Monday, October 18, 2010

Another Take on the 'Dilemma' Trailer Fiasco

Enough has been said about the primary complaint of the hideously unfunny, offensive gay joke in the Dilemma trailer. People more eloquent than me, with bigger dogs in the fight, have laid it out there.

I'd like to voice a secondary complaint. It certainly doesn't have as large an immediate impact as what everyone is talking about, but I think it's at least as important in the long term. The questionable line in the trailer, in referring to electric cars as "gay," is using a gross stereotype to imply that they're weak and effeminate. I believe a majority of the country would agree, and that thinking is poison.

We need electric cars. The goddamned stupid cowboy ethos of America has convinced us that we need big bulletproof wagons that can go from 0 to 60 in the span of seconds. This same thinking gave us a president who actually thought he was a cowboy and treated his eight year reign like an eight second bullride, leaving us castrated.

When was the last time it mattered how fast you could get to 60, or how much horsepower your car has?

Electric cars have been relegated to eggheads and treehuggers, as if that's a bad thing. These people, who truly understand that actions have consequences, are working to literally save our species. Ed Begley Jr.'s house is not only super-green, it practically makes money for the man. But Begley has been turned into a green punchline.

For too long the fear of seeming elitist or better than someone else has dominated public discourse. It's probably the largest single reason that Kerry lost in 2004. It is time to turn the tide against the vilification of intelligence. Electric cars are smart. Solar panels are smart. Wind turbines are smart. Questioning the real messages behind the constant assault of data to which we're subjected is smart.

If intelligence is gay, give me a rainbow flag to proudly fly.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Better Late than Never: Disney World, pt. 2

Part 1.

Our second day we hit Epcot. For whatever reason, this park had come to represent Disney World as a whole to me in childhood. I knew there were futuristic displays, food from other countries, and some crazy 3D Michael Jackson thing, so suffice it to say that 10-year old me wanted to go to there.

Thirty year old me wanted to go to Mission: Space. I've wanted to ride this ever since, upon its opening, Jim Lovell (aka Tom Hanks in Apollo 13) said it's the "best, closest simulation you can get to the real thing." If I wasn't legally blind without contacts, I might have pursued astronaut training. Or, you know, not. Still, I've always been in love with space, so this ride was a huge draw for me.

Turns out two people have died after riding this. Ultimately they had pre-existing conditions that may have been aggravated by the ride, which uses centrifugal force to simulate up to 2.5 Gs during takeoff. As a result, Disney has changed a section of the ride to the "Green Team," which is the same experience but without a centrifuge. You're also subjected to about 35 warnings on the path to the Orange Team that hey, if you have any misgivings whatsoever, maybe you can try the pansy--I mean Green Team. Seriously, at the end of the Gary Sinise video, right before the doors open to start the ride, he says it's fine if you feel like leaving. After all these warnings, anything but a real rocket launch would be a little bit of a letdown. Still, a really great ride, even though my first job was engineer, which meant I had to hit a button to put everyone into hibernation for six months. Yay.

Mission: Space is located in Future World at Epcot. I loved it here. Peppy futuristic background music plays everywhere, and it would fit perfectly in a Buzz Lightyear cartoon which holy crap why haven't they made that yet. My inner nerd was running rampant. There's a 45-minute "ride" in this section called Universe of Energy, starring Ellen Degeneres and Bill Nye. Most people heard it was a 45-minute ride about energy and turned around at the door; I walked in faster. Dinosaurs! Science! Cosmology! Creationist head-exploding!

Which reminds me: side note. I've been in NYC too long, for many reasons, one of which is liberal isolationism. I'm crazy liberal, so this is mostly fine, but being in Florida and seeing billboards for actual Tea Party candidates who actual people will actually vote for was a real eye-opener. Also, a candidate nicknamed his opponent "Taliban Dan," and that's kind of awesome. This was in a commercial we saw while staying at Disney, which is more kind of awesome.

