Friday, October 21, 2005

Friday Disney and the rest Dweebing




An expectant crowd gathers in the small theater at Disney's California Adventure - a bunch of kids on the floor up front to be close to the action, and grown-ups and more kids behind.

A host appears and urges the audience to call Crush the turtle in from the EAC (that's East Australian Current, natch!) and finally he arrives.

Crush looks great - exactly as he does in "Finding Nemo," in fact - and everyone expects a great show. But still, jaws drop as kids start asking Crush questions about life as a sea turtle - questions that he clearly hears, and answers spontaneously.

Crush isn't just a special effect; he's someone you can chat with, who knows what you're saying and always has a surprising answer. That's the experience Guests have every day at Turtle Talk, a groundbreaking experience that goes beyond passive entertainment to let audiences "meet" a character on terms that make him feel real. EDITOR'S NOTE: JOEL...ARE YOU KEEPING A LIST OF ALL THE REASONS WHY WE HAVE TO GO BACK? (OR TO CALIFORNIA, IN THIS CASE?) ADD THIS ONE....HOW COOL IS THIS!?

How does Crush do it?

Imagineer Joseph Garlington isn't telling - that would ruin the magic. And Crush's biggest fans simply don't care.

"Kids have a different sense of the universe than adults do, and they divide reality and fantasy in different ways," Joseph observes. "I think most kids sort of expect that you should be able to talk to an animated character, the same way you can talk to any other performer. So the kids get a chance to talk to this animated character, and they think it's wonderful."

Grown-ups can't help wondering how it works. It's quite clear that it's no illusion - Crush really hears you and responds spontaneously, and Joseph urges Guests to prove this to themselves.

"The thing that is so cool about Crush is how he handles surprise. So think of a funny or interesting question, something that you think nobody might have asked him, and see how he handles those questions. When you ask him something unusual or unexpected and he answers that, the surprise in the audience is great. It's what shows him to be most believably there."

For instance, Crush asked one young guest what he liked to eat, and the little boy responded, "I eat turtles!" Crush immediately fled behind a rock to escape the peril! Things like this, or Crush hearing a Guest's cell phone ring, make it clear the Turtle Talk isn't a pre-scripted show.

Crush is part of a movement to create what the Imagineers call "Living Characters" - creatures that can interact with Guests in new and exciting ways, creatures that seem REAL.

Another Living Character taking a somewhat different approach is Lucky the Dinosaur.

Lucky debuted at Disney's Animal Kingdom in spring 2005; this fall he jetted off to Hong Kong to help celebrate the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland, where he'll remain for three months.

Unlike Crush, Lucky doesn't talk. However, he does walk freely around the park, among the Guests.

This amazing nine-foot-tall reptile has a huge repertoire of behaviors - he can sneeze, wink, whimper, smile, laugh, bray - and even get the hiccups! Lucky's not a person in a dinosaur suit, and although a helper walks with him holding a stick for Lucky to grasp, he's not controlled by that helper.

Lucky and Crush are huge steps forward in the Disney tradition of creating compelling characters.

Starting with Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the birds of the Enchanted Tiki Room, characters who feel real have been a Disney hallmark. It's all part of the allure of a visit to a Disney theme park.

Says Joseph, "At Imagineering, we're always interested in pushing the envelope in terms of developing new and exciting ways to entertain Guests. We know that our Guests love our characters and want to be able to interact with them, and we think the work we're doing with ‘living characters' advances the bar. "Arthur Clarke said, years ago, ‘Technology sufficiently evolved is indistinguishable from magic,' and we're in that area with this show, I think." And the magic is what it's all about. EDITOR'S NOTE: IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE THE DISNEY PARKS HAVE VISIBLY UPGRADED THE MAGIC. I'M NOT COMPLAINING, BECAUSE I LOVE THE OLD STUFF. BUT TO STAY AHEAD OF THE ENTERTAINMENT-DOLLAR COMPETITION (THE DVDS AND VIDEOS AND ALL THE REST), THEY NEED TO BE TAKING SOME NEW, BIG STEPS IN THIS SORT OF DIRECTION. BRAVO IMAGINEERING!

Blu-Ray tipped to win DVD format battle
Forrester Research on Wednesday declared Blu-Ray, a new DVD format backed by a group led by Sony Corp as the winner in an increasingly heated battle over next-generation DVD technology. EDITOR'S NOTE: YAY. I THINK.

"Two groups are competing for control of high-definition DVD formats to be launched in the spring of 2006. After a long and tedious run up to launch, it is now clear to Forrester that the Sony-led Blu-ray format will win," said Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler in a report.

Earlier this month, Paramount Home Entertainment said it would release high-definition movies in the Blu-ray format.

Paramount, a film studio owned by Viacom Inc., had previously said it would release titles in a competing DVD format called HD DVD that is endorsed by a consortium of electronics makers including Toshiba Corp..

