Francis Ford Coppola's "Captain EO"
August 24, 2012 3:56 PM   Subscribe

The untold story of Captain EO.
posted by Egg Shen (26 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
When I went to see it at Epcot Center two years ago, while those of us on line waited for admittance to the next showing, to help us pass the time, the imagineers screened a "making of" video which featured amusing shots of George Lucas's 1986 hair and Francis Ford Coppola looking very serious as he gave direction to puppets.

When Michael arrived on screen, the audience cheered. I too was glad to see his face again as it had been before the plastic surgery horrors to come.

And as I filed out at the end, past the cart selling Captain Eo t-shirts, it seemed that his having become another "Disney character" - however peculiar an afterlife - was one he would have liked.
posted by Egg Shen at 3:56 PM on August 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

If EO cost $23.7 million and was made by two huge visual talents, why does do much of it look so cheap?
It was made a decade after Star Wars using the same guys yet it looks in alot of parts more like Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn.

I love EO, 80s cheesiness and all, but I'm amazed that it looks so shoddy.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:15 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites] (the tourist guide for fanatical Disney fans) has detailed info on the history of Captain Eo and its return to EPCOT. Bonus trivia: "Captain EO was also shown in Disneyland Paris's Cinemagique in Discoveryland from April 12, 1992 to August 17, 1998."
posted by Wylla at 4:16 PM on August 24, 2012

two huge visual talents

And the lighting director during much of principal photography was Vittorio Storaro! (The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now, Reds...)
posted by Egg Shen at 4:25 PM on August 24, 2012

If anyone wants to watch most of the original film, I'll just leave this here.

It's not in 3D, obviously. And it's also missing the fiber optic lighting effects embedded behind the screen, and the use of computer controlled lasers and fog, which were pretty awesome and made the film a lot more immersive and 3D.

I remember seeing this at Disneyland shortly after it opened when I was a kid around the same time that Star Tours opened and like a lot of people I was pretty underwhelmed by it as a film or experience.

When I saw it I spent a lot of time turned around in my seat trying to figure out where the lasers were coming from because I was totally fascinated by lasers, and I think this was the first time I ever saw high powered green (and maybe yellow/orange) lasers in person. Or for that matter, the first time I saw any lasers at all outside of a supermarket barcode scanner.

I also spent a fair amount of time screwing around with my polarized 3D glasses and figuring out how they were doing the 3D, doing stuff like rotating them 90 degrees and looking through just one lens to catch the alternating polarized frames of the film, or holding them to my face backwards so everything looked inverted, which was fun.

And like a lot of people I probably saw it a couple of times that day and then I totally lost interest. It wasn't a good repeat attraction, and I was only going again to look at the special effects and lasers because hey, lasers.

It was really a stinker compared to Star Tours which is the same exact era. I'm tangenting but the guest queuing area for Star Tours was and is pure genius and there really hasn't been anything like it at Disneyland before or after. There was basically no where else you could see those kinds of believable, real life robot characters in person. I remember going on Star Tours and actually hoping there was a long line so I could catch more of the variety of routines and find more details and hidden things going on in the queuing area, or get more eyefulls of that gorgeous full scale ship in the lobby.

Captain EO? Not so much.
posted by loquacious at 4:26 PM on August 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh, hey, the film is linked in the OP. I did read the first two links.
posted by loquacious at 4:39 PM on August 24, 2012

Oh.. this is the money quote for me (I used to work at WDI)

In later years, Lemorande shared that one of the factors that made Captain EO a troubled production was the resentment that Disney Imagineers had about “outsiders” being brought in to handle a Disney theme park attraction.

I can just imagine how popular that was with the Imagineers.
posted by drewbage1847 at 4:41 PM on August 24, 2012

I remember some of my friends who worked at the park in the early 90's referring to it as "Captain Ego." More amusing to me now is that after reading this article, I'm not sure whose ego they were referring to...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 4:57 PM on August 24, 2012

Thanks for sharing these interesting articles! Growing up in Southern California, Captain Eo combined three amazing things for me: Michael Jackson, Science Fiction, and Disneyland. I couldn't have loved it more. I remember when I was first able (through some P2P program) to get a "high-quality" rip of the film. At the time, I had thought there was no way it would ever come back.

I was in an Orange County thrift store five years ago and saw a Hooter plush doll, and I freaked out, and took it to the counter for purchase. The very old volunteer gave me the strangest look due to my enthusiasm for such a strange thing.

See you later, Trash Cans!
posted by RubixsQube at 5:37 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read that EO stood for "Equal Opportunity". It was the closest MJ would ever come to acknowledging racial disparity.
posted by Renoroc at 6:06 PM on August 24, 2012

I haven't seen it in decades, but I bet I've still got 90% of the Queue video featurette memorized.

Haven't seen this mentioned very often, but for the premiere at Disneyland, the park stayed open for (a then unprecedented) 36 hours straight, and everyone got a commemorative Captain EO t-shirt.

