Archive for December, 2013


These guys are very excited about the new Disney film shooting in IMAX

These guys are very excited about the new Disney film shooting in IMAX

Disney’s getting ready to shoot a movie in space.

With IMAX cameras.

According to James Neihouse, who has trained all the astronauts to operate IMAX cameras since Ham the chimp in 1959, IMAX cameras will be shipped to the International Space Station in April for an IMAX/Disney co-production with the working title of Earth 2.0.

When I first heard the title, I was hoping it was the long awaited feature length film adaptation of the failed Tim Curry/Debrah Farentino NBC sci-fi series.  Alas, it’s just another documentary about Earth and space.

This will be the seventh film IMAX has shot in space in conjunction with NASA.  Technically, it’ll be Disney’s second IMAX film shot in space if you consider that portions of Roving Mars were shot on the red planet by the Mars rovers at resolution equal or superior to IMAX’s 5 million pixel range.

Back here on Earth, Disney’s Marvel division is planning to hit a town near you in a major way.  Now, there is the Marvel Live arena tour from Feld Entertainment, but I’m talking about The Marvel Experience, which will be touring the country under a portable dome the size of two football fields.  If you’re a comic nut and you didn’t hear about this, don’t be too worried.  Its announcement was trumped the very same day by Warner Bros. announcing that Ben Affleck had been cast as Batman.  It’s just bad timing.

Not much is known about it.  It’s being produced by the team behind Broadway’s Spider-man musical.  Which means that it’ll feature costumes by Julie Taymor and music by U2.  We also know it will feature virtual adventures and 3D and 4D experiences.  Judy Rubin of InPark Magazine was able to get an exclusive interview with George Wiktor about the project.

George Wiktor

George Wiktor

Wiktor is an evil genius.  I know he’s a genious because I’m familiar with the work he’s done.  I know he’s evil because he attempted to push me out of a speeding car into sub-freezing temperatures.  Having an evil genius on the team could only result in one thing – an amazing, groundbreaking attraction.

Since we’re on the topic of evil geniuses, let’s talk George Lucas and his Star Wars universe.  Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination is now at the final stop of its seven year tour – the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA.  The exhibit places hundreds of props, costumes, and models from the six Star Wars films on display and then compares them to current innovations in science and technology.  I had an opportunity to visit the exhibit this past weekend.  Here’s a sampling of what’s on display:

That's me in front a large scale mockup of my 1977 Luke Skywalker Landspeeder from Kenner.  Unlike the writers of The Big Bang Theory, I know that Mattel never had the license on Star Wars toys.  They went for the less lucrative Battlestar Galactica instead.

That’s me in front a large scale mockup of my 1977 Luke Skywalker Landspeeder from Kenner. Unlike the writers of The Big Bang Theory, I know that Mattel never had the license on Star Wars toys. They went for the less lucrative Battlestar Galactica instead.

The Force can be a real pain in the ass.

The Force can be a real pain in the ass.

Rick Rothschild and Gary Goddard visit the exhibit

Rick Rothschild and Gary Goddard visit the exhibit

In this close up of Darth Vader's chest plate, that's  not Bocce.  It's upside down Hebrew!

In this close up of Darth Vader’s chest plate, that’s not Bocce. It’s upside down Hebrew!

According the PETA, the wampa is being confined to a space far too small for it to exhibit its natural behaviors.  You'll note in this photo that as it attempts to defecate, it has no room to maneuver, obviously wallowing in its own excrement.  If you're a free the orcas fan who came across this post thinking I only write about orcas, that one's for you.

According to PETA, the wampa is being confined to a space far too small for it to exhibit its natural behaviors. You’ll note in this photo that as it attempts to defecate, it has no room to maneuver, obviously wallowing in its own excrement.   Unfortunately, the creature’s not cute enough to warrant a public protest.

If you're a fan of Chewbacca, you only have until Jan 20 to see the original costume from Episode IV.  After that, the federal government is taking it for reasons of national security.

If you’re a fan of Chewbacca, you only have until Jan 20 to see the original costume from Episode IV. After that, the federal government is taking it for reasons of national security.