Paramount's move to also support Blu-ray was prompted by the failure of the two factions to join forces before players went on sale, industry sources have said.

Schadler said only one format can ultimately win in the market.EDITOR'S NOTE: DUH.

"Unless the HD-DVD group abandons the field, it will be another two years before consumers are confident enough of the winner to think about buying a new format DVD player. In the meantime, they will expand their video on-demand, downloadable video, and Internet viewing habits," he said.

Munchkins follow the red carpet to 'Oz'
DVD premiere The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences provided the setting for a special screening of the beloved 1939 musical Wednesday night.

The occasion celebrated the release of Warner Home Video's pair of deluxe-edition "Oz" DVD sets, which hit stores Tuesday.

In attendance at the event: Five surviving actors who portrayed those singing, dancing and diminutive Oz residents, the Munchkins. "There are only nine of the 124 Munchkins left," "Oz" expert John Fricke said. "These people weren't invited to the premiere in 1939. This is their night to howl." EDITOR'S NOTE: NO NO NO....THE FLYING MONKEYS 'HOWL'; MUNCHKINS....ERRR.....SING AND DANCE AND GIGGLE.

Boys' own Indy film adventure
Sophie Tedmanson19oct05
CHRIS Strompolos was 11 when he first fell in awe of Indiana Jones.

It was 1981 and Raiders of the Lost Ark had just been released in cinemas.

From the minute he saw the ruggedly handsome, whip and wise-cracking archeologist on the big screen, he wanted to don a fedora and leather jacket and embark on the same adventures: to battle Nazis, travel to Nepal and Cairo, run away from rolling boulders, even be afraid of snakes, just like Indy.

Raiders - starring Harrison Ford, directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by George Lucas - became an instant classic.

Set in 1936, it tells the story of an archeologist turned adventurer who is hired by the US government to search for the Ark of the Covenant, believed to hold the Ten Commandments, which is also being sought by the Nazis.

The film cemented Ford's stardom after his Star Wars role, made more than $US384million worldwide at the box office, and spawned two sequels (The Temple of Doom EDITOR'S NOTE: FEH. in 1984 and The Last Crusade EDITOR'S NOTE: HI DADDY! in 1989) and a television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, EDITOR'S NOTE:OOOO..AND HELLLOOOO, YOUNG INDY! which ran from 1992 to 1996.

"When I saw the film it just blew me away, I was so overtaken with the character of Indiana Jones," says Strompolos, 35, by phone from his Los Angeles home. "He was a real guy to me, he was accessible, he was an academic ... And he seemed such a well-crafted hero that I wanted nothing more than to inhabit that world, to get into the same sort of trouble - and get out of the same sort of trouble - that he did. And by golly I set out to do that."

Always the show-off in class, the slightly pudgy, dark-haired charmer decided he would re-create Raiders, shot by shot, scene by scene. It was an extraordinary and painstaking process that took Strompolos and his schoolfriends Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb seven years to complete. The project saw them through high school, the angst of puberty, the growth of chest hair and first girlfriends.

It all began on the school bus in small-town Mississippi, when Strompolos showed his Raiders of the Lost Ark comic book to Zala, an older boy, who was also a fan.

During their hour-long bus trips, Strompolos and Zala would discuss the idea of remaking their favourite movie and one day they decided to do something about it. They convened in the basement of Zala's house - a rambling old home built in 1918 - and hatched Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. Playing sound effects albums to get into the mood, the pair began adapting the script and drawing up storyboards.

They soon realised there was a lot more to making a film: props, special effects, make-up, and, oh yes, a camera.

They enlisted Lamb, another local kid, who had a penchant for magic tricks, art and hanging around haunted houses. He became the art department. With Strompolos acting the lead role and Zala directing, the film-making team was complete.

In 1981 there were no video stores in Mississippi, the internet didn't exist and home computers were in their infancy. So Strompolos and his crew set out to learn the basics of film-making: "We kind of just started organically," he says.

They worked mainly from memory - Strompolos estimates he saw the film 20 times in the local cinema, where he and Zala would takes notes and secretly record dialogue - using the comic book for reference.

Self-taught and learning by trial and error, the trio did receive some camera training - theirs was a "a chunky, loud, heavy, ridiculously inefficient old Betamax home video camera" - from a camerman at the local TV station where Strompolos's mother worked.

The other boys' mothers also helped: they chauffeured the trio around (for most of the shoot the boys weren't legally able to drive) and Zala's house became the official Raiders: The Adaptation headquarters.

"We transformed the entire home into one sound stage," Strompolos recalls. "Every room had stuff nailed to the walls and the ceilings, and we had rubber snakes, fire, sand, props, mud and just memorabilia everywhere, we really just dominated the house.

"Our mums were great. They were all single mums and supported us as much as they could. I mean, imagine if an 11-year-old approaches you and says: 'Hey Ma, I want to make Raiders of the Lost Ark."'

