Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Future, the Past and Constant Change

I'm back. I'll be honest about the fact that I've not been keeping up with the blog, and I'm sorry for those of you who come back here regularly looking for a new post. In part, it's because after the deconstruction of the wand and the passing of the 25th anniversary of EPCOT, there hasn't been a whole lot to talk about. But mostly, it's because, not living in Florida, I haven't been to EPCOT recently.

Yes, I've seen the pictures of those truly horrid, unnecessary and ugly "security" gates at EPCOT. (Honestly, while I realize WDW is an attractive target, in the past six years, has anything truly warranted this kind of person-to-person, put-borders-around-the-park security, or is this just our national paranoia and Disney's "risk management" group working hand in hand? Those gates just remind us that Disney wants to control our every move, and no longer in subtle, elegantly designed ways.

I'm as eager for you to experience the newly refurbished Spaceship Earth, and while I try to be optimistic, I can't help but already be disappointed by the Orlando Sentinel's report that the communication theme has been dropped for a generic "inspiration and innovation" concept. This means that, almost completely, the original design for EPCOT has been wiped away -- no longer do each of the pavilions represent a key aspect of human nature or our environment that we must learn and study to become responsible "passengers" on Spaceship Earth; now, all EPCOT is saying is we need to be inspired and have a lot of fun. That subtle distinction will be lost on nearly everyone who visits. But for those of us who grew up studying and admiring EPCOT Center, mesmerized by what it tried to do and how it worked, there's a massive disappointment that Imagineers and John Lasseter didn't try harder to make Spaceship Earth the first return to EPCOT's ideals, rather than the latest departure.

Many of you will once again send me notes and post comments that I'm simply a thick-skulled purist who doesn't want anything to change. That actually couldn't be further from the truth. Like many, I'm both fascinated by and skeptical of change. I want the world, my own life, and even theme parks to always be changing, growing and improving. But the latter word is the key. If change is simply made for its own sake, or to give up on a formidable challenge, then it's not laudable. It's just change. EPCOT is continuing, it appears, to just change.

So, who cares?

Well, click on the YouTube video at the top of this post. You may have seen it recently; I just discovered it, and it reminded me today of why yesterday's vision of the future was so compelling, so optimistic ... and so exciting.

This is the sort of opportunity that Walt Disney imagined "The Future" held for all of us. I was entranced by this video clip, which is absolutely genuine, produced by Philco and starring a young Wink Martindale. It shares the same clear-cut view of "The Future" that infused everything EPCOT did from 1982 to about 1997. Our lives were going to be better, we should rest assured that the world would be a fantastic place ... and it would just keep on getting more and more incredible, opening up to us new opportunities, new possibilties.

The most astounding part is how much this video got right. Likewise, EPCOT got a tremendous amount right, too, from fiber optics to touch screens; from globalization to our need to search for alternate energy sources to the potential of The Living Seas. It showed us that we needed to understand our bodies and minds, and even offered us glimpses of what new technology would do for us. Just like this educational film, EPCOT didn't proceed from a place of skepticism (as I acknowledge I do more and more as I age) or commercialism. Yes, of course, this film was produced by a corporation, I realize that. But it promised us wonderful things ... and it was right.

We believed we could do anything in the 1960s and 1970s. We believed there truly were possibilities, that technology, science and exploration would continue fueling our progress. And look what happened.

It makes me sad to contemplate where we'll be in 41 more years.

And it makes me sad to see EPCOT's grand vision and design fading away even further. I sure wish EPCOT Center could make a return. To quote That's Entertainment ...

Boy, do we need it now.


Greg said...

Welcome Back! I check you blog everyday and glad to see something new has been added. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Don't mind the sporadic posting so long as you don't go away entirely. With RSS feeds nowadays, there's no need to go to a blog manually just to find it hasn't been updated. When you do in fact update, a lot of us will know.

Captain Schnemo said...

You've made a key observation here...Lasseter is no savior.

He seems very good at constructing entertainment within certain boundaries, but he doesn't seem to have any sense of scope or vision when it comes to theme parks as a whole. His primary goal seems to be to cram Pixar into every nook and cranny, theming be damned.

It was a nice fantasy while it lasted, but it looks like if we want a proper change, we're going to have to wait at least another generation. And with each year that passes, as Disney moves farther away from its founding principles, the less likely that it will ever be anything special again or that anyone who cares will even be alive to remember what the new generations are missing.

I guess it's time to accept Disney for what it amazing flash in the pan that was only wonderful because of the vision of one man, and the things he set in motion. We should be grateful that it lasted as long as it did.

Old Walt's genius becomes more apparent with every passing year, and the new breed of hacks has the benefit of a complacent and undemanding customer base. The desire for greatness has got to come from within, and men like that are not asked to take over for those with small minds and no ambition.

Anonymous said...

As for the attraction itself, by the way, I think it's important to point out that while the theme has moved off-message, the beginning of the ride is still largely intact and has actually been upgraded. The changes look quite nice.

