August 2nd, 2005

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March of the Penguins

What a lovely film

I've always had a love for the arctic reaches on both ends of the Earth and am fascinated by the presence of life in both places. The emperor penguin's tale gets more and more complicated and poignant, the more researchers follow these fellows around.

For most of the movie you wonder "why in the hell would penguins do all these seventy-mile walks in such horrible conditions?" But at the end, there is a quick line, easily lost, which mentions why the nesting site is where it is. Seeing the young chicks, still covered with grey down to varying degrees make their first plunge into the open sea, where they are still too buoyant to possibly sink, makes the entire travail worth it.

And Morgan Freeman's strong, steady, never too rushed voice is the perfect narration to this wonderful tale. No doubt the script writers put a little too much anthropomorphization into his words, but you are sucked in and feel for the penguins.

I Remember...

Having heard of some of this repeated long march of the penguins across the ice shelves, probably in Attenborough's series on Birds, and I think a second PBS show on penguins, I had a fair clue what was coming, because I'm sure that the earlier video and infrared night time shooting was done by a French team, too. Looks like their spectacular earlier footage must've wrangled them more bigtime money and a National Geographic sponsorship... (grin)

The Density of Ice and Water

There were many small children in attendance at our Sunday afternoon showing. The reviewers have commented that there are a few tough moments where penguins get attacked by predators or savaged by the raging cold, but they don't dwell on it. I recall from previous documentaries on the penguins that the eggs and newborn chicks can't be allowed exposure to the extreme below zero temperatures for very long before they'd freeze.

This was brought home by one scene of a young breeding pair who hadn't yet figured out how to hand off the egg from mother to father. It rolled around on the ice and they couldn't get it to ride up onto the male's feet. And they just took too long. Failure was obvious and quick. Water expands as it freezes into ice and so the egg developed long cracks and then slowly, opened up -- the contents long dead and frozen within -- already too late.

A real Physics lesson in the Antarctic.

A Sci-Fi Moment

Watching long lines of emperor penguins walking upright off into the distance, the very long telephoto image distorting in the shimmer of mirages and heat layers as even very cold airs have different indices of refraction from each other as the temperatures change, I was struck at first by how humanlike they looked. Then how alienlike. I recalled some strange bad SF movie from a few years ago where giant insects mimicked the appearance of a man in a top coat wearing a hat -- and idly wondered about an alien species which might have to continue to answer some primordial ancient call of the wild to procreate and travel in some harsh wilderness of their own, even as they've developed technology and culture. "We've always done it this way" is so very powerful a drive in humans, after all.

Stay For The Credits

The filmers have done an extraordinary job not to intrude themselves into the project. I don't recall seeing any bootprints or sledge tracks, and certainly no glimpse of the cameramen. During the end credits, they show the crews traveling across the snow and ice, and filming in and around the massive mob of emperor penguins huddling to survive. In "better" weather, some of the curious penguins hang around and follow the humans. There are some very amusing little scenes and it brings home how much hard work the humans had to do to survive in conditions averaging minus-50-degF with wind gusts up to 100 mph.

Trailers

Given the "family" nature of this documentary, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Disney dominated the trailers. Valiant goes where Chicken Run dared not -- the real War... though I can't quite tell if they're spoofing WWII or The Great War which preceded it. Ice Age 2: The Big Thaw (or something like that) Promised for sometime in 2006, this is one of those one-off trailers which are just designed to amuse and generate interest, but don't necessarily have anything to do with the film. Very funny bit with the squirrel-like character (we haven't seen the first movie) trying to climb on the underside of an ice shelf, getting his tongue stuck to the ice, finally able to pull itself up and around to climb up this ice wall, spot an acorn, rescue it -- and then try to play little Dutch Boy and the leaking dyke as the glacier wall begins to spring leaks. All good cartoon fun and the kids in the audience adored it. There was "A Golf Movie", whose title escapes me, perhaps The Greatest Game In The World, brought to you by the people who made big inspiring sports movies like Remember The Titans, Rookie and Miracle.

And Jane Austen is alive and well in the twenty-first century, if you please. Yet Another Pride and Prejudice is coming later this year, with Keira Knightly in the lead, and Donald Sutherland is the patriarch of a family and the cast list shows Judi Dench in there somewhere.

Dr. Phil
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Scatter Gather Routine VI

When you start blogging on a regular basis, one wonders if the time spent blogging is taking too much from other activities. Ah, but when one's life gets complicated enough that one is "too busy" to blog, then thoughts begin to pile up and one hopes that the one or two readers out there looking at this don't give up in disgust at your absence. (grin)

So this stretches back a little bit -- call it Some July Notes.

On The Road To Chicago...

The weekend before last we had make a quick run to Chicago -- drive in on Saturday, out on Sunday. Naturally there was some concern, because the weather hyenas were going on and on about how drought stricken Chicago was going to be 100+ degF. Great -- nothing like getting stuck in traffic/construction in Chicagoland when the thermometer soars from Hot to Obscene.

The first surprise of the day came as we rolled along I-94 west and passed from Michigan to Indiana. I had been driving in the middle lane (three each way), but moved over to the right in anticipation of the change in speed limit in Indiana. It's 65mph, and since I am the only human being driver in the world who would actually shave 5mph off his speed and drop from seventy to sixty-five, I move over so as not to get run over.

