Thursday, May 26, 2005

Open Source Film

Open source software is a term used in common parlance nowadays, with the advent of the Linux operating system and the related evangelism citing the imminent death of Microsoft. Although that is yet to be seen (and how much we wish to see it!), the general concepts and ideology of open source seems to be spreading its wings.

In a very peculiar entry on Slashdot, the Open Source geeks' hang-out zone, a group in Amsterdam is getting together an open-source animation, made purely on open-source software. The film itself is to be released under an open license. The link here.

As far as 3D animation goes, I suppose Pixar Animation Studios stands at the forefront of our perception, though they are, in many ways, the epitome of 3D animation creativity. Although they are among the best, they certainly aren't alone. Dreamworks Animation with the Shrek franchise under its belt (and the offshoot Puss In Boots in production) is up there with them. Not to forget the Oscar-winning minds behind Ice Age, Blue Sky Studios.

Something different about Pixar, however, is that their story development process is unique. Script ideas are actually developed and written in-house. Their relationship with Disney, markedly rocky over the past few years, is actually Disney not involved in any of the creativity, but in distribution and casting of voice talent. The Pixar-Disney coalition has been cited as one of the most successful business relationships in cinema history.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Kingdom of Conscience: Movie Review

It is a rarity that sees me at the cinema. I do not easily fork out 7 dollars to watch a movie at the theatre, and so I restrict myself to films that interest me personally. These usually include filming projects I have been tracking from inception to release, and Kingdom of Heaven is one of them.

In this review on, it cites both negative and positive aspects of the reaction of the public. Apparently, a muted hue is being raised by both Muslims and Christians on inaccuracies in the film, and Roger Ebert cites this as a clear sign that Sir Ridley Scott, of Gladiator and Aliens fame, got something right. Although I see no logic in that kind of reasoning, even if it comes from a critic as respected as Mr. Ebert, it is indeed my opinion, that anybody from either the Muslim or Christian camp that cites discrepancies to affect in any significant way their experience of this film, is simply being over-critical.

Orlando Bloom, playing the lead character Balian of Ibelin, is the newest pretty boy in Hollywood. Although I concede that his Elvish charm on Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring did catch my eyes, it would be unfair to the art of acting to call him a good practitioner of it. He has consistently been the weakest link in all the films he has appeared in, and though I believe he will some day hone his skill to the level of the peers in his film (Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Marton Csokas, David Thewlis, and Liam Neeson), he was drowned by their charisma and fluidity.

Forgiveness for Mr. Bloom's rigidity, however, comes from the script. If the script was indeed written for Mr. Bloom, it compensated well for his inadequacies as a thespian. The character design of Balian of Ibelin was of a man of a stoic disposition and intense concision. Therefore, although he has more screen-time than any other of the main characters, he probably has the lowest word-count per sentence, and the highest "gaze-time," time spent just looking at people's faces.

Even rookie actor, Ghassan Massoud, who has very little screen-time as the great Salahuddin Ayyubi, does a better job at the art of acting than Mr. Bloom. In fact, apparently, Mr. Massoud is a scholar! Sheikh Massoud?

The look and feel of this great Muslim hero and legend was extremely well-executed. The rugged Arab handsomeness shines through Mr. Massoud's general stature. His facial and bodily build is of what I perceive as a classical Yemenite Arab, (not dissimilar to Osama bin Laden, who is in fact Yemeni): wiry, a long, thin face, a complete lack of cheek tissue, a very Semitic, aquiline nose, intense dark eyes, and a beard greying majestically at the edges. However, we will recall, this is the nitpicking section, and I am not done yet: Salahuddin Ayyubi was a Kurd!

It is in Mr. Scott's good fortune that the vast majority of people are not familiar with Kurds, because if they were, I assume they would be aware that Kurds are not too distant from Arabs in appearance and stature. Therefore, this is not an issue of much significance to grapple with.

Salahuddin Ayyubi's sister, whose appearance in the film is both sudden and fleeting, was, I must admit, very impressive. Surprisingly portrayed by Puerto Rican Giannina Facio, her likeness was that of a romantic and classically beautiful Arab woman. Dark eyes to drown in, and the hawkish features that gives Arab women a certain aura of rugged, untamed earthliness, as opposed to the palpably angelic grace of European women.

Hollywood's record in portraying the Muslim prayer has not been a good one. From Antonio Banderas's awkward genuflections in The Thirteenth Warrior, to the fleeting view of debasing, repetitive earth-kissing in the Animatrix, it has consistently been done by people who find the entire concept alien to the very core, clumsily bolted on as a token to an ethnic minority than anything else.

Although the editing of the film dictated the most "dramatic" portions of the Muslim prayer were shown (the prostration and bowing), it was done well. There was no reason for it not to be, since Moroccan soldiers were recruited as extras for the film. I was disappointed, however, because I thought from the trailer, they would feature the Prayer of Fear, a system of prayer employed by the Muslims to fulfill the duty of the five daily prayers even under the risk of attack. Its organized elegance has been one I have secretly wished for a very long time to be portrayed on-screen.

In addition, it is noted in one scene that Muslims were praying in congregation during the Adhaan, or the call to prayer, an oddity to most Muslims. I forgive wholeheartedly, however, because the Adhaan and prostration are both very "dramatic," and the post-production team just couldn't help but couple them.

