Farewell, Friendster

2011 is a year of many goodbyes. While Oprah airs her farewell episode, another giant is set to lower its curtains and set the stage for a new beginning.

Starting May 31, 2011, Friendster is closing its doors as a social networking site and transforming into a social entertainment site focused on gaming and music. Its 115 million registered users are currently scrambling to back up their files and transfer their documents, photos and blogs as I write this entry. While I am guilty of not visiting my Friendster page for quite some time (2009 was my last visit), I still mourn the loss of the grandaddy of all social networking sites, where I once felt the need to check testimonials, or upload pictures on a regular basis.I feel like a kid on moving day, boxing away my stuff to leave a well loved home.

I initially joined Friendster in December 2003. Everybody was on it so I said, What the heck? Once I got into it though, I was hooked. I had too much fun connecting with old schoolmates and friends from afar, cousins from other countries and the like. One article I read said that Filipinos were the most active users of the site and starting from when it was introduced to a Filipino, it caught on like a wildfire. Pretty soon, Pinoys were online all hours of the day (and night). This is no wonder because Pinoys are a sentimental people. We value our connections and are happy to renew old acquaintances, learn the whereabouts of an old friend and generally reconnect with people we have been out of touch with for some time. This is the same reason we are the texting capital of the world — because we like to stay connected.

Friendster provided a way to connect and more. It was also able to provide services like uploading photos, facilitate messages, comments, testimonials, shoutouts, blogs, forums and groups. Now, people would say that it’s really no big deal. Facebook has all that and more. But really, in 2003, there was no Facebook. There was only Friendster, and it offered innovations such as these to a market which was more than ready to welcome these cool features. Yes, it was a big deal nine years ago, and for a time, it was enough.

My favorite Friendster feature was actually the testimonials. It was a great way to learn about how people thought of you and for the most part, you will get a fresh perspective of what you are to your family and friends.I mostly get a kick out of how my elementary and high school friends remember me. It brings back a flood of memories of times when the only problems that we had were about school projects and the occasional talk about our lovelives (or non existence of it). Even some acquaintances weigh in, but of course, I knew whose testimonials truly counted. Sadly though, the control for the approval of comments and testimonials became automatic and people would simply post stuff on your wall without your consent. I got really turned off by posts of half naked men and women on my comment page so I stopped maintaining my page.

Another favorite feature of Friendster was the blog, which I am currently moving to another site. While reading old entries, I actually ask myself what possessed me to write such a thing and muse about how my writing style has changed in the years that followed. Reading my earlier reviews about movies and books actually brings a smile to my face as I remember how I felt after taking in a particular film. And yes, I did write about my American Idol predictions that never came true.

The problem, probably, was that Friendster became complacent with its success and did not evolve enough to keep up with the demands of a much younger market, the ones who are online 16 hours a day, chatting and checking friends’ profiles. A lesson that Facebook probably capitalized on and explored.

I revisited Friendster a while back and I was quite surprised at the change in format. It seemed like a wannabe Facebook with fields for status and comments. I think there were also game applications but I didn’t stay long enough to find out. The next time I checked was after the announcement that it was shutting down, and there I found a dozen other friends updating their posts, adding friends, writing testimonials, perhaps as a last hurrah for the social networking site that shaped my generation.

Friendster may be a dinosaur based on current standards, but it is a dinosaur that I will attribute many happy memories to. Social networking sites of today owe a lot to Friendster, truth be told. It ignited the spark which which opened the doors to this type of market and started a trend to be explored by its contemporaries. While it will not survive in the same format in the years to come, I will remember it as an icon of my generation. I write this blog to commemorate an end to an era, another one that will join the annals of heavy metal, bobby socks, oversized t-shirts, jumpers and teased up hair, monster make up and black and white television.

Thank you Friendster, and farewell.

Movie Review: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Brandon Routh, who played the man of steel in Superman Returns finds himself top billing another comic book adaptation in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, where he takes on the role of Dylan Dog, a retired supernatural detective who gets pulled into a case of a missing relic which could start a war in the world of the undead.

