Went to Pearl Harbor. Touring downtown Honolulu now.
Well, here we are — in Honolulu, right along Waikiki Beach, at the Outrigger Reef hotel. I definitely can’t complain too much about… well… anything. :)
I promised myself I wouldn’t obsess over website picture-posting during this vacation, but here are a couple of Waikiki Beach photos to tide you over, one from inside our airplane and one from on the beach.
In other news, here is my review of The Two Towers on TheOneRing.net.
Speaking of which, the movie is already setting new box office standards: Two Towers pulled in roughly $26 million domestically and $42 million internationally on its first day Wednesday. That’s significantly better than The Fellowship of the Ring’s $18 million domestically and $29 million internationally on its Wednesday opening last year. Two Towers broke Fellowship’s record for the biggest December opening day, and also surpassed Fellowship for the second-biggest Wednesday opening ever (behind Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace).
What’s more, The Two Towers got Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Yay!
The #1-ranked USC women’s volleyball team will attempt to avenge its only loss of the season Saturday — when the Women of Troy (30-1) play Stanford (32-4) for the national championship.
The Cardinal and the Women of Troy will meet Saturday at 2:30 PM Central time in New Orleans to determine a national champion. (That’s 3:30 PM Eastern, 12:30 PM Pacific, and 10:30 AM Hawaii time.) That match will be televised live on ESPN2. You can also click here for live stats once it begins.
It will be the rubber match of the season series for the Pac-10 rivals. USC beat Stanford in a thrilling 3-2 match at Stanford on Oct. 4, but the Cardinal returned the favor Nov. 2 at USC, toppling the then-undefeated Women of Troy, 3-2.
Now it’s USC’s turn for revenge — and the national championship this team hasn’t won since 1981.
The final rematch was set up by Thursday’s semifinals. First, Stanford swept Hawaii, 3-0, to win its semifinal match. Then USC, previously a perfect 12-0 in the NCAA Tournament, fell behind 1-0 in but rallied to defeat Florida, 3-1.
Fight on, Women of Troy!!!
News from my e-mail inbox: I got an A+ in my media law class, and my “Two Towers” review has been accepted and posted on TheOneRing.net. In both cases: Yay! Meanwhile, Becky and I are on shuttle in Waikiki, en route to our hotel.
Just set foot in Hawaii! My 47th state. Becky and I are tied, 47-47.
At Phoenix airport, checking in.
Well, Becky and I are off to Hawaii tomorrow. Becky’s sister Jen and Jen’s husband Soren are already there; following on later flights will be Becky’s brother Casey and his fiancee Gerry, and also Becky’s parents Ted and Ginny. So we’ll have all the Parental Units, siblings, and significant others. :) Becky and I will be there from tomorrow through Dec. 28.
Incidentally, Hawaii will be the 47th U.S. state I have been to in my life. And because Becky has already been there, I will gain on her in the state count — and tie her, 47-47. She still needs Nebraska, Iowa, and Louisiana; I still need Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Alaska.
I will probably post website updates via cell phone tomorrow, and perhaps afterward, depending on whether and where I have cell-phone reception in Hawaii. I also may occasionally hook up my laptop to a phone line and do updates that way, including perhaps pictures. But I probably won’t do that too often, and don’t expect novels or giant photo galleries. I want to enjoy my vacation first; then I’ll publicize my enjoyment of it. :)
Here is our flight info:
Hawaiian Airlines #35 - Dec.19 - Depart Phoenix 11:45 am, Arrive Honolulu 3:25 pm
Hawaiian Airlines #521 - Dec. 21 - Depart Honolulu 12:06 pm, Arrive Lihue (Kauai) 12:43 pm
Hawaiian Airlines #376 - Dec. 28 - Depart Lihue 8:37 pm, Arrive Honolulu 9:06 pm
Hawaiian Airlines #36 - Dec. 28-29 - Depart Honolulu 11:15 pm, Arrive Phoenix 8:15 am
Wednesday, Dec. 18 started with me, Becky, and Dr. Zak watching The Two Towers in Mesa; we were in the theater until around 3:35 AM. But that wasn’t the only memorable thing that happened today.
Memorable thing #2: Becky and I took Toby to “The Cat’s Meow” Bed & Breakfast, also in Mesa, where Becky is boarding her while we’re in Hawaii. Naturally, this was a very painful experience, saying goodbye to Toby and relinquishing her to the care of others.
Toby on Becky’s lap in the car.
Toby looks around while riding to the B&B.
