Cinecittà World & Movie Park Germany: Placing Guests in the Magic of Movie Making

cinecittaworld1The overall theme of movie-based theme parks has gone from exposure and education to simulation and immersion—much more experiential. Instead of seeing how Harry Pottermovies are made, guests at Universal Studios (FL and CA) and other studio-parks want to feel like they are Harry and his friends. And, this is not something that could be achieved by the former models of the original concepts for Universal Studios Parks or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. So, the parks have to change in order to remain relevant and viable tourist destinations. Concurrently, movie and television studios are going through their own evolutionary process. In many ways, a careful examination of modern cinema compared to its predecessors reveals that storytelling has been removed from its pedestal to play second fiddle to salesmanship.

Spectacle and visceral thrills are the principal drive for the modern (1990s-present) cinema-based theme park attractions; and, for some, they confirm the worst tendencies identified within the Hollywood blockbuster: the epitome of apparently vacuous rollercoaster experiences. According to researcher Geoff King, “the label ‘thrill ride’ is a term often used approvingly in Hollywood publicity and by some film reviewers in the press, presumably because a thrill ride is precisely what many viewers want from modern cinema.” The late 1980s and the 1990s saw the arrival of theme park attractions that claim to allow the park guest to ride the movies; movies became theme park attractions. But now, theme park attractions are inspiring films. Beyond being the inspiration for films, the idea of being able to market a horror, action, or epic film or film franchise or the ability to create themed attractions from the narrative is at the forefront of studio executives’ minds, as cross-promotion is an important financial strategy.

Creating attractions from cinema is not unique to the United States. The former Italian cinema powerhouse, from the early to mid twentieth century, Cinecittá Studios, known as the “Hollywood on the Tiber” is following suit with its American counterparts and converting the production lot(s) into a movie-based theme park. Located outside Rome, Cinecittá Studios, Italian for “Cinema City,” opened its gates in 2014 to the public to experience the magic of movies on this side of the screen. President of Cinecitta World Emmanuel Gout states, “Here, the idea is that people will also enter not only sets, but the confusion of a place where we are shooting movie. Everything will be illusion…the visitor will become a protagonist of the day, becoming a star, becoming involved in some fake movie.”

The model of this theme park appears to be more reminiscent of how the classic American movie-based theme parks were setup; however, there is one big difference. At the new Cinecitta Studios (theme park), park guests will actually don costumes and take hold of props to act in scenes from movies. So, in many ways, this park differs from its American counterparts because it is not defaulting to digital simulations and special visual effects; instead, it’s using practical technologies to create the illusion that the guest is actually on the set in the movie as a character in a given scene. Still, three-time Academy Award® winning production designer Dante Ferretti knows that audiences and guests want more than an immersive experience into movies, but want thrills as well. So, there are rollercoasters and water slides, amidst Roman and Egyptian ruins, to accommodate those guests seeking more conventional amusement park attractions.

Away from hustle and bustle and bright lights of Hollywood, past the palm treelined streets and white sand beaches of Florida, and beyond the Roman ruins on a century-old Italian studio lot is another example of the convergence of cinema and theme parks. Movie Park Germany is a cinema-based theme park in Bottrop-Kirchhellen. It “is a unique theme park, which is devoted entirely to movies. The former Warner Bros Movie World has six theme areas and more than 40 attractions and shows. It will not take long before you feel like a movie star or cartoon hero!.”

Much in the vein of Universal Studios Florida, Movie Park Germany blends both the benefits of an amusement park with movie-based themes throughout the whole park. Its motto is “Wow! I’m in the Movies.” According to the website, “Our visitors will not only have the opportunity to meet well-known series Heroes but also get to enjoy first class entertainment like an action-packed stunt show as well as two song and dance shows. For those guests who like it a bit more spooky, the park transforms itself at sunset into an extraordinaire chamber of horrors. In short: There’s a personal highlight for everyone!.” Unlike Universal Studios parks which have a Halloween theme for two months a year, Movie Park Germany holds on to the very cinema theory that birthed out of Germany and found its way to Hollywood—German Expressionism. Some of the first movies were horror movies, and it is refreshing to see that this park is holding on to its horror heritage throughout the year.

Although many theme park enthusiasts first think of Florida and California, it is clear that there are many beautifully conceived and designed parks all around the world that are just beckoning for adventure to be had.

