You’ll believe a man can fly

 When did the first Superman film come out? 1979 or thereabouts? I seem to recall being 6 or 7, running round the playground with my jacket buttoned round the neck like a cape, arm in front of me. Those days flooded back this afternoon when we saw Superman Returns on the IMAX screen in AUckland.

Yup. Superman. On IMAX. In 3D (partially). With crappy sound, but hey – you can’t have everything.

The tickets were $20, around £6.50. This is how much a cinema ticket goes for in the UK anyway, and only a two quid more than the price of a regular matinée ticket here. Worth every penny.

Things have been great recently for superhero films. Three superb X-Men outings, Batman Begins getting us back on track after Joel Schumaker’s utter abortions, Spiderman throwing away all memories of Mark Hammond’s straight-to-TV nonsense of the 70’s, and now this. Absolutely superb.

The WB logo fades out with a little twiddle at the end that tweaks the memory. Then the music starts up. Short bursts like the opening chords of the Jaws theme. Then the full flury of that wonderful theme music, the overture that anyone aged 30 or over should be hugely familiar with. The hairs literally stood up on the back of my neck.

The director is Bryan Singer who did the first two recent X-Men films (coincidentally, the guy who was originally listed to do Supes ended up doing X:3) and it shows in the scripting and vision. The effects are utterly wonderful, but what shines through is the story. Anyone who is familiar with the original trilogy (let’s ignore Quest For Peace and pretend it never happened) will feel right at home with the little references. Kevin Spacey steps perfectly into Gene Hackman’s shoes as Lex Luthor – manic, scary, sneaky. The play between him and his henchwoman perfectly mimics that of the original The Movie. The other henchmen hardly say a word and wear black. More reminiscent of The Penguin’s hoods from the old Batman TV series, but they just work.

As for the new Superman… spot on. He really looks like a young Christopher Reeves. The little smiles, the raised eyebrows, the way he stutters around Lois when posing as Clark. Brilliant. No, I can’t remember his name as I type this up but then, nobody had heard of CR when he took the role all those years ago. As another bonus, the makers have seen fit to update the costume only slightly – it’s more of a Spiderman-like update than a Batman one.

Louise & Clark and Smallville along with the comics themselves have had a big hand in turning Superman into a soap opera over the last 20 or so years. There’s enough backstory and twists in Returns to let them do the same on the cinema screen. I for one and waiting for the next one. There’s no doubting it’s in the pipeline already and I only hope it’s as good as this.

Oh, if any of you out there have children who haven’t yet seen the original films then for crying out loud, get them sat in front of the DVDs immediately. Then take them to see this. It’s the best excuse you’ll have. I don’t need such an excuse. I’m a big kid and everyone knows it!

Christchurch once again

 A fairly uneventful drive north took us to Christchurch. I say “uneventful” if you don’t include almost driving head on into a fleeing eagle eventful. Talk about gutsy. This thing just sat on the road and stared into the distance as I bore down on it at 100km/h. This sharply reduced to about 30km/h when I realised it wasn’t going to budge until the last moment, at which point it took off and flew along in front of me so I couldn’t accelerate. Then it looped over the van to land on the road where it had been before. I hope the view was worth it.

 Two more games of minigolf were played in the afternoon once we reached the city. One venue had two different courses – an indoor “3D” course which made full use of the funky glasses provided, and an outdoor Gold Rush course with some excellent mechanical effects. Both had a Wild West theme, so if you can’t stand piped country music, I’d recommend avoiding them. Likewise if you get headaches with 3D glasses, say away from the indoor course.

I won the 3D golf, while Lou did her best to embarass me outdoors. The indoor fairways are deep carpetting, so putting along them was a little strange compared to the courses we’d been used to.

 I did manage to get a cheer on the second hole outdoors. There’s an option to use a ramp to get your ball close to the hole and our “privae” rules state that any funky features have to be used if they’re present or suffer a stroke penalty. Lou took four shots to get her ball over the ramp. I took one shot, chipped the ball off the tee and landed it in the single deepest area of water on the course – more than a club’s-length away from the shore.

Just great.

I did manage to get it back without getting wet, though. That earned me another cheer from the assembled throng.

Overall, a very tricky course but richly featured. Watch out for the water traps and explosions, though!

 Later on we had a cine-fest and went to see both Over The Hedge (superb, it out-PIXARs PIXAR) and Click (not bad but a typically schmaltzy ending) before parking up in our now-usual spot and makig ourselves almost sick on stupidly cheap KFC.

We managed almost four hours’ sleep before the alarm went off at 2:30am, waking us in time to see England barely scrape a 1-0 win against poor opposition. I wish I’d stayed up for the Portugal/Holland game afterwards. At least that sounded entertaining. Posted by Picasa

Arrowtown, Wanaka and Fairlie

 Time to start the journey back up to Christchurch. Given the weather, we thought it best to make a fairly early start and take it easy, though the drive can be accomplished in a day if needed.

We packed up… OK, we chucked everything onto the bed in the back of the van… and set off for Wanaka where we’d decided to have lunch. Lou made me drive past Have A Shot (twice) even though I wanted to whack a few golf balls at the TV screen again. Maybe next time.

 Lunch was… tomato soup. Again. Twice in half a day! We then bought some bread and fed the ducks on the lakeside. These were very friendly ducks, even moreso than the ones in Rotorua. I think this is the first time I’ve ever had ducks take bread out of my hand. It took a while for them to gather, but as soon as they spotted one of their number getting fed, they flocked in. As did the seagulls. And sparrows. No eagles, though. I did spot two sat by the side of the road, eyeing us up as we drove past later on.

