Hero Complex – movies, comics, pop culture – Los Angeles Times

‘Doctor Who,’ ‘Hobbit,’ ‘Hunger Games,’ Batfleck: 2013 in review

The year was a gift for fans of genre entertainment. Click through the images for a detailed look at some of the most memorable moments of 2013. (Photos, clockwise from top left, by BBC; Warner Bros.; Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times; Lionsgate)

The year was a gift for fans of genre entertainment. Click through the images for a detailed look at some of the most memorable moments of 2013. (Photos, clockwise from top left, by BBC; Warner Bros.; Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times; Lionsgate)

"Doctor Who" celebrated its 50th anniversary this year as Matt Smith said his farewell to the role of the Time Lord and Peter Capaldi was announced as his successor. It was one of a number of key genre milestones in 2013. (BBC)

Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from the year's second-highest-grossing film, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Tom Hiddleston arrives at the U.S. premiere of "Thor: The Dark World" at the El Capitan Theatre on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, in Los Angeles. The actor seemed to turn up everywhere in 2013. (Jordan Strauss / Invision/AP)

Benedict Cumberbatch's memorable dragon was a highlight of Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

Ben Affleck was cast as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman sequel. The as-yet-untitled Superman movie will see Henry Cavill reprise his role as the Last Son of Krypton. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

"Game of Thrones" bid farewell to major characters in the penultimate third season episode "The Rains of Castamere." The episode sparked outrage among some fans. (HBO)

"The Walking Dead" continued its ascendancy to become prime time's most watched drama. (AMC)

The iconic superhero celebrated his 75th birthday this year in high style, including a new series, "Superman Unchained," from the all-star team of writer Scott Snyder and artist Jim Lee. (DC Entertainment)

In January, J.J. Abrams was named as the director of "Star Wars: Episode VII." Before the end of the year, he had taken over screenwriting duties, too, sharing that work with veteran Lawrence Kasdan. He also released his first novel, "S.," a collaboration with Doug Dorst. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Neil Gaiman returned to one of his greatest triumphs with the new comics miniseries "Sandman: Overture." (HarperCollins)

Marvel’s two biggest story lines of 2013 put its supergroups square in the middle of controversies that created new teams as the X-Men and Avengers celebrated their 50-year anniversaries. (Marvel Comics)

From left, Nick Frost as Andy, Eddie Marsan as Peter, Simon Pegg as Gary, Paddy Considine as Steven, and Martin Freeman as Oliver in Edgar Wright's apocalyptic comedy "The World's End," a late summer highlight. (Focus Features)

Villains have the run of the planet in DC Comics' continuing "Forever Evil" story line. (DC Entertainment)

Ladies and gentleman, meet your new Batman, Ben Affleck. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Actress Gal Gadot at the premiere of "Fast & Furious 6" on May 21, 2013, at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. The actress will play Wonder Woman in Zack Snyder's upcoming sequel to "Man of Steel." (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin. The "Iron Man 3" character turned out to be something other than the usual blockbuster bad guy. (Marvel)

Peter Jackson on the set of "The Desolation of Smaug," his latest fantasy adapted from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. (Warner Bros.)

2013 was a superb year for fans of genre entertainment. Major comic book heroes celebrated milestone anniversaries, as did “Doctor Who.” “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” continued to demonstrate that fantastic tales, both grim and transporting, can make for compelling, compulsory viewing. Dragons, female warriors and Tom Hiddleston stormed the multiplex in blockbuster fashion, while next-generation gaming consoles arrived, just in time for Christmas. There was plenty of big news about 2015 projects as well — namely, that J.J. Abrams will direct the first live-action “Star Wars” film since 2005, and that Ben Affleck will take over the role of Batman from Gotham City’s previous Caped Crusader, Christian Bale.

Following are the Hero Complex picks for some of the most memorable moments in film, TV, comic books and games, in no particular order. Feel free to share your favorite memories in the comments section below.

