Monday, November 30, 2009

Artificial oranges vs. the real thing

I have a terrible confession to make: you know the orangey scent from the desert farm scene in Horizons, the one that people talk about as though it were some kind of olfactory orgasm? I don’t remember it. I made four trips to EPCOT during Horizons’ lifetime, and it was my favorite Disney attraction of all time, but the orange scent just never made that much of an impression on me. And anyway, the Horizons orange grove wasn’t the best-smelling place in EPCOT. That distinction belongs to The Land.

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I’m completely serious here. When I walked through the doors of The Land a month ago, the first thing I noticed was how good it smelled in there, thanks to the two excellent eateries (the Seasons Food Court and the Garden Grill) at the east and west ends of the pavilion. Of course, the Garden Grill is one of EPCOT’s two character dining locations, so it’d be popular even if it didn’t serve excellent food. But the Seasons has become so popular that the beautiful fountain on the pavilion’s bottom level was removed to make way for more seating. Sure, some of that popularity can be attributed to the fact that it’s right next to Future World’s busiest attraction, Soarin’. But it also provides a nice alternative to the greasy fast-food fare that most counter service places at Disney World offer, and I have to believe that’s a factor, as well.

However, if you’re not hungry by the time you board your boat for the Living With The Land ride, then you definitely will be once you hit the greenhouses. Forget artificial scents, the downright tasty smell of the very real edibles in The Land’s greenhouses fills you with an almost irresistible urge to hit the Seasons or the Garden Grill once the ride is over. (Good luck getting into the Garden Grill without reservations, though) Sure, Living With The Land is educational, fascinating, and increasingly relevant, but it also deserves credit for its ability to make even the most devoted carnivores (like me) want to eat their vegetables.

And that’s no small accomplishment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Injun Jim Kirk

Quick, what was yesterday? If you said “Tuesday, November 17”, then you’re only half right. It was also the day that J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek was released on DVD and Blu-Ray. And you know what that means: time for another Star Trek post!

As popular as the Star Trek movie was with the general public, a small contingent of die-hard fans really hated it because it wasn’t just like the Original Series. They wouldn’t come right out and admit that, of course, so they usually said that they didn’t like it because the plot didn’t always make sense, or that Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk was an egotistical jerk; nothing like William Shatner’s Kirk. Surely, no episodes of the Original Series made those mistakes! Ladies, Gentlemen, and others, I give you episode no. 58: The Paradise Syndrome.

It begins with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming down to an idyllic Earthlike planet that’s threatened by an approaching asteroid. The planet has two items of interest, a Native American village . . .

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How do these Indians not notice three brightly-shirted white guys standing in plain sight?

. . . And a strange obelisk covered with alien symbols:

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After observing the village from afar and wistfully yearning for the Indians’ simple lifestyle, Kirk announces that it’s time to go. But first, he wants another look at the obelisk. Spock and McCoy stay behind as he struts up there alone. He walks up the obelisk’s steps, takes out his communicator to call the ship, and is taken by surprise as a trapdoor opens beneath his feet. Kirk falls into the obelisk down a flight of stairs and comes to rest in front of a control panel. He grabs hold of it to pull himself up, accidentally activating some kind of alien Brain Zapper, and we’re treated to a classic William Shatner Acting Moment:

The_Paradise_Syndrome_034Denny Crane! 

Fast forward an unspecified amount of time as Spock, now at the obelisk, standing on the very trap door that Kirk fell into, voiceovers that numerous search parties and sensor scans have failed to locate the Captain. Well, since he said that he was going to check out the obelisk, and the obelisk clearly has some kind of trap door built into it, and you said earlier that you can’t scan inside the obelisk, and you couldn’t find him anywhere else, maybe, I don’t know, he’s inside the obelisk. However, since the story needs Kirk to get stranded on the planet, our hyper-intelligent Vulcan Science Officer is prevented from making that particular connection. Spock tells McCoy they’re going back to the ship, and when the doctor protests, Spock reminds him of the urgency of getting to the asteroid in time to deflect it away from the planet. Otherwise, he warns “everyone on this planet will die, including the Captain.” Hmm, maybe they should have come to spy on the Indians after they took care of the asteroid. And people say that J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek has plot holes.