Also in Future World is Test Track, which is a fun test drive simulator with one of the most egregious cases of pre-ride long-video teasing. But at least it starred John Michael Higgins.

While exiting Future World, I noticed on a digital sign that the next Captain EO showtime was coming up. Wait, what's that? Captain EO? They're showing that again?! THEY'RE SHOWING CAPTAIN EO AGAIN?!!!! Nerdgasm.

We taped Moonwalker off of HBO or something like that when I was a kid. I almost wore out the tape. I wasn't a huge fan of Michael Jackson's hum-drum pop songs, though of course he did it better than anyone. But I always enjoyed it when he got weird. My friends all spoke fondly of Captain EO, which I just knew as some 3D movie you could see at Disney. Mark even got a copy off Ebay several years ago. I felt like a big piece was missing from my geek puzzle. Turned out I was about to put it in place!

I hadn't even considered that Michael Jackson's death might lead Disney to start showing this again, but they just did, starting on July 2nd of this year. In the theater lobby they ran a making-of video while the movie finished up for the previous audience inside. I cannot believe Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas (well, maybe Lucas) got together with Jackson to do something like this, but it's very easy to forget how much the 80s belonged to Jackson before he got bad weird. I mean, he also worked with Landis and Scorsese. In the making-of video, the glasses, haircuts, and dancers' outfits are fabulously 80s. They did a great job of hiding the star and the look of the film we were about to see.

It still holds up. Some of the stop-motion effects were a bit rough, and EO's flying companion Fuzzball never looked like he was actually there, but to a child of the 80s everything else looked perfectly in place. This is one of the many "4D" films we saw, meaning we wore 3D glasses and there were in-theater effects on top of that. Every single time this meant we would get sprayed with water at some point. EO is the story of the freedom-fighting crew of a spaceship bringing the gift of dance and music to the badass queen (played by Angelica Huston) of a garbage planet. I thought it was Michael Jackson's coolest, biggest music video, and I loved it. Towards the end, when he was laughing to the camera (and us in our silly glasses), I was taken back to a simpler time. This was Michael v3.0, or maybe v2.5, before the surgical masks and disappearing nose. The man loved doing what he did, and that joy was infectious, and we all left smiling.

The World Showcase is a circle of 11 countries around a lagoon and makes up the other half of Epcot. Every country is boiled down to its architecture, costumes, food, and merchandise. You could very easily bankrupt yourself trying to do everything here. We decided to pick just one for dinner, so we went with the Biergarten in Germany (thanks for our love of Radegast in Williamsburg). It's a pricey buffet with good beer and family-style tables. Presented with a pricey buffet, my response was "alright, I will now eat myself retarded." It's not that I'm a stereotypical American; I'm just broke and wanted to get my money's worth. I did. It was excellent, the beer was good and at NYC prices. Much meat.

But that all came later. This day, touring the world, we started with Canada (first mistaken as England; sorry Katie) and went counterclockwise. The sky was getting darker. Something ominous stretched from horizon to horizon, and the wind was picking up. By the time we got to France, people were essentially running and screaming from the wind in that weird greenish tornado-light. Presented with the predicament of seeking shelter in completely fake buildings with no basements, I decided I wanted neither to get stuck nor die in France (sorry Ivan), so we moved quickly to the next country. Which was Morocco.

Here's the thing about Morocco. It's one of the Mediterranean bastions of civilization perched atop the Sahara. That is to say, it's very hot there and the architecture is mostly open-air, since they don't have to worry about tropical storms. So there were approximately two buildings there with suitable cover from what was now pounding rain, a store and a cafe. I became intimately familiar with Morocco's fashion, dance music, tagine ovens, and $8 liqueur-flavored coffee.

TWO HOURS LATER, we said fuck it and ran to Japan when the rain eased up a bit. Japan is at the top of my list of countries to visit (in real life, not Epcot). This gift shop did not disappoint. Manga, toys, two whole kiosks devoted to the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki (which are distributed (poorly) in America by Disney), and more books than every other gift shop combined. And a crazy Japanese girl who kept screaming things when customers found a pearl in an oyster, or something.