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“Kubo and the Two Strings” movie review

kuboAbsolutely beautiful! A dazzling display of the best that cinema can be! Laika and Focus Features’ Kubo and the Two Strings is truly a testament to the art of motion pictures! Brilliantly animated in an eye-catching stylistic way, this film provides audiences with a simple and intimate journey through a dynamically epic world of adventure, laughter, and tears. Directed by Travis Knight, from the opening to the final fade to black, Kubo is arguably the best animated feature length film to hit theaters in a long time. It contains the incredible storytelling that few films, live-action or animated, strive for but often fail to accomplish. Rarely, do audiences witness a perfect film, but this one comes very close to being perfectly written, directed, acted, shot, edited, and produced. With an A-list of vocal talent behind the characters in this immaculately animated world, Kubo will surely impress all those who watch this fantastical story. In some ways, I could argue that this film displays signs of being self-aware. Self-aware in that this simple but effective visual story is all about the very concept of storytelling. Cecil B. DeMille said, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling;” and this film proves that, in a world of high concept blockbusters that are produced to simply generate revenue at the sacrifice of storytelling, there are films with beautiful imagery, writing, and even a great message that hold true to the very idea what launched more than 100 years of cinema.

Following a daring escape from an unknown enemy across a treacherous ocean of tsunami sized waves, a young women survives a nearly fatal crash and washes upon the shore of a beach in the shadow of an imposing mountain with her infant. Many years later, Kubo (Art Parkinson) has grown up to be a young man with a passion for storytelling that he learned from his mother. Never having fully recovered from the accident, so many years ago, Kubo has the responsibility to take care of his mother. Harnessing his talent for magical origami, a stringed instrument, and storytelling, Kubo makes a little money each day for him and his mother. Little did Kubo know that his mother’s warning to not stay outside of their home after dark was for good reason. Soon, Kubo will find himself on an epic journey to unlock a secret legacy that he could have only dreamed of. Along his journey, he meets up with a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a man-beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who protect and teach him along the way. Don’t blink, even for one second, because you may very well miss something of grave importance.

The first thing you will observe in this movie is the exquisite and stylistic combination of two different animation methods. Claymation, which most are familiar with, and the lesser used papermation. Although typically used by themselves to tell an animated story, the brilliant combination of both methods to concurrently tell this epic story will leave a lasting impression upon you. There is a beauty in this film unmatched by any other in recent times. In many ways, the visual appeal of this movie reminds me of the early Walt Disney and Pixar animated films. Audiences can easily witness the absolute passion in every movement, detail, and landscape. I was completely sucked into Kobo’s fantastic world of Japanese influence. In addition to outstanding technical achievements in animation, lighting, and cinematography, Kubo is a film that is equally outstanding in its ability to tell a simple but inspirational story. It is the epitome of an ideal relationship between artists and engineers. This film successfully combines an artisan handcrafted charm with the precision of sophisticated visual storytelling technologies in a dazzling display of cinematic art that will surely be cherished for a lifetime.

Simple. The plot is so simple but yet very much profound. While so many studios are cranking out franchises, adaptations, complex plots, and young adult dramas, the Laika production company chose a different route. It chose a route that proves that the mastery of visual storytelling that showcases the art of cinema is still alive. In a world of the business of moviemaking, Kubo returns us to the art of filmmaking. Not confined to art house theaters in Greenwich Village or West Hollywood, this film is evidence that truly artistic masterpieces are still desired by the American audience. “The art of making art, is putting it together” (Sunday in the Park with George). Knowing that just the leaf ship sequence at the turning point between the first and second acts took 19 months to create, design, and produce, it is clearly apparent that a tremendous amount of time, love, and energy went into every frame of this stunning movie. As someone who has a passion for the very concept of storytelling, this film brought tears to my eyes because of the sheer beauty of the film and the experience of watching it on the big screen. Although it is an endearing film filled with love and adventure, it is also quite scary during some of the intense conflict between Kubo and those who wish to do him harm. From Kobo’s magical origami birds and samurai warrior to the playful banter between Monkey and Beetle, I was awestruck at the brilliance of the film in both writing and visuals.

I highly recommend this film for those who have not seen it yet. I only wish I had made it to the movie before last night. After hearing what others have said and written about this movie, I have come to the same conclusion that many have voiced: this film is exceptional by any known measurable means of evaluating a film. If any animated film this year is destined for an Oscar nomination or win, this one is it.

The “Attraction” of Horror: a ‘Psycho’analysis (part 2 of 2)

UnivHollywood_BatesMotelSuccessful movie-themed attractions (stage shows or rides) create an atmosphere that is often built upon a foundation consisting of confrontation and direct simulation rather than long, sustained narratives (King, 2000). This is true of the horror film as well. Horror is a genre nearly as old as cinema itself. The horror film, according to Linda Williams, contains three basic elements: narrative, character, and setting. These same elements can be found in movie-themed attractions at theme parks (2000).

