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When you look back on your youth certain things are looked upon with a reverence and awe that makes them stick out in your mind as nothing less than awesome. And when you’re a total geek like I am, certain names, books, and movies come to the fore in your mind. As a Disney fan during the heyday of such great things as Star Wars, The Godfather, and Caddyshack, you can only imagine how exciting it was to hear that Francis Ford Copala, George Lucas, and Rusty Lemorande were making a movie for the Disney parks. And when they threw Michael Jackson into the mix… Woo!
Captain EO is a movie that stars Michael Jackson as Captain EO and Angelica Huston as The Supreme Leader. It was an idea that stemmed from Jackson’s desire to get more involved in movies. David Geffen suggested that he make one for Disney and contacted his friend Jeffrey Katzenberg who conferred with Michael Eisner about it. They suggested that instead of a full movie they do a 3D music video to capitalize on the success of Thriller. Jackson insisted on the involvement of either George Lucas or Steven Spielberg. And an agreement was struck.
Three different story-lines were created by the Imagineer Rick Rothschild and together with Jackson they settled on Captain EO. As Lucas was already working with Disney on Star Tours, he ended up working with Jackson. And $30 million later, for many, the result was an amazing phenomenon of epic proportions that lasted for more than a decade around the world. It had first opened at Epcot (then EPCOT Center) in 1986, and Disneyland 6 days later – the closest original opening date of the same attraction in multiple parks. It was also released in Tokyo Disneyland, and then Disneyland Paris.
The movie does have it’s detractors, many of whom felt the plot was a big, complicated mess. Other’s have stated disappointment in the quality of a product laced with such an incredible wealth of talent. The truth is that it’s all about taste, and I’d clearly avoid the movie if you’re not a Michael Jackson or Science Fiction fan. It does have a magical quality to it that makes it warm and inviting for an entire family, which is what Disney parks are really all about.
As the movie closed around the world, the fans would not let it die. And for a long time it lived on through memories – helped along by the Internet through fan sites and YouTube. But it wasn’t until Michael Jackson’s death in June 2009 that things got exciting. The rumor mill kicked into high gear and it was even said that Disney officials had held a private screening of Captain EO in Disneyland’s Magic Eye Theater. Some discouragement came in September 2009 when Bob Iger was reported as saying that there were no plans to bring it back.
Finally, that December it was announced that Captain EO would return to Disneyland. Later followup annoucements disclosed that some of the original theater effects would not be returning (smoke and lasers), but that those effects that the theater did support would be incorporated. And that a new 70mm print of the film along with an already enhanced theater sound system would help to enhance the experience. And so on February 23, 2010 Captain EO returned to Disneyland. It also eventually re-opened at the other three original locations. Fanfare ensued. Fans rejoyced.
The movie is only 17 minutes long and is projected in 3D and during it’s original run incorporated many in theater effects such as lasers and smoke that were synchronized to the film. It is regarded as being one of the very first “4D” films and Lemorande who suggested they incorporate this into the movie – as a result he is often referred to as the “Father of 4D”. With the smoke an lasers gone in the current theaters, you’re left with a shaking floor, bass speakers under the seats, water spray, and air guns. The experience, while not 100% the same as the original, is completely there.
The plot of the movie is very simple and basic. Captain EO is the captain of small spacecraft and it’s crew: Fuzzball (special effects: Rick Baker), Hooter (Tony Cox), Idy (Debbie Lee Carrington), Ody (Cindy Sorenson), Major Domo (Gary DePew) , and Minor Domo. Their “boss” Commander Bog (Dick Shawn), only shown as a floating holographic head, has sent them to a trash filled mechanical wasteland of a planet in order to liberate it’s people through the sound of music and the passion of love. This is their last chance to prove themselves or they’ll be “drummed out of the corps.”
What comes next is a space battle, followed by a crash landing, followed by our heroes being captured. They are brought before the HR Giger inspired Supreme Leader who sentences them all to death by trashcan or imprisonment. Captain EO however offers her a gift in return, and what ensues is an amazing song and dance number as Captain EO transforms all the palace inhabitants winning them over to his cause. With their help, he eventually transforms the Supreme Leader into Angelica Huston, who, in 1986, was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. The mechanical shell of the world is removed as it is transformed into a paradise. The End.
The movie has two orchestral pieces – the underlying score and the pre-show music. It also has what were at the time two brand new Michael Jackson songs. The one fans of the show probably find themselves singing/humming is “We Are Here to Change the World” which is the song used to eventually transform the Supreme Leader. It was never released as part of an album until 2004 on “The Ultimate Collection” and is a shorter version than what is heard in Captain EO. The second song is a very early version of “Another Part of Me” which can be found on the Grammy Award winning album “Bad”.
As I’ve indicated above, if you’re a Michael Jackson fan or a Science Fiction fan, or better yet both, then see this movie. For everyone else, your mileage may vary. As someone in the “both” category, I can’t help but love this movie in all it’s pure cheesy and awesome glory. If there’s any way that Michael Jackson should be remembered it’s this way, when he was on top as the “King of Pop.” He did after all change the world.
What about you? Have you seen Captain EO? The original release? The current release only? Both? Do you love it? Hate it? Why? We’re bringin’ brighter days.