To find out more about the exhibit, visit www.thetech.org/plan-your-visit/special-exhibitions/STAR-WARS

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f0e186a436a6f053bbb9d4c758ef4d45_largeOn the morning of December 1, Rahm Emanuel woke up, stepped out of bed, and walked to the full-length mirror in his closet.  “Who’s the sexiest Mayor in Chicago?” he asked his reflection.  His reflection reassured him, “You are.  You’re the sexiest Mayor in Chicago.”

He then let out one of his famous profanity-laden tirades against his reflection.  He wouldn’t be able to do it later in the day as he was scheduled to proclaim December 5 Walt Disney Day in Chicago.  “Think about the children,” his reflection reminded him.  “The children.”

On that day, December 5, a couple from Los Angeles would announce that they had purchased a home in Chicago.  Now this wasn’t the first time a couple from Los Angeles would do such a thing.  But something set this apart – for the home that was purchased was the very one Walt Disney was born in.

Then they had to go and announce a plan to turn it into a museum.

To make this a reality, the couple brought in the finest architects, preservationists, and historians in Chicago and a who’s who of designers and historians with their roots in Disney culture, including former TEA President Rick Rothschild, who pushed for the conversion of the living room into a Circlevision theater.  Rick loves Circlevision.

Also on the team is the key to the project’s success – Heidi Trotta.  As an IMAX theater manager programming Disney films and as a journalist covering the cinema industry, I had the pleasure of dealing with Heidi on multiple occasions during her tenure at Disney.  She is a miracle worker.

Outside of the theme parks and cruise ships, Disney tourism is a risky business.  The owners can choose to refurbish the home as a facsimile of how it looked in 1901.  But as Walt only lived there for four years until moving to Missouri for that formative stage of his life, this incarnation of the museum would be less about Walt and more about his parents, Elias and Flora, and, by proxy, about the people and building of the city of Chicago.

The owners can turn the home into galleries full of displays and photos and media presentations, but that museum already exists in San Francisco.  During its first year of operation, the Walt Disney Family Museum was unable to meet expected attendance figures due to a number of issues, including being out of the way, construction in the area, lack of direct public transit, confusion with the public between Disney park and Disney museum, and the fact it was piggybacking on the Walt Disney Company’s website, creating confusion as to who actually owned and ran the museum.  Things in San Francisco have improved significantly, but the Chicago museum will have its own unique challenges.

Among those is that it’s small.  And that it’s in a location where Walt only lived for his first four years.  At the same time this is taking place, other parts of Walt Disney’s history remain neglected.  Marceline, Missouri, where Walt grew up and whose Main Street influenced Disneyland’s, continues to receive only a fraction of the tourists that visit Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, some 90 minutes away.  In Kansas City, a small garage stands unoccupied overlooking potholed streets at the intersections of Forest and East.  Its owners hope one day to reopen it to the public, but it’s taken years to prevent demolition and to stabilize this former home of the Laugh-o-Gram Studios, where Walt started his animation career.  Its future remains uncertain.

In the Silverlake district of Los Angeles, very few flock to Gelson’s Supermarket knowing they’re standing on the very ground where Disney’s first studio, the Hyperion studio, was located.  Very few, but that includes Dina Benadon and Brent Young, the couple that purchased the Disney birthplace in Chicago.

Dina and Brent are animators, filmmakers, and attraction designers extraordinaire, owners of the company Super 78 Studios.   On a freezing February morning in Denver, I sat down for coffee with Jay Williams, who had just joined Super 78 as a producer after a sixteen year career as a creative executive for Disney.  “Brent and Dina are both huge Disney fans,” he told me.  “They understand that without Disney, they wouldn’t have their careers in animation or attractions.”

In the following photo, stolen from InPark Magazine with the publisher’s permission, you can see Brent.  The photo was taken just a few weeks ago at the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando.