When I saw the trailer, I thought it was going to be one that glorified knights, and was somewhat disgruntled. The knights of the Crusades were not consistent in their chivalry, and are known to be infamously inhumane to many of their extra-faith victims. However, the movie does not glorify knights, and in fact belittles the majority of those who call themselves knights, for which I am grateful.

The script focuses on men of moderation: King Baldwin, Balian of Ibelin, his father Godfrey and his friend Hospitaler, Tiberias, Salahuddin Ayyubi and his assistant Naser. Contrasted to them are warmongers, Guy de Lusignan, Reynald de Chatillon, and Khaled Nabawy of the Muslim camp.

If I counted the number of jabs at Christian extremism to the number of jabs at Muslim extremism, the former would outnumber the latter in the ratio of (all of the jabs at Christian extremism) to 1. That's right, there was only one jab at Muslim extremism in the entire film that I noticed, primarily because Muslims had less screen-time.

The Arabic dialogue was in classical Arabic, and I actually understood a great deal of it, which was very gratifying.

In the end, it was a very good film, and I respect Mr. Scott for his efforts. He executed this touchy topic adeptly and admirably, and for that, he deserves our praise and appreciation as Muslims. The amount of respect shown toward Muslims borders on romanticism, and considering Hollywood's long-standing record at insensitivity and ineptitude at handling this significant minority, I am honored by his efforts.

Update: Seems some people are happy.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

South Asia: The Politics of Partition

An overdue look at a Gulf News Opinion piece on South Asian trade politics. The article dates back to March 2005, but the basic points remain valid, since the issues go as far back as 1947. Some fascinating realities to be garnered from this article.

Intensified pipeline diplomacy between India and its neighbours promises to transform the geopolitics of the subcontinent.

The single biggest consequence of this pipeline diplomacy could be an end to the economic partition of the subcontinent, a little over 57 years ago. Until 1947, the subcontinent was a single economic space.

Indeed, opponents of the partition have cited this very fact as a potential problem. The restriction on distribution of resources puts a strain on populations. A flood that ravages one part of the country could formerly be compensated by produce from another, but now, borders and deeply ingrained political savagery block such efforts.

Bangladesh is a classic victim of such a problem. Global warming is causing rising sea levels (a currently observed phenomenon in Bangladesh) and people will soon have to relocate to higher land. But the border with India, which surrounds Bangladesh to the East, North and West (the Bay of Bengal to the South), limits all that. If global warming is even half the reality that scientists predict, either we will have to go the Netherlands way, or we will have to invade India.

As the logic of globalisation sweeps across south Asia, Pakistan and Bangladesh could eventually become land bridges between the subcontinent and the regions beyond.

The logic of globalisation does compensate for the movement of capital. But people are left out to dry. Capitalism's most fundamental problem.

The region, however, continues to mature. In fifty years, the government's of South Asia will be more organised, separated by about 5 generations from the traumatic partition and the antagonistic baggage inherited thereof, and people will finally be able to talk issues.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Apple of My Eye

I use an Apple Macintosh computer for my personal uses. When the choice came to me at the laptop fair as a dazed freshman in late July 2003, that one issue for me had no contention. I didn't go to the HP stall, the IBM stall or considered for even the briefest moment, any Windows-based notebook. I made a beeline for the Apple stall.

Five minutes of conversation with a very good salesman, and he finally figured out I had been reading the Apple website for the past year and knew more Apple propaganda than even he did. "You know your stuff, man," he said and handed me the form.

Two years later, I am a proud owner of my laptop, a series infamous for logic board errors, but which has served me reasonably well, Masha Allah.

However, the Cult of the Mac is no myth. Mac loyalists clump together like bacteria in a bad broth culture, Steve Jobs their Luke Skywalker, and Bill Gates their Darth Vader. Communalism rears its ugly head in a new form of tribalism. Groping and grasping in the dark, in a globalized world bereft of identity, these people worship their new heroes with unstinted loyalty.

But when it comes down to it all, I have discovered that Apple computer, though technically superior, is headed by a man I just don't like. Steve Jobs's ego is probably one of the largest objects known to man, second to perhaps Tom Cruise's. This article excerpts a little bit of an interview with him on the release of his new operating system, OS X 10.4 Tiger.

Apple co-founder and Chief Executive Steve Jobs has long said that Windows, which runs on nine out of 10 PCs worldwide, has copied Apple.

"They're shamelessly trying to follow us," Jobs said at Apple's annual stockholder meeting two weeks ago, noting that Longhorn has yet to appear. "They can't even copy fast."

Very brave for a man whose company recovered from virtual bankruptcy in 1997. Of course, Apple's recovery from its crisis in 1997 (helped to great effect by Microsoft who owns half the company, ironically) has been consistently called the biggest industry turnaround of a tech-company in history, something that might have something to do with Jobs's attitude.

Bill Gates, software architect, richest man in the world, gracious benefactor and general nice guy, had this to say about Apple's release:

On positive coverage of rival Apple's new Mac OS X Tiger operating system, which has features Microsoft won't have until 2006 in the next Windows: "Because they're the super-small-market share guy, they get all these statements about them. But I actually thought that was great -- there it was, the general press writing about operating systems."

This article is another example of the bully being bullied. The biggest guy is always a target, and Bill Gates takes a lot of flack for it. Oft-times, rightfully so.

But in the end, Bill Gates is a nicer guy than Steve Jobs. But I need a product that works, not a nice guy. And so, I'm typing this blog entry with the Apple of my eye.


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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)