The plot is fairly simple. Dylan, whose fiance died in the hands of vampires, left his job as the human inspector appointed to keep the peace among the undead who roam the streets of New Orleans. He switches to a less taxing job as a regular private investigator, taking on cases of cheating husbands and wives and a myriad of trivial pursuits. However, out of the blue, he is contacted by Elizabeth, the daughter of a smuggler who was killed by a werewolf. Dylan initially refuses the case but changes his mind when his best friend and sidekick Marcus is savaged by another monster.

First, I should probably give credit to the filmmakers and the special effects team for their old school approach to werewolf and vampire transformations. Instead of resorting of CGI, which has been custom in most big budget movies, the team opted to use make up and specialized monster masks to create their creatures of the dark. The setting is also something to be admired as it retained a comic book feel that did not feel forced and overdone. The movie actually gave an 80’s 90’s horror feel to it — a promising start if not for some major areas that needed a lot of improvement.

Sam Huntington, the only bright spot in this humdrum movie

I was quite unsure as to what Dylan Dog’s target demographic was, in all truth. The trailer seemed to be targeting comic book afficionados with all the talk about bigger guns and a war that would result in bloodshed, but what the movie delivered couldn’t be farther from the promise.

Dylan Dog was an action comedy at best, relying mostly on cheesy dialogue that didn’t quite hit the mark. The only saving grace of the movie was Sam Huntington, whom audiences will probably recognize from buddy movies Not Another Teen Movie and Fanboys. Huntington was a revelation as Marcus, Dylan’s sidekick turned zombie, whose well timed  jokes broke the monotony of Routh’s acting and livened up the scenes with his earnestness, cowardice, misplaced bravery and overall geekiness, great qualities to have in a sidekick (remember Shia Le Bouf in Constantine?). While Routh is gorgeous, he isn’t quite up to snuff in his on screen talent, which was easily excusable in his portrayal of Clark Kent, a mild mannered newspaperman, or the world’s most loved superhero Superman, who only needed little dialogue, look good and fly majestically in his red cape — not as Dylan Dog, who was supposed to be a badass unorthodox troubleshooter for the supernatural. I did a bit of research about the comic book character because I really didn’t get what Routh was going for, and I found out that Dylan was supposed to be this eccentric and paranoid former alcoholic, who could charm the socks of any girl. None of these fit the bill for Dylan in the movie.

The action scenes were pretty blah. All the talk of bigger guns only resulted in a short sequence of breaking into a vampire club and a lot of scenes of Dylan getting beat up by an ancient monster that was resurrected by the relic everybody wanted to have. While the war was played up and the monster everybody was dreading successfully came to life, the mayhem that resulted mostly involved Dylan getting roughed up and the bad guy getting just desserts. Of course, there was a twist. It was a whodunit case after all. But sitting through this movie, one would be relieved to finally reach the climax (?) and get it over with.

As a whole, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Dylan Dog is a horrible movie. Its good for a few laughs, that’s for sure but that’s just about everything that you would get from this 107 minute flick, which tried too hard to be as cool as its contemporaries, but fell short big time. Kind of reminded me of a kid bragging about his discman when everybody else was already on iPods. If anybody was expecting anything else, then I should suggest to sit this one out and save your money for X-Men or Captain America.

Hunger Games Casting Choices: Agree or Disagree?

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen: The 21 year old star of the critically acclaimed Winter’s Bone and The Beaver has been criticized to be too old for the role of the 16 year old Mockingjay, aside from being a natural blond, as opposed to Katniss’s dark hair. But her resume alone guarantees that she has the acting chops to portray the role of the gritty heroine. Is it enough to pull off the character?

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark: The young Mr. Hutcherson has appeared in indie flicks like The Kids Are Alright (an Oscar contender), as well as mainstream blockbusters like Journey to the Center of the Earth, Zathura and The Vampire’s Assistant. Some fans have been up and arms over this choice as he does not fit the look of Peeta, the male tribute from District 12, as well as seemingly one dimensional choice in characters (angtsy teen). However, I still remember Josh from his breakout role in Little Manhattan and I am pretty confident that he will be able to muster the sensitivity needed for Peeta’s character in the first two Hunger Games installments and shine in the emotionally charged third chapter.

Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne: This Australian native, better known as Miley Cyrus’s former flame has appeared in The Last Song and several low profile movies. Although he is a relative newcomer, he has shown potential in the roles that he did play. He has also bagged the role of Ali Baba in the upcoming Arabian Nights so he might be well on his way to the A-list soon enough. I like him for the role of Gale because I’m not a big fan and I’ve always been Team Peeta all the way so I don’t want to get conflicted when I watch the movie.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch: Woody Harrelson could take on any role and excel at it, whether it be a psychotic mass murderer, a vulnerable retard, a crazy gun toting zombie killer addicted to Twinkies, or an eccentric pirate radio deejay. Is he Haymitch material ( a drunk, wily and secretly sensitive mentor to District 12 tributes) though?

Lenny Kravitz as Cinna: When the role of Cinna was being shopped around, there was genuine consensus among the forums — get Lenny Kravitz. Who else could portray the role of the cool and stylish, yet utterly deep stylist for the Hunger Games? Do you agree with the choice or could they have gotten somebody else?

Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman: I stand by my belief that Stanley Tucci is among the most underrated actors in Hollywod. He is a chameleon, taking on roles that are both likeable, annoying, mildly menacing to downright creepy. He takes on the role of Ceasar in the Hunger Games, tasked to interview the tributes and make the audience love them before they battle it out to the death.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket: Playing the escort of District 12 tributes to the Capitol, Effie Trinket is known to be a flamboyant character who is oblivious to the wrongness of the games. She is overly cheerful and chirpy but generally has her heart in the right place. I’m not too sure Elizabeth Banks is the right person for the role. I’ve always thought of Effie to be a plump and short woman and not stunning and blond like Elizabeth.

Tributes: Isabelle Furhman (Orphan) and Alex Ludwig (Race to Witch Mountain, The Seeker) have been cast as vicious District 2 career tributes. I am sure Furhman will make for an awesome clove. Not sure about Ludwig though…

Destination: Panem (The Hunger Games Trilogy review)

Its hard to find the words to describe The Hunger Games trilogy. The books are not typical feel good young adult novels which talk about love and life, but rather draws readers into the country of Panem, its rich capitol and the realities for slaves who inhabit the 12 districts that comprise the country. The same 12 districts who tried but failed to stage an uprising against the Capitol 74 years prior and who are forced to send in a pair of tributes every year as representatives to fight in an annual death match — punishment for their insolence and as a reminder that the lives of their children are of no value to those in power except for entertainment.

The book reads like a movie, and readers will find themselves immersed in the world of District 12 from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year old girl who volunteers to take the place of her 12-year old sister Prim who is chosen to compete in The Hunger Games, an annual event which pits 24 teenagers in an arena to fight to the death until one is finally declared the victor.

When I initially learned about The Hunger Games, I was truly tempted to the buy the first book fresh off the shelves but in the end opted to wait until the third book was out before giving it a go. This decision turned out to be a very wise one as I could not have stood the suspense of waiting an entire year, and then another to find out what happens to Katniss or District 12 or what would have happened to her after the games.

The book’s brilliance lies in its rich characterizations and depictions of the environment, how it is viewed by the heroine, who is mired in poverty and resorts to illegally hunting and trading her goods in the black market to feed her little sister and her mother, who suffers from a bout of extreme depression following the death of her husband in a mining accident. A war between rage and acceptance is a very common staple in Katniss’s psyche, further fueled by the rantings of her fellow hunter and best friend Gale, who hates the government and the entire Capitol.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence who is set to play Katniss in a movie slated for 2012

