Thoughts on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

(NOTE: This is not technically a critique, just a series of impressions. Also, SPOILER ALERT. No, seriously, don’t read this if you haven’t seen it yet and want to be surprised.)


So last night I finally got to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first part of Peter Jackson’s trilogy prequel to The Lord of the Rings. This morning, when I woke up, these were some of the thoughts running through my head:

  • First of all, how amazing was it in 3D? I’m not talking about the new 48 fps format, because it wasn’t available in the Philippines, but the 24 fps 3D blew me away. 3D is so easy to get wrong, and terrible when it happens (The Last Airbender, anyone?), but this view of Middle Earth was breathtaking, and yes, I ducked reflexively several times when stuff flew at my face.
  • Speaking of gorgeous views: every single scene was a visual treat. I’m not just talking about the idyllic, pastoral Shire or even the too-beautiful-for-words Rivendell. I’m talking about the utter believability of the Goblin Kingdom, the sheer realism of Gollum’s cave, and the majestic giant eagles whose feathers you could almost touch. Middle Earth lives and breathes in The Hobbit. Peter Jackson has done Tolkien’s world justice once again.
  • I’m happy to be able to say that without reservation this morning, because last night I was freaking out about the stone giants. (I kept myself from watching the trailers except one, so they were a surprise.) The purist in me was just about pulling my hair out thinking they were just invented for cinematic effect, but it turns out THEY DO EXIST. (Well, in Tolkien’s world, at least.) I had completely forgotten about them, because in the book, they didn’t interact directly with Bilbo and the rest. That doesn’t make for good action, so I understand why Peter Jackson took artistic license. I can deal with that. I mean, I’m already dealing with Kili, the dwarf dreamboat who probably has Tolkien blowing furious smoke rings in the afterlife.  I get that they need a Legolas-type to sell more tickets so that Peter Jackson can keep making movies, which means I would be happier just dealing with it than being insisting on accuracy. So okay, fine, bring on the hot dwarf. (Let me just get this out: Even dwarf women are supposed to have beards. How is that civilized scruff of Kili’s considered satisfactory?)
  • However, there is one bit of artistic license I have absolutely no problem with. I’m talking about the Elf on a moose. That image is forever tattooed on my mind. Elf king on a GIANT moose. I find it equal parts hilarious and awesome. I want to high five whoever thought of that.
  • Speaking of Elves, hail Cate Blanchett, the most Elvish Elf ever. She is phenomenal. Gandalf, Elrond, and Saruman are played by brilliant actors with powerful presences, but whenever she was onscreen, I couldn’t tear my eyes off her. She is every bit as enchanting as Galadriel is supposed to be, and I could probably listen to her narrate the end of the world in that calm, regal voice of hers and not feel an ounce of panic.
  • While we’re on the subject of voices, I would follow Thorin Oakenshield to the Lonely Mountain and beyond if he would just keep singing to me. I loved Richard Armitage in that role. He is a somewhat less humorous character than he was in the book, but Tolkien wrote a children’s novel, and Peter Jackson’s movie is much more adult.
  • However darker they made the movie, they still put in a lot of fun. A key aspect of humor is the element of surprise, which is why I loved that this movie still made me laugh even when I already knew what was going to happen. (Whoever thought Gollum could be adorable?) Martin Freeman is a great choice as the hapless Bilbo, and his body language and physical comedy is pitch perfect. Same goes for the dwarves (yes, fine, even Kili).

Obviously, I loved this movie. Even more obviously, I am not the most unbiased audience there is, and I probably never will be. Still, for a while there I was honestly worried that the countless problems that plagued the pre-production period would ruin the movie, and I am so relieved that it didn’t happen. It was great fun to  be reunited with beloved characters, settings, and music, and even more awesome to see new wonders and be tantalized with the promise of more. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is amazing, and now fans like me have to gird ourselves for the year-long wait until the next one is released. God help us.

One dream in the process of fulfillment!

Just recently I wrote a list of hopes and dreams that helped define what I wanted out of life. It made me realize that a huge part of what made me happy was appreciating and creating beauty, which was why photography made it into the list. Well, guess what? There must be some truth to the folk wisdom that says writing things down helps them become reality, because for the past month I’ve been busy learning and exploring my new Nikon D3100. It’s more fun than I ever expected it to be, and the sense of wistfulness I always feel whenever I experience something beautiful is lessened with a camera in my hands. If I can capture something in a photograph, then that moment will never be lost or forgotten, and I can take others inside my memory and share what I’ve seen. It’s an incredible thrill.