But this place is something of a kitty paradise — they take the cats out of their cages for playtime, etc. — and they even send photos and e-mails to the cats’ owners with updates on how the cat is doing. Most importantly, there are no dogs — just cats. :)
No, that’s not a mirror — it’s Toby checking out a similar-looking cat through a glass door.
Toby looks at another of her new potential friends.
Even so, it was tough leaving our little baby in a cage… :(
A beautiful Arizona sunset.
The Zaks’ Christmas cactus. :)
Okay… Memorable thing #3: Christmas! Yeah, we decided to open our presents (well, most of them) a little early this year, since hauling them to Hawaii would have been a bit of a hassle. So we had Christmas on Dec. 18, sort of. I’ll have another Christmas on Dec. 25, and another (with my family) on Jan. 1. Gotta love it.
Holy mackrel! My world got 139 unique hits yesterday, Dec. 17, shattering the record of 108 that was set just 12 days earlier, on Dec. 5.
There was no single, easily discernable reason for the traffic spike. I got a number of search-engine hits for terms related to Carson Palmer’s Heisman Trophy win, but most of the hits came from a random assortment of unrelated searches. Who knows? Maybe I’ve moved up on Google’s lists again.
Yesterday did not break the Dec. 5 record for individual “page impressions,” however. The site’s 139 visitors went to a total of 970 pages yesterday; the Dec. 5 record was 1,065. (Before that, the old record — set on my birthday, Oct. 30 — was 638 page impressions. That mark remains third all-time.)
In a related story, the site had 29,996 page impressions as of 10:47 PM Pacific time today, and will certainly break 30,000 later tonight. Woohoo!
UPDATE, 12/19/02, 1:20 AM: My world received its landmark 30,000th “page impression” moments ago when, at 12:10 AM Pacific time, a BellSouth.net user (possibly in the Memphis, Tennessee area) did a Google search for “digital pictures of the World Trade Center from before the September 11 attacks.
The page-impression count keeps track of the number of hits to individual pages on my website. Each user may view multiple pages in a single visit to the site, which is why the page-impression count is higher than the “unique hits” count, which keeps track of the number of people who have visited the site regardless of how many pages they view.
My world has received 8,695 unique hits since Feb. 23. But, due to technical limitations of the site’s counter, the “page impression” count goes back only to July 28. Since then, My world has received 5,677 unique hits. That’s an average of just under four page impressions per unique hit.
Well, we successfully made it to the 12:10 AM showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers at Mesa Grand 24 last night — barely. Despite my flight delay, Dr. Zak’s skillful driving got us there in enough time to buy popcorn, soda, and nachos, and still walk into the theater around 12:09. But we were nowhere near missing the movie anyway — it didn’t start until 12:41, thanks to the half hour of commercials and previews!
Anyway, it was quite a scene in Mesa. Fully seven of the theater’s 24 cinemas were playing The Two Towers: two at 12:01, two at 12:10, and three at 12:20. The whole place was packed with excited fans. I hope the theater employees all got some nice overtime for working well past 3:00 AM!
A screen showing 6 of the theater’s 7 Two Towers showings.
Our theater was sufficiently packed that we had to sit very close to the front. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as Becky’s and my first viewing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when we sat so close to the screen, we had sore necks by the end. :) The crowd was quite enthusiastic, cheering loudly when an usher announced the movie was about to start, and again when the words “The Lord of the Rings” appeared on the screen.
The crowd in our cinema moments before the commercials started.
Well, without further adieu, here’s my review of the movie.
First things first: As a whole, it was awesome. As so many pun-loving headline writers have said in movie reviews, The Two Towers is truly a “towering achievement.”
I can’t say yet whether I liked it better than the Fellowship of the Ring. I’ll have to see it at least one more time to make that decision. (I’ve seen Fellowship at least six times.) The Two Towers was especially difficult for me to judge fully because my personal anticipation of it was so unimaginably high — I was literally looking forward to seeing it more than I have been looking forward to my Hawaii vacation that starts tomorrow — that even a perfect movie would have felt a bit disappointing, for the simple reason that once it’s over, it’s over, and there’s no more anticipation. In other words, it’s a classic case where the anticipation of a thing is more exciting than the thing itself.
But that doesn’t tell you much about the movie. So let me try to do that. Warning! Spoilers below!!! If you haven’t seen it yet, and you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read on!!!