Each street and each crevice is described to full detail, but not excessively, making the location and situations real in the minds of the readers — the general chaos in the Hob, the stillness of the forest beyond District 12, the peacekeepers, and the townspeople, who like Katniss, stake their own lives in the games by entering their names multiple in times in the lot in exchange for tessera, an allotment of oil and grain for one person for the entire year. The entries are cumulative, resulting in more chances for a single person’s name to be drawn from the lot the more tessera he signs up for.(Katniss’s name is entered roughly 20 times at the 74th Hunger Games while Gale has 42 entries) The first person narrative in the presence gives viewers a chance to understand Katniss, how their extreme conditions affect her logic, how the burdens of her plight turns her into a damaged shell of a human being, whose emotions are tamped down by practicality and a general air of ruthlessness.

The saga draws strength from its ability to get the readers to care about the characters. The storytelling evokes genuine emotions from the readers to build instantaneous affinity with the characters, making them want to understand what compels them to do what they do and make the choices as they have — Katniss Everdeen, the girl who sacrifices herself for her sister and eventually, whose defiance to the Capitol marks her as the symbol of the revolution; Gale Hawthorne, her best friend who is also a skilled hunter, eager to topple down the Capitol to end the injustices that their districts suffer; Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son who time and again willingly sacrifices his own life so that Katniss could have a chance at happiness; Haymitch, the drunkard mentor who at times appear ruthless and uncaring but suffers from his own demons as well; Finnick, the charming victor from District 4, whose horrors from the games far outweigh those of any Hunger Games champion; President Snow, the shallow and sadistic dictator who runs the show; Plutarch, the Gamemaker, President Coin from District 13, Boggs and plenty of others who face numerous tragedies in the quest to bring equality to the districts.

photo lifted from http://www.hggirlonfire.com

The story differs from most young adult books because the romance angle — among Peeta, Gale and Katniss is secondary to the story where society is controlled by the greedy, and people from the lesser districts are made as sports to entertain as a symbol of the Capitol’s power. Actually, the Hunger Games was a tad similar to Richard Bachman’s The Running Man, its treatment dark and depressing, but still utterly compelling. Its plot is also a bit familiar but author Suzanne Collins tempers her story with love which comes in different forms — love for family, romantic love, love for friends and love for country. The sense of foreboding is also evident throughout the saga. From the very first installment, it is a given that there will be deaths — multiple deaths but still, readers will find themselves hoping that there is a way to save the characters that they have most related to.

The tension, which is already high in the first book, steadily escalates in the succeeding installments — Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, where the resistance finally turns into a rebellion, gains strength and develops into a full blown war. The Capitol’s hand is evident and strong — emotions are used as weapons to break the enemy. The horror of the games revived for the victors who are forced to participate in the Quarter Quell, the 75th Hunger Games.

In the war, children who are barely in their teens are used as soldiers, as pawns, an utterly detestable scenario but central to the story. From the first book from when each death was treated as a mere casualty in the games, each death grows in value throughout the saga, as characters who readers connect to risk their lives to rebuild society and fight for a cause, which even they are uncertain of.

Corruption, deceit run aplenty in the recesses of even the revolution that serves as the hope for a new tomorrow. Friendships are tested, characters are questioned, and the lines between right and wrong are blurred beyond recognition. This perhaps, is why readers are gripped by the story, because it gets them to think. What would they do differently in a similar scenario? What can they do to ease the despondency in the districts, and will they allow themselves to be subjected to the same treatment as the district’s citizens have? With the visit to each district as part of the Victory Tour, Peeta and Katniss witness a new face of oppression, and like puzzle pieces, they are able to complete the big picture and realize the magnitude of the Capitol’s power, and how challenging it will be for the resistance to contest it. The books are filled with drama as well, and suspense so steady that the climax will surely blindside readers whose sigh of relief from a perceived victory is only the harbinger of more betrayals to come.