“Doctor Who” celebrated a milestone: In the annals of space and time, 2013 was especially significant for Whovians. The British sci-fi series about an extraterrestrial Time Lord who travels all of creation in what looks like an old London police box marked its 50th anniversary this year with great fanfare. There were commemorative postage stamps, an audio drama, a three-day event in London and two TV movies — one about the filming of the first “Who” episode and the second a special, “The Day of the Doctor,” that aired in November to record ratings. That special, which featured a number of familiar faces, also marked the second-to-last appearance of Matt Smith’s 11th incarnation of the Doctor — he will regenerate into Scotsman Peter Capaldi in a few days’ time.

GRAPHIC: Meet the 11 Doctors

The newest companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman), will remain, however. “She’s up for a bit of banter, and she holds her own,” Coleman said of the character in an interview with Hero Complex back in March. “She’s definitely a match for the Doctor. She’s not intimidated by him. She’s curious. She finds him amazing and ridiculous in equal measures, but she mentions the ridiculous a bit more often.”

Tom Hiddleston launched a charm offensive: It began with Marvel’s showstopping panel presentation at North America’s biggest pop-culture convention, Comic-Con International, which had fans talking for weeks. “Thor: The Dark World” actor Tom Hiddleston took the stage to open the session in full Loki costume. “You should have let me rule you when you had the chance, yet here you are,” Hiddleston told his adoring Hall H audience. “Your ears yearn for untold stories. Your eyes crave unseen sights. Your imaginations ache and hunger. Where are your Avengers now?”

In an interview with Hero Complex the day after the stunt, the actor described the epic performance as his biggest stage show ever. “There was a sort of electric-charged atmosphere with the audience,” he said. “When I walked out onstage, I was confronted with a wall of sound and fury, to quote the Bard. It was extraordinary.”

In the weeks following his July appearance, Hiddleston essentially seemed to determine to win the Internet with a series of appearances to promote November’s “Thor: The Dark World” in which he sang, danced, did impressions, taught Cookie Monster that delicious treats come to those who wait — he’s clearly our pick to host the television variety hour Marvel’s surely destined to launch someday.

Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from the year’s second-highest-grossing film, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” (Lionsgate)

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” caught fire: Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen returned to the arena and shattered box-office records in director Francis Lawrence’s second installment in the planned four-part adaptation of author Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult trilogy. But it wasn’t just audiences who supported the movie — though they turned up in droves, with the November release raking in $371 million at the box office to date to become the year’s second-highest-grossing film. Critics also praised the film — The Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr called “Catching Fire” “a muscular, engrossing, unexpectedly bleak epic of oppression and insurrection, directed with dramatic urgency and a skilled eye.”

For his part, director Lawrence said he found inspiration not in classic sci-fi or dystopian adventures, but in some of the greatest war films cinema has produced. “I looked a lot at movies like ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Platoon,’ movies about Vietnam,” Lawrence said. “One of the things that really appealed is the idea of the consequence of war and the consequence of violence and many of the aspects of that, including things like PTSD.”

The world ended: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, the genius British comedy triad behind “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” wrapped up their Cornetto Trilogy this summer with “The World’s End.” The film starred Pegg as Gary King, a long-past-his-prime Goth troublemaker who recruits his pals to attempt a famous pub crawl in their own old hometown known as the Golden Mile. Drinking their way through 12 pubs in the quaint hamlet of Newton Haven, the old friends — played by an impressive roster of English actors including Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Frost — find tension running high as past rivalries and wounds re-emerge. And that’s before they run afoul of invading alien robots who bleed blue ink and have sinister designs on the human race.

Although just as enjoyably offbeat and remarkably quick-witted as its two predecessors in the trilogy, “The World’s End” offers the most overt exploration of the more sophisticated concerns that have always underpinned the trio’s genre-centric comedy. “‘Shaun of the Dead’ is about growing up, and ‘Hot Fuzz’ is about friendship and about having to dumb down a little bit sometimes if you want to get something done,” Pegg told Hero Complex in July. “‘The World’s End’ is about male friendship and letting go and nostalgia and addiction.”

