It’s almost embarrassing for me to admit that it’s taken this long, but I finally got around to visiting Harry Potter and his friends at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando Florida last weekend. Why is it embarrassing? Beyond being a big fan of the story, I live in Tampa, which is only an hour’s drive away. Was it worth the trip? Let’s face it; anytime you get an opportunity to visit the Island of Adventure, it’s worth the trip.
We arrived Friday night and stayed at the Portofino Bay Hotel, one of the three hotels on the premises. In my opinion, it’s the best of the three. The room was beautiful with a view overlooking the bay. The staff couldn’t have been friendlier. Granted, it may take a little longer to get to the park from there than from The Hard Rock, but with the boat ride over, you really don’t mind.
One of the benefits at staying at one of the Universal hotels is that they offer you a fast pass to all the rides, for you and your entire family. The only exception for the fast pass is, you guessed it, Harry Potter. The consolation for no fast pass through Hogwarts is that they allow you to enter the park an hour before it opens to the public, so there shouldn’t be any wait when you arrive. Awesome, I’m all about no waiting. One flaw with that invitation, you’ve got to get up early, and I’ve got a bad case of insomnia. A seven a.m. wake-up call is a lot to ask for on the weekend. No worries, I’m with the wife and kids, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Boy was I wrong, didn’t sleep a wink. Don’t know why, but I can never sleep in a strange bed. To my wife’s credit, she tried to get me going, but the thought of spending an entire day at the park without any sleep was more than I could bear. We arrived at ten. No problem, it’s still early I said, how bad could it be?
We entered the park, and the first thing that struck me was that the park wasn’t packed. Maybe it was the fact that it was close to 100 degrees in the shade, but it was still pretty early and the lines to enter were growing. We glanced at Superhero land, and walked through Dr. Seuss land, and still, the park looked light. I thought we were in luck. I got to sleep in late and the park was empty. Look out wizards, the muggles are coming. Hey look, there’s the entrance to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter straight ahead. I’m excited, can’t wait to go on these rides.
I turn the corner and my face dropped. If we were playing hide and seek, I just won. I found everyone in the park waiting for me to arrive, and they saved me a spot at the entrance. Phew, did I mention it was hot out? Okay, good sprits, two hours sleep, I could do this. Let’s go on the Dragon Challenge; no wait, it’s a two and a half hour wait. Ok, let’s go visit some of the shops. Hey look, it’s Ollivanders …what, standing room only you say, occupancy full you say, okay, let’s not. I know, let’s try one of those world famous butter beers that everyone appears to be enjoying. Where’s the stand … about a thirty-minute wait in front of you. Feel enthusiasm fading … must stay excited. Who was I kidding this was going to be a long day.
Due to the heat and dehydration we decided we would only wait on one line, but which one, they’re all so long. I was told the best ride was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Now I heard from many a friend that this ride would be worth the wait, so we waited, and waited, and an hour and some change later we waited some more. We went from the entrance inside, quickly back outside, through a tangled line of people (saw a poor little girl collapsed on the floor crying) and continued to soldier on in the heat, up stairs, and without much protection from the sun. Ahh … could it be? Yes, I think we’ve reached it. Success, we’re in the castle. From here on was only about another twenty-minute wait.
Now the only thing that truly concerned me was that I was with my seven year old daughter who made it very clear to me that she did not want to go on this ride. I know what you’re thinking; I’m not that mean, she didn’t want to go on any other ride either, with the exception of anything from Seuseville. That aside, I had other patient children and a wife who did want to go on the ride, so I made a deal. I told her that I would sit right beside her and if she got scared, to just lean against my side and close her eyes.
I’m nervous. I was under the impression that this ride might be like Spiderman, or the Simpson’s … it wasn’t. The chair pulled-up and we had a seat, but were immediately separated by a thin wall that came between us. She leaned over and I saw the concern in her eyes. I grabbed her hand and reassured her that I’m right here. I reminded her to close her eyes if she got scared. Boom! We’re off like a shot. The ride moved very much like a roller coaster, nothing compared to the simulators I expected.
First up, a dragon. No, not a friendly dragon, mind you, a dragon with flames and smoke. A couple of wild rolls, chasing Harry on his broom, and we’re off to the woods. Hooray, giant spiders! Can this ride get any scarier? Why yes, it can. Some more rolls and twists and hey look, it’s the dementors, (please tell me your eyes are shut). I don’t recall much after this point; I could only imagine the therapy my child would have to endure because daddy had to go on the Harry Potter ride.
