Sunday, June 17, 2007

Breakfast at Disneyland

My good friend Dan Haar was in town a couple of weeks ago. Dan Haar is the business editor of America's oldest newspaper and was here to attend a convention of business editors at the Disneyland Hotel. Dan Haar has been a prominent and successful journalist for over twenty years, but for some reason, Dan Haar still gets a kick out of seeing his name ("Dan Haar") in my blog.

Dan Haar and I spent the first morning of his visit at the legendary Getty Center where we enjoyed the sculpted gardens and viewed a couple of photography exhibits. I particularly appreciated the exhibition featuring modern portraits of Los Angeles by Richard Humble while Dan Haar preferred English turn-of-the-century photographer P. H. Emerson. It was actually my first visit to the Getty Center, which just goes to prove that you never really appreciate your own city until someone comes to visit.

After the Getty we headed down Sunset to one of my favorite spots in Los Angeles, the Lake Shrine. We made a fairly quick circuit, just to give Dan Haar an overview of the place. Dan Haar was quite impressed with the memorial containing a portion of the ashes of the Mahatma Gandhi.

From the Lake Shrine we continued down to the beach where we watched several dolphins frolicking in the surf and then feasted on a couple of fish dinners at Gladstone's.

After a quick stop at my apartment, we proceeded to Disneyland.

Resourceful and clever man that he is, Dan Haar had managed to procure us a couple of passes to Disneyland from a friend who works there. We arrived at 9:30 pm, just as the fireworks were going off. It was pretty packed for being so late, I guess a lot of people go to Disneyland on Friday night. We were swept along with the human tide down Main Street until we found an eddy near the entrance to Tomorrowland.

Dan Haar decided we should check out the Star Wars ride, so we got in line. It wasn't too long a wait, but for some reason Dan Haar failed to read the many signs along the way warning those who are susceptible to motion sickness. It was not until we were actually boarding the ride itself that Dan Haar thought to ask, "does this ride move around a lot?" Then the doors closed.

As it turns out the ride is a recreation of a rather wild and bumpy space flight, and while technically we didn't actually go anywhere, it sure does feel and look like you are flying through space at very high speeds. Fortunately the ride was short enough so that just about the time Dan Haar started feeling nauseous, it was over.

One of the reasons that Main Street had been so crowded was because they were preparing for the next day's World Premier of the the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. For the same reason, many of the attractions were closed and there was limited access to certain areas of the park. One ride that was open, however, and surprisingly uncrowded was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride itself. Dan Haar had never been on it before and so we jumped aboard.

There had been a few changes to the ride since my last voyage. Captain Jack Sparrow makes several appearances now as does Captain Barbossa. I didn't see an animatronic Keira Knightley, but I wouldn't mind having one of those of my own.

Dan Haar enjoyed the ride thoroughly as it was much less frantic that the Star Wars ride and thus did not induce dizziness or vomiting. I explained to Dan Haar how the writers of the movie used a lot of the imagery from the ride in crafting the story of the movie. Dan Haar wondered how it was that I could know so much about a movie that hadn't come out yet. Apparently Dan Haar was unaware that there had been two previous Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Some journalist.

The next day, Dan Haar was busy with his business editor's conference and so I was on my own. I went back to Disneyland again. Unfortunately, due to the premier, there were even more closed attractions and even less access to certain areas of the park. One of my favorite spots in Disneyland is the Tom Sawyer Island, which was closed as it is currently being updated to include Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirates Cove.

I ended up having breakfast across the street from the giant outdoor movie theater where the big premier would be held. Breakfast at Disneyland was excellent, just what I needed.

I spent the rest of the day at the California Adventure Park riding the California Screamin' roller coaster, the Grizzly River Run whitewater rapids and the Soarin' Over California "flight" ride.

That night we met Dan Haar's friend Dave at the bar at the Grand Californian Hotel. Dave is one of those brilliant, talented, good-natured types that seem to have been built in a laboratory especially for Disneyland. But the fact is, he used to work with Dan Haar at The Hartford Courant (America's oldest newspaper) and is now in charge of the Disneyland website.

On the way out of the bar we ran into three Oscar winners: Jon Voight, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Captain Barbossa himself, Geoffrey Rush. Quite the Hollywood hat trick. Even Dan Haar was impressed.

I went home the next day while Dan Haar attended a couple more days of the conference. On his way back out of town, Dan Haar and I had dinner with another old schoolmate, Fred Bodner, who is working on a movie about my former Wesleyan cross-country teammate Gordon Cooney. Cooney is a lawyer who won a long-fought death row case at the eleventh hour. Word has it Matt Damon will play him in the movie.

About a week later, I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. I was well primed for it due to my weekend at Disneyland. Plus, they had left a lot of loose ends at the end of the second movie and I was very curious to see how they all got tied up.

But they pulled a fast one. Yeah, they tied up some loose ends, but for every one they tied, they left two more hanging. Until, by the end of the movie, we were left with a whole new set of loose ends. I guess they weren't really trying to tie up the story so much as drag it out for another sequel. And that kind of pissed me off.

Sure Star Wars left us hanging at the end of Empire Strikes Back, but they totally wrapped things up in Return of the Jedi. Then they waited twenty years before giving us three more. Lord of the Rings gave us three movies, with cliffhangers at the ends of the first and second, but the third installment had enough endings in it for five movies. Indiana Jones didn't leave us hanging at the end of every movie. They told one story, finished it and then started a new one. And what about James Bond? The longest running and most successful movie franchise in history. Did they leave Bond stranded on a desert island at the end of Dr. No, wondering how he will ever get back to civilization? Hells no -- they left him drifting in a boat with Ursula Andress. Now that's an ending.

All I'm saying is, a story has three basic components: 1) beginning, 2) middle, and 3) end. Not 1) beginning, 2) middle, and 3) middle. It just doesn't make any sense that way.

But that's what we are getting from Hollywood these days. Not stories. Just franchises. Not characters, but potential action figures. Not plot, but a concept for a video game. Not dramatic action, but amazing spectacles and lavish sequences whose only purpose is to "top" the amazing spectacles and lavish sequences we saw last summer. Geez, there are more special effects in the trailer for Die Hard 4 than there were in all of Ben Hur.

Don't get me wrong. I love Captain Jack Sparrow. But, yes, I can get enough of him. And I think I just did. You can have too much of a good thing. A good storyteller knows that. And that's why two of the most important words in storytelling are:


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dan's Visit - Gallery

Dan soaks up a little culture.

The Getty garden.

A "Humble" homage.

Frolicking dolphins.

Dan being admired by some california gulls.

Cinderella's Castle.

The red carpet.

Paradise Pier.