The Marvel-ous Collection: A Beginning

I’m a pretty big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it felt a bit ridiculous when I was given Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 for Christmas. To be clear, the gift wasn’t ridiculous; it’s a fantastic film and one I’ve been excited to rewatch since seeing it in the cinema. The ridiculous part was that this officially marked the start of my Marvel Bluray collection. That’s right, I might be a huge fan of the franchise and own a fairly sizeable solid-media movie collection, but I’m almost entirely absent the MCU!

I say almost, because in truth I do own both Guardians of the Galaxy (now Volume 1, I guess) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier on DVD, but for a 17 film franchise (at time of writing) that’s pretty meagre. Part of that reason is the Bluray dilemma: ultimately, I don’t care that much about the increased resolution for most films, but I definitely care about the extra features. As Bluray has become the de facto release location for collector’s editions and special features, I was increasingly left behind, waiting for both an excuse to buy a Bluray player and then, later, for prices to drop back to the realms of sanity.

Luckily, 2017 saw both goals achieved. Whilst Blurays remain expensive (Marvel’s particularly so), they’re now at an acceptable premium above the respective DVD release, so with bonus featurettes, content and a better picture quality they feel somehow more worthwhile. At the same time, Marvel finally released a collected set for both Phase One and Phase Two, something I find bizarre has taken half a decade. I mean, what other purpose does the marking of “phases” serve then to artificially create film sets? At any rate, the result was a sudden galvanisation to fill in the blanks and finally own some of my favourite superhero films.

Unfortunately, a quick look at the contents of the collected sets left me a little cold. Yes, there are new bonus scenes, animatics and fun Agent Coulson introductions for each of the films, but they also lack a number of key special features from previous releases, especially the big documentaries. As a result, I’ve thrown in the towel! If Marvel/Disney can’t get their act together and release a definitive edition of the MCU then I’ll just create one myself.

The first hurdle was finding out what variations existed, what the actual differences were and then weighing up the pros and cons. Luckily, Reddit came to my aid (after Google summarily failed) with a raft of suggestions for comparison websites geared towards just this kind of task.

Since then, I’ve been slowly going through the films, one by one, narrowing down my options until I’ve found the exact version that most intrigues me. So far, the few I have settled on have been “out of print”, but luckily a robust second hand market appears to exist, keeping resell prices low. It’s slow going, but honestly I’m finding it quite fun. I’m also tracking my decisions and aim to release a full list, and break down of why I chose each film’s specific version, once I’m done.

For now, I figured it would be worth a quick round-up of the websites I’ve found most useful, so without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top five film hunting locations:

1. DVD Double Dip
Not the prettiest site, nor the most complete in terms of information, but what it does have is extremely easy to read, compare and review. Probably the best starting point I’ve found but take the accuracy with a pinch of salt.

2. DVD Compare
Very accurate, particularly when it comes to extra features, and great for comparing regional differences in films. Take particular note of the “Cuts” and “Overall” sections at the bottom of a search page to see if the film is actively censored anywhere in the world. I wish you could compare films side-by-side, but still easily my favourite comparison site.

3. Blu-Ray.com
Probably the most complete database of film releases on this list but a bit of a pig to search accurately. There’s no way to easily compare film versions without opening multiple tabs, but you can filter by country directly on the search bar and the user reviews are solid, often clearing up any confusion over oddly phrased features.

4. Filmogs
Another very complete database without easy comparison methods. Easier to navigate than Blu-Ray.com but the search is less intelligent (e.g. “Avengers” fails to pull back any collected sets). Again, useful for getting more information, plus acts as a competitively priced marketplace.

5. /r/DVDCollection
If all else fails, ask here and someone will probably either know the answer or own the film and be able to tell you. Really helpful bunch!