Knowing we would be back the next evening for dinner in Germany, we decided to call it a day and make our way to the exit. We just couldn't justify dropping $7.50 on a poncho we would never wear again, so we were as wet as if we'd been on a water ride by the time we made it to the exit. Wetter, even. It was the only blemish of the whole trip. Well, that, and the $50 fill-up for half a tank of gas before returning the rental car outside the airport on the way home. $4.50/gallon. You've gotta be kidding me.

My my. This is longer than I expected. If you've read this far, hi Mom! I'll save Animal Kingdom and final observations for the third and final installment.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Better Late than Never: Disney World, pt. 1

I'm borrowing the format of this entry from the always-excellent AV Club, wherein a staff member watches/reads/listens to something that by all means they should have done years ago, and gives their impression of it from a new point of view.

I was never really a Disney kid. I'd seen a few of the films about a thousand times, particularly Mary Poppins and, oddly, The Gnome-Mobile. Fun fact: the Mary Poppins kids are also the kids in The Gnome-Mobile, and the opening credits simply list them as the Mary Poppins kids. I missed the new wave of animation that spawned Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, etc. I did catch The Lion King when they showed it to us in junior high, and loved it. Anyway, being more of the Looney Toons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bent as a child, and having parents who avidly disliked crowds and most people, our vacations generally consisted of trips to the Smokies. So as a young adult, when Disney World came up as a subject of nostalgic conversation, I was often met with looks of shock and pity when I told my peers I'd never been there.

Cut to my wife Amy, whose childhood was pretty much the opposite of everything I just said. We've been together for five years, and for about four and a half of that she's been planning on taking me to Orlando to get caught up. I set her back a year or so when I went and proposed to her and we had to plan a wedding, but the stars aligned and we just got back from celebrating our first anniversary at uncle Walt's playground.

I really didn't know what to expect. I love roller coasters, and while a couple at Disney are pretty killer, I knew that isn't their main thing. I also knew that Disney is known for its "imagineers," the special effects artists responsible for decades of weirdly lifelike entertainment, but beyond the Hall of Presidents and what I assume are terrifying child robots in It's a Small World (it was closed for maintenance), I didn't really know what that entailed. So I knew I was going to enjoy myself, I just didn't know how.

Our first park was Magic Kingdom, that of the trademark castle. And yes, despite not being a Disney kid, I got goosebumps the first time I saw it. We've all been programmed to react that way by Disney, and while you could decry it as crass corporate manipulation, I like to take comfort in the fact that people across the world can see that castle and share the same reaction.

Our first ride at Magic Kingdom was Pirates of the Caribbean. It was the first of many rides that we walked straight into without a wait at all. Late September is an excellent time to visit, if you don't mind the constant fear of hurricanes and/or tropical storms (more on that later). While they've updated it with lines about Jack Sparrow and a few appearances by everyone's favorite Rolling Stones-inspired pirate, it seemed largely untouched since it started, wow, in 1967. It's a cute ride, and I can see why it's a favorite, but I certainly would never think to turn it into a film franchise, and I would never in my wildest dreams imagine that said franchise could be so successful. But hey, maybe that speaks well for the incoming wave of board game adaptations. Or no. Not at all.

We were able to fit in everything we wanted to do at Magic Kingdom that day and move on to another park, thanks to the complete lack of wait times. Thunder Mountain is an impressive roller coaster for its set alone, which completely surrounds the ride even though it's outdoors. It would be a great first roller coaster, which I'm sure it has been for millions of children. It's calm enough that a dad was able to turn around and record his daughter's reactions with a camera for the whole ride. They were both laughing the whole time. Space Mountain still holds up as a great coaster as well, with parts reminding me of Metroid and others of 2001. As a huge geek and space nerd, I was thrilled at the conceit surrounding the ride of it being an interstellar space transit system. I would continue to be geekily thrilled throughout Disney, which was not something I expected.

