Michael Jackson's Revived Captain EO is Still Wired, Slightly Tired


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ANAHEIM, California Michael Jackson's 3-D short film Captain EO is playing again at Disneyland, and the 24-year-old space opera still holds up. Mostly.

Representing the height of 1986 movie technology, Captain EO was a lavish collaboration between Disney and George Lucas Industrial Light & Magic studio. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Jackson at the zenith of his career, the 17-minute film was shown only in custom-built theaters in Disney parks from 1986 to 1994. Following Jackson's death in 2009, fans clamored for Captain EOs return, and Disney brought it back, though only to Disneyland, on Feb. 23.

Anjelica Huston as the Supreme Leader in Captain EO.

Captain EO stars Michael Jackson in the title role, commander of a starship full of rejects whod get eaten alive if they sauntered into the Mos Eisley cantina. The bumbling team is tasked with delivering a message to the Supreme Leader of an evil planet (played by Anjelica Huston), and that message is of course a lavish song-and-dance number.

In the mid-80s, the film stunned audiences with a combination of cutting-edge visuals and in-theater special effects. Can it recapture the magic nearly a quarter-century later? To find out, we went to Disneyland and took in Captain EO twice. Here's what still works today, and whats aged noticeably.

How Captain EO Stays Sharp

The music. Of course. Two Jackson songs are featured in the film an original called We Are Here to Change the World and a snippet of Another Part of Me, the full version of which would be released on his album Bad in 1987. Change the World is classic Jackson; hear it just once and you leave the theater humming the hook. A recording of the song was not official released until 2004.

The Supreme Leader. Lots of the costumes and puppets in the movie are outdated, but not Huston's. Suspended in the air in a living net of tangly electronic wires, the evil space queen looks like something out of Ghost in the Shell. Awesome to watch.

Hydraulics. Apparently, the original film wasn't shown in theaters with motorized seats, which were installed at Disneyland when a new 4-D movie took Captain EO's place. The new EO experience might be missing some of the original runs bells and whistles, like the laser light show and fog effects. But to feel your seat thumping to the bass line when the music kicks in well, that's more than smoke and mirrors.

Where Captain EO Falls Flat

3-D. In an Avatar age, Captain EO's pioneering use of stereoscopy comes off as silly, not impressive. Its not merely that the tech has advanced. Its because the filmmakers were so infatuated with 3-D that they used it for base vaudeville, like making asteroids float over the heads of the audience or having the Supreme Leaders evil guards poke their spears menacingly at the crowd.

Fuzzball. Jackson's tiny, furry, flying companion serves no purpose other than to sell plush toys at the Captain EO gift shop. (They aren't even available anymore.)

The hair, oh God the hair. Every backup dancer looks like a character from Double Dragon.

So, if you're in Disneyland, should you see Captain EO? Of course: The lines aren't nearly as horrible as they were in 1986 and the short film lasts a lot longer than Star Tours. Its still an entertaining 17 minutes, although sometimes for very different reasons than when it was first shown.

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