Reading the local paper, I spotted something else I like about Kiwis. They don’t really give two hoots about “language” the same way we do back home. Insisting programs on TV are on after a certain time in the day, just because someone says a word that some old granny has decided is “rude”. We really should wake up and realise that life’s too short to get worked up about pathetic things like that. The quote that got me ticking over about this was an interview with a local guy who runs the snow patrol on one of the peaks. Apparently, when he started the job, he was “a shit skiier”. Even the super soaraway Sun would have popped an asterisk in there.

 A second example jumped out as us from the radio when we left Wanaka. It was an advert for a local glaziers. Essentially, it was four people breaking a window and saying “oh, bugger”, followed by an announcer asking if you’d ever had one of those “oh, bugger” moments. This is the kind of thing that would have had Mary Whitehouse in fits, yet the Kiwis regard it as just another funny advert. Mind you, I come from a country that was trying to have the latest Australian tourism advert banned from television only a few weeks ago. The tagline: “So where the bloody hell are you?”

Little things like that sum up the Kiwi lifestyle quite well. Why find things to get worked up about? Who really gets upset at a choice of words that aren’t aimed to insult. This is a country which invented throwing yourself off bridges with elastic tied to your feet – they have better ways to spend their time than complaining about people’s phrasing. Also than teaching them to spell judging by far too many shop signs, but I’ll let that slip.

 Oh, another thing I found out was that virtually all Kiwi travel insurance policies include cover for what the UK would class as “dangerous pastimes”. You don’t need to seek extra cover (and fork out more money) for pursuits such as rafting, bungy jumping, snowboarding, mountain biking… the assumption is that Kiwis will go and perform such acts of lunacy anyway so they’re included as part of the policy. I checked several policies before I left the UK and one of them even had a premium for bamboo rafting. I mean, come on. The river doesn’t even move at walking pace and it’s barely deep enough to drown a sparrow in. It would make more sense to charge extra for swimming at the beach.

As the weather was closing in and the sun dropping, we opted to stop partway north. Again, we tried Tekapo but the campervan park was inaccessible without chains. We continued for a while and reached Fairlie where we set up camp for the night. Lou made herself welcome in the kitchen making dinner and it was nice to see a sign inviting us to make full use of the washing up liquid and tea towels. Most parks don’t supply these, believe it or not. Lou, therefore, started spraying washing up liquid around with mad abandon to ensure all our stuff was nice and clean. Then the chap who’s liquid she’d been using by mistake took it off her and moved his box of stuff back into his van.

Whoops. Posted by Picasa

Snow and fireworks

 Much better weather today with excellent visibility. However, this was partly due to less snow the night before so the snow blowers were on on the lower slopes. Lou didn’t bother getting the bus up today – her knee was still rather banged up and she was limping – so I handed her board and boots in when I got there.

The views from the upper slopes were magnificent today, so I took a few more snaps. Another morning lesson with Brett, the same chap as Wednesday, followed by lunch and then the afternoon zooming around on the powder making a complete tit of myself but having loads of fun in the process.

 It was a shame when it came time to return my hire kit and head back into town. I’d really enjoyed myself and was just reaching the point where my muscles had given up complaining about all the work they were being made to do. With any luck, I’ll make it back down again for the end of the season. Fingers crossed!

Today was also the start of the Queenstown Winter Festival, a week-long party to celebrate the start of the season. Today, the Cardrona runs opened and tomorrow The Remarkables ski park would join in. Add to that the best/worst snow they’ve had in ten years (depending on whether you’re boarding/skiing or driving) and they were really looking forward to it this year. Last year was a damp squib in all respects with awful rain for the first couple of weeks.

 The festival’s a very “local” affair, involving businesses and organisations including schools. It starts with a free party on the waterfront with a huge stage, two hours or so of free bands and an impressive fireworks display. As the week goes on, there are other parties, parades, sporting events and so on. Basically, it’s a cracking way to start your snowy season and it’s the last week before the kids break up for holidays, so they get to have a lot of fun decorating floats and making masks and so on as they impatiently wait for the school gates to close.

 Lou had started to come down with an evil cold, so we didn’t enjoy the street stuff as much as we could. Instead, we sat in Pog Mahone’s drinking and eating some delicious tomoato soup until the fireworks were due to start and then nipped outside to watch them. Not the world’s biggest display, but certainly impressive. All were launched from a boat floating in the harbour and I’m amazed the thing didn’t sink. It even took Lou’s mind off her sniffles for ten minutes or so! Posted by Picasa

More snowy fun

Another day on the mountain, though the visibility was “poor” according to the rather polite board on arrival. The signpost which went up later in the day to say that the Greengates area was closed due to “Poopy Visibility” was closer to the mark.

We set off later than yesterday as we both only had one class to attend, and there’s the option of morning or afternoon. To try and give Lou’s knee a chance to sort itself out, we caught the bus at 10:30 after a bit of a walk around town, but to no avail. She could barely bend it to get her bindings on. One day wasted for her and things don’t seem too good for it being better by tomorrow. Lou hopped on the first bus back at 1:30 and I gave the slopes a chance.

Thankfully they cleared slightly by 2:00 so I joined my class and we messed about for two hours, being shown how to do things that none of us were capable of by a very helpful instructor. Helpful, but not miracle-worker. I still have a long way to go before I’m rotating on heel while going downhill. At least on purpose.

I got to the top of the M1 run just as the lift shut down and made it back in time to get the second last bus. Another early night after dinner, I feel. You wouldn’t think sliding down a hill could be so exhausting but my muscles loved me for treating them to a hot shower when I got back.