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That’s Brent on the right.  Next to him is Marty Sklar, who’s the key to the project’s success.  On the left is my neighbor, friend and colleague Doug Barnes, owner of The Season Pass Podcast, which Brent co-hosts.  Between Marty and Doug is my friend and colleague Robert Coker, a Super 78 show writer who maintains the Thrillride.com website and often appears on the Season Pass.  Do not be alarmed by Robert’s blank stare.  Those close to him have assured me that he never fully recovered from the Posessed show at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt.  Ultimately, that’s why Robert is the key to the project’s success.

There’s one unique advantage the Disney birthplace has.  As humans, we are drawn to the place of origin.  There’s something primordial and sacred about it.  There’s a reason that even today the Olympic flame is lit on Mt. Olympus and not in Brussels.  And that’s the key to the project’s success.

With the exception of L Ron Hubbard, Walt Disney is perhaps the most deified non-political person of the 20th Century.  Like the ancient gods, he created an abundance of half-human, half-animal beings who performed impossible tasks of glory in fables and tales of yore.  To bring these stories to the masses, great temples were erected wherein resided poets, and songsmiths, and playwrights, and artists, and sculptors, and craftsmen of all varieties.

And then there’s the curious relationship between Marty Sklar and Moses.  Jewish tradition states that the Five Books of Moses, the Torah, were spoken by the Lord and written by Moses.  Many of the words spoken by Walt were written by Marty.  Moses delived the Ten Commandments.  Marty delivered “Mickey’s Ten Commandments.”  Moses parted the Red Sea.  Marty rode through the parted Red Sea at Universal Studios on more than one occasion.

Perhaps it’s all a sham.  Perhaps there’s something bigger at play.  One possible reason for the purchase and restoration of the Disney birthplace can be found in the 16th Century writings of the French apothecary Nostradamus.  One quatrain appearing in his 1557 book Les Propheties states:

A man and woman from the Lake of Silver

Shall arrive in the City of Fire

They shall breath new life

Into the Master of Vermin

An ancient ritual they shall incur

Reversing time to its origin

A new body presented

A vessel of flesh

One could interpret the quatrain thus: “Lake of Silver” refers to the Silverlake District of Los Angeles where Dina and Brent live.  “City of Fire” is Chicago, destroyed by a raging fire in 1871.  “Master of Vermin” is Walt Disney.  Nostradamus lived during the period of the Black Death, during which mice were considered disease spreading vermin.  “Reversing time to its origin” refers to the restoration of the house.  “A new body presented, A vessel of flesh” complies with many ancient beliefs about the resurrection of spirits through the habitation of living human bodies.

And Dina and Brent have already found their vessel:

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Seriously folks, this is a really noble cause and I commend Dina and Brent for taking it on.  You can learn more about the home’s restoration and plans for its future by reading Judy Rubin’s interview with Dina and Brent at InPark Magazine and by listening to The Season Pass Podcast interview with historian Steven Clark and architect Charlie Pipal.

Then head over to kickstarter and show your support!!!!

Also, make sure to take the time to visit www.thrillride.com to find out what exciting theme park attraction is “possessing” Robert this week.

My colleague Chris Palmer is featured in this fascinating video where he shares some of the deceptive techniques used on the IMAX documentaries he produced and questions the approaches taken by today’s television shows.

Chris is the Director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University and President of the MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation.  Visit him at his website, www.chrispalmeronline.com.  His IMAX documentary credits include Bears, Whales, Wolves, and Dolphins.

Douglas Adams had it right

Douglas Adams had it right

According to theme park news site Screamscape.com, five of the big name performers scheduled for an upcoming annual concert series at SeaWorld Orlando have cancelled their bookings over concerns about allegations brought up in the recent documentary film Blackfish.  I have both seen the film, of which I was kindly sent a screener copy by distributor Magnolia Pictures, and read the related book Death at SeaWorld by David Kirby.  It is not my intent to either discredit or validate these works, though I can attest they follow a style of presentation that the animal rights movement established more than a quarter century ago.