Anyway, the Brain Zapper has left Kirk with no memory of who he is or where he came from, but the tribespeople see him coming out of the obelisk and decide he’s a god. The Tribal Elders sit him down to interview for the job, and except for one argumentative guy named Salish, they’re all sold on him. They’re sold on him even though a god’s only job duty is to go inside the obelisk and “rouse the temple spirit” when “the sky darkens”, but when they ask him point-blank if he knows how to do that, Kirk gives a rambling non-answer that makes it clear that he doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

The_Paradise_Syndrome_070  “If you’re really a god, then how do you explain Kingdom of the Spiders?”

Everyone forgets about Kirk’s unsuitability for the position of God, though, when he uses artificial respiration to revive a kid who “drowned” in the lake. They’re so impressed that they declare him God right then and there and give him Salish’s Medicine Chief gig. One of the perks of being Medicine Chief, it turns out, is that you get to marry tribal priestess Miramanee, who’s played by former Playboy Bunny Sabrina Scharf.

Naturally, Salish is kind of bummed about losing his job and his fiancee to a bushy-sideburned Shatner, yet the episode clearly depicts Salish as the villain, which makes no sense. I mean, amnesia or no, Kirk has to know that he’s not a god. And yet he pointedly allows everyone to think he is, and even goes so far as to let them give him someone else’s job and fiancĂ©e. Who said only Chris Pine’s Kirk was a jerk?

Well, the Indians name our hero Kirok, and before you know it, the wedding day arrives. At the obelisk, the tribe’s chief applies some paint to Kirk Kirok’s face, then tells him to wait while he walks the “holy path to the earth lodge” where the wedding will take place. This gives Kirk time to hug himself while he voiceovers about how happy he is. There are some iconic images that just cry out to be made into demotivational posters, and this is one of them:

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After his little self-love session, Kirok heads off to the “earth lodge”, only to be accosted by Salish, leading to a ho-hum fight scene between two stunt doubles.

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Really, guys? I’ve seen better stunt doubles on The Dukes of Hazzard. And what’s that in Salish’s hand, a butter knife? Is he there to stab Kirk or make him a peanut butter sandwich?

Of course, Kirk defeats Salish with his patented William Shatner Flying Kick which, if it were ever combined with the Chuck Norris Roundhouse Kick, would probably destroy the universe. And then we have a wedding. I’m no expert on Native American customs, but I’m pretty sure that none of their marriage rituals involved the groom wearing a robe made from Muppet pelts.

The_Paradise_Syndrome_210 Rest in peace Elmo, Kermit, Gonzo, Big Bird, and The Count. Rest in peace.

Two months later, a shirtless Kirok and Playboy Bunny are playfully chasing each other through the woods when Bunny drops the bomb that she’s pregnant with a little Captain Kirk, and with that her fate is sealed. No reason to get attached to Mrs. Kirok, dear viewers, because if the Rules of Old TV Shows are harsh on the love interests of main characters, they’re even harsher on the unborn children of such unions. Playboy Bunny and Kirok Jr. are as good as dead.

The seeds of their destruction come from Medicine Chief Kirok’s inability to do the one thing that a Medicine Chief/God is supposed to be able to do. It seems that, while the alien race called the Preservers did a noble thing by rescuing this Indian tribe from genocide at the hands of white settlers, the planet they’ve plunked them down on is especially prone to asteroid impacts. So, the Preservers “solved” this problem by building the obelisk, whose function is to fire a sort of anti-asteroid phaser beam. However, the thing has a combination lock, and in their wisdom the Preservers only told one member of the tribe (the original Medicine Chief) how to get in and operate it, and the “secret” has been passed down from father to son ever since. Currently, the tribe is in a pickle because Salish’s daddy died before he could pass the secret on to his son, and now nobody knows it.

What’s the logic in putting these people on a planet where their survival depends solely on the obelisk thingy, and then telling only one guy how to work it? Did the Preservers want them to die? Come to think of it, why does this asteroid deflector even need to have a human operator? If the Preservers were super-advanced enough to build the thing, couldn’t they give it an autopilot?

