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Remembering "Captain EO"

Remembering "Captain EO"

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This has been a very tough month for me. I came back home from a very long week covering the Consumer Electronics Show only to realize that my hopes and dreams for the return of a classic Disney attraction had been squelched by the media.

Now I love ABC News. Not because it's owned by Disney, but somehow because Peter Jennings has that father-knows-best sensibility that the gun-toting Dan Rather and martini-drinking Tom Brokaw never had (not that I'm insinuating they do either, it's just that's my impression of the two). I even put up with the fluff of Charlie Gibson and Mrs. Mike Nichols in the morning, simply because I'm too lazy to change the channel. If only I still had digital cable, I'd be watching Peter Mansbridge every night on the Canadian news. At least I know he'd never do anything like what I saw Charlie and Mrs. Nichols do last week.

But alas, they're not the only culprits. There's that former Court TV anchor, Cynthia McFadden as well. For two days, Good Morning America highlighted her Primetime Thursday story about "recently obtained" court documents from the Michael Jackson court case. Of course, Ms. McFadden disclaimed on both shows that the defense did not question the children in these grand jury depositions. But saying that sure didn't help. The slant was there - as far as ABC News is concerned, Michael Jackson is a pedophilic pervert. Now I can't say if he is or isn't - I'm not in law enforcement, and I'd probably never make it onto the jury - but the media, especially ABC News, is taking the sensationalist side that he's guilty.

Now why does this upset me? Because in 1986, Michael starred in a little 4D feature for Disney called "Captain EO," produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The film, which also starred Angelica Huston, showed how through music, Captain EO and his band of aliens and robots rescued a planet they had crash landed upon from the evil the ensnared it. As far as I'm concerned, "Captain EO" was the best 4D film ever made - even better than James Cameron's "Terminator 2: 3D," which many consider one of the finest theme park attractions of all time.

Why? Simply because "Captain EO" used effects to help tell a story, unlike modern 4D films that do it the other way around. If you look at every Disney 4D film that's come after - they're all designed as if you're in the audience for some kind of live show, and they push effects in your face every chance they get. They're trying to immerse us in a sort of virtual reality only through tactile and visual gags. "Captain EO" didn't do that. Instead, it immersed us into the film, without having to make us believe we were participating. Virtual reality doesn't always mean being a willing (or in some cases, non-willing) participant, it often means being immersed in the experience. There's a reason that "Muppetvision," "It's Tough to be A Bug," and especially "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" have such horrible returning numbers. Those are simply shows. How many gags can they throw at the audience before we tired of them? The first time through, everything's a surprise. The second time, you know what to expect.

"Captain EO," on the other hand, was a cinematic experience, made by masters of the art. The effects were ancillary to the action on the screen, much like digital surround sound systems in our modern cinemas. Nowadays, you'd be hard-pressed to find that in a 4D attraction.

So say goodbye to "Captain EO." About five years ago, I inquired with a source of mine at Disney about bringing the film out of mothballs for a special showing at an industry film festival. The answer was highly doubtful. First, the filmmakers contracted only to have "Captain EO" exhibited in the theme parks. Second, there are so many big parties involved, that it would be a difficult thing to renegotiate exhibition rights.

And then there's Paul Reubens. Remember the day when the Peewee Herman star was found with his pants down in a Florida adult theater? Not only was his show taken off the air at CBS, but his video tape portion of the Disney-MGM Studios walking tour was removed overnight. Thank goodness his voice was left for RX-24, the robotic pilot of Disney's Star Tours attraction. But Michael will suffer a worse fate. Not only can I guarantee that "Captain EO" will never be seen again, but it will also never be released in video. Your only bet is if you can get a copy of the film which was broadcast in the late 1980's on MTV as part of a Michael Jackson weekend. I wouldn't be surprised if "Captain EO" is removed from the history books at Disneyland altogether. After all, would Disney want to associate its family-friendly history with a perverted pedophile?

So, thank you Charlie and Cynthia and Mrs. Nichols for helping to kill a Disney icon. Since I'm too lazy to change the channel, I'll see you in the morning - as usual.

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