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Stop this 3D madness! December 13, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Movie Reviews, Technology.
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I’m so sick of watching a promising trailer for a new film, only to see in big letters at the very end, “Coming to you…in 3D”!!!

Here I go again.  I have been consistently vocal in my objection towards this current tidal wave of 3D films hitting our cinemas.  Sure, there are some movies that provide an enhanced experience in 3D — for example Avatar, or dare I even say Resident Evil: Afterlife, but ther vast majority of 3D films out there charge a hefty premium and give you a shitty time with the uncomfortable and darkening glasses and pointless 3D effects.

Worst of all, 3D films aren’t discounted at all, even on cheapo days, and even those that use movie money have to pay a few dollars extra.  For instance, if you go watch a 2D movie on cheapo Tuesday (in Australia), you can catch a film for around $10 (or less if you use movie money on any day of the week).  But if you watch the same movie in 3D, you can fork out up to $24 for an adult ($17.50 + $3.50 for 3D + $1 for Vmax + $1 for internet booking) and $19.50 for a child.  Enough said.

I thought after films like Clash of the Titans (where the 3D actually made the film worse) , the backlash against 3D will make studio execs think twice before making their latest release in 3D, but it hasn’t appeared to slow the trend at all.  According to this article from the Economist, 3D is relatively inexpensive, adding only a 10-15% to the cost of production, with a huge upside and low risk of piracy.  No wonder they’re even trying to re-release a bunch of old films in 3D to cash in.

Much of the blame of course rests with moviegoers that continue to go to 3D movies.  These days I choose 2D whenever the option is available, but I admit there have been times when I have wondered: will the 3D finally be good this time?  Needless to say, it never is.  I’m a frequent visitor to the cinema, but with a lot of people or families who only go a handful of times a year, 3D can seem like a real treat, especially if you haven’t experienced it before.  So I guess as long as people keep paying up to 240% the price of what they ought to be paying, the 3D rush will continue.

It was interesting, though, to see this New York Times article that discussed the backlash against 3D films in Hollywood.  Perhaps it is filmmakers who will take the charge to stop this 3D madness.

Indian Journey Part XIII: Getting Ripped Off July 6, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in India, Travel.
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This dude showed us how they made the Taj Mahal...well, kind of...

…in my opinion, as long as we think we paid a decent price (compared to our home country), it doesn’t really matter if you get ripped off a little.  Everyone’s still happy.

As a tourist, no matter where you go, you have to look out for scams and people trying to rip you off.  I’ve heard plenty of horror stories, such as where people offer you something on the street for free, but once you take it, they say it costs $X and they won’t take the good back.  The best one I heard was in China, where they offload buses of sightseers at a souvenir shop and lock the doors until they’ve all made at least one purchase!

We didn’t experience any such extreme problems in India, but I would like to offer a warning about these “private tours”.  From what I hear, most of them are the same — that is, they will take you to a lot of places not on the itinerary or places you didn’t ask to go to for the sole purpose of making you spend more money.

It’s pretty much unavoidable, so if you don’t like that kind of stuff, make sure you tell them up front or else it can get a little frustrating.  Your guide may get pissed off (because that may mean they get a smaller cut or commission), but don’t forget you’ve already paid for his services, and they still need to treat you decently if they want a tip at the end.

(to learn how to avoid being ripped off in India, click on ‘more’ to read on)

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Is it worth paying extra for 3D? April 5, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Technology.
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One thing that’s really been annoying me lately is the extra price movie-goers have to pay to enjoy a film in 3D.  Where I’m from, there’s the “normal” price of the ticket, and on top of that there is the arbitrary price for the 3D, and then there’s the additional cost of the 3D glasses.  Some theatres allow 3D glasses to be reused, but others require you to purchase a new pair each time.  When you add it all up, the movies are getting ridiculously expensive these days.

Now if it is a genuine 3D film, like say Avatar (or even The Final Destination), where the experience is truly enhanced because of the 3D effects, I don’t have a huge problem with that.  You pay for it with extra cash and discomfort from wearing the glasses for the entire duration of the film, but it’s ultimately worth the trouble.

But the last two “3D” films I watched, Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, both felt like they were riding the 3D tidal wave for a bit of extra box office income.  I was appalled by how little the so-called 3D effects added to the films.  Arguably, I would have enjoyed them more had I watched in ordinary 2D, without the irritating glasses frames, the darker tint of the lenses, and me taking taking them off constantly wondering whether I had accidentally walked into the 2D version.

So from now on, I’m going to be a 3D sceptic.  No more watching films in 3D if those effects have been added in post-production in order to ride the 3D bandwagon — unless, of course, someone tells me I’d be missing out on something amazing.

Travel Update: Prague is Overrated! April 5, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Travel.
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prague-bridges1

Prague can look incredible from afar, but...

[Note: Travel Diary has been updated to include Munich (including Neuschwanstein Castle and Dachau Concentration Camp) and Berlin!]

I never thought I would say this, and undoubtledly it will be heavily disputed, but in my opinion it’s true: Prague is overrated!

When I first arrived in the UK, Prague was near the top of my list of travel destinations.  Not because I knew very much about the place myself, but because every tourism book I read raved about the place and every person I spoke to kept telling me: ‘you have to go to Prague!’ 

Hence when we planned our big anniversary vacation and an opportunity came up where we had a couple of extra days on our hands, I insisted that we go to Prague (even though my wife had been and said it was nothing special, a view that 2 of her sisters concurred with).  ‘But it’s Prague‘, I would say, ‘we have to go to Prague!’  And so we did.

However, out of all 12 cities we went to on this giant trip, Prague was by far the most disappointing.  If asked, I would say it’s ‘okay’ because the place is not without merit, but given its glittering reputation (or at least the reputation I thought it had), I had expected a lot more.  It’s one of those places that look good in postcards and photos and from afar, but when you are there and everything is up close it doesn’t live up to the hype.

Perhaps I don’t really know the city well enough to be making such comments – after all, I did only spend roughly a day and a half there, so it’s really not much more than a generalised first impression; or maybe my expectations were too lofty or unreasonable – either way, these were my main gripes:

1. Appearance – I was very surprised when we stepped off the train at Praha Holesovice station, one of the main stations for international trains.  It was old, dirty and looked incredibly runned down.  Not just on the platforms but even inside the small, no-frills terminal.  I expected that to change when we caught the subway to the central station, Praha Hlavni Nadrazi, but it didn’t.  It was bigger, but still old, dirty and runned down.  When we walked outside, more of the same – the roads, the buildings, the walls.  It wasn’t even in a kind of charming or romantic sort of way.  For some reason, it just felt dull and gloomy.

2. Tourist-unfriendly – the appearance of the city was unexpected but was something you could put down as a different experience.  However, Prague also turned out to be relatively tourist-unfriendly compared to all of the other European cities I’ve visited.  There are very few English signs around and the public transport system, though not dissimilar (to say Germany), was the most confusing.  But that’s not the main problem.  The main problem is the lack of help you can expect to get from locals.  If it were just one or two people I would have put it off as bad luck or coincidence, but pretty much every single person behind a counter we sought assistance from (with the exception of the hotel receptionist) had ‘I’m not going to help you’ written all over their face – and this includes the people from the Information office! 

For instance, when we couldn’t figure out how to purchase subway tickets at the machine (no ticket office), the one guy working there in uniform quickly turned his back on us when he saw us approaching and had to be prompted by his friends to help us.  All he told us was that we had to break our notes as the machines only take coins, then ran off.  Funnily we saw the same guy on the subway asking to check our ticket.  Fortunately we did our research and bought a half-ticket for our luggage, or else we would have been fined!  Strangely, he only targeted touristy-looking people and the locals simply ignored him and the little badge he kept flashing. 

Another example was when we tried to purchase train tickets to Vienna – though the woman behind the window spoke perfect English and we were perfectly polite, she acted as though she was doing us the world’s biggest favour.  If we didn’t keep prodding her with multiple questions, we would have never: (1) purchased 2 tickets instead of 1 despite there being obviously 2 people in front of her; (2) found out what time the trains departed; (3) gotten seat reservations (apparently compulsory for international travel); and (4) found out that the train actually departed from a different station to the one we purchased the tickets from!

3. Attractions – there are a few good attractions in Prague; after all, it does have a tremendous amount of history.  I suppose that’s what attracts the tourists.  However, there was nothing overly exciting about what I saw in Prague.  The number 1 attraction, Prague Castle, was just average in my opinion, but it was probably because I had seen much more spectacular places elsewhere.  The view over the city from outside the Castle walls was worthwhile though.  The next best attraction would be Charles Bridge, with its many sculptures along the sides.  Apart from those 2 I would struggle to find anything else worth recommending, maybe except a quick peek at the Astronominal Clock and Tyn Church.

4. Rip-offs – probably the most irritating thing about Prague is how the locals try to rip off foreigners.  This was something I had read before, but I didn’t expect it to be so prevalent.  All I will say is that when in Prague, you need to be extra careful.  Read every receipt, every bill, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Check prices beforehand and make sure there are no hidden costs or charges.  Ensure, even in what may look like a respectable restaurant, that the waiter has not tampered with the bill, ‘miscalculated’ or added things that aren’t supposed to be there.  Be very wary of ‘service charges’ that magically appear out of nowhere.  We were caught off-guard by that one at this recommended restaurant called Sherwood on Opletalova (food was very salty), where the waiter added a 15% ‘service charge’ to our bill as though it was restaurant policy (even though the amount didn’t even appear on the bill).

We were almost ripped off at Prague Castle too, where we were strongly recommended to purchase the audio guide (which actually cost more than the entry tickets!) because there were no English explanations anywhere (which turned out to be untrue) and because otherwise we would have to wait in line for up to an hour to enter St Vitus Cathedral (we waited for about 1 minute to get in).

I also read elsewhere that train conductors have a tendency to try and intimidate foreigners by pretending there is something wrong with their ticket and insisting further payment or a fine.  I thought it was an exaggeration before but now I don’t find it hard to believe.

On the plus side though the prices were relatively cheap compared to most other European cities I’ve visited, and the food was pretty good in general.

Anyway, that was my first experience of Prague.  Unfair?  Perhaps.  I’m sure there are many out there who absolutely adore the place and with good reason too, but I found the city rather unappealing.  Much of it probably has to do with the local attitude towards the tourists that keep invading their city!  Can’t say I blame them.

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