Ben Affleck. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

One word. Batfleck: When Warner Bros. announced that Ben Affleck had been cast to take over Batman’s cape and cowl from Christian Bale, well, you might say the news landed with something of a thud. Dark Knight fans took to the Internet to express their displeasure, and within hours, the hashtag #betterthanbenaffleck had begun trending on Twitter. The backlash stood in direct contrast to the excitement generated by the news (which Hero Complex first reported) that Batman would appear opposite Henry Cavill’s Superman in director Zack Snyder’s as-yet-untitled sequel to “Man of Steel,” due for release July 17, 2015.

PHOTOS: The roles that led Ben Affleck to Batman

In a statement issued by the studio at the time of Affleck’s casting, Snyder expressed his excitement about collaborating with the actor, who is also an acclaimed director of such films as the Oscar-winning “Argo.” “Ben provides an interesting counterbalance to Henry’s Superman. He has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne. I can’t wait to work with him.”

More Wonder-ful news: Although the script is being kept closely under wraps, it appears that there will be quite the heroic team in that “Man of Steel” sequel. Earlier this month came word that Gal Gadot, an actress and former Miss Israel who spent two years in the Israeli army, will play Wonder Woman alongside Affleck’s Batman and Cavill’s Superman. Until now, Gadot was perhaps best known for her work in three “Fast & Furious” films. There was still some grousing, though — after waiting so long to see Diana Prince and her heroic alter ego on the screen, she has to share top billing? A number of fans were optimistic, though — the collection of heroes would suggest that a much-discussed “Justice League” film could be in the works, so perhaps before or just after that project, Wonder Woman might get her own solo cinematic adventure. It would be long overdue.

In January, J.J. Abrams was named as the director of “Star Wars: Episode VII.” Before the end of the year, he had taken over screenwriting duties, too, sharing that work with veteran Lawrence Kasdan. He also released his first novel, “S.,” a collaboration with Doug Dorst. (Jay Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

J.J. Abrams wrote a novel. Sort of.: These days, it seems as though J.J. Abrams’ name is everywhere in terms of his reach in film and TV as a director and producer. But he branched out in a new direction in 2013 with “S.” Conceived by Abrams and written by Doug Dorst, the cryptically titled “S.” tells the story of two college students searching for the truth about an enigmatic author, V.M. Straka. The amateur sleuths correspond with each other in the margins of a library copy of Straka’s last published work, “Ship of Theseus,” leaving a trail of postcards, newspaper articles, maps and other archival materials tucked into the pages to guide each other, and the reader, through their quest to learn the truth about the late, prolific recluse.

“The idea here was to create an object through which a relationship was initiated and cultivated and a romance blossomed,” Abrams said in an interview with The Times. “This is a story about how a book is used as a means of communication and sort of a catalyst for a great investigation that is also a love affair. It is sort of a celebration of ‘the book,’ that physical, analog thing.”

Oh, and he’ll also be directing “Star Wars.” It was the first big genre entertainment news story of 2013. In late January, word came that J.J. Abrams had been hired to direct “Star Wars: Episode VII,” the highly anticipated installment in the landmark franchise scheduled to reach theaters Dec. 18, 2015. Abrams previously had denied that he would be involved with the project, but in signing on he became the first man to ever have stewardship over the two most beloved franchises in the science-fiction universe: “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.” Although he’s set to produce a third “Trek” film, May’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” likely marked Abrams’ last directing outing in Gene Roddenberry’s universe.