Actor Josh Hutcherson, who bagged the part of Peeta for the movie. Excellent choice, I must say)

Personally, the character that reeled me into the book, more than Katniss was Peeta. Kind and unassuming Peeta, whose ability to speak the truth is as powerful as the accuracy in which Katniss’s launches her arrows. Peeta, who was viewed as the weakest because of his inexperience in fighting. Peeta, who has saved Katniss from dying of hunger and risks being punished so that she can have some bread. Peeta, who used himself as bait so that the Careers would not get to Katniss, who gives her a locket symbolizing what his life can buy her — a chance at a normal life with her family. The boy, who in the end, is forced to wage a more complicated battle than the war between the Capitol and the districts — a battle to remain himself just so he would not cause harm to others. It broke my heart to no end as Peeta suffered horrors that no man should go through at the hands of those who are in power, as he is treated as a pawn in a complicated power struggle in and out of the arena. Peeta, the one person, who brings out the softness in Katniss that balances out her strength. Their common plight in Book 1 during the first Hunger Games and again in Book 2 for the Quarter Quell tournament has sealed the bond between them that started when Peeta gave her the bread when they were 12 years old. It’s really hard to top common experiences of terror and sanity.

In all fairness to Katniss, her journey is no less complicated. Her greatest advantage perhaps, is her inner strength, developed by years and years of struggle in the District, starting from when her father died at the mines. Going into the arena, she is more mature than most of her competitors and is equipped with the needed skills to survive, just as she had back at home. Her greatest vulnerabilities has always been her family and when she stepped up to sign her death warrant by volunteering to go in place of her sister, when the crowd gave her the three fingered silent salute, the moment was so poignant that even the hardest of hearts will have trouble resisting the story.

The book concludes with a happy ending, relatively happy that is or as happy as it could get, but it comes with a cost. Some are irrevocable and some, the characters just have to deal with and move forward. I liked it. I thought it made sense, but many would probably disagree.

To say that the the saga is amazing is an understatement. It is the kind that sticks with you after you’ve read it. It is the type of book that you would want to keep by your bedside when you feel out of sorts. It is the type of book that you would want to read over and over, and never get tired of, the type of literature that you would want the next generation to read about to better appreciate the freedoms that we have. Kudos to Suzanne Collins and her imagination for giving birth to this masterpiece.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides is a strong installment to the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy which ended with At World’s End. This fourth chapter to the adventures of the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow is a standalone story which deals with a new cast of characters — his old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz), her long lost father and the meanest pirate captain in the seven seas, Blackbeard (Ian MacShane), as well as returning familiar faces — Sparrow’s rival Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his first mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally). At the helm of this project is director Rob Marshall, who takes over the franchise from Gore Verbinski who directed the highly successful Pirates trilogy.

On Stranger Tides finds Jack Sparrow once again in the middle of a quest to find the Fountain of Youth which is the target of three different expeditions. The first fleet belongs to the Spaniards, who find out about the fountain because of a map provided by a castaway rescued by sailors. The second quest is helmed by Sparrow’s arch nemesis Barbossa for the British royalty and secretly to take revenge on Blackbeard, who stole the Black Pearl from him. The last ship, to which Sparrow unfortunately belongs, is under the control of Blackbeard, who seeks the powers of the fountain to prevent his death by the hands of a one legged man in a fortnight’s time.

The quest is fraught with dangers as the fountain’s magic comes with a price. There is no octopus faced ghost ship captain or a giant squid to block the journey this time. Rather, there are zombies and serpentine mermaids who hate men and prey on hapless sailors who fall for their charms and magical voices — sort of like the Sirens of Greek mythology. Adding to these obstacles, the fountain does not give endless youth unconditionally, but rather robs another person — a sacrifice — of his remaining time from which the seeker of youth benefits. And those who seek the fountain’s powers who are not aware of the ritual are also doomed — one which requires two sacred chalis, and the tear of a mermaid to access the powers of the fountain’s water.

Stranger Tides is not lacking in the swashbuckling action which was legendary in its predecessors and also lots of laughs courtesy of the witty dialogue of the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow. The film also benefited from the strong dynamics among its stars. Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz complement each other very well, although most of their romantic scenes end in jest. Barbossa and Gibb were like old friends and turned up solid performances, and their rapport with Captain Jack was what gave the movie the consistency it needed with the first three films although this was a separate story. Barbossa and Sparrow always make the best reluctant partners since they know each other’s tricks so well.Their banter is always a pleasure to watch on screen.

