Monday, June 27, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean-The RIDE

DISCLAIMER: I'm no expert.  Other than first hand accounts from my own ride experiences at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney, I owe all I know about the POTC attractions to others far more talented than myself. Jason Surrell, author of several good books on Disney including Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies is one such person.  Chef Mayhem, whose excellent website Tell No Tales ( is another.  Without these people and the many others like them across the e-World, I'd be all at sea on this topic.
Totally stole it from the official Disney website
I first went to Walt Disney World (very near Orlando, Florida) in the summer of 1982 (maybe 81...I'm not sure, it was a long time ago, but it was WDW's Tencennial).  As a VERY YOUNG tyke I wanted to spend my time in Fantasyland and Tommorrowland because that is the sort of thing kids do.  My parents were good enough to force me to ride other things.  I want to tell you that my lifelong love of pirates was born on that trip when I rode The Pirates of the Caribbean, but I suspect that would be a lie.  I'm pretty sure it was my next trip to WDW that made me a POTC fan (also a fan of The Haunted Mansion and the no longer with us, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride...damn you, WDW, you took away my Toad!), but no matter for a lifelong POTC and pirates in general fan I became.

You will hear and read many different opinions about it, but I personally think it is one of the greatest dark rides of all time.  Technical excellence in form and presentation.  I also feel, and this might come as a surprise, that it is somehow spiritually inseparable from The Haunted Mansion.
Again, totally stolen from Disney website
What's that you say?  I'm psycho?  That's not nice.  
The original POTC opened in California in 1967 and the original HM opened in California in 1969.  The WDW POTC opened in 1973 and the WDW HM opened in 1971.  At DL the POTC and HM are both in New Orleans square and may or may not share a history, depending on your sources.
That's not what I'm talking about today.  I am speaking of a connection that the fans themselves seem to notice.  Both POTC and HM are dark rides.  Both POTC and HM were originally set to be museums and then walk-through attractions before their final forms.  Both use audio animatronics, which is nothing special now, but was in the 60s and both feature a loose collection of sight gags held together by a catchy tune.  The dichotomy is found in the technology.  POTC was state-of-the-art, or I suppose better than state-of-the-art as WED was all about innovation.  The detail work on the pirate AAs, the set design, the attention to detail was all superb and made use of all the technology WED had developed up to that point.  By comparison HM uses smoke and mirrors, stage tricks from a century before and classic 'dark ride' techniques.  It is almost 'retro' at its time of launch.
I loved them both equally and would find myself running from one section of the park to the other (again, WDW, shown on the map below, not Disneyland) since the park designers did not feel the need to put the two very close together.
The circled areas are the two most important attractions in the whole damn park
I especially enjoy doing this after dark as there is something magical, to me at least, about going into a dark ride in the dark and coming back out of it in the dark.  Plus, as the image above shows, the WDW HM looks great in the dark.
In a future post I want to address just how related POTC and HM are in the hearts and minds of fans.  For now let it suffice to say that lovers of dark rides tend to love them both but not always equally.  I can't decide which I love more, which leads to the breathless 'last hour, last call' runs between the two before the park closes.  I'm not sure which I'd like to live in more, you see.
I do love the POTC ride.  I was hurt every time a change was made to appease some whinging group that felt it's personal rights were infringed upon, such as when the pirates had to start chasing the women for food instead of sex, which is obviously what they were after.  Keep selling women on the block, but for the love of the goddess don't let pirates chase booty!
I have not been to the parks since the POTC updates that added film specific characters.  I can't say if it is a good or bad thing.  I know I like the films and I love the ride, so I imagine I will be okay with it if I ever get to visit again.  Still, dammit, stop changing things.  Some things are better unchanged, standing as shining examples of how things once were.  After all, they haven't changed the Pepper's Ghost effects in the HM and when they do it will all be shot to Hell.
Stay tuned for more POTC/HM fun as I explore the real and imagined links between these two stalwarts of the WED art.