The 36-hour party record was later broken by Star Tours' opening day, when the park stayed open for a mind-blowing 60 hours. (but alas, no free T-shirts for us)

During that time, I was regularly attending Disneyland at least 3 or 4 times per week, so it was definitely a great time to be a Mouser (or whatever the term is)
posted by ShutterBun at 6:37 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Man I had this messed up dream, it was like a bunch of mammals in a ship, and I want to say some kind of possum playing double bass, well, he was one of them, and then MJ shows up and the evil space queen, who has some mechanical allies, she is yelling at all of us, and then I'm just running and everything starts dancing, the possum is plucking at the bass and they're dancing to it, and i think my dorm room from junior year is part of the space structure and it's like made out of sand? MJ is smiling and I'm just yelling at him "why, what have you gained from this?" and the beat slows down and it's still dancing but funkier now. and mammals fly now. Why are you leaving into space? NO COME BACK

I wake up so sweaty, heart pounding, I need to just get some water and wait.

is that.... an intrusion alarm?


*intrusion alarm*




HOOTER: we have something to tell you, that big boat crash


HOOTER: you died on that crash

HOOTER: kid this aint gonna make it any easier


Michael: just calm down

Michael: we have some questions
posted by passerby at 6:56 PM on August 24, 2012

I couldnt have been more than 10.Waited hours in the scorching sun. Got some weird sunglasses that I couldn't really wear because I already wore glasses. Had a robot with mustache and a muppet that looked like the the keyboard player with the trunk from one of the SW movies.All I can say was that it was mercifully short.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:04 PM on August 24, 2012

This movie has a weird place in my childhood, for a number of reasons. The most prominent one was that my family kept a plush Hooter in the family motorhome that became the travel seat of my dad's favorite white cuban hat. It didn't help that my dad sort of looked like Hooter.

... yeah. Like I said. Weird place.
posted by strixus at 7:21 PM on August 24, 2012

We went to Disneyland shortly after Captain EO came out. I was 5 and I made my parents sit through that a too many times that weekend. I just thought there was something awesome about it and I was too young for Star Tours. The fourth, and last time, I saw it was after we had dinner in the Country Bears place. I got food poisoning from it and ended up puking right at the climax in the end. All over myself, my dad, and some random guy. My dad had to give him money for his camera which I puked on, and I got a new Captain EO shirt since my shirt was disgusting. (It glowed in the dark!) Then, when we were waiting for the shuttle by some souvenir vendor I ended up puking on the tail of a plush Fuzzbucket, so my parents had to buy that too.

I still have the Fuzzbucket 25 years later. I felt better the next day. My parents were sort of annoyed, which I can't blame them for. I know that if it wasn't for getting sick, I never would have gotten that sweet shirt or the stuffed animal, so it really worked out in my favour.

I watched Captain EO after Jackson's death - I don't know what I was thinking when I was 5. It was way worse than Small World.
posted by kendrak at 8:24 PM on August 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

OK wow that is an amazing story. I too saw it around that era as a kid in Disneyland, and the linked article made me imagine wistfully that maybe MJ was in the projection booth, watching from behind his surgical mask, but puking in the theater at Captain EO? You win the internet today, kendrak.
posted by chaff at 8:34 PM on August 24, 2012

My family saw Captain EO at Disneyworld when I was about 5. I had to pee, but I didn't want to leave and miss the 3-D action, so I gave up and wet my pants.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:06 PM on August 24, 2012

I read some making-of Star Trek article years ago where they talked about the process of designing the Borg queen, and apparently the producers gave the designers some pictures of H.R. Giger's sexy monster ladies and Angelica Huston in Captain Eo and told them, "Don't do this." Huston does look pretty darn Borg-y in this get-up! (Actually the bad guy soldiers look a lot like old school Borg drones too.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:59 PM on August 24, 2012

Metafilter: a plush Hooter in the family motorhome
posted by stevil at 4:47 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: puking on the tail of a plush Fuzzbucket
posted by stevil at 4:48 AM on August 25, 2012

Possible thread derail is my EPCOT vomit experience. It was coming for a while, nearly set off by the smell of Jurassic era decomposition in that ride that was about...well I dunno except were in a smelly jungle, and then finally triggered in the rainbow neon tunnel in the Figment and Dreamfinder building - I sprinted back, out the entrance, past the leaping water creatures, almost to a garbage bin. But not quite. Some guy who looked like the voice-not-quite-changed teenager on the Simpsons who always works the menial jobs came out and got the sawdust and broom to clean it up. I weakly offered "sorry" but in fact I felt so much better so I wasn't sorry at all.
posted by stevil at 4:52 AM on August 25, 2012

It's Space Channel 5 without interaction! Jacko is Ulula. No wonder this and this happened!
posted by davemee at 7:31 AM on August 25, 2012

I remember my childhood review of this being "it's pretty cool until Michael Jackson opens his mouth and deflates all the drama they've built up for his entrance". Now I'm like, what was I thinking? The two-headed Muppet pilot and the alien who talks in farts already made it clear there was no drama to be had here.
posted by egypturnash at 7:52 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Saw "Captain Eo" in 1987. Couldn't believe that perv grabbin' himself and squealing was considered family entertainment. Still can't believe that was showing at Disneyland.
posted by Rash at 2:07 PM on August 25, 2012

This is another one of those things from my youth that I remember enjoying, but couldn't tell you a thing about... It sounds like rewatching it will not help that much.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:33 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The last time I went to Disneyland, they FINALLY had a stuffed Fuzzball, which I've wanted for years. I reacted along the same lines as RubixsQube.

Upon re-seeing the movie again...yup, it's freaking weird and creepy. But in a weirdly entertaining sort of way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2012

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