While the beginning and the end parts were action packed, there was a slight lull at the middle of the film when it significantly slowed down and focused on betrayal, connivances and subplots and a lot of talking. And after each lull, Captain Jack spurs into action, acting like a defibrilator,  giving the scenes a much needed jolt when it was needed the most. In my opinion, the movie was overly long and could have benefited from some much needed cuts towards the middle. It lasted for two and a half hours, when it might have been just as good if it stuck to the average two hours. The effects were flawless as usual but did not reach the same magnitude or grandiose as the second and third sequels with the giant whirlpool and the battle with the Kraken, and this year’s villain (Blackbeard) was neither endearing like Barbossa or amazing like Davy Jones. The difference, I think, is that there is nothing identifiable about Blackbeard. He is mean and he is selfish, and he uses his power to punish and intimidate. Never in any occasion did he connect with anyone on the film on a deeper level, aside from drawing the wrath of Barbossa.

It is no secret that the lifeblood of this franchise has always been Johnny Depp and his character Jack Sparrow, a role which only he can fill. One cannot help but love Jack Sparrow and throughout the franchise — he has proven his mettle again and again with every scrape. His resourcefulness, his presence of mind in the direst circumstance and his devil may care ways. The franchise may have come full circle with Jack and Gibb’s recovery of the Black Pearl, but who knows, the ocean is deep and vast, Jack and his crew may yet pull another quest from their butts.

On Stranger Tides suffers in comparison with the other sequels, but in consolation, it is a pretty decent standalone movie, enjoyable and entertaining, and typical Disney.

Gossip Girl Finale: What did you think?

A Bittersweet End. Chair, all smiles at a bar mitzvah they crashed.

So, its no secret that I’ve been shipping the DAIR pairing this entire season. But last night’s finale had me conflicted and reminiscing about the Prom episode in Season 2, when Chuck stepped out of the picture so that Blair could have her dream prom with Nate. Chuck can be really sweet when he’s not being an as*wipe, this much I can concede, and the chemistry between Leighton Meester’s Blair and Ed Westwick’s Chuck is simply undeniable. When he decided to let Blair go and be happy with Prince Louis, it was truly bittersweet and spoke of a maturity that we have not seen in the dapper Mr. Bass for quite some time now.

So, in a nutshell, last night’s finale dealt with a lot of storylines being wrapped up and in typical Gossip Girl fashion, new ones being unraveled. Dan is still pining for Blair, Georgina Sparks is back in town ready to cause mischief for our favorite Upper East Siders. Blair is on her way to Monaco to prepare for her wedding to Louis, Serena takes some time off and meets a new guy on the beach, lands a job in a film (because she happened to read the book they were basing it on). This was a big surprise to me that Serena even reads.(They referred to it twice in the episode, when she told Blair she was taking time off to read on the beach and actually bumps into a guy who was reading something that she previously read).

I'm baaaack. Georgina Sparks at Constance Billard Ball

Anyways, there’s also Vanessa, who wraps up her stint in GG by stealing Dan’s novel and sending it to a publisher (I am sincerely hoping that the person other than Serena who she referred to as someone who would appreciate Dan’s portayal is Blair), and Chuck and Nate finally bonding like the bachelors they are in a random trip overseas. It was nice to see them do normal things that guys their age do, instead of scheming all the time. Good news — Raina is finally gone (Thank goodness, she was so annoying). But another annoying character, Charlie (or Ivy) who was actually hired by Lily’s sister to pose as her daughter to get hold of the Rhodes trust fund, seems to be returning to team up with Georgina for yet another scam. I hope it doesn’t involve Dan because I’m still holding out for a DAIR reunion in Season 5. But the biggest cliffhanger is whose pregnancy test (positive) was it that Dorota dumped in the trash from Blair’s room?

