Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Johnny California: Coot

 by JB

For only the second time during my tenure here, I have tried not to sound like a miserable old coot... and failed.

Two weeks ago, I had occasion to see Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in IMAX at the TCL Chinese Theater. To show my gentle readers just how jaded a mere four months in California has made me, I balked. I wavered. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. This was a Wednesday. What the hell else would I be doing: counting flowers on the wall? I was wishy-washy, and I dilly-dallied. Did I want to make that drive? (Take the 101 to Cahuenga Boulevard! We live here now!) To paraphrase Winston Zeddemore in the original Ghostbusters, “If someone asks you if you want to see the Final Cut of Blade Runner in IMAX, YOU SAY ‘YES!’”

I had another compelling reason to go. It was my lovely wife who snagged the tickets, and Blade Runner is her favorite film. She even wrote a book about it!
So I went. We picked up our son on the way. The three of us had a hell of a time. The film began—in one of the most ornate and beautiful theaters on Earth—and, as it had dozens of times before, revealed its wonders to us and to the large and appreciative audience. I have seen Blade Runner many, many times in many, many circumstances, from opening night in 1982 with uncomprehending friends thru numerous classroom screenings back in my days teaching Film Study. This most recent TCL screening was one for the books, clearly one of the Top Five screenings of this title ever. At the Chinese Theater that night, I saw things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannh√§user Gate...
Besides the many pleasures of the film itself and the utter size and perfection of that projected image, the idea I could not stop entertaining that night was that the film would never be made today. It’s too big. It’s too complex. It’s too quirky. It’s not for everyone. Hell, it wasn’t even a success when it was first released forty years ago. Would today’s theatrical marketplace embrace it? I think not. That made me sad... like tears in the rain.

One week ago, I had occasion to visit Disney World in Orlando with my godchildren. To show my gentle readers just how jaded a mere four months in California has made me, I balked. I wavered. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. This was a Wednesday. What the hell else would I be doing: smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo? I dilly-dallied, and I was wishy-washy. Do I want to make that flight? (Take the PCH to LAX. Sit on a plane for four hours or so then cab it to the resort, baby. Don’t forget your special magic bracelet and your wallet! I know the routine!) To paraphrase Winston Zeddemore in the original Ghostbusters, “If someone asks you if you want to go to Disney World, YOU SAY ‘YES!’”

So I went. I spent quality time with the people I love the most. It was groovy. Riding the Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion reminded me for all the world of my Blade Runner screening. These rides would not be built today. They are too special.
Before the trip was over, I received ample proof that I was correct in my assumptions because of two new Disney World “attractions” we chose to sample: the new Ratatouille ride (#RatChef) and the new Space 220 restaurant in EPCOT. Both were crushing disappointments, the nadir of this particular trip. In Ratatouille, you are shrunk to the size of a mouse. You are not told how this was achieved or why it was desired. You then ride in a hollowed- out mouse (Wait? I thought I was a mouse. Am I riding in the desiccated husk of another tourist who was turned into a mouse and, perhaps like me, was vocal about not liking the ride? This is confusing. I’m a mouse, riding in a mouse, following other mice? Or am I merely the SOUL of the mouse in which I ride? What is the soul? What are these husks in which they ride?) We are then chased all over the restaurant that was the location of the original animated film. We wear 3-D glasses because the largely screen-based ride is in 3-D. (Jungle Cruise and Haunted Mansion don’t require glasses because, using real props and reality, THEY ARE AUTOMATICALLY THREE DIMENSIONAL.) After barely four minutes, the ride is over. We have been chased around. That’s it. Remy doesn’t cook. We don’t help him achieve anything. There is no mention of the very cool “Don’t ever let other people define you” subtext of the original film. We are chased around a restaurant kitchen by men with knives. I could stay back in LA if I wanted to do that. We live here now!

Space 220 was even worse. A fine-dining restaurant that pretends to be in space, patrons are ushered aboard an elevator that simulates a flight to the stratosphere. The doors open... into a largely grey space with black carpets and tables and huge video screens meant to look like windows to outer space. Occasionally, CGI spaceships and astronauts float by. Our server asked us if we wanted “space water.” Yes, this is the height of Imagineering Cleverness in this restaurant: “space water.” I’ll let that sink in.
The meal was uneventful. No characters showed up. We were told and taught nothing about space. Nothing very exciting happened out the windows. Our space water was replenished. The children were polite. My wife made a joke better than anything Disney had to offer when she ordered a “Coke Zero… Gravity.” I’m convinced our waitress will use that line with future patrons. The food was good, but it wasn’t freeze dried or served in anti-gravity packets or anything interesting that might have to do with space. The check for eight of us was more than $500. The best (worst) Dad Joke I could come up with to describe Space 220 is that IT LACKS ATMOSPHERE. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World calls Space 220 “an utter disappointment.”

