On Cinema and Theme Parks (part 2)

My Book

(Continued from Part 1)

Understanding the synergy or convergence that exists between the cinema and theme parks requires looking to the history of the relationship between the two entertainment giants. Before Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios), Universal Studios Florida, and more than 40 years before Disneyland was opened, the founder of Universal Studios (studio) German immigrant Carl Laemmle, opened his 250-acre-movie-making ranch, just north of Los Angeles, to the public for a mere $0.25 (Murdy, 2002). More than side income for the trailblazing studio, most well-known for its pioneering of the horror film, the original studio tour began on the outdoor backlot in March 1915. Laemmle desired to immerse the “people out there in the dark,” as famously referred to by Norma Desmond in the timeless classic Sunset Boulevard, into the magic behind the screen (Sunset Blvd, 1950).

Interestingly, according to famed psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, horror is often concerned with revealing “other” scenes to the audience (Freud, 1919). And, keeping with this theoretical approach to horror cinema, Laemmle opened this “other” scene to the guests of Universal Studios Hollywood.  But more than horror, Laemmle also brought the studio guests face-to-face with western action/drama (Murdy, 2002). From early in the 20th century, the concept of cinema and theme park convergence was born. The happy marriage, however, was not to last very long. Upon the introduction of cinema sound, Laemmle was forced to close the studio “park” to the not-so-quiet guests in order to facilitate appropriate recording sound for the motion pictures (Murdy, 2002). The Universal Studios tour would remain closed to the general public for over 30 years. But, in 1961, the studio would once again open its gates to a new generation of movie lovers (Murdy, 2002). Between 1961 and 1964, Universal outsourced the famed tram tour to the Gray Line bus company.  Following a feasibility study, conducted by researcher Buzz Price, the same man who helped determine the locations for Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Universal decided to start its own tram tour of its facilities, and Universal Studios Hollywood opened in July 1964 (Murdy, 2002).

Following the ending of the Studio System, the now bankrupt motion picture studios had been purchased by various conglomerates looking for new sources of income (Riley, 1998). One of the sources of income that studios began investing into was the concept of movie-based theme parks. With the opening of Walter Elias Disney’s Disneyland in 1955, Universal Studios made the decision to incorporate stand-alone attractions into its newly reopened studio tour (Davis, 1996). Both Disneyland and the future Universal Studios used their intellectual property (IP) as the basis for creating theme park rides, shows, and attractions. Although movie studios as a “park” began with Laemmle, in its current incarnation, the convergence of cinema and theme park began with Disneyland, and later was perfected by Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida. Since the movie studios already had dedicated movie-going audiences, it made sense to capitalize on the idea of incorporating the concepts from the movies into attractions that the general public could enjoy and be immersed in (Davis, 1996). This action both acts as advertising for the respective studios and generates income for the movies and park improvements.

In today’s entertainment marketplace, media conglomerates are restructuring themselves to be as large a player in entertainment and media as possible with the ability to integrate various products and services into multiple areas of exhibition (Taubman, 1970).  This is easily witnessed in how the Walt Disney Company, Sony, and Comcast companies are setup. Walt Disney Company has significant investments in: motion pictures (i.e. Disney, Buena Vista, Touchstone), theme parks, TV (i.e. ABC, Disney Channel), leisure/tourism, radio, video games, stores, and record labels). Sony has investments in consumer/commercial electronics, computers, video game systems, motion pictures (i.e. Sony, Columbia, Tristar), television (CBS), record label, recording studios, radio, and stores. And, much in the same way, Comcast has investments in motion pictures (i.e. Universal Pictures, DreamWorks-SKG), theme parks, resorts, television (i.e. NBC, Golf, SyFy), video games, radio, record labels, and recording studios.