At that time, I was an intern at Sea World (note the space, delineating the spelling and ownership then from now) when two big things took place – the construction of the new larger orca “birthing” pools and the sudden closure and overnight transit of animals from Marineland of the Pacific.  I spoke with the protesters at the gates and read the articles and literature coming out.  Much of what happened then, I blame on a man I call “The Bookseller,” William Jovanovich. As CEO and President of the theme park chain’s owner, book publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, these were his decisions.  But since then, the park has changed ownership, first to Anheuser Busch, then Blackstone, and now it’s publicly held.  With ownership changes came management changes and radical departures in the way things are done, a point often skirted around in media coverage.  In essence, the SeaWorld of today is not the same chain that operated under HBJ.

If you are interested in the film or the book, I encourage you to watch and/or read them.  But don’t take them as gospel.  It’s important to have a well rounded understanding of this complicated issue, and I highly suggest that you contact organizations on both sides, including the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, the International Marine Animal Trainers Association, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Center for Whale Research, the Animal Welfare Institute, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

peta, one of the biggest proponents of the film, is an organization that I have a love-hate relationship with.  On the one hand, I agree with their stance on the American Human Association’s monitoring of animals on film and television sets.  It’s a farce.  And not many know that the program is overseen and financed by the Screen Actors Guild, a trade organization that, by its very admission, does not allow animals to be members. On the other hand, peta’s attempt to free SeaWorld’s orcas by claiming that holding them is in violation of the 13th Amendment was just as farcical.  The judge was right to point out that the 13th only applies to humans.  And while science may have shown orcas to be social animals, they have not yet developed civilization.  In order to to do that would require the ability to build large communal structures from raw materials.  The only way I see this happening is for orcas to telepathically control humans to do their bidding.  But perhaps that’s how those larger SeaWorld tanks came to be.

There’s a fringe element as well supporting the film.  These folks troll the internet for any mention of SeaWorld and fight back with allegations of lies, and deceit, and “go watch Blackfish.”  At the slightest tweet of something as innocuous as a parade float, the trolls hit en masse.  They’ve hit me and I’ve had reports of them hitting numerous bloggers and reporters as well.

This kind of approach to the film not only presents itself as hostile, but makes the film appear as if its intent is not “education” but rather “assault.”

Then there’s CNN, the 24-hour cable network that “delivers the most comprehensive, nonpartisan and breaking news and analysis to global audiences across all platforms.”  CNN has broadcast Blackfish a number of times over the past couple of months.  Each time it’s been broadcast, there’s been a noticeably sharp increase of anti-SeaWorld comments posted to the park’s facebook and twitter accounts, prompting SeaWorld to post on their facebook page the evening of November 3:

This is a family friendly page, administered by SeaWorld Orlando, for the benefit and enjoyment of its fans. We welcome comments and if you have a question for us, we’ll do our best to answer it. We won’t tolerate offensive language or topics, though…

Much was made about SeaWorld’s reluctance to participate in CNN’s “discussion” over the film.  Jack Hanna, who admitted to being a paid spokesman for the chain, did appear in a rather awkward appearance on air with the filmmakers and eventually SeaWorld’s Vice President of Communications, Fred Jacobs, responded in writing to prepared questions.  All this, of course, focused suspicion on SeaWorld and its motives.  But SeaWorld had very good reason not to participate.  Earlier this year, at the Sundance Film Festival, CNN’s new film unit acquired Blackfish, a fact not always mentioned in CNN’s web postings.  By demonizing SeaWorld and building interest in the film, CNN stands to make millions – from each and every ticket and video sale and rental and from the ad dollars surrounding broadcast rights and other CNN coverage of the film.

It’s much like the recent 60 Minutes interview with Dylan Davies regarding his experience during the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate in Libya.  When allegations of false testimony arose, 60 Minutes gave a half-ass apology on air, apologizing for not having done a more thorough investigation, but never admitting to doing wrong.  As npr’s media watchdog show On the Media pointed out, the segment was tied in with a book written by Davies and published by CBS’s publishing arm, Simon & Schuster, a fact that was never disclosed on air.

Although it’s hard to tell what kind of direct impact CNN’s treatment of Blackfish is having on attendance at SeaWorld’s parks, the aforementioned concert cancellations do show that it is indeed impacting the park’s operations.  This marks the second time that media coverage has affected a theme park in the past few months.

