In Moviedom – Universal Studios Florida: The Magic of Movies

I grew up in Orlando, Florida, and when you grow up in Orlando your familiarity with Central Florida’s various theme parks becomes such an ingrained part of your being that you tend to take it for granted.  Along with that familiarity comes the ability to reflexively make comparisons between the parks. Essentially, there are two groupings this comparison can fall into: Disney parks vs other Disney parks and any Disney park vs any non-Disney park. When I was very young, the “non-Disney” selections were easily inferior: you had Busch Gardens, Sea World, Circus World (later called Boardwalk and Baseball, which actually ruled), and Wet n’ Wild. Then, in 1990, Universal Studios came along and somewhat leveled the playing field.

Universal tried to be a lot of things; in addition to a Disney-dark-ride competitor it also wanted to be a functioning film studio, host live-action stage shows, and eventually serve as a television studio.  It ended up pulling off most of these things over the years, but it still felt like Disney’s younger brother. That’s as evident in this 75-minute promotional video from 1990 as it is anywhere else – a video that, if Disney had produced it, would have told a (hamfisted) story that involved TV and film actors and actresses from both the modern and golden-ages of the industry and cheesily pumped the viewer up to either visit that park or to be jealous of those who did.  Instead, what we get is a relatively dry video brochure that, in some ways, gives away most of the reasons to visit the park at all.

John Forsythe “hosts” this special, which starts out with a brief yet bland history of the opening of the park and threads that along several two to three minute pieces about each attraction in the park, up through the Terminator and Twister additions.

The dark/thrill rides like Kong and Jaws are predictably exciting, but Universal’s real point of distinction between them and the competition was their ‘behind the curtain’ attractions that showed how films and television were made.  The Alfred Hitchcock, Murder She Wrote (seriously!) and Monster Makeup shows were great examples of this approach, and as a kid who had an interest in TV production these were some of my favorite attractions in the park. This special kind of works as an anti-commercial for those attractions, squeezing all of the interesting material out and distilling it down so that experiencing the attractions themselves becomes unnecessary.  It literally spoils the ending of the Hitchcock and Monster Makeup shows. And, arguably, Murder She Wrote, too.

Universal’s form of “characters” walking the park were actually local actors playing key characters from popular movies and television. Lucy and Ricky, Beetlejuice, and the Ghostbusters could theoretically be seen wandering the streets of the park. They pulled these characters off with varying degrees of success.  For every Lucy and Ricky…

…you got a hippie, off model, Beetlejuice?

In what was probably five years of annual/bi-annual park attendance I never came across anhyone but this video makes it look like the park is pregnant with characters.

I get that this video is supposed to be a somewhat dry sell of the park in its attempt to sell the entire thing as a complete set, but that doesn’t change the fact that their chief competition, the park whose visitors they need to pull over to their side for just one day of their vacation, would have found a much more interesting way to accomplish this objective.  Still, it’s a neat look at where Universal was in the mid 1990s – it’s certainly a much more established and successful park today, and it’s in a much different place.  I’m sort of waiting for it to just become a full Minions park.






Welcome to Arg – The Adventure Game (1980)

Take a little bit of Dungeons & Dragons, add a little bit of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, put it in an “escape room” format and you’ve got “The Adventure Game”, a brilliant, stylish, charming, original game show aired on BBC between 1980 and 1986. Can you tell I like it?

The game takes place on Arg, home planet of the Argonds. The Argonds are a mischevious race of dragons who are sick of all of the “trippers” from Earth coming to their planet via time (and space?) travel.  The travelers are celebrities, a different set each week.  The Argonds sometimes steal the crystals from the traveler’s ships, and the travelers must solve a series of logic puzzles and riddles to get their crystal back so that they can leave.  The viewer gets to watch each team of travelers work the puzzles out.

The rooms vary in the sorts of puzzles offered. The contestants might have to decipher a shapes and colors puzzle…

…solve an escape room puzzle with many moving parts…

…or play a text-based adventure game on a computer.