Whereas the fall of the original studio system set the precedent for media companies not to own or operate all the elements of media creation from conception to employment to production to the distribution, also known as vertical integration, companies are now embracing the idea of horizontal integration. Horizontal integration allows a media company to push or market its products or services through various media channels. And, this is a perfect example of why media conglomerates own and operate theme parks. This is a common practice by Disney and Universal in their respective parks and resorts. Disney can release a movie, base an attraction off that movie, use that movie as the basis for a video game, and even include costume characters in the parks and on the cruise ships. In the same vein, Universal can take one of its movie properties and integrate the characters and story into a theme park experience, use the concept for a video game, and maybe even develop a TV series as a spinoff of the movie. This type of integration allows the companies to effectively customize glorified marketing campaigns for their brand. Having a given branding on various commercial outlets allows a company to maximize its exposure to general audiences/customers (Taubman, 1970). As companies acquire more intellectual properties, media outlets, and commercial infrastructure, they are able to actively change entertainment offerings over the years; and this is definitely the case with the theme parks owned by media conglomerates that also have movie studio interests.

Continue to Part 3

Review of “Jurassic World”

JurassicWorldBack with a roar! The Jurassic Park franchise returns from the dead with a vengeance in the newest and highly anticipated installment since the original back in 1993, and certainly since The Lost World in 1997 and Jurassic Park 3 in 2001. Jurassic World will take you back to the island that started it all and deliver the same WOW factor as the original beloved favorite. Return to Isla Nublar to experience the park John Hammond envisioned but could never have dreamed would become a reality. “The park is open!” Enjoy the adventure, pseudo-science, character development, plot, the acting, and the music that you loved about Jurassic Park (1993) in a film that holds true to the very essence of what made the original such a great film but adds in the visual storytelling technology we enjoy today. For lovers of the ride at Universal Studios (FL/CA), you will enjoy experiencing the park in ways you may have only dreamed of, and for lovers of the franchise, despite the poorly produced past sequels (even though they are still fun to watch), prepare for your expectations to be greatly surpassed as you return to your childhood and experience Jurassic World.

Jurassic World takes us back to Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica. Just south of the original park, a new theme park has been opened and is bustling with park guests and dinosaurs alike. The luxury theme park and resort is jointly ran by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and of course the once chapter 11 InGen BioEngineering company founded by John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough). For the last few years, the guest satisfaction ratings have plateaued at Jurassic World and Claire has worked with InGen’s Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) to develop a genetically modified hybrid to wow the guests and increase profits. But as Ian Malcolm once so eloquently put it “life will find a way,” the attempts to control the park’s “assets,” will not go as planned. After the newly minted genetically modified hybrid Indominous Rex cleverly escapes the paddock, it is up to Claire and her unconventional Navy veteran turned dinosaur control/safety expert Owen (Chris Pratt) to save Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) as well as the over 20K park guests from the jaws of history’s top notch predators.

Where to begin? It seems so much easier to write a critique for movies that are just okay or even terrible. When working with such an incredible movie, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin and even harder to know when to stop. Going into the movie, I had my reservations-especially after seeing what I thought was a ridiculous scene from the trailer of Owen facing off and talking with the raptors–but I can honestly say that is this movie that I, as well as millions of others in their mid-to-late 20s and early 30s, have been waiting for since we saw the original as kids in theaters. It truly embodies everything that made the original great and capitalizes on it by adding in the digital effects and visual storytelling techniques we enjoy as part of modern cinema. The best movies are those that simultaneously embrace current technologies whilst remaining grounded in the very essence of what a movie should be: exceptional visual storytelling in terms of the art and science of filmmaking. This truly is the sequel we have been waiting for since the helicopter left Nublar 22 years ago.

I was watching Jurassic Park 3 with a friend in order to finish the first three movies prior to seeing Jurassic World last night, and I asked him and myself  “what was it about the first one that makes it such a great film and in the top 20 grossing movies of all time (and that’s even when adjusted for inflation)? We talked a little, and both decided that is was the dynamic plot, clever writing, memorable characters, and that wow factor of seeing dinosaurs like never before on the big screen that made the first movie not just a successful movie but a GREAT movie. That same dynamic plot filled with subplots and subtext, memorable characters, and more is captured by the current installment. Yes, this movie is high concept as summer blockbusters usually are; but just because it’s high concept doesn’t mean that we cannot experience character development, subtext, exceptional writing, and great visual storytelling. From the moment that I heard the all-too-familiar music and returned to Isla Nublar, I knew then that this was going to be one of the most exciting and phenomenal movie-going experiences of my life. And you know what? It was as exciting as seeing the original for the first time. Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and Legendary Pictures harnessed the power of what made the first movie great and brought a nearly extinct franchise back from the dead.

