 2023
JEDDAH: The ongoing Red Sea International Film Festival played host to Hollywood star Johnny Depp as he graced the MENA premiere of "Jeanne Du Barry," a French historical drama directed by French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn, who also stars in the film.
The festival's second day unfolded with the screening of this opulent portrayal of the life of Jeanne du Barry, a working-class courtesan, featuring Depp as French king Louis XV.
During the festival's third day, Depp expressed his admiration for RSIFF, praising the Kingdom for opening up various expressive and creative outlets, emphasizing on its thriving youth culture.
“I believe that what's happening here in in Saudi with regards to various sort of expressive outlets, creative outlets – art, cinema everything – is opening up sort of beautifully. I also think that since opening up, like giving more opportunity to anyone and everyone. What seems to be really thriving beautifully here is youth culture,” he said to Arab News.
Depp found inspiration in the festival's theme, "Your Story, Your Festival," believing it instills hope and confidence in aspiring filmmakers.
Reflecting on his previous visit to Saudi Arabia, where he attended the MDLBeast music festival, Depp said, “It was like having some drape taken away from my eyes.”
He expressed enthusiasm about the expanding landscape of the filmmaking industry in the kingdom, praising its beauty, mystery, and rich history.
Depp told Arab News, “Just the idea of shooting the film here. It's so beautiful. And there's such mystery, there's so many beautiful vistas and visually stunning but the history… the history that's here is fascinating.”
“I would come here happily to make a film. The word artist is not one that I use for myself, but you can use it for filmmakers. And everybody seems to understand the artists’ lane,” he said.
The film takes audiences on a journey into the court of Louis XV, where the king becomes infatuated with Jeanne du Barry, a courtesan introduced by an ambitious count seeking royal favor.
Depp delivers a mesmerizing performance as Louis, displaying desiccated charisma, while Maïwenn expertly embodies Jeanne, a woman with wit, intellect, and ambitions of her own. The narrative unfolds into a genuinely devoted partnership, marked by real power, until Louis's demise leads to Jeanne's downfall.
In an interview with Arab News, filmmaker Maïwenn shared her deep connection with her character.
“I have spent years dedicating my time reading about her, all her memories, major events, famous sentences. I know everything by word," she told Arab News.
Maïwenn's dedication to the character spans 16 years, creating a film that she describes as a liberating experience, allowing her subconscious to roam freely.
Intrigued by the multifaceted nature of Louis XV, Depp delved into the intricacies of portraying a monarch who had to adapt to different roles within the royal court and on the international stage.
He said during the interview that it was a quite an unusual concept to play a role in French, and his immediate thought was that perhaps a French actor would be more fitting for the role, considering the context.
Despite initial reservations about playing a French character, especially in French, Depp embraced the challenge under Maïwenn's encouragement.
RSIFF extended post-production assistance for the historical drama, marking the foundation's inaugural venture into co-producing a French film. The movie celebrated its global debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
During the festival's opening night on Nov.30, Depp was in attendance alongside notable figures such as Will Smith, Michelle Williams, Diane Kruger, Maya Diab, Alessandra Ambrosio, Aseel Omran, and many others. It was a memorable and star-studded event.
The Red Sea International Film Festival continues to Dec. 9 and boasts 11 categories of films: Special Screenings; Red Sea: Competition; Red Sea: Shorts Competition; Festival Favorites; Arab Spectacular; International Spectacular; New Saudi/ New Cinema: Shorts; Red Sea: New Vision; Red Sea: Families and Children; Red Sea: Series and Red Sea: Treasures.
Film AlUla, Stampede Ventures reveal films to be shot in Saudi Arabia under 10-project deal
Updated 03 December 2023
JEDDAH: Hollywood movies “Fourth Wall” and “Chasing Red” are set to be filmed in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla in 2024 as part of a 10-project deal between Film AlUla — the Royal Commission for AlUla’s film agency — and global media company Stampede Ventures.
The announcement was made at the Red Sea International Film Festival on Saturday. Stampede Ventures CEO Greg Silverman and executive director of Film AlUla Charlene Deleon-Jones gave further details of the three-year deal, which also includes the previously announced dramatic comedy “K-Pops!”
“Fourth Wall” follows a former child star from a popular TV sitcom who is kidnapped and wakes up in a complete recreation of the show’s set with the rest of the cast, where she must work through her trauma and recreate iconic moments from the series to stay alive and find a way out.
Meanwhile, “Chasing Red” is a romance centered around straight-A student Veronica and wealthy playboy Caleb. It is an adaptation of a book by Filipino-Canadian author Isabelle Ronin and is being directed by Jessika Borsiczky, who told Arab News that the story attracted her because “romance is so universal, especially first love, and especially stories about women finding who they are and then finding who they are in relation to the world.”
Stampede Ventures will be among the first to use Film AlUla’s production facility, which includes a 30,000-square-foot soundstage, backlot, production support buildings, workshops, warehouses, recording studio and training and rehearsal space.
There will be emphasis on using Saudi talent during the production process, Deleon-Jones said, adding: “One of the most significant parts of what we’re doing is the training and development, because this gives us an opportunity to really develop below-the-line crew in somewhere like AlUla, where traditionally the main careers open to you would have been agriculture. We have a young working population who are vibrant and digitally engaged somewhere which is seen as one of the more remote places, (and now) you have this whole new exciting career path.”
The key, she said, was to prove to talent in Saudi Arabia that the film industry is a “sustainable” career choice. Silverman echoed that, saying the deal was “designed specifically so that people can come in and get a chance to prove (themselves) and then there’s another movie coming in the next month that they can be pulled into.”
Silverman is an entertainment industry veteran known for his track record at Warner Bros. where he shepherded over 125 films to more than $38 billion in worldwide box office, most notably the “Harry Potter” series, Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, Zack Snyder’s “300,” Todd Phillips’ iconic “Hangover” trilogy, and “Joker.”
Previous Hollywood productions shot in AlUla include the Gerard Butler-led action-thriller “Kandahar,” directed by Ric Roman Waugh, and “Cherry,” starring Tom Holland and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.
The shoemaker, who is of Jordanian and Romanian descent, has collaborated with clothing retail company Ounass for a four-week pop-up.
“I wanted to create a special experience for our community, a space that feels like an oasis from an outer world,” she wrote, sharing pictures of the place. “Visit the store and shop the collection starting Dec. 1 for the next 30 days. Happy shopping!”
To celebrate the launch, Ounass hosted an exclusive A-list dinner that was attended by rapper Kanye West, his partner Bianca Censori, American singer Ty Dolla $ign and Lebanese actress Nadine Nassib Njeim.