The boys paid for the film from their combined weekly pocket money and summer job wages: Strompolos estimates the film eventually cost about $US5000 to make. Props were found, essentials requested for Christmas and birthday presents.

Schoolmates and family were cast - Zala's younger brother Kurt eagerly played many of the extra roles - and a girl from Zala's church, Angela Rodriguez, was cast as Jones's love interest Marion Ravenwood. (In true Hollywood style Strompolos fell in love with his co-star and their on-screen kiss was also his first.) EDITOR'S NOTE: AWWW......SWEET.

Remarkably, the friendships survived the project. "I think that's one of the amazing variables about this whole saga, that the friendship actually managed to stay intact," Strompolos says.
"There were lots of arguments and lots of frustration, cursing, drama and disaster: it was not an easy process. But summer after summer, we all managed to come back to the same location and keep shooting ... not doing Raiders was not an option."

The film has taken on a life of its own. After it was finished, it lay dormant for a decade, apart from occasional screenings to friends. Then the movie website got hold of a copy and posted a glowing review. This led to Vanity Fair running a feature last March, which opened the floodgates.

After various stints in the music and video game business, among other things, the men are finally pursuing the careers they dreamed about as schoolchildren. Strompolos and Zala have formed a production company, Rolling Boulder Films (named after one of Raiders' most famous scenes).

Copyright laws mean they cannot profit directly from screening Raiders: The Adaptation, but they show it at film festivals and to schools as an education tool.

Last year, they were invited to screen the film at Lucas's Skywalker Ranch to many of the LucasFilm employees who worked on the original. Then, a month ago, Spielberg invited them to his office to see the outtakes and gag-reels of the original Raiders and chatted to them about movie-making. EDITOR'S NOTE: BETWEEN THIS AND SKYWALKER RANCH, WOULD YOU NOT BE OVER THE MOON?!

When Strompolos recalls meeting Spielberg, he sounds like the wide-eyed child in awe of Indiana Jones 24 years ago.

"Oh my god," he sighs. "It was just one of those things that you check off your life list of things to do. He was an amazing man, a very kind, very warm, very amicable man. And he gave us probably the greatest compliment that anyone could give. He said: 'Well boys, I watched your movie, and I watched it again, and I just wanted to let you know that it inspired even me.' I was like: 'Well, I could now die a happy man."'

The story of the project is being made into its own movie, written by comic book author turned screenwriter Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) and produced by Scott Rudin (The Truman Show, The Royal Tenenbaums).

Strompolos laughs at the bizarre turn of events. "The levels of circular reference here are just hysterical," he says. "But ours is a very unconventional story. People are constantly striving to figure out how to get their foot into Hollywood and I've worked my ass off in Los Angeles for many years ... [Yet it is what] I did when I was 11 years old that's opened the door to my career." EDITOR'S NOTE: KINDA GIVES YA GOOSEBUMPS, HUH? JUST GOES TO SHOW....YA NEVER KNOW. (THAT, AND HANGING OUT WITH INDIANA JONES IS NEVER A BAD THING).

Pullman attacks Narnia film plans
Author Philip Pullman has attacked plans to turn The Chronicles of Narnia into a movie series, calling CS Lewis' books "racist" and "misogynistic".

The first film in the series - The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - is due to be released in December.

His Dark Materials author Pullman said the 1950s stories were "reactionary".

"If the Disney corporation wants to market this film as a great Christian story, they'll just have to tell lies about it," he told The Observer.

Successful adaptations
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is the second and best-known novel in the seven-part Narnia book series.

The £62m movie version is expected to be the first of five films, following the success of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and ongoing Harry Potter film adaptations.

Evangelical Christian groups in the US have backed the movie, seeing parallels between CS Lewis' tales and Bible stories.

"We believe that God will speak the gospel of Jesus Christ through this film," Lon Allison, director of Illinois' Billy Graham Centre, told the newspaper. EDITOR'S NOTE: PEACHY. I'D LIKE A LITTLE PROSELYTIZING WITH MY POPCORN, PLEASE. (I HOPE I CAN STILL HEAR THE ACTORS WITH JESUS TALKING THROUGH THE FILM).

But Pullman said the Narnia books contained "a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice" and "not a trace" of Christian charity.

"It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue," he added.

"The highest virtue - we have on the authority of the New Testament itself - is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books."

Pullman's acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy tells of a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God.

Attacked by some Christian teachers and Catholic press as blasphemous, Pullman's trilogy is also being made into a series of movies. EDITOR'S NOTE: I NEVER READ C.S. LEWIS. (I WAS CLEARLY NOT THE TARGET AUDIENCE). I HAVE READ PULLMAN. INTERESTING STUFF, ALBEIT A TAD OVER-HYPED. (IMHO). BUT SOMEONE CERTAINLY TINKLED IN MR. P'S WHEATIES, HUH?


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