Saturday, July 19, 2008


I’ve had a weakness for 3-D ever since I saw the awful BWANA DEVIL (and the much better HOUSE OF WAX) when I was a kid back in the middle 1950s. And even before that there was one of my favorite “toys,” a Viewmaster (viewer) through which one got one’s first visions of faraway places in remarkably pristine and (seen today) poignantly uncrowded three-dimensions.

In a way the current JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH IN 3-D harks back to these nostalgic times and experiences. It’s not a great movie, but then the first 3-D films of ‘50s hardly were either. But like them it does have its exciting and even thrilling moments.

This JOURNEY is a remake (sort of) of the 1959 20th Century-Fox version, which was also shot in a then-new process, CinemaScope. Like 3-D, the wide screen process was launched to lure fickle ‘50s movie goers back into theaters and away from their new and highly addictive BxW television sets.

Both versions are of course loosely based on the Jules Verne fantasy novel. Here (as in the ‘50s version) a contemporary scientist follows a passage to a strange subterranean world at the center of the earth, and in the process verifies a discovery made by an earlier pioneer who had vanished without a trace. In this case the scientist is Brendan Fraser and he takes along only his cell phone addicted nephew and a capable girl guide the two guys hook up with in Iceland.

After that it’s pretty much the same as the earlier film but with some spectacular CGI efx (instead of matte shots and giant soundstage mushrooms) and much more realistic dinosaurs.

The new film gets off to a somewhat slow and talky start and you begin wonder when the 3-D is really going to kick in. But eventually it does. However, the thing I really liked about this film is that it is essentially benign, and you don’t have to endure fifteen endless and laborious battle scenes or an interminable pirate sword fight. (I realize this may not be a plus for many contemporary viewers)

There is also little gore and no really threatening violence. And there’s even time for some truly lovely effects (such as the flock of fluttering phosphorescent “glow” birds) and some luminous underwater scenes, these a kind of color nod to the effects in the iconic CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, also in early 3-D.

On the wilder side the storm sequence/chase on the underground sea with some nasty giant piranhas and their pursuing oceanic dinosaurs creates some genuinely impressive and Vernian imagery. And of course there’s the obligatory dinosaur chase and theme-park thrill ride sequence in run away mine cars.

But generally the tone is genial and tongue in cheek, a mode well served by the goofy throwaway charm of Fraser who seems to be having a good time through it all.

As did I.

I left 2.15 screening at the beautiful Arlington in Santa Barbara with the pleasant but not overwhelmed feeling I used to get after a Saturday matinee at the Senate Theater back in Harrisburg, Pa.

And when was the last time you saw a nasty but affectionately tacky man-eating plant attack and then get ripped out by the roots in a recent movie.

JOURNEY had a limited 7-day run in 3-D at the Arlington but is still playing in its dimensional version in the LA area.

By the way, some of the most thrilling 3-D efx are reserved for the first minute or so of the end credits, so stick around for those.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Spring Shadows and Green return to the Onofreo Firezone
The stream, beach, and ocean are in the distance.
When we came back south from the Solvang/Buellton area the temperature must have dropped about ten degrees on the other side of the tunnel. The tunnel passes through a huge and rugged formation, virtually a mini-range of red rock mountains, which serves as a barrier between the sunny clear (hot) inland, and the (sometimes) gray (cool) foggy coast.

(It might be noted that the temperature hit a high of 126 in Death Valley this week, and wildfires are raging north of Sacramento).

As a weather/climatic barrier this sudden elevation of rock works extremely well because the coastal region around Gaviota was still remarkably cool and blanketed in fog while it was sunny and intensely hot in Solvang.

In spite of the fog we did spend some time on a favorite secluded beach, San Onofreo, to which there are two coastal accesses between Gaviota State Park and the Refugio State Beach to the south.

Neither one is what you’d call easy access. From the northern parking area, called Vista del Mar or something like that, you hike across the top of the bluffs and face a precipitous descent that is more like going down into a crevasse than a trail.

The southern access is less rigorous. From a parking area along the railroad tracks a sloping trail descends to the beach down a moderate slope. The trail once passed through a thick tangle of chaparral, but that was all burned away in a wildfire that crossed the freeway and burned to the sea last year.