Long story short, we exited the ride and I looked at my daughter with concern. I didn’t want to make the first move, because I thought it might cause a reaction, so I squeezed her hand and said it’s all over. To my surprise she didn’t cry. I asked if everything was all right and she immediate told me she would not go on another scary ride for the rest of the day. Luckily, she did as I asked and had her eyes closed the entire ride. Thank God.
Now in defense of this ride, if it were just the wife, and myself I would have loved it. Nothing makes you feel like you’re in the movie more than this ride and this entire themed area of the park. I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of the series. Universal did an incredible job. There’s a reason everyone in the park waited to enter this attraction. We eventually grabbed some butter beer (cream soda and vanilla ice cream?) and it was delicious. So to all curious, go and enjoy. Get some butter beer and put your Hogwarts cloak on (other’s did). Just make sure to get a good night sleep, come early, and maybe wait until it cools off a little. If not, enjoy the butter beer. My son loved it.
I recently saw the latest installment of X-Men films entitled X-Men: First Class, starring James McAvoy, as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender, as his frenemy, Erik Lensherr, a.k.a. Magneto and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised. When I first heard that Marvel was doing another installment of the X-Men series I wasn’t too excited. I thought the last X-Men movie: The Last Stand was decent, but the series felt played out. The, us vs. the world, mentality had built over the past few movies and culminated in a battle of good mutants vs. evil in where Logan’s love of Jean Grey triumphed all and helped to save the day for mankind. End scene, end series. Good run, but how do you build on that?
Why you go back forty-nine years and show us how it all began. Ah, an interesting twist you say, tell me more, you say. All right I will. If any of you have been reluctant to watch the X-Men trilogy released between 2000-2006, because you felt you didn’t know the characters, or understand why they became the way they became, this movie is for you. This is finally your chance to get in on the ground level. No more unanswered questions, no more wondering whose side to take, no more asking: why is he like this, and how did he become like that, etc. This movie answers all those questions and more. Below is my top five list of best-unanswered questions revealed in the X-men: First Class.
*Spoiler alert, if you have not seen the movie and would rather not have these unanswered questions revealed, then stop reading and go see the movie.
How did Charles Xavier become paralyzed? He was shot in the back by a stray bullet deflected off of Magneto. Next.
What put a strain on the relationship between Magneto and Xavier? They seemed like such good friends, and throughout every movie, they always shared a mutual respect toward one another. Then why the love hate relationship? Oddly enough, it wasn’t the bullet. Short answer – Xavier loves mankind, Magneto (Erik), not so much. It’s complicated. Okay then, well that begs the next question.
Why does Magneto hate humans? You would originally think it was because the Nazi’s took his parents away from him and placed him in a concentration camp, but no, that was only the beginning. It wasn’t until his mother was shot in front of him that he finally snapped. I find it odd though, that it was actually a mutant who killed his mother, not a human. Regardless, it certainly didn’t help mankind’s cause when instead of thanking him for saving the world from World War III (Kennedy who?) they shot a hundred missiles in his direction with the intent of wiping him off the face of the world. Bad politics.
Where did Xavier get the school for the X-Men? You ever notice that huge mansion all the mutants get to hang out in … how could you not? That place is pretty awesome. Well apparently Xavier’s parents were loaded (and also rich). The school was actually his childhood home. They never did go into what happened to his parents, or how the made their money, but this kid had it all (even a blue girlfriend).
Why are they called the X-Men? This one seems rather obvious, but for some reason I didn’t place it together until it was mentioned in the movie. They’re called the X-Men, because they’re Xavier’s men (and women). Duh to me, but admit it, you didn’t know either until I just told you.
So there you have it, five unanswered questions answers in one short blog. Now I know many of you may still have a number of questions out there, but why spoil the entire movie. Go see it for yourself and be the judge. You’ll discover that Charles, (when he had hair and could walk), was quite the ladies man. You’ll also be impressed to know that Magneto is fluent in at least four languages. Finally, you can show-off to your friends when you explain to them that it wasn’t Kennedy who thwarted the Cuban missile crisis, it was the X-Men. You’ll even see a surprise cameo. Who? C’mon, I don’t want to give everything away. Let’s just say he had a great line that my son enjoyed repeating. My bottom line: X-Men First Class, best of the group.
Well, I guess I put it off long enough, but over the weekend, I finally decided to go and see the fourth edition of Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides starring Johnny Depp, Ian McShane, and Penelope Cruz. Why was I so resistant to see this movie? Hmm … how should I put this? In almost one hundred years of making films, I have never seen, or heard of a movie that combined, pirates, mermaids, and the fountain of youth all in the same story line. Surprise, there is now.