THINGS I LIKED ABOUT IT:
Gollum: I had read about this in advance, and I knew the computer-generated but actor-driven Gollum was supposed to be really good. But I had no idea it would be this good. Andy Serkis deserves a nomination for best supporting actor, and the special-effects folks who took his acting and translated it into the CG creature deserve every award imaginable. This was just an amazing achievement. Gollum’s conversations with himself (or rather, with Smeagol) are awesome, and entirely faithful to the book. Visually, he is stunning — you can really see the decay that the ring has caused, and yet at the same time, you can totally see the similarity between Gollum and the hobbits. And those eyes… Awesome. Just awesome.
The Balrog scenes: The way they showed Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog in Moria was really cool. They started the movie with a literal replay, frame-by-frame, of the Bridge of Khazad-Dum scene in the first movie. But then, after Gandalf says “Fly, you fools!” and falls into the abyss, instead of cutting to Frodo screaming “Nooooooo!!!”, the camera sticks with Gandalf and shows him falling, falling, falling, and fighting the Balrog. Awesome. Then, a while later in another scene, they show the fight on the peak of Zirigigikil-or-whatever-the-heck-it’s-called, and the special effects there are incredible, as is Gandalf’s flashback narrative: “I smote my enemy upon the mountainside,” I believe he said. Totally cool.
The first hour: Pretty much everything, including the scenes described above, in the first hour of so of the movie, was perfect. The taming of Smeagol, Merry and Pippin’s escape from the Uruk-hai, the Dead Marshes, Gandalf’s appearance in Fangorn — all of it, I don’t know if I could suggest a single improvement. And it was so faithful to the books, it briefly made me question what I’d read about this movie departing more than the other two from Tolkien’s text. (That would change later in the film, however.) Anyway, yeah, the whole first hour was just great.
The Helm’s Deep plot change: I realize it’s sacrilege to say this, but I think I liked Peter Jackson’s version of the Helm’s Deep plot better than I like J.R.R. Tolkien’s version. I’ve always found that section of the book to be a bit overly complicated, with some of the Rohan folks fleeing to Dunharrow, others wandering off to random places in the fields, some making for Helm’s Deep, and Gandalf riding around here and there with no particular rhyme or reason. The geography alone is damn confusing. Jackson’s version nicely consolidates all of this into a simple, easily understandable plot: a colossal battle at Helm’s Deep for the very survival of Rohan. I didn’t think I would like this, but I did.
Grima Wormtongue: As with Gollum, I had heard some good things about him, but I wasn’t prepared for how good a job the actor really did. I was never particularly compelled by Wormtongue’s character in the novel, but in the movie, you couldn’t help but be compelled. (Although, uh, I didn’t know it was pronounced “GREE-mah.” I always said “GRIE-mah.”)
Visuals of Mordor and Isengard: There were some amazing shots of Barad-dur and Mount Doom, including, as I recall, the movie’s closing shot. The Eye of Sauron is very nicely represented — all I can say is, sweet. :) And the flooding of Isengard is another remarkable visual achievement.
Shots of armies marching: In particular, Pippin and Merry’s aerial view of Saruman’s army on the move, and Aragon’s view as well. Very, very cool.
Devilry of Saruman: The scene where they blow up the entrance to Helm’s Deep was just plain awesome.
The Rohan theme: I knew about this in advance, because I bought the soundtrack last week. But anyway, suffice it to say, the theme song for Rohan and the Rohirrim is one of the best pieces of music in the trilogy so far — second only, perhaps, to the Hobbit theme. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do for Gondor in the next movie!
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT IT:
The Ents plot change: So the Ents almost decide not to go to war, and then they change their minds at the last minute when Treebeard sees firsthand, thanks to Merry and Pippin’s cleverness, the destruction Saruman has caused. It’s not that I’m fundamentally opposed to this, but the execution of the pivotal scene made no sense. I understand why Treebeard changed his mind suddenly, but how did all the other Ents instantly come to the same conclusion, and agree to go to war, right then and there, just because Treebeard saw something? Wouldn’t they need another Entmoot to process the new information? The whole thing was, well, rather hasty.
The Faramir plot change: I read a bit about this in advance, and I’m glad I did, because it would have partially spoiled the end of the movie if I hadn’t been expecting it. Basically, instead of immediately releasing Frodo like he’s supposed to, Faramir and his men kidnap the hobbits and take them to Osgiliath, and they’re going to take them to Gondor until last-minute events cause Faramir to change his mind. I’m not such a purist that I think it would have been utterly horrible to do something like this no matter what, but I don’t understand what the movie gained from the change as it was executed. It became longer — which, for a 2 hour, 59 minute flick, arguably isn’t a good thing — and the scenes that resulted were, in my opinion, not that compelling. In fact, I hated a couple of things that happened in Osgiliath, not because they’re “unfaithful” to the book but just because they’re, like, bad. (More on that below.)