It’s also a challenge. I’ve never been a gadget enthusiast. I have a five-year-old ASUS netbook that still runs on Windows XP, a Nokia cellphone with a huge blot in the middle of the LCD, and a 500 gigabyte external hard drive that makes mysterious clicking noises every now and then. And I’m completely okay with these things, though more than one of my techie friends have given me looks of mingled horror and laughter upon seeing the ridiculous state of my electronics. But now that I’m getting into photography, I realized that my blend of ignorance and indifference might keep me terribly limited. A modern SLR camera is a complex piece of technology, and if I can’t maximize its potential, then I might as well have stayed with my little point-and-shoot. And then there are lenses, software, lighting equipment, and so on (I mean, who knew there are actually debates about which kind of memory card is the best? A memory card is a memory card to me: blue and plastic and annoyingly easy to forget that I’ve left it in the computer)…until I’m just about ready to take up painting instead. However, my utter lack of talent with a brush or even crayons compels me to pick up the camera manual once again, then put it down in exasperation, and turn to Google for an explanation written in real-person language, not the incomprehensible jargon that the good folks at Nikon would have me believe is English. Thank God for free online tutorials, is all I can say.

Aside from the technical aspect, I am sometimes intimidated by how far I still have to go. The thing about being a bookworm is that I tend to gobble up information as fast as I can get it on whatever subject I’m interested in, which sometimes leads to overload and the frustrating awareness of how very much I still have to learn. (The more I know, the more I know how little I actually know, if that makes sense.) Then there’s the pleasure/torment of looking at the works of photographers I admire and wondering if I’ll ever make it to that level of artistry. I shared this piece of insecurity to a friend who’s a really talented photographer, and he responded with this insight:

I realized that he’s right, and that I need to be patient with myself. Photography is like writing, where you have to gradually find your own voice, and though I’ve been writing for most of my life, I know the journey’s far from over. I’m simply enjoying the process when it comes to writing, so I’ll try to apply the same attitude to photography and take it one click at a time. As an amateur, I may not turn out the best photos the world has ever seen, but it’s all about experiencing beauty, and that doesn’t require credentials, a portfolio, or even the most cutting-edge technology. Just open eyes and a willingness to see the world in a new way. I have those in abundance, and I know it’s gonna be fun.

My first DSLR🙂

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Idle thoughts and infinite worlds

Have you ever heard of the many-worlds theory? In 1957, a scientist named Hugh Everett III asked a question:

What if space and time are arranged so that every possible outcome exists somewhere?

Imagine. You flip a coin. While it is up in the air, two logical outcomes co-exist: heads or tails. The moment it lands, only one potential is fulfilled, say heads. What happens to the other potential?

Everett posits that the universe splits in two, creating a reality where the coin lands on tails, and takes it from there, building an alternate history where the only different thing, at first, is the outcome of a coin toss.

Just imagine. An infinite number of worlds where every possibility is realized, someplace, sometime.

This made me think about you (as if I needed an excuse to think about you).

In one universe, we never would have met. We would have  gone through our lives, perfectly content to not have each other, happy with whoever else is there.

In another, we would have broken each other’s hearts. You and I would’ve been granted a chance, until we lose it somehow.

And somewhere, in a magical corner of space and time, we would have found each other heart-whole before anyone else, and you would have been my first love, and I would have been yours, with no one to come between us.

Yet here I am, and here you are. In this world, we found each other with histories, with scars. We found each other at the end of a long road littered with mistakes, with faith severely shaken.

But the important thing is that we found each other. The important thing is that here you are, and here I am, and by some miracle of grace, we are together. No matter how broken this world is, no matter how imperfect, I will take it over any paradise that doesn’t include you. In any world in any universe, I bless the path that leads to you.

Crayons and Pens

When I was a kid, I loved to draw. You know those eight-year-old artistic prodigies, whose creative genius defies the limitations of their youth and blows society’s expectations right out of the water? Yeah, I wasn’t one of those. In fact, I was objectively terrible. Some of the other kids managed to color lightly and evenly, but I gripped those crayons tight and pushed them eagerly onto the paper as if the extra energy could make the colors brighter and prettier somehow. Mostly it just made things messier, but I didn’t mind. I was a child, and the wonderful thing about being a child is the ability to enjoy an activity whether or not you’re good at it. So I enjoyed the heck out of those crayons, filling notebook after notebook with drawings and scribbles. I had this hobby of keeping lists of favorite words, and some of the ones I liked the most I tried to illustrate, taking delight in capturing the nuances of “exquisite” with a lopsided yellow, pink, and green butterfly. I’d carry my notebook and crayons around with me, my favorite toys instead of the dolls and kitchen play sets that my little sister liked. Those clumsy drawings of beautiful words were my idea of fun, even though I never showed them to anyone.