Why should this bother me you ask? Well, it just so happens that my novel, Mayhem’s Fountain, (released in November 2010) also shares those exact same elements. You could imagine my despair when I first saw the trailer to this movie. At first I was intrigued. I thought another Pirates film, okay, big fan of Johnny Depp. I certainly enjoyed the first movie Then, I saw the mermaids, and thought, damn, someone else is finally tapping into this long forgotten market. Finally, I saw their pursuit of the Fountain of Youth and I thought, are you kidding me? I mean, what are the odds?
Okay, I admit it, this was quite a blow. My initial fear was that anyone who heard of my novel would assume that I took a page out of this movie and I felt devastated. Then I thought, you know, just because we share the same elements, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Look at the vampire market. Anyone who’s seen Twilight and True Blood would have to agree with this assessment. Let’s face it, same elements, but a completely different feel. If this is the case, then my novel should be all right. I consider my story more like True Blood and consider Pirates 4 more like Twilight. Now, since I’m a fan of lists, I give you my top five reasons (10 is too mainstream) why my novel Mayhem’s Fountain is nothing like On Stranger Tides.
Mermaids: This was the element of biggest concern for me, because it is the essence of my novel. I’m very pleased to say that our image of a mermaid was significantly different. While I try and portray the Atlanteans as almost super-human beings who live under the ocean, they are exactly that – human beings. The fins they wear while in the ocean are no more than swimming aids. They live, eat, and breathe as any other human would, just with more capacity. The mermaids portrayed in the pirate’s movie views them more as vampires than sea creatures. There aren’t any mermen, just mermaids, and they thrive on eating humans. My mermaids don’t eat humans, they may detest anyone from the upper world, but they would never eat them. Not cannibals – check.
The Fountain of Youth: This was another area of great concern, because both of our stories are centered around the Fountain of Youth in some way. In Mayhem’s Fountain, the Fountain of Youth is represented as a well, centered in the middle of St. Augustine, being used daily for healing purposes by the locals in order to cure whatever ails them. In Pirate’s IV, the fountain is almost placed in another dimension, and the only way to get there is by way of some ancient ritual involving mermaid tears, and silver goblets. Once there, the only way to consume the water is to use this ritual and sacrifice humans. I don’t sacrifice humans. I share the water equally to anyone who cares to imbibe in its healing powers. No human sacrifice – check.
Pirates – This is where your characters define your story. Captain Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp, is an icon that could never be duplicated. He’s aloof, whimsical, and certainly very entertaining, but is he a true captain? Sure, he’s entertained millions of followers over the past 8 years, but does he have the qualities you would expect to find in a captain? Me personally, I think Ian McShane’s portrayal of Blackbeard was far more on point. Regardless, this is Disney, and this is Hollywood, therefore Captain Jack is the hero of this trilogy plus one. My novel’s protagonist, Captain Cornelius Mayhem is nothing like Jack Sparrow. He cares for his crew like his family, has a moral compass, and tends to want to do what’s right. Is my version of a pirate captain what you would expect to find, probably not, but my captain doesn’t wear eyeliner. No woman’s make-up on captain –check.
The New World: As mentioned earlier, both stories take you to the Fountain of Youth, and if history tells us anything of this myth, the Fountain was discovered in St. Augustine. In the pirate’s movie, you go to the new world, with its lush vegetation, huge waterfalls (are we in Florida), and of course an abandoned ship on top of a cliff. How it got on top of the cliff I have no idea. In my novel, I give you a land filled with the natives of the land, fighting to take back what was theirs from the invaders. You meet the inhabitants, see into their lives, and feel their pain. I too bring you into the jungles of Florida, but I make you feel the heat. Granted, I don’t have any abandoned ships hanging from a cliff, but I do have Sasquatch. No ship hangers – check.
Story Line: Finally and most importantly, you get to the story line. Disney is Disney and they’re so successful because they have a formula that works and they stick to it. While I may not think the storyline to the latest pirate movie was that great, my son appeared to have enjoyed himself, so mission accomplished. My story on the other hand was not written to entertain children, it was written for the adult fantasy fan; therefore I can’t make an apple to apples comparison.
Bottom line, I think you have the elements for a great story in either case and the beauty of using these elements are that they are universally known. I’m pleased to see the Atlantean, or mermaid come back to glory, and frankly I think it’s a myth that’s been long overdue for an overhaul. If you’re looking to spend some time with your child and like be entertained by the big screen, go see On Stranger Tides, it’s an enjoyable movie. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to be entertained by the written word and have an interest in the subject matter stated above, give my book a try. I would love to hear your comments.