It was a pretty solid finale that would have me hooked to GG for another season at least (depending on what spin the storyline would take). My guess is that its not going to be Blair’s baby (because there’s a lot more drama to be had with the Queen). I hope it’s Serena’s so she can learn something about responsibility. But it could also be Eleanor’s (Blair has a baby sister in the book named Yale, whom she loves dearly like her own daughter). For the meantime, let the writers decide what to do with the characters (Kill Charlie) during the hiatus and await the season 5 pilot with bated breath. It’s bound to be awesome. After all, peace at the UES is fleeting at best.

An anticlimactic end to a five year wait

HongKong Ocean Park 2006, The Abyss

In 2006, during my first trip out of the country with my mom, we went to Hong Kong’s famous Ocean Park, along with another couple from our tour group. I was an adrenaline junkie back then (not so much now since I got into a go karting accident which banged me up pretty bad), and I wanted to try this really cool ride called The Abyss Turbo Drop, which takes you 20 floors above the ground for a massive drop, then brings you back up again so that it can drop you back down again for an even stronger impact. My mom explicitly discouraged me to go on it, (read — she’ll be more nervous than I), as did the couple from our tour. Outnumbered, I regretfully decided to leave the park without fulfilling this particular goal, always wanting to go back to complete my unfinished business.

Me, happy as a clam on my way up

So, fast forward to 2011, I learned that Enchanted Kingdom (in Sta. Rosa Laguna, Philippines)  recently launched this ride called EKstreme, which is pretty similar to The Abyss. Heart pumping, I braced myself for mind blowing excitement. I was pretty nervous at first (my mom was still with me but she was more mellow now so she had no qualms about me going on the ride this time), but when I saw that the ride was pretty short, I decided to go in. My dad, another adrenaline junkie, joined me for the ride. My brother, not a big fan of theme park rides, opted to stay on the ground as the photographer.

Ekstreme Tower at Enchanted Kingdom

I had high expectations for the EKstreme Tower. After all, it took me five years to finally get on a ride such as this one. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as exciting as it appeared. The ascent takes roughly 30 seconds to the top of the 150-foot tower. The drop only takes approximately seven seconds. You hardly feel it but you do feel the brake way before the thrilling part is over. And then, that’s it. The ride is over. It doesn’t take you back up, it doesn’t give the riders a chance to digest the rush before they are shepherded out of the ride area by the staff, and the next batch is ushered in.

I admit that ride had its moments, but its mostly psychological. While ascending (all of 30 seconds), riders will feel the lift and feel themselves growing farther and farther from the ground, their only solid connection the hydraulic safety bars attached to their seats. It’s pretty scary to dangle that high up with only open air surrounding you.But instead of allowing the riders to absorb the impact of dangling a couple of storeys from the ground and leaving a bit of drama for the drop, the ride was too quick to release the vessel leading to a very abrupt descent and an overanxious brake system that slows the ride down halfway down the tower. The ride could have benefited from a second ascent and a second drop, but that’s just my opinion. Compared to the Space Shuttle (which is the best roller coaster ride I’ve been on to date), which draws the carts upward and lingers for an extended amount of time before finally releasing them, the EKstreme ride was lacking in bravado and the element of suspense that would have made the ride way more exciting. It had the potential. Believe me, all it needs is a bit of tweaking to be at par with The Abyss.

me, somewhere in the middle of the ride

All in all, it was a relatively fun experience, even if it didn’t quite fulfill my expectations. I might really have to go back to Ocean Park one of these days to face off with my unchallenged nemesis.

But don’t let this review keep you from visiting Enchanted Kingdom. Rest assured that the park still has a lot to offer despite this dud. There’s still the Space Shuttle, with newer more secure carts, the giant Ferris Wheel, the Flying Fiesta, Anchor’s Away and Rialto, Log Jam, Rio Grande Rapids (where one cannot escape being drenched) and the 4D theater. After all, EK is still #2 on my list of Best Theme Parks in Asia next only to my happiest place on earth, Hong Kong Disneyland.