PHOTOS: ‘Star Wars’ at the box office

“Episode VII” will kick off a new trilogy of movies set in a galaxy far, far away, and additionally, there are plans for two standalone films penned by Simon Kinberg and Lawrence Kasdan — the latter of whom famously co-wrote “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” (In October, it was announced that Kasdan and Abrams were taking over scripting duties on “Episode VII” from Oscar winner Michael Arndt.) “I’m trying to start fresh,” Kadan said in an interview with Hero Complex. “There are certain pleasures that we think the saga can bring to people that they’ve been missing, and we’re hoping to bring them that, and at the same time, have them feel that it’s all new.”

The Avengers and the X-Men turned 50: September marked the 50th anniversary of both the X-Men and Earth’s mightiest heroes, the Avengers. “The X-Men” was part of a wave of Marvel Comics spearheaded by writer/editor Stan Lee, working alongside a stable of artists who were inventing exciting new superheroes at an extraordinary pace. After the phenomenal success of “The Fantastic Four,” Marvel developed a reputation as a publisher with innovative, sophisticated ideas about what heroes could be, eschewing the bland Boy Scout-ery of Superman and Batman in favor of characters who were cranky, vain, pigheaded and sometimes literally monstrous.

The Avengers were just as complicated. Launched as its own title in an issue cover-dated September 1963, “The Avengers” included Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk, who were quickly joined by Giant-Man (formerly Ant-Man), the Wasp, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and — most significantly — Captain America, a hero Jack Kirby had created with writer Joe Simon in 1940 for an earlier iteration of Marvel Comics. They didn’t necessarily make sense as a team, the way that the Fantastic Four or the mutant X-Men did. In fact, the Hulk was booted from the Avengers fairly early in the series because his raging nature threw off the whole balance of the group. But it’s a testament to what Marvel had accomplished in its first two years that something like “character chemistry” was even a factor.

“Game of Thrones” bid farewell to major characters in the penultimate third season episode “The Rains of Castamere.” The episode sparked outrage among some fans. (HBO)

Weddings turned red: One of the most memorable events from all of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, the Red Wedding, unfolded on screen this season on HBO’s lavish fantasy “Game of Thrones,” claiming the lives of Robb Stark (Richard Madden), his pregnant wife Talisa (Oona Chaplin) and his mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), victims of a sinister ambush. The Red Wedding was one of the moments that had David Benioff, the series’ co-creator and show runner along with D.B. Weiss, excited for “Game of Thrones’” third season even before he and Weiss had pitched the project to HBO — “the traumatic and memorable events,” he said, could surely win over an audience forever. (It’s true that watching the scene play out was just as shocking as seeing Sean Bean’s Ned Stark beheaded in the show’s first season, even for fans who might already have known that tragedy was at hand.)

PHOTOS: ‘Game of Thrones’ cast without their costumes

But for viewers who weren’t familiar with Martin’s books, the bloody climax of the penultimate Season 3 episode, “The Rains of Castamere” came as a cruel surprise. A Twitter account called @RedWeddingTears (warning: link contains profanity) soon began compiling the many angry, invective-and-profanity-laced messages directed at Martin, HBO and the scurrilous Lannister clan who organized the assassination; just hours after the episode had aired, it had more than 9,000 followers and some 250 furious tweets. (“NOBODY WATCH GAME OF THRONES ITS HORRIBLE AND IT WILL MAKE YOUR SOUL CRUSH INTO PIECES AND YOU’LL BE FOREVER CRYING,” read one of the tamer entries.)

Neil Gaiman returned to “Sandman”: On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the DC/Vertigo myth-and-literature-rich dark fantasy epic, writer Neil Gaiman announced he would pen a new “Sandman: Overture” miniseries with artist J.H. Williams III, the first Sandman tale in 10 years. Gaiman’s 75-issue series, which ran from 1988-1996, garnered 19 Eisner and six Harvey awards, followed the mysterious Lord of Dreams, also known as Dream or Morpheus, after he was captured and held prisoner for 70 years. Morpheus escapes his imprisonment and enters modern times, and works to rebuild his now-rundown kingdom in the dream realm.