Earlier, I reported on Universal Studios Hollywood canceling their popular Bill & Ted show over allegations of homophobia.  If you recall, a blogger for a counterculture publication wrote a post denouncing a plot point in the show where Superman turns gay and then performs homosexual sex acts.  Mainstream LGBT media picked up on the piece and eventually advocacy group GLAAD went over the heads of park management directly to parent company NBCUniversal and were able to have the show canceled.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that we live in a society saturated with double standards.

What if the actor playing Superman had been gay? (I don’t know, he might have been)

What if the show’s writers were gay? (I’ve heard that one of them may have been)

What if it were performed for a gay audience?

What if it were in a cabaret, night club, theater, or comedy club catering to gay clientele?

Even with the same sexual innuendos, it most likely would have been acceptable.  As someone who used to work in management in San Francisco’s theater community, one of the first things I learned is that there are differing degrees of acceptability to different audiences.

When Jerry Seinfeld or Joan Rivers jokes about Jews and their financial frugality, it’s comedy.  If a non-Jew makes the same joke, it can be taken as antisemitism.

Then of course, there’s the old question of “What’s the difference between a white man saying the ‘N-word’ and a black man saying the ‘N-word’?”

The white man’s Quentin Tarantino, the black man’s not.

Bryant Gumble, on a recent episode of RealSports, spoke about the hypocrisy of speaking the N-word, regardless of color.  He points out that the word is a weapon.  “To define, demean, and destroy millions of people should never be forgotten.”

Gumble’s point can be taken one step further – that suddenly appropriating something does not eradicate the past.

CNN could learn from this.  Nowhere in their coverage of Blackfish and SeaWorld on air or online have I seen them disclose their owner, TimeWarner’s, own relationship, both historically and current, with parks that house marine mammals.

They have not disclosed how sister company Warner Bros. once had an ownership stake in both Six Flags and Village Roadshow Theme Parks. During that time, parks under their ownership featured performing marine mammals.

They have not disclosed how Warner Bros. continues to license its properties to Six Flags and Village Roadshow.  One of the Six Flags parks had a performing orca until it was moved to SeaWorld in August 2012, and while it had that orca, that Six Flags park continued to run shows and attractions based on Warner Bros. characters.

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They have not disclosed how Warner Bros.’ film The Polar Express has for numerous years, including this, played in IMAX and a shortened attraction format at numerous zoos and aquariums that house marine mammals.  One of those happens to be SeaWorld Orlando, the very park targeted in Blackfish, where the Polar Express Experience culminates with a visit with Santa at the North Pole, where he is accompanied by live belugas and polar bears.

They have not disclosed how their immediate parent, Turner Broadcasting, in 1991 purchased Hanna Barbera, which from 1978 to 1982 operated Marineland of the Pacific near Los Angeles, which featured two performing orcas that eventually found their way to SeaWorld.

Nor have they disclosed that Turner Broadcasting is a corporate sponsor of the Georgia Aquarium, with which the “Inside CNN Studio Tour” offers a joint ticket.  The aquarium, of course, houses belugas and performing dolphins.

But I guess they don’t need to disclose that.  Because a white whale’s not a Blackfish.

Make sure to catch Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on CNN.  He support’s Canada’s seal meat industry.

[NOTE 12/16/13: There has been some confusion on the internet regarding my comments on TimeWarner’s relationship with Six Flags.  TimeWarner has never owned Marine World, now known as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, where the orca named Shouka performed before being moved to SeaWorld San Diego in August, 2012.  In 1993, TimeWarner had acquired full ownership of the Six Flags theme park chain (it first purchased a 19.5% share in 1990).  In 1998, the chain was sold to Premiere parks, which already operated a number of other theme parks, including Marine World.  Two years later, Premiere Parks changed its corporate name to Six Flags.  As explained, Warner Bros. continued licensing agreements with Six Flags after its sale by TimeWarner.  However, TimeWarner’s ownership of Six Flags is included as a separate bullet due to the daily performances of Avalon and Cody, two domestically-bred bottlenose dolphins at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey at the time TimeWarner owned the park.  The dolphins were acquired by the park in 1994 and 1996 respectively.]

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