Of course, once you’ve narrowed down your options and decided which version is just right, you still need to buy the darn thing. Obviously if you’re looking at buying new then all the normal locations apply, but for second hand movies I’m having most success at the following:

1. Music Magpie – though be wary, several times I’ve spent a while looking at a film, come back later and found the price has shot up. Leave it a few days and it seems to drop back down again.
2. eBay
3. CEX
4. Amazon Marketplace

Happy hunting!

Spiders, Dinosaurs and CVs [#49]

Well it’s been a long week of other distractions rather than writing, but I have built up several things to link out to, so I guess a round of links from the web is in order.

The Greatest Ignored CV Ever

Data visualisation of academic interests, achievements and major life moments, composed as a pseudo-CV
Now that’s a pretty (useless) CV

Originally created by Ritwick Dey (and weirdly hosted on Flickr), the mock-up data visualisation of Dey’s life has earned some serious kudos on Reddit and deservedly so. The visuals have an immediate impact and are just very aesthetically pleasing, even if (as many Redditors have pointed out) actually using it as your CV would be a quick shortcut to the reject pile. To be honest I’ve been dabbling in something similar (though far simpler) recently, so found seeing the execution of, and reaction to, something much superior to my own attempts kind of fascinating.

Spider Squeeee!

GIF image of an animated spider that is particularly adorable
Lucas the Adorable Arachnid

Lucas the spider has been doing the rounds of the internet this week and I fully understand why. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of spiders but I’m also far from arachnophobic, even finding certain real world spiders adorable. That said, nothing in nature (that I’m aware of) has been designed to tug at the heart strings quite so cleverly as this short animation test. Others have already called for it, but can I add my name to the petition for Lucas to be in the next Disney/Pixar movie?

Spider Awesome

Miles Morales, Spider-Man, swings into frame and lands on a skyscraper
Into the Spider-Verse? Yes please!

Weirdly, yet another piece of spider-based animation dropped this week which captured the hearts of the internet, though this time less Tumblr and more Reddit. The first trailer for Sony’s new animated Spider-Man film hit and just looks stunning. It’s Miles Morales meets Spiderverse so I was already intrigued, but those visuals mixed with that soundtrack has left me with extreme hype!

Wildlife Photo-Ark

Around twenty heaped tortoises each with a unique code engraved on the back of the shell
Madagascan ploughshare tortoises with anti-poaching codes

I’m a big fan of projects looking to archive information of endangered species, particularly quality images, biomechanics and video, so that if conservation efforts fail future generations still at least have good data. So when I discover a project like Endangered, created by photographer Tim Flach, it has to be shared. Flach’s photographs (see more at Gizmodo) are beautiful and frequently incredibly poignant, but they’re also paired with detailed information on the animals, and the threats they face, from biologist Jonathan Baillie. It’s conservation meets art, both noble goals in their own right that are only amplified by their intermixing. Definitely going straight on my future wishlist.

The Ones We’ve Already Lost: Palaeo Art

Two theropod dinosaurs with unrealistic iguana like physiology fighting
Two Dryptosaurus (at time Laelaps) fighting in an incredibly famous image from Charles R. Knight, 1897

From ensuring the animals we may soon lose are well documented to attempting to document those that have already been lost. It should be no surprise by now that I am a huge fan of the field of palaeo art and love both the finished pieces and the processes that go into their creation. There’s something incredibly interesting about decoding the past and trying to set it to understandable visuals which I just love. Stumbling on to an article taking a deep dive into the history of the field, then, was a fascinating read which has been put together very nicely. It’s great to see books I find particularly influential, such as All Yesterday’s, as well as their author’s (and respective blogs) being linked to and discussed on such a main-stream website as The Atlantic. It would also appear that some new books on the subject may be coming out soon, which is great news. An article I will want to come back to from time-to-time, if for no more reason than to explore all the linked resources. Top work.

April Foolery 2017 [#15]

 

So another year, another April 1st. As is usually the case, the internet was awash with odd concepts, fake news and terrible puns. On top of which, we also had the annual Aprils Fools “pranks” (badum-dish).