I began to learn what exactly is the attraction of Disney on the Haunted Mansion ride. If you're not scaring the bejeesus out of your guests or trying to push their organs through their orifices with the power of g-forces, you have to tell them a story. This is where Disney excels. In addition to the story is the constant "how did they do that?" effect. Haunted Mansion is a fun, spooky, cute ride through, well, a haunted mansion. Riding two at a time in a hearse/carriage-like car, your view is controlled by how it rotates throughout the ride. Ghosts show up in front of you in different ways, always seemingly right there without the use of 3-D glasses. There's a fun little song too. The centerpiece for me was the ghost banquet hall, where a large dining room is suddenly populated with dozens of ghosts feasting and dancing. I'm pretty sure I know how they did that, but that's no fun is it?

My favorite section of Magic Kingdom by far is Tomorrowland, simply because of the awesome name and sleek futuristic decor (which is why Epcot is probably my favorite park). I couldn't stop saying " Tommmmorrowland!" like a cheesy 60s voiceover every time I saw the name. Here you find Space Mountain, naturally, and Buzz Lightyear's ride, wherein you're called upon to rotate your own car as you move through the ride shooting targets. The gamer in me wanted to do this a few times, and Toy Story is actually a franchise I'm up to date on. It's apparently the de facto Pixar area too, since this is where you can see the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. This is one of many 3-D movie screen-shows throughout the parks. It's monster stand-up comedy, based on the ending of Monsters, Inc. when the monsters figure out how to get their energy from laughs and not screams. The impressive thing about this show is that it actually is live, even though you're watching CG monsters on a movie screen. They're animated ambiguously enough to match the live actors who are riffing on the audience backstage, so that you're once again left wondering "how did they do that?"

We moved on to Disney's Hollywood Studios that day, which is a pretty easy park to see in one afternoon. This is home to one of the truly great coasters at Disney, Aerosmith's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. It's an indoor roller coaster, the highlight of which is the awesome launch at the beginning. The lowlight, and one we were subjected to on several rides, was the intro video. The story thing got a little old after a few days. Sometimes it really is OK to just beat the crap out of me on a ride; I really don't need to know why. But in this one you meet Aerosmith in the studio talking to an engineer, played by a young struggling Ken Marino, and they're running late for a show. Their agent, Illeana Douglas, gets you backstage passes for the show; hence, the roller coaster trip to see them play.

Who knew there was so much work for actors in amusement park videos? We also saw Gary Sinise, Ellen DeGeneres, John Michael Higgins, Michael Richards, Patrick Warburton (but he does show up everywhere), and the voice of Judy Dench. Not bad.

Also at Hollywood Studios is Star Tours, a Star Wars ride, which tragically, heartbreakingly, was not running. It's being updated to include material from the prequels. Which makes perfect sense, because everyone LOVED them and more of our childhood milestones should be affected by them /sarcasm. Still, the huge AT-AT and Ewok village were pretty awesome to see, and I got a picture of me on a speeder bike, and the gift shop was cool.

One more overall impression: the kids. I knew they would be everywhere, and I'm not necessarily a child-friendly person. I want kids, and one-on-one it's usually not too bad, but en masse they tend to freak me out. Not so at Disney, and here's why: the park is theirs. You're on their turf, so it's a little hard to get bothered by them, but honestly it never even came up. It's literally the best place on the planet they could be, and seeing how insanely happy they all are to be there really adds to the experience, cold-hearted young professional or not. And I won't lie, Thursday evening at Magic Kingdom they were all coming for the Halloween party, in costume, and it was adorable. There was one toddler freaking out in the entry room to the Haunted Mansion, which is actually pretty freak-worthy, but given that I did the same thing at a scary show in Gatlinburg as a small child I can't fault him too much for it.

In the next installment I'll talk about Epcot and Animal Kingdom and give my overall thoughts. See! Gorillas eating poop! Hear and feel! The best Michael Jackson video ever!