' ' Cinema Romantico: Movies as Theme Parks Theme Parks as Movies

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Movies as Theme Parks Theme Parks as Movies

If I briefly checked out of the Film World to try and let the cacophonous, ahem, discourse surrounding the forthcoming “Joker” film die down a little, I underestimated the never-ending war between cinephiles and the commonalty. Because not only did the “Joker” brouhaha remain at a fever pitch, another Film Twitter tempest kicked up when Grandmaster Marty Scorsese told Empire Magazine that Marvel movies were, ahem, not cinema. “Honestly,” Scorsese said, “the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Thus begin the great theme park outcry.

I’ve had plenty of mean Marvel commentary on the blog, but it’s mostly connected to their role as unrelenting content producers, setting up a new Studio System as a Studio System of 1, attempting to cast themselves as sole tastemakers of an increasingly closed-off cinematic landscape, preferring to have a conversation within the context of their franchise rather than with the world at large. And anyway, given their increasing dominance and constant opening weekend box office success I’m always hearing so much yapping about, you’d like to think Marvel fans, basically rooting for the Mongol Empire at this point, could just let Marty’s comments roll off their shoulders. But then, Genghis Khan didn’t conquer by just hanging back. And that’s not what I’m here to discuss anyway. I’m also not here to discuss whether Marvel movies are theme parks. Because I’m just sick of it, okay, I’m just absolutely sick of it. And that is why I’m here to discuss theme parks becoming movies.

Now I’m not talking about, say, the Griswolds going to Six Flags, “Beverly Hills Cop 3” taking Axel Foley to Paramount’s Great America or even “Adventureland”, which was filmed at Kennywood Park in Pennsylvania, sadly, and not in my old Central Iowa home at Altoona’s Adventureland, because these movies are tacking original narratives around amusement parks. What I’m talking about here is more like when I’d hop the Sky Ride at Altoona’s Adventureland and soar over the park in a gondola dreaming of an action movie taking place almost entirely on the Sky Ride (a non-existent precursor to “Frozen”), ending, perhaps, with a plunge into the Raging River.

There have, of course, been movies based on theme park rides, like 2003’s “The Haunted Mansion” and 2004’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The latter, you might recall, was, in a rare convergence, at once properly rated, overrated and underrated; properly rated because of Johnny Depp’s performance, overrated because the rest of the movie (beg your forgiveness, Keira!) did not match Johnny Depp’s performance and underrated because Johnny Depp’s subsequent turns in subsequent sequels, never mind Depp’s real-life turn into abhorrent burlesque, have caused the supreme quality of that original performance to egregiously, irrationally lose some luster. But I’m getting distracted. And the point is, we want to go above and beyond movies as mere theme park rides.

We don’t just want, say, Richard Linklater making a movie about the world’s largest lazy river at BSR Cable Park in Waco, Texas where, I dunno, like, Jenny Slate and Natasha Lyonne float along and encounter eccentrics, even though we really, really want that too, just as a sweeping epic about conceiving and constructing The Matterhorn Bobsleds might make for a solid helping of Oscar bait but does not go far enough for our purposes. (Btw, I can’t wait for the Indiana Jones movie that isn’t based on actual Indiana Jones movies but on Walt Disney World’s Indiana Jones™ Epic Stunt Spectacular! which would be an Epic through the looking-glass moment.)

No, I’m thinking something more along the lines of Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park in the Wisconsin Dells, a resort based, as the name implies, on Greek mythology with its Hermes Swing and Cyclops Rollercoaster. I’d like to think we could somehow use this theme park to convey a theme of consumer culture being our own mythology, or something, but, then again, that sounds an awful like cinema. Ack! Cooties!

In the invaluable Bryan Curtis’s piece at Grantland (rip) about the father of America’s Water Park, he writes “Waterslide designers compete in a parallel-universe version of The Right Stuff, vying for height and speed records because — this can be the only reason — it seems like a really awesome thing to do.” Well, that sounds like something. That, or perhaps we take Orlando’s since shuttered Wet ’n Wild, home of a wave pool called Surf Lagoon, also cited by Curtis, and have the wave pool go rogue and transform Wet ’n Wild into The Poseideon Adventure? Is that possible? I’m not sure. We’ll have some people set up the typewriter, see what comes out.

While we’re working that, though, what about Yellowstone Bear World? Up there in Idaho? Did you see the entrance sign to this place? That’s a “Jurassic Park” just waiting to happen!

If the Bear Lobby, however, takes umbrage, fear not. Have you heard about this upcoming NPR Dolly Parton podcast, Dolly Parton’s America? “In this intensely divided moment,” NPR explains “one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America's great icons.” It sounds excellent! But it also sounds a bit, uh, shall we say, erudite. So let’s make Dollywood about a magical journey to find Parton, like “The Wizard of Oz.” Except Dolly can’t be a fraud. Hmmmmm. Maybe then we’ll make it like a Muppet movie where some true blue baddies have taken over Dollywood and are trying to bleed it dry and some good-natured folks have to find Dolly and rise up to help save her theme park.

If Dolly doesn’t sign off, though, where does that leave us? I’ll tell you where. In Bruce Springsteen’s recent autobiography, as well as in Steven Van Zandt’s memoir, the two E Street cohorts tell the story of trying to visit Disneyland and not being allowed entrance because of their bandanas. “Silently, morosely, we drive back to Los Angeles and for two solid hours,” writes Bruce Springsteen, “Steve pours it on. The Constitution! The Bill of Rights! Fucking dress codes! Nazis!” Where am I going with this? I think I forgot.

Forget it. I’m with Steve. I’m calling the whole thing off. The blog is back and I’m still in a bad mood. Let’s burn theme parks to the fucking ground.

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