However, this whole Indian-operated asteroid deflector thing doesn’t just fly in the face of plain old logic, it also makes a mess of the laws of physics. Y’see since they never got around to inventing the telescope, and since the Preservers never bothered to explain to them about asteroids and space and stuff, the only way the tribe knows that an asteroid impact is imminent is when the sky gets dark, the ground quakes, and they start having weather problems. I’m no astrophysicist, but I’m pretty sure that if a giant asteroid is so close to your planet that it’s blocked out the sun and you’re having seismic and weather disturbances, then it’s probably already in the atmosphere, and powerful asteroid deflector or no, you don’t have time to do anything but bend over and kiss your butt goodbye. I’m sorry, there’s no way you can self-righteously point out the fallacies of Red Matter but give this Indians-and-Asteroids hogwash a free pass.

Well, sure enough the approaching asteroid causes the weather to get windy, and Salish and the tribal chief insist that Kirk go the obelisk and carry out his one and only job duty. Naturally, Kirk doesn’t know how to get inside the obelisk, and Salish, seeing the chance to get rid of his rival once and for all, incites the tribe to stone Kirk and Miramanee with pieces of gray styrofoam.

The tribe is scared off when Spock and McCoy beam down, and after Spock restores Kirk’s memory with some kind of Vulcan mind thing, they go into the obelisk and save the planet by activating the Asteroid Repeller.

How do they get into the obelisk, you ask? Well, it turns out that the trap door will open if you say the secret password, and the secret password is (you’re not going to believe it) “Kirk to Enterprise”. That is how awesome Captain Kirk is.

So, just to recap, according to The Paradise Syndrome, Captain Kirk is so awesome that:

  1. Indians take one look at him and automatically assume that he’s a god.
  2. Former Playboy Bunnies want nothing more than to spend their life doing whatever he wants.
  3. The very sound of his name can unlock the secrets of alien technology.

Did Shatner write this episode?

Oh, one other thing: exactly why does the Asteroid Deflector even have a brain-zapping ray? It’s like building a toaster oven that also shoots poison darts, it doesn’t make any sense!

Of course, Mrs. Kirok’s styrofoam-inflicted injuries are too severe for McCoy to heal, and she’s going to die. However, she still manages to lay there and look hot while she dies in Kirk’s arms, sincerely believing that he was a god after all.

The_Paradise_Syndrome_324 “Don’t worry dear. No one will ever remember you existed except for fanfic authors and sarcastic bloggers.”

So that’s “The Paradise Syndrome”. Believe it or not, it was actually one of the better episodes of Star Trek’s third and final season. However, it’s got plot holes big enough to drive a Hummer through, and our illustrious Captain Kirk doesn’t exactly behave like a role model.

Still, I have no doubt that some people would rather watch “The Paradise Syndrome” ten times than watch J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek even once. And that’s okay, as long as they realize that both incarnations of our beloved franchise have their share of problems.

If you made it all the way through this, congratulations. Next week (real life permitting) I’ll be back with a post about EPCOT’s The Land pavilion.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Flood of Electronic Babble

Nearly a decade into the 21st century, we’re in a great position to answer some of the rhetorical questions posed near the end of Spaceship Earth’s 1994 Jeremy Irons narration:

Question: “Spaceship Earth glows with billions of interactions carrying news and information at the very speed of light . . . But will these seemingly infinite communications become a flood of electronic babble?”

Answer:

twitter-logo

Question: “. . .or will we use this power to usher in a new age of understanding and cooperation on this, our Spaceship Earth?”

Answer:

waaah

We’re doomed, aren’t we?

Monday, November 2, 2009

On the Evils of Blue Window Tint

I realize that EPCOT Central just published a very thoughtful and well-written post on what’s wrong with the current iteration of EPCOT’s Seas pavilion, and this isn’t intended to be a rip-off of that, or even a response to it, really. I’ve been planning to write this for at least a month, and in fact my trip to EPCOT a week ago today was primarily a fact-gathering mission for this post.

