DID YOU READ

Jaws and the changing face of movie theme parks

Jaws and the changing face of movie theme parks (photo)

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

…it kind of was.

As first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Universal Studios Florida will close their ride based on Steven Spielberg’s classic horror movie “Jaws” by January 2012. The “Jaws” ride was one of the original attractions when Universal Studios first opened in Orlando in 1990; when it shuts down next month, it leaves “E.T. Adventure,” “Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show” and “Lucy: A Tribute” as the last remaining vestiges of the original park’s lineup.

“‘Jaws’ has been an amazing attraction and an important part of our history,” Universal spokesman Tom Schroder told The Sentinel. “We know that ‘Jaws’ holds a special place in the hearts of our guests. But we always have to look to the future and dedicate ourselves to providing new, innovative entertainment experiences for our guests.”

As a child of the 1980s, I do have plenty of fond memories riding on “Jaws.” Wait, are they fond memories? Can you fondly remember getting traumatized for life? I was so terrified of “Jaws” as a kid that I purposefully sat in the middle of the boat so the shark would have to eat his way through several other people if he wanted to get to me. I rode “Jaws” for the last time three years ago, when my wife and I spent a day at Universal on our honeymoon, and this time I bravely offered to sit on the end of the row to protect my new bride (she was surprisingly nonplussed by my selfless gesture). On that cool November afternoon in 2008, Jaws was not quite as fearsome as I thought him to be at age 10. He looked a lot stiffer, his “attacks” seemed a bit less random, and the boat “captain” who lead our “tour” through “Amity” a bit more rehearsed. Sort of like this guy…

Now I could channel my desire to ensure future generations are as emotionally scarred as I was nostalgia and pretend like “Jaws” wasn’t looking creaky around the edges, but it was. Truth be told, it probably was time for an upgrade. That plastic shark represented an analog artifact in an increasingly digital movie world.

This is a topic we once discussed in depth on our old podcast: how the changing face of movie-themed amusement parks like Universal Studios represents a clear signifier that the way movies are created and consumed has changed completely over the course of my lifetime. When Steven Spielberg made “Jaws” in 1974, the titular shark was a mechanical creature, and a really bad one at that; Spielberg famously shot around the fact that “Bruce the Shark” didn’t work by keeping him off camera as long as he possibly could. Almost completely by accident, he wound up making one of the greatest suspense movies of all time. So when “Jaws” opened at Universal Florida in 1990, it was cool to get menaced by a big-ass animatronic shark because that was sort of the same technology used to menace Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss (appropriately, according to the ride’s Wikipedia page, the original “Jaws” ride was plagued with almost as many technical problems as the first Bruce and had to be shut down for more than a year while the bugs were worked out).

That was one of the things that was so great about old school Universal: they could get pretty close to the real (fake) thing. A lot of the original Universal attractions were about taking you behind-the-scenes and revealing the secrets of movie and TV making. There was a “Murder She Wrote Mystery Theater” about foley work and sound effects. At “Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies,” employees taught the tourists how Hitch shot the crashing carousel at the end of “Strangers on a Train.” Just look at how much production info was tossed out at the audience during the introduction of the “Ghostbusters Spooktacular,” which recreated the climactic battle with Gozer on an impressively accurate replica of the Central Park West rooftop.

Okay, so the show is incredibly hokey. But it really was a simpler time, not only in terms of how films were made, but how they were understood to be made. The “Ghostbusters Spooktacular” is pre-DVD and pre-the widespread proliferation of making-of special features. In 2011, you don’t need to go to Universal Studios to find out how “Ghostbusters” was made. Twenty years ago, you kind of did. Even if you wanted to go to a theme park to watch modern moviemaking in action in 2011, what would they show you? The hard drive that processed the Transformers? Green screen pingpong balls from Sam Worthington’s face? “Okay everyone, gather around! Now I’m going to record Gary’s movements in this mo-cap suit. And I’ll just feed all this data into a computer and we’ll be able to see the finished effect in… 12 to 18 months! Can everyone extend their vacations until then? Super!”

Analog moviemaking left behind all kinds of wonderful detritus that could be used to litter Universal Studios. Back in the day, the park featured a whole “Boneyard” full of old props for guests to ogle. Today, the Boneyard is gone, replaced by a rollercoaster called “Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.” There’s no behind-the-scenes info to reveal because there are no scenes to go behind; it’s just a rollercoaster. It’s not even tied to any particular film.

“Jaws” really was a relic. We’ve got CGI sharks now, and CGI-based movie rides like “The Simpsons Ride” and “Shrek 4-D.” The next attraction to open in Florida? A “Despicable Me” 3D movie. I don’t think this change is despicable; it’s just progress, and a company keeping up with its customers’ tastes and attitudes. But even if I understand it, that doesn’t mean I won’t miss the good old days. Rest in peace, Bruce. You scared the shit out of me.

What’s your favorite ride at Universal Studios? Tell us in the comments below or write to Facebook and Twitter.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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