And as always, keep yer ruddy pumpkins lit, maties.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Falling Skies

Greeting Seedlings,

If you remember my review of last Halloween's debut series on AMC, The Walking Dead then you recall how much I hated it.  It should have been wonderful.  A series about the world after a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE; what a fecund field into which the seeds of storytelling could be planted.  There is so much you can do by having the survivors struggling to find supplies, water, ammo, toilet paper, chocolate all to the backdrop of zombies.
For the old RPGer like me, it is a setting that is full of adventure and fighting.
So why did it suck so damn bad?
Well check out my review of it to learn why.
This is not a rehash of how much I hated WD.  This is a review of TNT's new series Falling Skies starring Noah Wyle.  I've seen the two hour premiere, which was this past Sunday (19 JUNE 2011) and my first impression was "War of the Worlds" or "The Walking Dead without the charybdic suckitude."
FS gets straight to the action, unlike WD.  We are treated to a montage of kids coloring pictures of alien conquest and giving a very basic explanation of what has happened.  Aliens arrived, humans thought they might be friendly so they didn't use nukes.  Aliens not friendly.  Carnage.  Children are taken and made to wear some weird alien centipede looking harness.
Survivors, a mixture of military and civilians, scour the land looking for supplies and safe havens while resisting the alien overlords who have no clear agenda.
So quite like The Walking Dead except with 400% less whiny bitches and 500% more action.  All this without having the enemy be flesh eating zombies.
I think we may be onto a winner here.  It reminds me of the "War of the Worlds" television show from the late 80s, only more post-apocalyptic.  Noah Wyle plays a widowed father of 3 boys, one of which has been captured and 'harnessed'.  He is a former history professor and is considered one of the 'fighters' as opposed to one of the 'civilians'.  He is, far and away, a more sympathetic, interesting and likable character than Rick the cop from WD.  Despite losing a wife to the aliens and having a captured son he is able to function without whinging, crying, or getting morally superior for no readily apparent reason.  This is a show that gives you characters worth caring about.  The aliens are still very much a mystery and that adds something for the viewer to investigate.  Again, this is much better than the zombie show.  Which is sad, because the zombie show should have been so good.
You know, few things really sell an alien show as much as this image:

Yes, it is from the LEGO Alien Conquest set, but it really sums up Falling Skies in all its Wellsian glory.
This really says it all, I think

Until next time, keep your pumpkins lit.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Series to Reboot: Pushing the Credibility Envelope

The concept behind Series to Reboot is simple.  I take a film franchise, hopefully a long running one, and chart it through to its 'reboot' or 'relaunch' or 're-imagining' or 'Bayhemularity' (Bayhemularity (n): the point at which Michael Bay directs or produces the latest installment/remake of a film.  Not to be confused with Uwe Bollvent Horizon.), providing thoughtful criticism.  Failing that I mine it for comedic potential (read: abuse).  My main focus is something I call the Envelope of Credibility, which is the limits of a film or film franchise's acceptability to its intended audience based upon willing suspension of disbelief.  This concept is determined by many factors, including entertainment value, mythology, logic, drama, gore and fanboi worship quotient (FWQ).
In order to understand the thought process let me provide a quick set of definitions:
Credible/Credibility: Things are credible if they are believable, but for our purposes this is easily or comfortably believable.  Fiction requires a "willing suspension of disbelief" but each person has his or her own amount of disbelief suspension.
Plausible/Plausibility: Something is plausible if it is worthy of belief.  Note that this is not exactly the same thing as believable, merely worth of it.  When one is offered an explanation for something, but no direct proof, they might say it is plausible if it sounds believable.  For our purposes plausibility is less than credibility, but part of it.  A work that provides something that seems like it could happen, such as a hero getting shot in the arm but still being able to fight on, wincing in pain all the while, is plausible.  Drama requires that we sometimes exaggerate a bit, but still keep things plausible.
Possible/Possibility: Things are possible when they are within the limits of ability as set by reality.  It is possible that a monkey could randomly type out a grammatically and logically correct English sentence if put in front of a keyboard with no coaching or training through sheer random chance, but not very likely.  Thus we would not say it was plausible.  For our purposes possible/possibility refers to the last acceptable action before willing suspension of disbelief is shattered and the audience calls "bollocks".

