Sahara, CrackeD Ice, and more

I’ve had a busy few days. Saturday was hectic; I found all 8 caches I attempted, including a real tough 3-part multicache. I also had a very minor fender bender in the CVS parking lot that succeeded in damaging a corner of my car that was already damaged. Now I’m glad I procrastinated in having last August’s accident repaired.

Then Evelyn arrived a little after noon on Sunday. She got an uncharacteristly early start, and didn’t have much troubles driving down from New York. As we walked to Food Star to get potatoes and eggs (Food Star’s the one place around where you can still get a dozen eggs for $1), I told her about these MSN Spaces things, with built-in blogging. She really liked the idea, as a very cheap and effective way to write about her views on dating, relationships, financial planning, education reform, and pooling stay-at-home mom work potential. She’s full of big ideas and has been looking for a good way to promulgate her thoughts.

We also started playing a few games of CrackeD Ice. It’s a cute little dexterity game, and we engineers can visualize the moments and balancing forces in our heads. It gets easier as more and more pieces are added; the challenge is just getting it started. Gotta love them pyramids!

Last night, we went to see Sahara, the film adaptation of the 1992 Clive Cussler novel. Having read the novel five years ago, I wanted to see Cussler’s unique blend of action, history, and intrigue portrayed rightly on the big screen (as opposed to 1980’s tragic rendition of Raise the Titanic). The picture had been getting mixed reviews, and I had my differences with the casting, but I had been waiting to see the movie for a couple weeks, just so I could take Evelyn along.

And the verdict is….we liked it! Without knowing anything about it besides what I had told her, she followed it well and really got into the movie, gripping my arm in suspense and cheering the Pitt and Giordino on. Familiarity with Cussler’s novel isn’t a must, and in fact helps distract a viewer from obvious plot omissions. I couldn’t help but compare it to its literary source, and contrast the characters as portrayed on screen with my visualized concepts from the book. I quickly picked up on some major differences in plot; obviously the writers had to take significant artistic liberties to compress a 500+ page book into a 2-hour film, but the end result captures the novel in basic plotline, and in spirit instead of to the letter. It stands well alone as a grandiose adventuring tale full of nonstop action and the ‘devil may care’ derring-do attitude Cussler injects into his characters.

The casting department was a mixed bag. McConaughey was a decent rendition of Dirk Pitt, exuding Pitt’s natural guile, confidence, charm and curiousity, and his perfomrance did a good job distancing himself from other characters he’s played (U-571, Reign of Fire). My only criticism of his take on Pitt is his Texas drawl; I don’t see So. Cal.-raised Pitt having a strong Southern accent (or for Giordino, for that matter), yet both did. Steve Zahn was about as far from my expectations of Al as Lagos is from Richmond. I picture Cheech Marin, Dennis Franz, or the late Telly Savalas doing a better job with Al. Zahn and McConaughey did well as buddies, trading snide banter and working as a team; Al was treated as an equal to Pitt rather than a mere sidekick kept around for comic relief, though Zahn did lower Al’s IQ a bit. Penelope Cruz was okay in her role as WHO investigator Eva Rojas, a sharp and professional scientist with a bleeding heart. Her character came off in the film as very one-dimensional but respectable, much as in the book. Rojas was not a demanding role for her, but she filled the shoes adequately. William H. Macy was a delight to see as Sandecker, but he lacked the spine that Sandecker needs to pull all the favors he does. I’m afraid Macy can’t escape his ‘lovable loser’ image that easily. Sadly, many of Cussler’s other characters are either way off (Rudi Gunn), or absent entirely (Perlmutter, Jaeger). As for the villains, neither Massarde nor Kazim come off as truly evil or treacherous, and their performances are regrettably stale.

It seems Sahara’s biggest criticism comes from the absurdness of the action and the implausable plot. Those who are unable to suspend disbelief will be disappointed, as with any Cussler novel. If ironclad vs. helicopter is too much for you to take, then Cussler’s works aren’t for you. Still, I enjoyed this movie by taking it at face value for what it was meant to be: a freespirited and rolicking action adventure, far more satisfying than an overstylized superhero or Vin Diesel vehicle (the XXX sequel’s trailer comes to mind). That and as a maritime history geek, I was engrossed by the brief ironclad opener segment, as ironclads are rarely in movies at all.

As for the next few days, I’m looking forward to relaxing with Evelyn, and going to game night tomorrow evening. We’re also planning as visit to the Asian game exhibit at the Smithsonian for Saturday.

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