Then I grew up, and the uncomplicated pleasure of drawing was forgotten when I learned how important it was to be excellent in whatever you choose to do. In high school, I had several classmates who were incredibly artistic, and I was content with admiring their talent while focusing on my own skills. I wrote more, realizing that it was something that came naturally to me, and drove myself to be better. The more I learned, the more I became aware of how very far I still have to go.

Most of the time, that awareness is a really good thing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, since I realized that writing is something I’d like to do seriously, not just as a hobby, I’ve been racked with insecurity. Freelancing and ghostwriting jobs are fine, as they don’t really require personal vulnerability, but creative writing? The kind of writing I long to do won’t let me play it safe when it comes to emotional commitment. And I worry that even if I find the courage, my skill might not be up to the task of creating something worth publishing. Suddenly it’s not just about self-expression and storytelling, but about gaining the public’s approval. And it paralyzes me.

It’s wrong; I know it’s wrong. The best books I’ve ever read were those written honestly, bravely, with no thought to critics, awards, or sales. As a reader I know when courage and truth are on the page, and when gimmicks and crowd-pandering are used as substitutes. No matter how excellent the technique, the first fires me up while the second leaves me cold. I know which kind of writing I want to do.

I need inspiration. I need to remind myself of the simple pleasure of doing something and not thinking about how others might respond. Excellence is important, yes, and I will pursue it all my life. But it’s no substitute for heart. It’s no substitute for finding joy in creativity in itself without worrying that I’m not as talented as others are. No matter what I do, there will always be someone who can do it better. It doesn’t mean I should stop doing  what I love. I need to remember this.

So I think I should buy myself some crayons. I’ll get the biggest box with seven shades of every color, the nostalgic smell of wax, and memories of uncomplicated joy. I haven’t done this in years and I’m sure I’ll be as bad at drawing as ever, but who cares? I’ll go draw myself some words.

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The Cybercrime Law, RH Bill, and a Call to Vigilance

Whew. What a crazy couple of months it’s been here in the Philippines. While the country’s still in the heat of the Reproductive Health Bill battle, a new law was passed that made both pro- and anti-RH advocates pause in their tracks, gape at each other, and utter a collective, disbelieving “What?!” Last month, Pres. Aquino signed the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 into law, an act ostensibly meant to prevent abuse of technology but managed instead to threaten personal privacy, the right to due process, freedom of expression, and other civil liberties. It went into effect on Oct. 3, inciting an uproar of protest and outrage heard around the world.

I honestly think that part of the problem here is that many of our legislators simply don’t understand the massive, unique, and ever-changing culture of the Internet. Heck, the senate president doesn’t even know what a blog is. When you don’t understand something, it’s easy to either dismiss it, or demonize it. Thus we have politicians trying to tell us not to make such a big deal out of the loss of online freedom, while others are standing firm behind the Cybercrime Law in the belief that it will shield us from the evils they imagine are lurking in every website. This technological naïveté doesn’t surprise me, and in the ordinary course of events, I don’t really care. I don’t expect every politician to have a Twitter account, or to show up for a Reddit AMA. However, when they’re crafting a law that deals specifically with this technology, then I do expect them to educate themselves. How can anyone regulate what they can barely define? Do your freaking homework, ladies and gentlemen. Is that too much to ask?

On the other hand, there are also those politicians who do understand the power and scope of the Internet, and fear it. They know only too well that cyberspace is a venue for real, organic, and unrestrained political discourse that both reflects and influences the offline world. They know that the Internet is fostering a citizenry that questions, investigates, and debates everything, and will not hesitate to expose lies and cover-ups of any kind. You can pay off or intimidate media executives to manipulate the news in your favor, but you can’t silence the hundreds of online writers analyzing events independently. You can hire a staff to plagiarize bloggers for your speeches, but you can’t bribe every netizen who finds out. On the Internet, every voice has a megaphone and it only takes a few clicks to verify the facts, which is good news for democracy but bad news for those who are threatened by the truth. These are the people who will fight tooth-and-nail to preserve the Cybercrime Law as it is, and with the ignorance of their colleagues and the carelessness of others, they just might succeed.