A part of all of this is the concept of Conditional Reality (see: Conditional Reality ).  Specifically the notation that in the absence of an explained reality, such as the accepted rules of space travel in Star Trek, the viewer will be forced to default to their own reality.  The inevitable clash between the work's reality and the audience member's reality creates a dissonance that leads to a loss of credibility as defined above

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Teach's Hole-Ocracoke

Hello Pumpkin Fans,

Saturday 11 June 2011 I went to Ocracoke with my wife, the lovely Frau Punkinstein.  Ocracoke is a tiny (approximately 10 miles square) island off the coast of North Carolina.,_North_Carolina
It is famous for being one of the pirate Blackbeard's haunts.  Also he was killed in action near there as well.  In fact, the whole Nag's Head, Hatteras, Ocracoke trip was very piratey.
There is a ferry that takes automobiles from the end of Hatteras over to Ocracoke (short trip, maybe 30 minutes) and the businesses at the tip of Hatteras are also rife with Blackbeard imagery.
On the island proper you can find Teach's Hole pirate gift shop and Blackbeard exhibit.  A very reasonable price gets you into the exhibit which includes an 8 minute film and some nice artifacts.

The whole Teach's Hole experience was short but enjoyable, which meant that we had an island to explore.  It's a 4 hour trip from Chesapeake to Ocracoke, so you might as well stick around and enjoy it.
Frau Punkinstein at Teach's Hole
Let's hit some high points:
1. The island is small enough to bike around or walk around.  Once land from the ferry and disembark in your automobile you drive along on the only road for a few miles.  The road cuts through dunes and scrub land punctuated by the occasional clear view of either the Atlantic Ocean one one side or Pamlico Sound on the other.  At the southern end of the island you will find the village of Ocracoke.  The village sports a regular population which makes up the local businesses.  Their high school has a sophomore class of 7 people, if memory serves. While in the village you can easily rent a golf cart, bicycle, kayak, boat or similar conveyance.
2. Fresh, local seafood.  Fishermen bring their catch straight to the local restaurants and fishmonger.  There are some beautiful fillets to be had.
3. Hotels.  Did anybody here see Jaws...
4. No mobile phone reception.  I see that as a plus.  I don't own a cell phone anyway.
5. Good food.  I enjoyed eating at Howard's Pub (fried scallop sandwich and pub fries, Frau had the steamed shrimp.  Normally I don't like friend seafood that much, but enjoy a fried oyster sandwich from time to time so I thought I'd try something new.
6. Eduardo's Taco Truck.  We ate dinner at Eduardo's before we left.  I had the roast pork tacos.  Authentic taco truck FTW!
7. Time Warp Factor 11.  Ocracoke has some historic buildings and unpaved roads.  The whole place feels like a cross between a tourist town (which it is) and an old colonial island community (which is also is).  General stores with wooden floors and a small community feel complete the picture.
Here is a photo of a graveyard on Howard Street.  It's just a few plots in the trees behind the house that presumably some of these late people used to own/live in.
What did you do on your vacation?  I saw dead people; you?  Oh, yeah, golf.  Oh, so pretty much the same thing then.
8. Great beaches.  I have been to a few beaches in my life.  I live near Virginia Beach (not so great, but Sandbridge has some nice beachfront).  The beaches at Ocracoke are very nice.  The water was warm and the sand was clean.  We found many good shells and only occasionally thought the rip was going to carry us away. (Channel rip is a serious problem around the barrier islands)
Bad Things
Horseflies.  I have only one complaint and that was the horseflies that kept attacking me at the beach.  Frau too.  Wild ponies live on Ocracoke as well as horseback riding horses.  Where there are horses there are those annoying biting HORSEFLIES.  I drowned two of them and still they attacked.  It wasn't really as bad as I make it sound, but one should have at least one negative to make the positive look all the better.

Ocracoke, laid back, pirate haven.  Decent people who realize that they are a tourist town ("[Ocracoke] is a Summer town, we need Summer dollars," Mayor Vaugn...{okay, that was Jaws again, sorry}) and treat the tourist decent.  Prices are not too high and the isolated nature of the place should impart a relaxed attitude on all who visit.
I swear, I don't work for the North Carolina tourism board.  That said, if anyone from the North Carolina tourism board wants to hire me, I am available, like all good privateers.
I should do a follow up post on Blackbeard, come to think of it.
In the meantime:
Hurry Hurry, see the pirate with two asses!

Keep your pumpkins lit.