The ending is currently an ugly mess, but they're still working on it, so it's not fair to pass judgment on it yet.

The main thing is that the narration, ending, and music can always be changed in the future. So, not much was lost, and much was gained. Taking a long term approach, the changes have been a net positive (even if the thematic changes are ominous) and were not permanently destructive.

Should one of us miraculously win a multi-billion dollar lottery, there's still a change for Spaceship Earth in the future.

This is what passes for high praise in Epcot these days, but it's very important to point out that it "could have been worse".

Anonymous said...

Ah,you are finally back.Wonderful!

Let's just be happy that SSE hasn't been Nemo-ized right?

Anonymous said...

I saw the new pictures of Spaceship Earth with the changes. I must say I like it. Siemen's is not a telecom, so this is sounding a little more like Horizons. Fine with me. As for the ending...I will wait and ride it before getting upset. I did love watching the newscasts and things hanging over my head at odd angles. I always thought how difficult it would be to hang an Audio-Animatronic figure upside down and get it working without falling. Anyway, I welcome this new spaceship earth considering what they could have done with it. A tour of Micky's brain comes to mind complete with ears on the sphere or just leaving it abandoned.

Anonymous said...

ctzy-From what I've read, it's nothing like Horizons at all. None whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

I completely understand your wanting for EPCOT to return to it's former glory, but some of the renovations and additions are really great. The new Spaceship Earth is exactly what that ride needed. It's been cleaned up, refurbished, and modernized, but the original feel and experience of the ride remain intact. And I do believe that the original ideals of EPCOT Center is preserved in the IllumiNations presentations (Which somehow still gets me choked up).

Kevin Carter said...

As to the them of SSE being off message, I don't really think so. Its no longer about communication, but that's solely because Siemens isn't just a communications company. SSE never intended to be only about communication, but the sponsor demanded it so thats what we got.

Its now about the advances of technology and how each one has built on the advances before it and has as humans our ingenuity can change the future for the better. Its actually pretty on point.

And the first 2/3 of the ride are absolutely amazing. The new AA's are beautiful. The narration isn't nearly as powerful as it once was but its not bad. However it gets very bad at the end. I am hoping that things change a lot there before opening. Read any of the forums and you'll hear all the complaints of the new ending. I will say this, the climax of the ride should not have us looking at a cheap flash animation with about as much depth as the shallow end of the pool.

I am going to withold final judgment on the ending until February however. It can still be salvaged.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with "kcnole". The new theme of SSE is still valid if only just a tad generic. It almost falls into the same concept as Horizons with the exception that we don't really get to see examples of the future, (with the exception of the tiny screen presentation). There is still a celebration of historical achievements and most importantly the message of an optimistic future, without the edgy and self-conscious post-modernism we have seen in other recent Disney shows.


Anonymous said...

It's pretty rediculous what's going on in Future World. However I did hear Spaceship Earth has a pretty powerful new theme about Human Innovation and the idea of humankind constantly moving forward. It doesnt sound watered down at all. Personally I'll miss the story of human communication. I'm not sure if you've seen the new Project: Tomorrow, but it looks like this exhibit might bring EPCOT back on track. We can only hope.

Digital Jedi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Digital Jedi said...

I'd hardly call Disney a flash in the pan.

In any case, I think it's fair to reserve judgment until the ride is completely finished. And "finished" isn't necessarily synonymous with "opening day", either. One of the good things about this whole project is they appear to be headed in the right direction, even if they faulter a little bit on the journey. At least, no complaints I've heard thus far can be said to be done deals.

I'm not hammering nails in Lassiter's image just yet. People on both side of the fence with this guy (but mostly those who don't put much stock in him) need to stop using the word "saviour" in reference to him. No one thinks he's Disney's second coming, but what he is, is someone in a position to do something positive. So far, I've seen him wrangle his position to better serve Disney, but within the confines and mentality that still permeates management there. Remember, he has a lot of influence, but he still isn't the primary force of nature.

We're going to see more Pixar related attractions, so what? If that's what he needs to do to get his point across to management, then so be it. At least if he tempers Disney's obsession with Pixar and Pirates, he can one day move into a positions where he has more power to better balance it all out. EPCOT, especially, requires some big balancing out. Come on folks, you didn't think fixes would come instantaneously, did you?

Captain Schnemo said...

I didn't expect instantaneous fixes, but I was hoping for some evidence that he understands that theming is an important part of theme park and that he'd try to move away from the "strip mall with rides" plan.

The whole Nemo Seas debacle is just embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe they're dropping the communication theme! Now that I'm a communication student in college, I was thinking about how great it would be to see Spaceship Earth again.

Thanks for keeping EPCOT (or even early versions of Epcot) alive. I first visited in 1998, when I was 9. After visiting again in 2000 and 2002, I really wish I could see "EPCOT '98" again.