“Overture” was designed to give readers a window into Morpheus’ world before he was captured. But returning to the saga at this point seemed somewhat daunting, Gaiman told Hero Complex in July. When Gaiman was writing “Sandman” in 1988, he wrote for himself and his colleagues. “Now I’m doing it for millions of people, and in my head they’re all looking over my shoulder while I write and they’re all going, ‘This better be worth waiting for. It better be good,’” Gaiman said. “So that is actually genuinely nerve-racking.”

Benedict Cumberbatch’s memorable dragon was a highlight of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” (Warner Bros.)

Here there be dragons. The novel might be called “The Hobbit,” but with the December release of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the dragon was all anyone was talking about. Digitally created by the artists at WETA Workshop based on Benedict Cumberbatch’s motion capture performance, Smaug came to beautifully rendered life in the second installment of Jackson’s planned trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s landmark 1937 children’s book. Even Jackson’s creative collaborator Philippa Boyens joked that she’d begun referring to the film as “Enter the Dragon.”

Cumberbatch said his father had read “The Hobbit” to him as a child, and the novel was an emotional touchstone in his life. “When I heard it was happening, I thought I really need to audition for this,” Cumberbatch told Hero Complex. “I knew I wasn’t really right for a hobbit and maybe an elf, or a dwarf. It was always Smaug for me, always, always. He’s just such an extraordinary creature in the book. He’s got a lot of personality. He’s not just a presence of animal — he’s got very wrong human emotions, avarice and venality and cruelty but also charm. I just thought he was a fascinating villain, a beautiful mythical creature.”

Superman turned 75: When Superman first leaped onto the scene 75 years ago in “Action Comics” No. 1, he started a superpowered revolution. The now-iconic character  created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster was the world’s first comic book superhero. Often imitated, never duplicated, the more-powerful-than-a-locomotive crime fighter / Metropolis newspaperman took flight into popular culture with a radio drama, more comic titles, a movie serial, cartoons, several TV series, a Broadway musical and several blockbuster movies – from the you’ll-believe-a-man-can-fly, Christopher Reeve-starring “Superman” in 1978, with its soaring John Williams theme, to this summer’s darker, Henry Cavill-headlining “Man of Steel,” with its cityscape-leveling slug-fest. In comics, the anniversary celebration included the new series “Superman Unchained,” by the all-star team of writer Scott Snyder and artist Jim Lee.

QUIZ: How well do you know the Man of Steel?

The cape-wearing, crime-fighting Kryptonian paved the way for the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man. “He’s this amazing ambassador for all superheroes,” “Man of Steel” filmmaker Zack Snyder told Hero Complex. “What we’ve made as a film not only examines that but is also an amazing adventure story. It’s been an honor to work on. As a comic book fan, Superman is like the Rosetta Stone of all superheroes. I wanted to be sure the movie treated it respectfully.”

The PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One upgrade your living room: The next-gen video game consoles are here, and so far the games look an awful lot like the ones from the generation coming to an end. But the presentation of the consoles — the arguments they put forth about how games can and should be integrated into our lives — varies greatly. Sony’s PS4 takes a targeted approach by emphasizing games and the places players go to talk about those games. A “share” button on the controller, for instance, allows users to instantly upload game footage online. Microsoft’s Xbox One has broader, non-gaming ambitions, relying heavily on voice controls (look, ma, no remote!) to have viewers magically shifting among television, film, music and sports apps. What’s more, the Xbox One’s integration with Skype easily allows for video calling from your TV.

While technologically impressive, both systems will require patience. While the PS4’s “Knack” is cartoonish fun and the Xbox One’s “Ryse: Son of Rome” boasts CGI-quality images, launch games for the new consoles overall left something to be desired, and neither system is backward compatible. Next-gen showcase games, such as the Xbox One’s “Titanfall” and the PS4’s “Infamous: Second Son,” aren’t due until March, and don’t expect a steady stream of heavy-hitters until late summer or early fall.