For a while this was a blackened nether land of ash and charred trees but after spring rains it quickly came back to life and was ablaze with dazzling yellow mustard instead of fire. By July the mustard has dried into a combustible mass of ochre yellow but other growth continues.

It has been an interesting experience to see the area come back to life. Unfortunately for native plant enthusiasts much of the new growth is by invasive species. Among these castor beans, summer mustard, sweet fennel, jimsonweed, and a variety of thistles are the most fecund and aggressive.

By now these species are to be found everywhere along the coast. Some are quite decorative. Fennel adds welcome touches of feathery green to the arid summer landscape (but seeds like mad). The blossoms of the jimsonweed are beautiful but, like the entire plant, deadly (enough to kill cattle and sheep that have grazed upon it. The seeds are said to be a powerful but also toxic hallucinogen).

With all these invaders California natives face much competition for soil and space but some are making a comeback here as well. The stand of California sycamores seems dead and charred at first glance but new growth is sprouting profusely from the base of the trunks. (See photo). Chaparral and California sagebrush also seem to be gradually recovering and some California poppies dotted the ashen soil in the spring.

Before hitting the beach the trail passes along a stream. It flows between the chaparral and the steep hills that ascend to the bluffs that line this secluded coast for miles. It was a cool green riparian oasis but the fire also passed over the woods of sycamore and oak that line its banks.

Just before emptying into the Pacific there was a small oasis that was one of the most magical places I’ve ever seen in nature.
Blooming nasturtiums literally climbed into the trees, other flowers lined the banks, and the stream itself formed a small pond that was clear and tranquil and a home of tadpoles in the spring and early summer. After the small pond it burbled on over the rocks and into the ocean surf.

In fact, this was one of the places that were a decisive factor in my decision to move to California over ten years ago.

But like all coastal environments this bower undergoes constant change, not the least of which was last year’s wildfire.

But yesterday as I moved onto the beach and passed the clear waters of the pond I noticed plumb tadpoles resting on the underwater rocks and a sprig of late nasturtiums dangling over the back.

Change, sometime radical, is a part of nature, especially on the rugged, sometime inhospitable California coast.
But so is regeneration.

On to the beach……

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Contrasts in Gray and Gold

Along Alisal Road, towards Solvang.

Along route 101 near Gaviota. Fog rolls over the now golden hills, July 7, 2008.

Photos: by/COPYRIGHT Ross Care


Speaking of contrasts, yesterday we drove up the coast from Ventura to my favorite country north of Santa Barbara along the Gaviota coast.

There was (and is) fog in Ventura. What’s commonly known as “June gloom” is a bit late this year, in keeping with the general and disturbing scrambling of seemingly all the natural elements on the planet.

We hoped it might disperse as it sometimes does in an unpredictable coastal region but the fog, so thick that you could see it drifting in soft gray clouds over the now golden hills, held out until we passed through the great red rock formations around Gaviota.

But once through the tunnel it was, almost startlingly, all bright golden hills, dark green oaks, sunshine and blue skies. We stopped at our favorite park, Nojoqui Falls, always a pleasant setting for a picnic and a walk in the charming woods there.

The stream, which runs off from the falls, is (predictably) dried up but the falls are still trickling. In spite of the dryness the woods remain green, if a bit dusty (and buggy). They are a riparian combination of dark oaks, California maples and sycamores, and profuse, still green undergrowth including some ferns on the hillsides.

There are also a variety of other trees and shrubs, which I still cannot identify among the profusion of natural life that flourishes in this secluded yet accessible environment. (We once saw wild turkeys wandering through the picnic area!)

I have visited this area in all seasons and yesterday recalled how the big leaves of the maples turn bright yellow in autumn and how the trail along the main stream is alive with side streamlets and the musical sound of running water in the spring.

The park is off Alisal Road that runs on to Solvang, the area’s appealing, if somewhat Disneyland-ish Danish village. The road there is a fascinating microclimate as well, unusual in that the oaks and other trees along it are festooned with pale mint green Spanish moss.

The ghostly moss on the live oaks also suggests, to me at least, the similarities between this section of southern California and the southeastern United States, particularly Georgia and northern Florida.