Just like the characters from Jurassic Park (1993) helped to make the movie what it was, so do the characters of Jurassic World. You have Claire who, much like Hammond, is a dreamer. Although, she is definitely more concerned with money than Hammond ever was. Witness as she goes from a cold shrew business woman to a courageous and loving aunt to her two nephews. Speaking of whom, witness the transition of Zach as the older mean brother who couldn’t be bothered with his sibling to risking his life to save his brother Gray’s. Dr. Henry Wu reprises his role as the genius behind the science that made Jurassic Park and now Jurassic World work. Every movie needs that hero who is unconventional and has subtle sexual tension with the strong female lead, and we get that, in spades, with Owen. There is the chief financier Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) who is concurrently overly concerned with making a profit but still genuinely concerned that his park guests are having fun. And finally, we have Lowery (Jake M. Johnson) who sports an original Jurassic Park t-shirt and has rubber dinosaurs on his desk because he loves the original park and is thrilled to work at the new one. Each of the characters has very unique personalities and traits that are meticulously woven into the plot in order to continually advance the story.

I also wanted to touch on the references to the previous films in the franchise. Early on, it was made known that the old Visitors Center would make a cameo appearance, but I did not expect the extent to which the old compound plays an intricate part in Jurassic World‘s diegesis (narrative). Claire is even dressed in all white like Hammond. Not only is the music powerful–almost to the point of tears–and harkens back to the first time you heard it, but the movie helps to make Jurassic Park feel like a real place because of Lowery’s t-shirt he bought off eBay and the banner of “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” now covered in dirt and mold that fell from the ceiling at the close of the first movie. Although not formerly acknowledged, there are many references to not only the first movie but also 2 and 3, and even the Jurassic Park Ride. From lines of dialog to easter egg camera shots and even to the Jurassic Park 1992 Jeep Wrangler, Jurassic World uses material from its storied past to support the current narrative and evoke fond memories. Interestingly, the movie also deals with the element of third party companies grossly sponsoring attractions and exhibits in theme parks. Just like even Disney’s Magic Kingdom is now sporting a Starbucks on Main Street, the same can be seen in many theme parks. Sometimes it seems like theme parks are sacrificing storytelling and creative theming for the almighty dollar. Perhaps this movie shows us what happens when greed overpowers creativity.

I feel that Universal Pictures (a Comcast Company) has been searching for its cash cow franchise like Disney’s Pirates, Avengers, and now Star Wars or like Warner Bros. Harry Potter (even though Universal rakes in the dough from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at it’s Florida and soon California parks), like MGM’s James Bond, or 20th Century Fox’s Avatar or X-Men, but after the two failed sequels to Jurassic Park, all seemed lost. Until now. This installment in the 22 year-old franchise has been successfully resurrected and could quite possibly be a contender and a worthy opponent in the franchise competition. The way the final shots of the island were in the movie, I have a feeling that this was the official goodbye to this chapter in the Jurassic Park novel and the opening of the floodgates for followups to this movie that will hopefully continue the embrace of the essence of the original whilst continuing to advance the story of what happens when man creates and manipulates dinosaurs.

I don’t know what you have planned this weekend, but you NEED to get to the theatre to see this movie. I am even planning to see it again this weekend myself. But, I need to find an IMAX that is showing it in 2D (yes, that is correct 2D). Prepare to be taken back to your childhood and relive the experience all over again in the newest chapter of Jurassic Park.

As always, if you liked this review, please follow or subscribe or at least share the link on social media.

For my review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom click here.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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