Honestly, there weren’t many good jokes this year. The National Trust and Google Home Gnome teams put out some clever and well made efforts (I’m definitely a Duck man, too), but otherwise little even made me chuckle.

On the other hand, two April Fools events had me completely enthralled, not just throughout the 1st, but for several days afterwards. Reddit’s /r/place was incredibly fun to be a part of, regardless of your personal “style”. At first it just seemed a little gimmicky and, I won’t lie, I lost interest as the Colour Wars broke out, figuring that the internet hive mind had gone full blown /b/tard and wouldn’t be coming back. But then He-Man and /r/ainbowroad happened, ushering in a new era of creativity and collaboration on the Place which turned it into something both incredibly addictive and fascinating. The initial break out of the Void made me chuckle, and I must admit to even helping out initially (though it should be noted that I mistook their efforts for a Doctor Who homage). As their true nature became known, however, I forsake the black tiles and took up a roll as a caretaker for the next 48 hours. I was hooked, checking back in whenever I had a chance and found the ever-morphing canvas utterly enthralling. The final product is brilliant, a little slice of internet history that I genuinely feel somehow honoured to have been a part of. Even more interesting though are the various GIFs floating around in the days since, showing the more ridiculous sequences of time on the Place. Everything from Skeletor’s swift joint to the attempted overthrow of the US are just fantastic to watch, especially when sped up.

But the Place wasn’t all Reddit had to offer. As I watched (and helped) the logo for one of my favourite subreddits appear on the canvas, I realised I hadn’t checked out what they were doing. Despite ostensibly being a community for discussing Pokémon Go, /r/theSilphRoad has become a fantastic source of ideas. For past cultural events they’ve hosted Pokémon hunts (hidden within Reddit’s voting system, of all places), riddles and other fun surprises so I wasn’t too shocked when I saw that they had their own April Fools in full swing: Team Rocket had taken over the Silph Road! Obviously, the website had been reskinned with Rocket colours, logos etc., along with all the community moderators having their privileges receded and replaced with Rocket Grunts, but the ‘joke’ ran much, much deeper.

A post appeared early in the day saying that the Nest Atlas (a web tool the Silph team has built over the last few months for PoGo players) was the reason for Team Rocket’s intrusion and, sure enough, once people knew where to look they began to find clues. It turned out that the team behind the Road had been kidnapped and were being held hostage; better yet, one of the largest PoGo Youtuber’s (and a personal subscription), Nick from TrainerTips, had also been captured. The crossover of communities helped make the event extremely successful, as thousands of people around the world starting prising apart various websites, map elements and other clues in a fantastically well put-together hunt to track down the Silph team. Special locations and interactions had been built into the Nest Atlas, certain web files had been added to the stack with clues and there was even a Team Rocket ‘intranet’ that became accessible for a few hours.

On top of all that, the entire event (for calling it anything less would be insulting, frankly) led to a fully functional* mini-game hosted by theSilphRoad. Paying homage to the original Pokémon Go teaser trailer, the hunt eventually led to down-town Manhattan, where Team Rocket had captured “Silph HQ”. Entering the location on the Nest Atlas led to a selection screen to pick your squad and then an interactive battle with non-other than Mewtwo itself. The execution was lightweight (understandable, given the circumstances) but really fun and gave the community a single goal to work towards. Overall, an amazing experience that deserves serious applause.

*Until the TrainerTips’ fans descended and overwhelmed the servers; #BlameNick!

Interneting is (Apparently) Hard [#7]

Visual representation of the HTML DOM model

Visual respresentation of the DOM

Reddit has once again directed me towards a very interesting online resource: Interneting is Hard!

The website is beautifully illustrated and boasts a very elegant design structure. There are a couple of cross-platform inconsistencies but the quality of the content and layout is excellent. A quick overview of some of the sections has highlighted the knowledge on display is equally well thought through. Overall, a very impressive find that I look forward to diving deeper into in the future and a great introduction to web design.