“The Walking Dead” continued its ascendancy to become prime time’s most watched drama. (AMC)

The dead just kept walking: When AMC’s “The Walking Dead” first premiered in 2010, a considerable question loomed over the series adapted from Robert Kirkman’s popular comic book: Would audiences watch a show about zombies on the network known for prestige dramas such as “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad”? As it happened, the answer was a resounding yes. Just like the ranks of the so-called walkers that threaten the survival of the human race, the legions of the drama’s fans just keep expanding — the series has become the most-watched drama on prime-time television. The show will return in February for the second half of its 16-episode fourth season, after a midseason finale in which more than one major character met his demise. “You can’t get too attached to anybody on the set of ‘The Walking Dead,’ that’s for sure,” executive producer Greg Nicotero told Hero Complex earlier this year.

Villains toplined DC Comics titles: It’s been a banner year for DC’s bad guys. “Forever Evil,” the publisher’s first line-wide event story line since “Flashpoint” led to the launch of the reset-reality New 52 in 2011, has given villains the run of the planet. Led by the Crime Syndicate, an alternative reality’s evil counterparts to the Justice League, many supervillains are living it up while the good guys are gone. But not everyone is playing nice with the new world order: Lex Luthor is mounting a resistance. “I think the arrival of superheroes really destroyed everything he had planned out for his life and his eventual role in the world,” writer Geoff Johns said of Luthor. “And this is a chance to take it back.”

The height of the rogues’ reign was September, dubbed Villains Month, as every title in the DC lineup was temporarily taken over by baddies. But their corrupting influence didn’t stop there. The documentary “Necessarily Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics” featured such luminaries as Guillermo Del Toro and Richard Donner admiring and expounding on the malcontents of the DCU.

“Battle of the Atom” and “Infinity” re-introduce heroes: Marvel’s two biggest story lines of 2013 put its supergroups square in the middle of controversies that created new teams as the X-Men and Avengers celebrated their 50-year anniversaries. In the X-Men’s “Battle of the Atom” crossover event, problems that arose after Hank McCoy, a.k.a. Beast, brought the X-Men of the past — teenagers Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Hank McCoy, Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington III — to the present (in an attempt to help heal the fractured mutant population) come to a head. Chief among those problems: X-Men from the future.

The “Infinity” story line introduced new characters and a new roster of heroes, with a spotlight on Captain America’s considerable tactical abilities. As many Avengers go off into space to help battle an approaching armada, groups of heroes on Earth are left to defend the planet from an attack by Thanos. With a squabbling core of interstellar monarchs finally backing him, Captain America devises a way to turn the tide of the space battle. On Earth, Luke Cage helps lead a group of heroes against a citywide attack by Shuma Gorath (an interdimensional being), and heroes worldwide continue battling Thanos’ Black Order of generals while the Inhuman city of Attilan is destroyed.

Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin. (Marvel)

The great Mandarin surprise: “Iron Man 3” pulled off a fabulous one. (If you somehow managed to miss the year’s top-grossing movie, you might want to stop reading right now as there is a very big spoiler coming right up.) Ben Kingsley played the Mandarin, all right, in the third solo movie outing for Robert Downey Jr.’s billionaire/genius/playboy Tony Stark, just not necessarily the way fans were expecting. The terrorist turned out to be merely an out-of-work actor hired to play an international villain, a high-profile distraction from the truly sinister machinations of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. “Iron Man 3” writer-director Shane Black had said that he wanted to root Tony Stark’s most recent adventure in reality, and his cleverly devised plot twist certainly helped him achieve that aim.

In an age when casting and plot details for anticipated films are so closely scrutinized by so many, it’s rare that a blockbuster can deliver such an unexpected twist. Here’s hoping 2014 brings more entertaining surprises.

— Gina McIntyre, Noelene Clark, Blake Hennon, Jevon Phillips, Todd Martens and Noel Murray

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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