The random out-of-place scene in Osgiliath: If you saw the movie, you know what I’m talking about: the part where Sam tells Frodo to keep on fightin’ for good against evil. I didn’t so much mind the speech itself (though I understand why somebody on the crew said, “This sounds like something George Bush would say”), but it made absolutely no sense that the raging battle which had been going on all around them suddenly disappeared and Frodo and Sam were seemingly the only people in Osgiliath for a minute or two. As a technical matter, I think I know why this happened: the scene was filmed after regular production had been completed, because Peter Jackson felt there was a gap that needed to be filled by inserting it. Fine, but if you’re going to insert an extra scene, you’ve got to bring back the extras and have the battle going on! Otherwise, it just looks dumb and weird, which is exactly what happened. If The Two Towers doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar (although it should), this scene is the reason why. In an otherwise incredible film, this is a brief piece of simply bad filmmaking.
Frodo’s virtual surrender to Sauron’s will: The movie shows Frodo teetering on the edge throughout the movie, essentially losing the battle for control of his mind against Sauron’s will, to the point that, at the end, he literally would have given the ring to the Nazgul if Sam hadn’t saved him. This is an area where I am a purist. That can’t be. It’s a continutation of a problem from the first movie: for the sake of drama, Peter Jackson has made significant alterations to the balance of power between Sauron and Frodo. It started when Frodo saw the Eye in Bree, and it’s getting more and more problematic. Following this to its logical conclusion, there’s no way Frodo would be able to get up Mount Doom. If Sauron is already able to overpower his will, and he’s not even inside Mordor yet, the whole premise of the story’s climax is undermined. What’s going to save Frodo in the third movie? Sam Gamgee’s Bush-like speeches? Peter Jackson will obviously find a way, but I doubt it will be a satisfactory one. Not because I don’t have faith in Peter Jackson, but because this is just a logically insurmountable problem caused by overzealous dramatic license.
The sickness (and healing) of Theoden: I didn’t like this at all. As I understand the book, it’s not like Saruman himself is actually living inside Theoden’s brain, which is the sense you get from the movie. And it’s not like Theoden, when under Grima’s influence, is almost literally unconscious, which is how it appears here. It’s just that he’s become sickly and weak because Grima has tricked him into believing he’s making the right choices for Rohan, when in fact he’s making choices that will allow Saruman to defeat Rohan. In the movie, Theoden’s sickness seems to be more sorcery than trickery. In the book, Gandalf had to do more than just wave his staff around to heal Theoden — he also had to talk with him, walk with him, convince him, etc. The visual depiction of Theoden’s wrinkles disappearing and his face magically transforming into that of a younger man just didn’t do it for me. It’s not supposed to happen that way, and it’s kinda stupid that it did.
Changes in voices from the trailer: This is a minor point, admittedly. But it bugged me. I watched the cinematic trailer for The Two Towers so many times (I downloaded it to my computer) that I literally had every word, every syllable, every inflection, memorized. And I noticed something in the movie: many of the actual pieces of dialogue were noticably different from the trailer versions. Yeah, they were the same words, but they were delivered differently — and usually, less forcefully — in the actual movie. Where was the echo on Saruman’s voice when he said, “A new power is rising!”? Where was the anger and impatience in Eomer’s voice when he demanded, “Speak quickly!”? Why did the line “By order of the king, this city must empty!” sound so much less dramatic? Likewise with “There will be no dawn for men!” — what happened? Perhaps this is a movie insider thing that I don’t know about, but it seems to me they should just the most forceful, dramatic cuts for both the trailer and the movie. Doesn’t that make sense?
But, all that said… THE TWO TOWERS IS AWESOME!!! Go see it! :)
The movie is beginning!!!
UPDATE/CORRECTION, 12/18/2002, 7:57 PM: This was actually a blatant lie. I wrote “The movie is beginning!!!” because I was so excited to be in the theater with the lights dimming. But in reality, the commercials and previews lasted fully — no joke — a half hour. The movie began around 12:41 AM (11:41 PM Pacific time). I’ll post my review shortly, in a separate post above.
On ground in Phoenix, taxiing to gate. Two Towers - 55 mins.!