Regarding Psycho in particular, the setting consists of very liminal* spaces such as the opening hotel, the Bates house, and bathroom. This same idea can be applied to a theme park attraction because the park guests are often corralled into smaller, intimate places that serve to advance the next element. Narrative is the foundation that both themed attractions and movies are built upon. The narrative, or diegesis, is the story. Diegetically, horror films contain a story that is segmented into the following sequence: order–>disorder–>order. Increasingly, the modern horror film is often left in disorder, or an order that is dissimilar from the original (2000). Movie-themed attractions usually introduce the park guests to a short-form story based on the original, and the ride is the vehicle that takes the guests through the story that can consist of threats and chases, followed by triumphs. In regards to the character element, the characters are those who are the instruments through which the plot is advanced. Normally, characters are people or animals, but can also be inanimate objects of significance (Williams, 2000). The park guests usually encounter characters from the source material along the journey of the ride.

HitchcockBirds“Alfred Hitchcock: the Art of Making Movies” (Universal Studios Florida) was divided up into four distinct parts, with the famous shower scene being the central focus (ThePsychoMovies.com, 2014). Just like a horror movie is divided up into parts, or has a cinematic structure, so too did the Hitchcock attraction. Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies was divided up into the following areas: preshow, 3D theatre, Psycho stage, and interactive area. There are may parallels between the famous shower scene and the live attraction. In the movie, the sequence leading up to the shower scene is very much a preshow in the same way the attraction contains a preshow area. The preshow in the movie is when Norman is gazing through the peephole into the room of Marion as she undresses. Just like Norman is visually gathering information about Marion, the park guests in the preshow area gather information about Hitchcock’s career. The preshow is the area that preps the audience for what they are too experience. By using the same principles of creating suspense that Hitchcock used, the preshow area reveals just enough to elicit feelings of anticipation and anxiousness.

Next, the park guests sit through clips of 3D versions of Dial M for Murder and The Birds. This preps the mind for experiencing the horror in the next room. Likewise, between the time Norman looked upon Marion through the peephole and puts on the wig and dress, he sits in the kitchen and presumably debates with mother on what to do. Following that scene, we return to the bathroom and enter the shower with Marion. After the 3D movie, the park guests enter the Hitchcock Stage and look upon recreations of the motel, shower, and house.

The main show at the attraction is the Hitchcock Stage where the infamous shower scene is reenacted before a live audience. In addition to the Bates House and Motel, there is a recreation of the tub/shower used by Hitchcock to film the scene. At this point in the movie, Marion is thoroughly enjoying her shower, and the audience gets both objective and subjective camera shots from inside and outside the shower. All of a sudden a shadowy figure approaches the opaque shower curtain and throws it open, wielding a knife. The sinister figure stabs Marion repeatedly and through more than fifty cuts (editing cuts), the scene is played before the people in the dark. Likewise, this same scene is brought to life for the studio audience at Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies. Through mechanical engineering and film production techniques, the cast of the show reveals how the master of suspense filmed this iconic scene.

HitchcockAttractionFinalRoomFollowing the show on the Hitchcock Stage, the park guests walk into a museum-like interactive room revealing many of Hitchcock’s secrets and techniques in some of his most notable films. It parallels the end of Psycho when the psychiatrist is analyzing Norman and explaining how and why he did what he did. Just like Norman is the master of slasher films, so is Hitchcock the master of the art of suspense and horror cinema. A close reading of these areas reveals that they each take an element of the setting, narrative, or characters and use the tool of spectacle to bring them to life for the live audience. The preshow area acts as the prime for the horror/suspense pump that is gearing up. Watching the 3D scenes from The Birds and Dial M for Murder serves to generate feelings of ensuing chaos and acts as the big event that causes something to go wrong in the otherwise narrative that is in order (remember: orderdisorderorder). Following the 3D Theatre, is the central Psycho stage that takes any order and casts it to the wind and enables the horror of the shower scene to come to life for the naked eyes of the audience.

Hitchcock AttractionThis was a main attraction at the theme park until its dismantlement in 2002 to make way for the Shrek: 4D experience. From the aforementioned explanation by one of the producers of the attraction, the audience was completely immersed in the magic of bringing a Hitchcock thriller to life, and got to witness the most famous single scene in all of cinema history. This was all done with practical effects, just as Hitchcock would have done it. But, with the advent of computer generated imagery and incredibly accurate and time efficient non-linear video editing, most of the effects can be generated in other ways. Although it remained one of the most popular attractions at the theme park until its closure, Universal saw the future of attractions and decided to do away with nostalgia and pave the way for digital simulated attractions (Singer, 2013).

Click HERE for Part 1

*(adjective) 1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process; 2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold