Geeking out

I am an enormous geek but, even for me, this was an unbelievably geeky weekend.

Steven and I took a trip out to Bletchley Park on Saturday.


During World War II, Bletchley Park was home to the codebreakers working to crack the Axis codes, including the famous Enigma. Today, it bills itself as the National Code Centre and has an amazing collection of cypher devices and memorabilia from war-time actitivities there. The most impressive exhibits though are the rebuilt bombes, which were the electromechanical devices used to decipher Enigma messages and the rebuilt Colossus, the first programmable electronic computing device.





As well as all of this, Bletchley Park is also the site of the National Museum of Computing. The museum showcases the history of computing from the war-time code-breaking activities at Bletchley Park, all the way through to modern day. If you have any nostalgia for older computer systems, you’ll feel right at home here. The collection includes lots of things that you’d expect, like the Apple Lisa and the Spectrum ZX-81, and some things you might not expect, like the control system for a nuclear power station, installed in the 1960’s and in constant operation until it was decommissioned in 2004.

Both museums feel very much like works-in-progress; there appear to be nearly as many workshops as exhibits but the sheer love and enthusiasm of the people behind them more than make up for any lack of polish.

Then, because the day hadn’t been quite geeky enough yet, we went to see the new Star Trek film. The film does a brilliant job of setting itself free from 40 years’ worth of established history while staying true to the characters and atmosphere of the original. I enjoyed it so much that almost the first words out of my mouth when we left the cinema were “Can we go see it again?” (Just don’t ask me to comment on the astro-physics!)

La Dolce Vita

I thought I’d balance my post about Beowulf by mentioning Fellini’s La Dolce Vita that I also saw recently. This film I absolutely loved!

It’s the story of a journalist (played by Marcello Mastroianni) who’s unhappy with his life, in part because he really wants to be a writer and not a journalist and especially not the kind of journalist that he is. (The film is believed to be the origin of the term ‘papparazzi’.) He has a (rightly) jealous fiancée, mad crushes on film stars and a bored, rich mistress. Over the three hours of the film, we watch him gradually succumb to the shallowness of his existence until he’s basically lost everything, including his own self respect.

As is probably obvious, it’s not a terribly happy film. There are some absolutely hilarious scenes however. Two in particular, I loved as demonstrating how much easier his life would be without the women in it. Firstly, when the dumb, blonde Swedish actress (wonderfully played by Anita Ekberg) that he’s accompanying insists that he go find some milk for a stray kitten that she’s picked up, in the early hours of the morning. His reactions all through this sequence are just fantastic.

My other favourite was a scene between him and his fiancée (Yvonne Furneaux). It opens with the two of them in a car at night in the middle of nowhere arguing. It goes through some wonderful cycles with her getting out of the car and refusing to get back in; her getting into the car and refusing to get back out; while all the time he’s yelling at her to do whatever is the opposite of what she’s currently saying she’s going to do. The climax comes when he gives up and drives off, leaving her in the middle of the road. The next scene is a very short, simple one showing the same scene, only now it’s daylight. His fiancée is still standing in the middle of the road; he drives up and without either of them saying anything, she gets in and they drive off. Absolute genius.

One of the only problems I had with the film was the subtitling. It’s a real shame that when they restored the film, they didn’t get the subtitles re-done as well. Not only do they not manage to translate large portions of what is said (reminiscent of the photo-shoot scene with Bill Murray in Lost in Translation) but much of it isn’t even in correct English, i.e. parts of words are transposed. At times, this really distracted me.


Steven and I saw Beowulf at the weekend and I’m afraid that all I can really say is “Bleh!” They did a good job of trying to recreate the Anglo-Saxon-ness of the original with lots of carousing and swiving but the animation was really distracting. Why did they make Beowulf look like Shrek? Given the level of CGI that was involved in the monsters, I can understand why they didn’t want to have the human actors as live-action but there must have been a better way of doing it. Ray Winstone’s accent was also distracting at times. Again, I liked the idea behind the choice but there were a couple of points, which I’m sure weren’t supposed to be funny, where the entire audience couldn’t help giggling at his delivery.

And don’t get me started on Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother.

Overall, a fun movie, if you can put up with the animation, just don’t get your expectations up too high before you go.

I can recommend the excellent Seamus Heaney translation though, which I really need to re-read.