Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Watching Order

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an expansive collection of movies, television shows, web series, and DVD extras. Googling around you will find many different orderings on how to watch it all; here is mine. This is neither by release date nor strictly chronological; rather the ordering is set to deliver an optimal watching experience, in my opinion.

Placement of future releases is speculative and may be changed when more information is available.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How to watch a Universe

Screened entertainment (a catch-all phrase including movies, television, webcasts, DVD only releases, and so on) is most times very simple to watch. You start with Episode 1 and then proceed sequentially until the last episode, at which time you pat yourself on the back and think "that was a good ride."

For the more expansive cinematic universes out there, it's not always this simple. When you start including multiple releases of television shows and movies spread out over many years, it's not always obvious what an optimal way to watch might be. The biggest example of this might be the Star Trek saga. With five television series (six if you count the animated one) and 12 movies, it can be quite a challenge to binge the lot in a comprehensible order.

For this post, I'm not going to suggest which order one should watch. Many others on the web have done so: search for "[series name] watching order" for most any expansive series and you'll get several often contradictory hits. Rather, I'm going to lay out some of the options to help in guiding the path.

Release Order

This is perhaps the simplest and often the best order. Simply order the shows in the order that they were released, start with the oldest and finish with the latest. Often this order follows the creator's plan, as it's reasonable to think that shows are broadcast in an intended order, and not just randomly. However, there are certain series where this is not optimal:
  • Firefly: the network did quite a number on the initial broadcast, perhaps helping in the show's early demise. DVD and streaming releases put the show back into a more coherent order.
  • Star Trek: the later TOS movies were released during the run of TNG. It might make for a better watching experience to watch those first along with the earlier movies.

Production Order

A second option is to watch the shows in the order that they were produced. For most shows this usually mirrors release order fairly closely, but there can be exceptions. An episode of Supergirl was postponed a week because the subject matter mirrored real world news a little too closely; further removed from the incident it might make more sense to put it back in regular production order.
  • Star Trek: TOS is probably best viewed in production order, especially in the first season. This places the first and second pilots ("The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before") first and second, rather than sixth and 80th (!).

Chronological Order (Strict)

Strict chronological order is just about the worst way to watch a cinematic universe. Done properly, this requires one to date and sequence every scene from every episode, placing flashbacks and flashforwards at their respective locations in the timeline without regard for storytelling. It's a difficult and time consuming process that is ultimately unrewarding.

Chronological Order (Loose)

A bit more coherent attempt at a chronological watching is to loosely order episodes, series, or movies. It's less "this event happened on May 6, 2016" and more "this episode comes before that episode", without regard for flashbacks or Memento-style storytelling. If a universe has been going on for many years and in many incarnations, a loose chronological watching can provide new insights beyond release order.
  • The sadly defunct Star Trek Chronology Project does a great job taking all filmed Star Trek and ordering it chronologically. In particular the care they take with the numerous time travel episodes makes their order compelling. I hope they return when the new 2017 Star Trek series starts broadcasting.

Word-of-God Order

Sometimes the creator of a show will say or post something that says "Watch my show this way." On first thought this should end the discussion; if the person who made it says to watch it a certain way, then that's how it should be done. However, this is problematic as creators rarely comment on these sort of things, and to be honest, many haven't thought it through as intensely as their fans have.
  • Crusade (Babylon 5 spinoff): J. Michael Straczynski has published an order for this show, but in the actual viewing it's fairly nonsensical. Crusade in particular is fairly difficult to order: it was broadcast out of order by its network, word-of-god doesn't really make sense, production order isn't much better, and it's a bit difficult to determine a chronological ordering. Grey Sector has analyzed the series and its various orderings; read his analysis here.

Curated Watching Order

A curated order is where a fan analyzes a universe and determines a watching order that allows the viewer to best experience the universe as the story unfolds. Aspects such as release dates and timelines are considered, but ultimately the end result is designed for optimal viewing. These orderings can be very subjective based on the opinions and personalities of the curator, and so in this regard there isn't a "correct" order.
  • ThunderPeel2001 does a great job curating a Battlestar Galactica Viewing Order for the 2003 reimagined series.
  • Perhaps the most famous curated watching order is the "Machete" order for Star Wars. This one is especially significant in that it is not by release nor chronological order, and even discards some content in favor of a better storytelling experience.

Friday, January 22, 2016

How to watch the Star Wars Original Trilogy

With the release of a new Star Wars movie, there is renewed interest in the original trilogy. Unfortunately for the new viewer, these films come in several flavors, and choosing which ones to watch can be confusing. I'm going to focus on four different groupings before telling what my recommended versions are:

1) The original films, as released from 1977-83

2) The 1997 special editions

3) The 2011 Blu-ray releases

4) Fan Edits

Fan edits, if you are unaware, are attempts by fans to put their own stamp on a film's story. Technology has advanced to the point that anyone with a computer, some software, and a modicum of talent can craft a personal version of a movie.

I'm going to post in reverse order, as I suspect my choices get more controversial that way.

Return of the Jedi

First of all, the one to not watch is the Blu-ray version. The inclusion of Hayden Christensen's Anakin force ghost makes no sense whatsoever. It's not like Alec Guiness turned into Ewan MacGregor. And how would Luke know who that kid is anyway? He's only ever seen old Anakin, played nicely by Sebastian Shaw.

George Lucas always claimed he didn't have the money or technology to make Episode IV the way he wanted, but by the time 1983 rolled around he had both: all the money he needed, and a state of the art special effects studio. Which version to watch boils down to one question: Do you like Yub Nub?

If you enjoy the Ewok celebration song, watch the original 1983 version. It looks as good today as it did in 1983. Seek out Harmy's Despecialized Version for a superior presentation of the 1983 film.

If you hate Yub Nub, watch the 1997 special edition (if you can find it). It doesn't really change that much from the 1983 version (a different Jabba palace song, a beak on the sarlacc, and a few other things -- nothing major).

The Empire Strikes Back

Unlike episodes IV and VI, Empire was lightly touched by the special edition people. Plus, the changes to the film are quite nice. The extra cloud city scenes and windows really serve to open up that part of the film, while the original feels too white and claustrophobic.

My recommendation is to watch the Blu-ray. This version has the additional advantage of using Ian McDiarmid for the emperor, maintaining continuity with Jedi and the prequels.

Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope)

Many people will say to watch the original version, but Lucas is right about one thing: he didn't have the technology to realize his vision. The effects while revolutionary in 1977 look primitive today, and worse, do not align with the rest of the saga. In the worst case, cardboard cutouts are used for people in the celebration scene.

However, in the process of fixing these things, Lucas messed up a lot as well. Most infamously is the "Han Shot First" bit, but also annoying are slapstick comedic elements added throughout, and an added Jabba scene that fails on every level: it looks bad, even in the 2011 version; it simply restates the earlier Greedo scene; and it destroys the Jabba reveal in Episode VI.

That leaves us in the hands of the Fan Editors, and there is one fan editor that has gone above and beyond to make a seriously special edition of the film: Adywan. Seek out Adywan's "Star Wars Revisited" fan edit. He fixes all the good stuff, takes out the bad stuff, and makes Episode IV fit with the rest of the saga.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A random place to post my thoughts...

Greetings to anyone who is reading this.

You're welcome to keep reading, but keep in mind that this blog isn't really for anyone in particular. I just wanted a place where I could jot down random thoughts that occurred to me. If you find it boring and click away, no worries.