The premise and format of the show would evolve through the years; the Argonds went from being dragons to being furry creatures to being furry dragons to being…potted plants?


Also cool is that one of the series 1 contestants, Lesley Judd, returns in subsequent series as “the Mole”, a character who impersonates a fellow contestant but who is really an Argond.

The set and costume design are top-notch as well; the 1980s vision of the future is alive and well on Arg with its white walls, accent colors, single-tone outfits and focus on geometry.

A fun premise on a gorgeous set, with interesting puzzles and celebrities figuring those puzzles out.  No prizes, no immunities, no backstabbing, just fun.

Can I move to Arg?

Here’s an episode.


Absolutely Rose Street – 1994 SEGA 32X Infomercial

Just to get the obvious out there: I love old video game ads. I love infomercials. I love ’90s video techniques and effects.  I love terrible things that are trying to not be terrible.  All that said, this 30-minute infomercial for SEGA’s 32X add-on to their Genesis system is a confusing mess of objectives and styles and while i don’t really regret watching a single minute of it I kind of regret watching it at all. I’m confused, too.

“Absolutely Rose Street” takes the common infomercial form of a “dramatic” narrative that not-so-subtly sells you a product while telling a story involving somewhat complex characters.  The narrative is pretty wonky, though, and about 90% of the half-hour is spent on this effort. I’m still not sure I’ve got it straight, but here goes.

There’s a show being pitched to a cable station that’s created by a bunch of young, cool, twenty-something teenagers called “Game Beat”.   The station manager, an aging white dude, tells his subordinate, another aging white dude named Joe Whitehead, to fix up the show and make it better.  Joe’s got a side thing going with a host of a competing show, “Styling with Stella”, and tells the “Game Beat” crew that they’ll be cancelled unless they can come up with an amazing episode in a week.

The “Game Beat” crew takes to the streets, interviewing kids about SEGA stuff. They also get some intel from SEGA itself in a weird, matrix-like fashion through a Windows ’95 interface.

The majority of this segment (actually, the majority of the infomercial) is edited in quick, short bursts, which comes off like a battle sequence from a Transformers movie:

The team presents their video and are cancelled in favor of Stella’s show anyway.  The gang decides to throw a party (?) and shoot one last edgy episode of “Game Beat”, the name changed to “Absolutely Rose Street”.  Their skill at lighting a shot has decreased significantly by this point.

They sneak into the station and swap the edgy episode of “Game Beat” so it plays instead of Stella’s show. Stella and Joe are upset, but then Joe learns that his boss likes it! Wah-wah!

The “Game Beat” crew lives to fight another day. Oh, also, this whole thing was meant to sell kids on an adapter for their SEGA Genesis system.  It’s sort of an easter egg in this video. See if you can find that part in the middle of all of the compelling story that’s taking place.

For a more in-depth write-up on this video, check out Video Game Ephemera, who ripped, posted, and wrote-up this long-lost video in the first place. Thanks, VGE! What a find.



The Game Is Very Simple – The Great American Telephone Trivia Game (1990)

The dawn of the cable infomercial and the pay-per-minute 1-900 telephone business opened up some pretty suspicious scam opportunities. TV psychics could tell your future, you could spend quality time with a pre-recorded Corey Feldman or a myriad other celebrities, and of course you could find some foxy company for the night – all delivered very slowly for an insane amount of money per minute.  I wasn’t aware of 1990’s The Great American Telephone Trivia Game until today, but this scam might really take the cake.

This “show” features original “Jeopardy!” host Art Fleming at the helm of what appears to be a standard trivia game show, but there’s an amazing futuristic twist. Thanks to the miracle of cable tv and telephone technology, viewers can now call in and play the trivia game as well.  If they answer 9 questions correctly, questions similar to the ones the contestants are answering, they win $100!

The scam is clear: the contestants on the screen are getting softball questions (“In what city does ‘Cheers’ take place?”) and the ones on the 1-900 number are much more difficult.  What’s more, I’m willing to bet that the questions are delivered very slowly and you don’t know whether you answered any of them correctly until all nine questions are completed.  At one-minute per question and $1.95 per minute, you’re in for at least $20 on this call – and that’s assuming there’s no lengthy intro or outro sucking more more time, which was another common 900-number tactic.  So best case scenario you’re up $80 assuming the questions are really just as easy as the ones on the screen. Which they’re not.

