**Bonus** IMT at the Movies

July 10, 2007

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Summer is traditionally the time for blockbuster entertainment, and this year's box office is no exception. But for a handful of movies this season, there's more than meets the eye. Here we look at a few of this summer's blockbusters and the real-world implications of the subject matter: pirates, robots, shipbuilding, health care and even cooking (for engineers).

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END The Movie: The third in the hugely popular blockbuster series, based on a Disney amusement ride, has Johnny Depp back as Keith Richards-inspired, rum-loving pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), with a group of misfits, go to Singapore to get a ship and crew with the despicable Captain Sao Feng (Yun-Fat Chow) to rescue Capt. Jack from the land of the dead. After many betrayals and deals, they summon the nine pirate captains to gather in the Brethren Court with the intention to release the goddess Calypso from her human body of Tia Delma (Naomie Harris), all the while facing off against Davey Jones (Bill Nighy) and the Flying Dutchman, Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) and, well, the entire East India Trading Company.

Blasted by most critics as being an incoherent, over-plotted mess but also fast-moving and fun, it nonetheless made truckloads of money. According to Variety: "The third voyage in the 'Pirates' trilogy could be touted as 'the biggest, loudest and second-best (or second-worst) [in the series] ever!' — not necessarily a ringing endorsement, but honest."

IMT at the Movies: While many companies have looked to Asia for product sourcing in the pursuit for lower costs, piracy has been a problem for decades in the Malacca Straits, a busy shipping channel between Indonesia, Malaysia and, yep, Singapore.

The good news is that worldwide piracy attacks in 2006 fell for the third year in a row, according to the latest annual report from the International Maritime Bureau, whose experts, based at Kuala Lumpur's Piracy Reporting Center, counted 239 pirate attacks last year — or roughly four each week. Improving technology, revived naval budgets in Indonesia after recovery from the Asian financial crisis, and international agreements on protection of shipping in the Strait of Malacca have combined to cut attacks in the Strait and Indonesian territorial waters by nearly two-thirds — from high points of 119 in 2002 and 149 in 2003 to last year's 61, according to the Progressive Policy Institute.

TRANSFORMERS The Movie: For centuries, two races of robotic aliens — the Autobots and the Decepticons — have waged a war, with the fate of the universe at stake. When the battle comes to Earth, all that stands between the evil Decepticons and ultimate power is average teenager Sam (Shia LaBeouf), who is already dealing with everyday worries about school, friends, cars and girls. The world, of course, hangs in the balance.

Executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and based on the long-running Hasbro-Takara toy line (and 1980s cartoon series and animated movie), this live-action film, which opened last week, is said to be big, loud and full of testosterone (after all, Michael Bay directed it). It also appears to have hit a new peak for CGI, showcasing crazy-cool chases and awesome animated transformation sequences seamlessly blended into live-action surroundings. Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks' summer hopeful is certain to do huge business.

IMT at the Movies: The coolest thing about real "Transformers," of course, is that they can take two completely different shapes. "Most can be bipedal robots or working vehicles. Some can instead transform into weapons or electronic devices. A Transformer's two forms have vastly different strengths and capabilities," according to HowStuffWorks.com. "This is completely different from most real robots, which are usually only good at performing one task or a few related tasks."

One example of a real-world "Transformer" comes from Himeji Soft Works engineers, who have developed the WR-07 bot. The fully functional wheeled vehicle is able to convert into a humanoid battle bot and vice-versa.

Today engineers are developing reconfiguring robots. Like Transformers, these robots can change their shape to fit whatever task is at hand. However, instead of changing from one shape to one other shape — like a bipedal robot to a tractor-trailer — reconfiguring robots can take many shapes. They're much smaller than real Transformers would be; some reconfiguring robot modules are small enough to fit in a person's hand.

EVAN ALMIGHTY The Movie: Newly elected to Washington D.C. as a congressman, former TV anchorman Evan (The Office's Steve Carell) has been summoned by God himself (Morgan Freeman), who has handed Evan the task of building a new ark, much as Noah did before.

This sequel to the 2003 Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty seems to be a decent, family-aimed summer diversion: conservative parents likely will appreciate the overarching theme of religion and God; kids'll like the cute animals on the big boat. For everyone, it should reaffirm (for anyone who doubted it) Steve Carell's arrival as a major comedy presence in Hollywood.