Here’s the thing: in movies, in rides, in restaurants, I don’t think it’s asking too much to say, “Show me something new.” It’s not always easy for me to say YES. I said YES to Blade Runner and was rewarded with an embarrassment of riches because of the nature of the original film. I said YES to Ratatouille and Space 220 and received what seems in retrospect to be THE BARE MINIMUM one would need to call something a ride or a restaurant.
This story has a punchline. The day we flew home, the Twitter machine was abuzz with the news that Disney CEO Bob Chapek had been fired. Former Disney CEO Bob Iger was returning to get the company back on track. Since his retirement 14 months ago, Iger had publicly complained that Chapek was KILLING THE SOUL OF THE COMPANY. (I guess if corporations are people, as our Supreme Court has ruled, then they can also have souls. We’ve already established that mice have souls, right?) Speaking to Walt Disney World News Tonight’s Tom Corliss, a retired Imagineer summarized Chapek’s embattled tenure with the simple statement, “You don’t innovate by raising the price of hot dogs.”

Now, I’m not trying to say here that the past was better (Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, and Blade Runner) and that the future is awful (Ratatouille and Space 220). All I’m saying is that the future is awful... and that the past was better.


  1. Standing Ovation.


    I cackled loudly...out loudly...multiple times during this read. Jan's coke bit? {ratatouille chefs kiss} Your atmosphere joke? {Open the pod bay doors to laugher HAL!}

    Loving all your recent articles from the new digs but this one is my fav thus far...it just touches on SO much so well. Maybe thats cuz im a fellow midwestern old coot who may or may not occasionally yell at the gates of Disneyworld "Bring back 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage! Cowards!!!"? Who knows.

    LOVED hearing of the Blade Runner experience. That movie is more than special. I'll dispense with the obvious terms like "perfect" or "ahead of its time" or "top 10 ever". No, i think whats amazing is it does something maybe precious few movies have since Le Prince, Tommy Edison, and the Lumiere bros started messing around with moving pictures, it creates a completely lived in, fascinating, new yet familiar, REAL world that we dont watch, rather, we VISIT. And frankly that is the very very real magic that is cinema. Fom your description it sounds like you had a wonderful re-visit. Outstanding indeed. {gently sets down an origami Unicorn...which looks more like an origami weasel or maybe a 3 legged origami dog? hezues origami unicorns are hard! why couldnt the metaphor be an origami football!}

    Take care bud...keep the writing and podcasting a flowin!

    Peace .n. "Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before." (annnd im crying)


  2. I have recently had several moments like you humorously described, Johnny C.

    When I turn on the TV anymore, I seldom find anything that interests me beyond the "old" movie channels. Pop culture since the late 2000s has drifted further and further from the kind of style and subjects that appeal to me. The "reality" shows get on my nerves quickly. Even with a beloved channel like Turner Classic Movies, there are changes happening that I do not not like. (I find the graphics used to introduce movies ugly.) Sometimes I get nostalgic for the Robert Osbourne years.

    For some odd reason, I was thinking about the E! channel True Hollywood Stories programs that aired back in the 1990s and 2000s. Though sometimes trashy, I had fun watching those. The diversity of entertainers (old Hollywood to then modern stars) featured was quite broad. I tried to find some of the episodes that have stuck with me but came up empty.

    In spite of all of these feelings, I recognize that the present is being made for the young, not a forty-something like me. I can dabble in the digital world when it suits me, but I know it will never be a realm that I can completely live in.

  3. Agree about TCM; except for Ben M. and Jacqueline Stewart, the new hosts give me the heebie-jeebies.

    1. I try to be grateful that the channel is still alive, JB. Since 1995, it has given me an education in the history of cinema I could not have had in any other way. Founders die and an organization has to move on into the future. The big question I have is if there will be enough interest in movies made in the 20th century to keep TCM financially viable. We will see.

  4. I'll bet that Bob Iger is the man responsible for greenlighting both Ratatouille and Space 220, neither likely conceived and built in 14 months. Perhaps the soul is gone from everyone at Disney...