I don’t trust first impressions. Lots of movies, books, and, yes, Disney attractions are multilayered experiences that it’s impossible to fully appreciate on the first run-through. So, although I’ve been fairly critical of The Seas With Nemo and His Animated Friends, the truth is that until a week ago I’d only been through there once. So, on my most recent trip to EPCOT I resolved to spend some time there to see if it had any redeeming qualities I hadn’t noticed before.

There are a few things to like about it (I’ll get into those in a minute) but there is one absolutely glaring piece of Bad Show that I’ve just got to talk about. No, it’s not the brain-dead ride-thru that squanders a perfect opportunity to impart some facts about marine life in favor of having Albert Brooks as fish dad Marlon bleat “Nemo! Nemo! Where are you?” over and over and over. And it’s not the stupid animated fish that are projected, via the Pepper’s Ghost effect, into the tank to distract people from the actual marine life that’s swimming around in plain view. No, this is much worse.

One similarity that The Seas With Nemo has to its predecessor is that it purports to take visitors on an imaginary trip under the ocean. The Living Seas used the hydrolators to create the illusion. You took a hydrolator “down” to the Seabase (before 2001, the hydrolators exited into the load area for the brief Seacab ride) and when you were ready to leave the pavilion you had to take another hydrolator back “up” to ground level. It would have undoubtedly been more practical to just have a row of glass doors leading outside instead of a row of hydrolators, but in those days Disney spared very little expense to maintain whatever illusion a particular ride was supposed to create. Not anymore.

The old preshow theater and hydrolators were replaced by an elaborately themed queue are designed to create the illusion that you’re starting on the beach and walking beneath the ocean, and the ride is designed to further enforce the notion that you are beneath the ocean, and when you’re deposited into the Seabase you’re still supposed to be under the ocean (anyone sense a pattern here?) but when it’s time to leave you . . .

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. . . just walk out the door. Oh, but the doors are tinted blue, like the ocean! Yeah, that’s a great effect, if this was a city aquarium somewhere. But this is DISNEY WORLD, for crying out loud! It costs eighty bucks to get in; they’re supposed to be better than this! What the frak happened? Would it really have been that expensive to leave the hydrolators there and just re-theme them a little? Oh, but that might have cut into the real estate allotted for the all-important gift shop, which sells valuable t-shirts and other merchandise that you can’t buy anywhere else except at every other gift shop in Disney World.

I’m certain that the Imagineers who worked on this project hated this solution for the exit area. Yes, I’m positive that it was forced upon them by whatever pointy-haired empty suit that management put in charge to ensure that everything was done as cheaply as humanly possible according to Disney’s high standards of quality. Since I’m not an insider, I have no idea who this person is, but I’ve added them to my On Notice board. (If you don’t know what an On Notice board is, then you really need to watch The Colbert Report)

Of course, I can’t lay all the blame on empty-headed executives. Not empty-headed Disney executives, anyway. No, this whole thing is really the fault of empty-headed United Technologies executives. As I’ve mentioned in the past, they vetoed WED’s bold original Seas pavilion concept in favor of the cheaper-to-build-but-somewhat-lacking-in-zazz Living Seas that opened in 1986. If the original concept had been built, a Nemo-themed overhaul would have been a far more expensive proposition and probably would never have happened.

You might notice that I’ve reserved my negativity for the ride-thru and exit areas of the pavilion only. That’s because the Seabase still has a lot of educational material in it. Most of this material is geared specifically towards children, but it contains lots of facts that most adults don’t know. Sure, many parents will hurry their kids directly from the clammobiles to Turtle Talk, and then off to their next destination, but you can hardly blame Disney for that. And on my recent visit, I saw many families lingering in the seabase, and lots of kids excitedly oohing and aahing over all the marine life in the tank. And although there was no line at all for the ride, the Seabase was fairly crowded, meaning that those families had been there a while. It was nice to see.

So, the next time you’re in EPCOT, visit The Seas. Scowl through the ride, enjoy the seabase, and as you exit the undersea environment by (sigh) walking through some blue-tinted doors, don’t just curse Disney executives, curse United Technologies executives. They’re on notice, too.