IMT at the Movies: As of late last year, "the world shipbuilding industry is currently enjoying a strong upturn," according to Research and Markets. European production has increased as the nation fends off the new kids on the shipbuilding block: the Chinese.

Over the past 20 years, production in the European shipbuilding industry has increased by more than 40 percent. The challenge for Europe is the new competition from Asia — especially China, as China's shipbuilding industry is preparing to boost efforts over the next five to 10 years in order to enter the elite club of independent mainstream shipbuilders. In fact, last year China's shipbuilding firms ranked third in the world — for the 12th straight year, according People's Daily Online.

Meanwhile, U.S. shipbuilding remains plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays.

SICKO The Movie: Is a documentary. This time, loud-mouthed provocateur Michael Moore — whose previous documentaries took on automotive corporate suits in Flint, Mich., greedy big businesses and callous politicians, gun violence and what happened to the U.S. after the September 11 terrorist attacks — takes on the U.S. health-care industry. According to A. O. Scott at The New York Times, this documentary is not a fine-grained analysis of policy alternatives. "The film presents, instead, a simple compare-and-contrast exercise. Here is our way, and here is another way, variously applied in Canada, France, Britain and yes, Cuba."

Scott also calls it "the least controversial and most broadly appealing of Mr. Moore's movies." Moore's last two films, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, are the highest-grossing documentaries of all time… this one should do well. Everyone's talking about it: Workforce Management provides commentary and dialog about the film, and even the National Association of Manufacturers has weighed in on the "sick flick." Twice.

IMT at the Movies: "I don't think the country needs a movie that tells you that HMOs and the pharmaceutical companies suck," Moore said last year. "I'd like to show you some things you don't know."

There are more than 48 million Americans without health insurance and approximately 32 million others who are under-insured. The number of uninsured rose by 6 million people over the past four years, according to AmericanHealthCareReform.org, while more Americans each year are forced to file for bankruptcy due to medical bills. Indeed, 19,000 letters from members of the public about their medical experiences formed part of the research for Sicko.

Today the rising cost of U.S. health care is the most pressing concern for 85 percent of U.S. adults, more so than the war in Iraq, rising fuel costs and the threat of global warming, according to a recent survey sponsored by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and conducted by Harris Interactive.

RATATOUILLE The Movie: The latest Pixar-animated feature film is the story of Remy, a young rat living within the walls of a famous Paris bistro, who wishes to become a chef but is hindered by his family's skepticism and the rat-despising staff and patrons. But opportunity knocks when a young boy — who desperately needs to keep his job at the restaurant, despite his lack of cooking abilities — discovers and partners with Remy. "It's up to the two of them to avoid the insane head chef, bring the rest of Remy's family up to his standards, win his partner a girl, and, of course, produce the finest Ratatouille in all of France," according to IMDB.com.

A. O. Scott at the NYT calls it "is a nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film." Pixar's previous films include the Toy Story movies, Monster's Inc. and Finding Nemo, among others. That's almost enough to ensure Ratatouille is a hit. If that's not enough, Brad Bird, the writer/director of the The Incredibles (AWESOME) and the criminally under-appreciated Iron Giant, wrote and directed this one. 'Nuff said.

IMT at the Movies: Engineers have their own source for recipes online: Cooking for Engineers.com. Michael Chu, who earned his Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the College of Engineering at UC-Berkeley, started the site in June 2004 by as a place to store and share the recipes that he likes to use.

Chu — who has worked as a network engineer, software programmer, PDA hardware designer, computer vision researcher, and, most recently, notebook hardware application engineer — says he selected the site's name "Cooking For Engineers" on a whim. He has no idea if it means "To cook for the purposes of providing engineers with food" or "To instruct engineers in the science and art of cooking." But he likes the ambiguity.

As of this writing, his latest recipe — posted online a couple weeks in advance of the Pixar film's release — is for Ratatouille, a Provencal dish typically made with eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers and garlic. "This is a wonderfully flavorful vegetable dish that can be served as either a side or as a main entrée," he writes. His recipe serves four to six people.

Now get out there, dear readers, watch a movie and let us know how it is. And if you've already seen any of these, also let us know. It's getting way too hot outside, most nearby theaters have air conditioning, and so we want suggestions.

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