Friday, April 9, 2010

Visiting Petra: Or, Another Reason Why Transformers 2 Is Inaccurate

Transformers 2 was not a very good movie. In fact, to be brutally honest, it was the kind of film only Helen Keller could enjoy. After I got home from seeing it last summer, I wrote a laundry list of reasons why Revenge of the Fallen sucked. It was full of rants like this one:

"You wouldn’t think that a movie about 40-foot tall robots would try to sneak in any political messages under the radar. But Michael Bay created a character to do just that. For lack of a better title, I’m going to call him “Obama-weenie,” since that’s pretty much how he is portrayed. Obama-weenie is the new National Security Advisor who wants to send the good-guy Autobots home and shut down the only military unit that is keeping the world safe. Half of the time, it sounds more like he’s talking about withdrawing troops from Iraq instead of removing aliens from the battlefield. Of course, this is pure madness since only a strong military-robotic complex can keep the Decepticons at bay. Obama-weenie also wants to try to negotiate with the Decepticons, who are pure evil and will stop at nothing to destroy the earth and its inhabitants. Subtlety has never been Bay's strong suit, but in creating Obama-weenie he has elevated jingoism to an art form. Basically, this guy is a meddling bureaucrat who prevents soldiers from doing their jobs (in contrast to his Bush-era predecessor in the first Transformers, who actually fought the Decepticons himself with an antiquated shotgun in the Hoover Dam scene). And as if that symbolism didn’t hit you over the head with a sledgehammer, then when Obama-weenie keeps yelling “BAILOUT!” in reference to jumping out of a C-130 cargo plane, you’ll appreciate Bay’s clever social commentary so much that you’ll want to waterboard him yourself." --Nick Hubbard, excerpted from "10 Things That Can Make Transformers 3 Less Shitty"

After visiting Petra last week and the Pyramids during my Egypt trip, I can add another item to my list: most of the locations RoTF were completely fake. I don't know why Bay even bothered to film in Jordan and Egypt, because he wound up using CGI to completely change the entire landscape around the Pyramids and Petra. The Petra monastery is actually located up in the mountains, not next to an ancient desert town like it is in the movie. You have to climb up 1000 steps in order to get to the place where Skids and Mudflap (the two horribly stereotypical black Transformers) have a wrestling match and where the climactic battle scene takes place. In reality, the "ancient village" next to Petra that gets destroyed is a series of sheer cliffs, meaning that the US ground support that saves Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox would be nearly impossible. And in Egypt, the Giza Pyramids are surrounded by a bunch of tourist shops hawking useless crap, not by a mining complex where that big Transformer could magically appear from. And as far as the larger geography of the movie goes, at some point Optimus Prime would have had to fly over Israeli airspace to get to the Giza pyramids, and it's hard to imagine the Israelis ignoring or not noticing what is essentially a missile the size of a tractor-trailer.

This scene should never have happened, for many reasons.

Anyway, I think I've thought about Transformers 2 more than anyone should have to, so I'm going to stop right now and actually talk about our trip to southern Jordan. School is basically done now so the trip was a great way to relax and celebrate by enjoying a whole lot of ancient history, nature, geology, and duty-free alcohol (the entire city of Aqaba is a special economic zone without taxes or tariffs). Speaking of alcohol, in Aqaba I had a glass Petra Beer, which I expected to taste slightly better than turpentine and slightly worse than King Cobra malt liquor. In reality, it ranked up there with Coors Light ("The Cadillac of College Beer"), which was a pleasant surprise. If the image of Petra on the can had turned blue when the beer was cold, I think that would have been the highlight of the trip. But since that didn't happen, let me go in order: on the first day, we went to Karak and then to the city right next to Petra where we stayed in a hotel. We woke up really early the next morning to go to see the ancient city before it got mobbed by tour groups and before the temperature cracked 100˚F at midday. After Egypt, I was expecting to get mobbed by vendors as soon as I stepped off the bus, but Petra actually turned out to be the most reasonable of all the places we went to in terms of unwanted solicitations (though things seemed to be getting worse as more tour buses pulled up during the middle of the day). We were free to walk around the ruins, which was incredible. One thing that doesn't hit you until you're there is the true size of Petra--it used to be a city of 100,000 people, so it's pretty spread-out and you have to do a lot of walking to get from one site to another. Still, it was a gorgeous day and everyone was really happy to spend 5 hours outside.

After Petra, we headed out to Wadi Rum to camp in a "Bedouin tent" which was basically a hotel room with a cloth roof. We did a lot of touristy stuff--desert jeep tours, riding camels, dafka dancing, etc.--but the best part was climbing on rocks and exploring the desert at night. I've always been a big fan of camping, but sometimes it's easy to forget why and Wadi Rum was a great reminder of just how awesome nature can be. Unfortunately, we only spent one night there but I'll probably head back again now that school's done. The next morning we packed up and went to Aqaba, where we spent the afternoon snorkeling in the Red Sea. I've snorkeled before, but only in an indoor pool in order to play underwater hockey. Anyway, snorkeling is a whole lot better when you're looking at coral and fish and other beautiful things as opposed to wrestling underwater with an obese, hairy man over the "puck," and I enjoyed swimming a ton. We spent that night in a seaside bar called F.R.I.E.N.D.S. whose main attractions were JD2.50 beer and digital neon strobe lights.

For the last night, we went to the Dana Nature Preserve, which was straight-up gorgeous. It's in a wadi (valley) so everything is very green, but there are still stunning desert rocks and cliffs. Check out the pictures to see what I mean. I would say that words can't describe it, but they definitely can--I'm just too lazy to write anymore right now. Even though I slept on almost every bus ride, this trip still took a lot out of me. I slept for about ten hours last night and I'll probably do the same thing tonight. Anyway, I need to go get dinner now so stay classy until next time, guys.

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