Half a mile from the border, in sight of the markers, MDOT has a 70mph speed limit sign -- I've always thought it a cruel joke, but I suppose it's there for the traffic merging in from Exit 1.

But the expected speed drop never happened. There were new signs on the Indiana side. 70mph in Indiana? First they talk about joining Standard and Daylight Time -- then they go wild on the roads. What is the Hoosier state coming to? (grin)

When In Chicago, Be Sure To See The Highway Construction

The big delays on our usual route were either done or just not that bad right now. From the signs, message boards and a dummy police car in the median, I take it the Indiana State Police are having trouble getting people to slow down to 45mph in the construction on the Indiana Toll Road. The big bridge on the Chicago Skyway is mostly cleared of construction mess, and we breezed through the toll plaza, though they want $2.50 this year instead of $2.00.

Then things ground to a halt as the Skyway neared the Dan Ryan. Three lanes funneled down to one. And the rude drivers who, once the left and right lanes are nearly cleared of traffic, leap into them and rush to the last construction barrels trying to cut in and save their precious time, while the rest of us are supposed to rot in Hell, I suppose... well, they should know (I hope). (grin)

Getting off of I-90/94 and taking I-290 West is always a real bottleneck... but we started grinding to a halt even before 22nd Street and it got worse and worse. Then we saw the signs... Lollapalooza Musicfest along the lakeshore... Our usual bottleneck was clear, it was all the other traffic which was jamming things up.

All in all, the weather on the 23rd wasn't so bad. Turns out the century temps were forecast for Sunday. We had thought about calling in and picking up a Chicago stuffed pizza at the Oak Park Edwardo's on our way out of town, as we did last year, but because of the expected traffic and temp, we decided maybe we should just skip that (and the worry about its survival in a hot car or trying to fit a pizza into the cooler) and start our way into the Snarl.

But NewsRadio 78 "Traffic on the Eights" kept talking about how clear the roads were and that the traffic would be building later. So as the temps hit 99 at the lakeshore, I opted for skipping the Dan Ryan/Skyway construction, and took the Congress Parkway right through the big Post Office (one of my favorite Chicago drives) and straight on to the big fountain in Grant Park, where there were some people gathering but it wasn't bad yet, and turned south. 102degF in Chicago and we were rolling out of Illinois with "no worries, mate!"

Michigan City... in Indiana

Had lunch/supper at a Damon's in Michigan City. It's attached to a Holiday Inn and you have to go into the lobby for restrooms. We saw a bank sign -- notorious for overestimating the severity of any weather -- echo the 102degF that we'd fled in Chicago. I felt bad for the front desk staff. Every time the sliding front doors open, another blast of hot air rolled in, while the first floor indoor pool was driving hot, humid, chlorinated air in from the other direction... good planning...

Memo to Damon's: You're confusing your newbie waitstaff by having both a Damon's Caesar Salad and a Damon's Garden Salad with Caesar Dressing on the menu.

Gross, But Amusing

(1) http://chris.pirillo.com/_attachments/1057625/badday.gif

(2) And I caught part of an animated short on G4/TechTV last night -- something about some sort of superhero squirrel, whose special powers tend to add to the mayhem -- great bodily harm to the critter child falling off the cliff when caught, eyeballs popping out of the socket due to sudden stops and then, while racing up into space to take care of the incoming meteor (critter child still in hand) the extreme speed causes the skin to peel away from the body. And the weld of the break in the oil supertanker, fixed by laser beams from our superhero's eyes, causes the spilt oil to burst into flames, torching all the oil critters on the beach -- while the punched out meteor rains bunches of fragments on the ground... and that was just part of this madness.

Reruns

After an engaging run of the 2005 Tour de France (i.e. Lance Armstrong VII), Outdoor Life Network (OLN) is showing the first season of Survivor. Just caught the end of one episode -- Jeff Probst looks so young and skinny, and it's funny watching them really explain to people how tribal council works, because they've never seen it. It would be easy to dismiss all of the so-called reality shows as crap. BRAVO running Being Bobby Brown? Puh-lease... And sure, Survivor is manipulative and I don't care for some of the personal sniping. But they have a slick choreography and editing process, with a killer soundtrack, which makes watching these people go through all the devilish tortures, I mean trials, very entertaining.

I didn't find out until "too late" this morning, but SciFi Channel is running all of the episodes of Firefly, presumably in anticipation of the Serenity feature movie in September. Is it too much to hope that SciFi will revise this series? Because the complexities and secrets of the ensemble cast was only ever scraped at in the few extant episodes.

The Viewing

Our Indianapolis friends, up at their Lake Michigan cottage this week, managed to bring only the first two Lord of the Rings DVD's. Hard to have the annual viewing when you don't have the complete set. So my wife and I watched Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition) last night and will watch The Two Towers (EE) tonight -- in case on Wednesday they want us to bring The End and we'll watch it together. Not quite the same as watching all three back-to-back-to-back, but less painful... (grin)

You can always find things to complain about, but all-in-all, Peter Jackson's triumph is damned close to being the perfect movie.

Dr. Phil
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