That’s rather odd, considering we are a dry, almost arid environment, and the southeast is so damp, humid, and swampy. But there is definitely a similar look to certain aspects of the landscape that I’ve also noticed in the Ventura river estuary. By the river there is a low scrub woods of oak, bay and underbrush, and the look and dim, tented feel of the place is very similar to the tangled palmetto groves of coastal Georgia and its sea islands (without the palmetto of course).

After a loop through the beautiful rolling wine country of Solvang and Los Olivos (seen in SIDEWAYS, and where a few of the vineyards still tout their appearance in that film) we drove back down 101 to a favorite secluded beach.

Once through the tunnel you’re back in the persistent fog that did not, however, stop us from enjoying an impressionistic, if somewhat chilly late afternoon of black gulls and gray Pacific on a beach that, remarkably, we had entirely to ourselves.

Always wonderful to discover that isolation is still possible, even in southern California.

To be continued……

Maples & Spanish Moss

Along Alisal Road, near Solvang.
California maple leaves with California oaks and Spanish moss in the background. (See above entry).
Photo: by/COPYRIGHT Ross Care, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rim of the Canyon (and Disaster)

Photo: Meadow, Carpenteria Bluffs, July 1, 2008.
COPYRIGHT 2008 by Ross Care
Some entries ago I mentioned that many people think of California as having no seasons. As I also noted, it’s my theory that we have all four seasons, they just happen all at once, depending on the region, the microclimate, and the elevation.

Mature readers may remember the classic Ralph Rainger song, “June in Jaunary.”

Right now in southern California it’s October in July.

The lush greenness of the spring (i.e., January to May) has given way to a kind of golden fusion of summer and autumn. The grasses and hillsides are now a lambent gold, dazzling, glimmering (and combustible, as you may well know from news of the persistent fires around Big Sur and the recent one just happening today in Goleta, north of Santa Barbara).

Leaves and shrubs that have not completely dried out are turning autumnal reds and oranges in the canyons.

At any rate, now there’s gold along long the 101 freeway both to the north and south, an almost poignantly beautiful phase before the landscape’s inevitable demise into the dull (and dangerous) earthen aridity of the winter months.

I took a walk in Ventura’s Arroyo Verde this evening and, as often happens Out Here, I thought of how close, perilously close, any urban development is to a rugged, near-wilderness environment, particularly populated areas in or adjacent to the many canyons along the coast.

(Last year it was truly surreal to drive from Pasadena to Hollywood, traffic moving business as usual on the freeway as Griffith Park blazed, sending mountains of smoke into the otherwise clear blue sky).

Part of Ventura’s Arroyo Verde Park is of course kept verde (green), unnaturally so, by consistent irrigation. (Not to worry, we in California – and Las Vegas - are assuredly certain that the water supply will never ever run out).

Entering the Arroyo from Foothill Road the space between the hills is green as Kensington Gardens. Nobody seems to mind or even notice the incongruity of such a lushly expansive and landscaped lawn set between the unkempt wilds of the canyon walls.

But we feel we are entitled to everything here, even a village green, no matter how expensive or none-green politically.
This is not even to mention the incongruous, unnatural green expanses of golf courses of Palm Springs, and the surreally verdant Forest Lawns of Glendale, Burbank, et al).

It’s sort of the same thing when you drive across Coldwater Canyon in LA and descend over the Hollywood hills into Beverly Hills. The homes and profusely irrigated lawns look like something out of a particularly affluent (and sometimes kitschy) New England town (or a 1940s David O. Selznick movie which is tasteful in comparison!)

However, behind the pleasant, one might say complacent facade is the wild, somehow threatening aridity of dried brush and bare earth of the canyon walls, sometimes seemingly only a few feet behind this idealized vision of suburbia and The American Dream.

A vivid illustration of this California suburban/wilderness effect can be seen in one of my favorite science fiction films, the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) when Miles and Becky flee out of the comfortable tree-lined streets of their small town into the wild canyons just beyond, and where Becky finally falls asleep and victim to her pod persona.

BTW didn’t that film, set in classic era ‘50s California, turn out to be one of the most prophetic ever made?????