But for now we have a reprieve. The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on implementing the law yesterday, which wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place if it hadn’t been carelessly rushed through the legislative process. And no one can deny that the process has been careless, inexcusably so. When Filipinos reacted in shock and dismay at some of the blazing red flags, they found out that they weren’t the only ones surprised. Even some of the legislators themselves were not fully aware of what they had created. Edgardo Angara, who authored the bill, seems baffled by some of its provisions, while Chiz Escudero and several other senators basically said, “Oops. We didn’t notice how bad it was when we voted for it.” (The irony increases when we recall that Angara and Escudero, among others, have actually filed bills decriminalizing libel, and now they’ve just approved a law punishing it for up to 12 years in jail.) Tito Sotto, who sneaked in the much-hated libel provision at the last minute, admitted that he wasn’t aware that online libel was already addressed in the constitution. Meanwhile, Senate President Enrile blamed Miriam Defensor-Santiago for not catching the flaws of the bill despite her Constitutional expertise, apparently because in an institution composed entirely of lawmakers, she was the only one they counted on to know the law. I truly believe that we have reached the pinnacle of government incompetence, ladies and gentlemen. At least, I dearly hope so, because I’m praying to God that it won’t get any worse.

Let me just state for the record that I am not against fair and sensible policies promoting responsible use of technology. The Internet is a double-edged sword, and we must learn to wield it wisely. But this defective bill, with its sloppy, ambiguous language and alarming provisions that violate civil liberties, should never have reached the president’s desk unrefined, and he should never have approved it. The fact is that modern communications technology is a new legal frontier which poses  unique questions and is constantly evolving, so it deserves careful, adaptive legislation, not a haphazard law produced by distracted, uninformed politicians.

In contrast, the Reproductive Health bill, despite being supported by mountains of meticulous research as well as overwhelming public approval, is still struggling to be approved after almost 15 years. Of course, the biggest difference is that the influential Catholic Church has no problem with the Cybercrime Law, while it is pulling out all the stops against the RH Bill, even to the point of threatening to campaign against its supporters, separation of church and state be damned. Now that the long, excruciatingly drawn out debates are finally over, they’ve resorted to having senators and congressmen  drag their feet through the amendment process, hoping to delay it indefinitely. Yet when they are called out on these dilatory tactics, the same lawmakers who couldn’t be bothered to plug the gaping holes in the Cybercrime Law respond by blinking big, innocent eyes at us and saying that they’re just being extra careful, really, and besides, there’s no need to rush. Never mind that the RH Bill is urgently needed by millions of women and  children, for whom this issue is a matter of survival. Never mind them, our politicians need to make sure that they don’t offend the Catholic bishops first.

With  these two controversial measures, the RH Bill and the Cybercrime Law, dominating the political landscape these days, the upside for us voters is that we can observe which ones of our public servants are worthy of the name. These politicians are slowly catching up to the fact that they are under a closer watch than ever, and that Filipinos are becoming more responsive and harder to fool. I urge my kababayans to keep their eyes on these issues and practice constant vigilance. Never underestimate what an ordinary person with a conscience and a willingness to get involved can accomplish. As for politicians, you should know that we’re learning from our mistakes. We expect performance, not personality, and we will remember those who fail to live up to their promises. Our current struggle to get the good governance we deserve is a rude awakening, but it’s an awakening nonetheless.

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Sharing a Hammock One Lazy Sunday Afternoon

My love
you are
everything that a home should be
safe and warm
strong and secure
steadfast and sure.

As I lie tightly enfolded
awake while you sleep
my fingertips trace your back
trailing down the curve of your spine
and back up to your shoulder blades
back and forth
in lazy patterns
every inch of my fortress

I write on your skin,
Mahal kita
because I do
I love you
and did you know
that even sleeping
you can take my breath away?

See you someday, love.

See you when the waiting is over.

See you when I can wake up next to you, try to get out of bed, and decide that coffee can wait for just five more minutes of listening to your heartbeat.

See you when we can spend long evenings doing nothing more important than discussing muffins vs. cupcakes or the admirable qualities of cats.

See you when I can watch the subtle little changes that life causes in you from day to day, when I can take delight in all the tiny, inconsequential details that make you who you are. Like the kinds of smiles you have, or the way your voice gets rougher when you’re already half-asleep.

See you when I can cry on your shoulder and know the powerful comfort of your simple presence and strength.

See you when I can hug the frustration right out of you, or find the right words to say, or simply take care of you after you’ve had one of those days when everything goes wrong.

See you when I don’t just get to hear your laughter, but see it and feel it rumbling through your body into mine.

See you when time and space no longer separate us, when I can write my love on your skin instead of on a white, empty screen far removed from your warmth.

When today is difficult, or painful, or just plain sad, I always try to remember one thing.

I’ll see you someday.

Until someday, love.