Fleming also rubs the prizes that the studio guests will win in the viewer’s face, amazing prizes that the viewer will never be able to win or afford. 

Spoiler: BOTH CONTESTANTS WIN. It’s beautiful in its terrible awfulness. Here it is, with some strange formatting that I can’t explain. What a find.



Super Mario All Stars VHS Promo Video – 1993

Imagine going to pick up your pre-order of Super Mario All Stars for the Super Nintendo in 1993 and receiving a bonus VHS containing twenty minutes of Mario celebration along with reviews of  other contemporary SNES games, all hosted by Lister from Red Dwarf.

Are you imagining it?

This video is simultaneously an awesome pack-in for a video game, a huge bonus value, and a cringeworthy commercial that tries so hard to be cool that it comes off as like when the chaperones try to dance with the students at the school dance.

Craig Charles hosts from a very Dwarf-esque control center, narrating a brief history of the Mario series before rolling through some talking points on the bigger SNES games of the time like A Link to the Past, Mario Kart, Starwing (Starfox here in the US) and Battletoads.

The video also oddly rates its own games? Why would you present the game that you’re trying to sell to kids as anything other than 100%?

Lister then “beams down” to meet the Nintendo hotline headquarters representatives. While it would have been easy to portray the hotline headquarters as a futuristically lit gaming lair featuring loads of slick actors paid to look like savvy gaming know-it-alls, Nintendo made the bold choice to portray the hotline headquarters as a futuristically lit gaming lair featuring the actual hotline representatives who aren’t necessarily camera friendly and have no formal on-camera training.

The video then doubles down on this strategy, giving the representatives the chance to review Aladdin, Mario Paint, and more, in obnoxiously over-effected segments.

An educating but disappointingly dry five minute segment on how a video game is made leads into a run of game cheats. This is arguably the only valuable part of the entire tape.

The valuable part lasts only so long until the segment turns into a commercial for the SNES Score Master and the Nintendo Scope. I’m not sure ‘buy this accessory to play the game better’ counts as a tip.

Lister throws a few snarky one liners and the video is over.  Like I said, this is simultaneously a great bonus item for a game and a terrible video. But adorably terrible.  Here it is.






Commodore Vic 20 Print Ads

Selling a computer in 1982 had to be pretty tough. For one thing, they were super expensive. For another thing, you had (at least) two different types of customers. On one side, there’s a really informed audience that wanted to know what specs your company brought to the table that made you better than the other guys. On the other side, you had an increasingly interested consumer base that knew nothing about the technology and needed to know why they needed a computer in the first place.

This set of Commodore Vic-20 ads does a good job illustrating the differences in marketing to each group. In this first ad you’ve got 1980s Geek-Jesus William Shatner running through detailed spec comparisons and software offerings in a very busy layout.

And for the know-nothings, a clean and elegant ad that throws just enough jargon out there to get a few polite head nods and a consideration at getting this instead of an Apple.

Which one speaks to you?



Shoot Some Diseases Into The Castle – Game Players Game Tape, Vol 1, Tape 6

The sixth in what must have been an exhaustive series of overpriced VHS tapes designed to milk ’80s gamers out of their hard-earned dollars in exchange for broad suggestions on how to play select games competently, this Game Players Magazine tape actually has some visual merits to it.

The frustrating part about the content is that these are games that actually need tips; the video covers Ultra’s TMNT, Metal Gear, Defenders of the Crown, and Skate or Die – pretty tough games.

The TMNT “tips” are frustrating in their broadness; “use Donatello against Rocksteady” doesn’t really constitute a tip. Also, 90% of the TMNT tips are “use Donatello”.

There’s an odd appearance/interlude by “the Creator”, a creepy hype man for the games featured in the video. Sort of a circular internal commercial for the games included in the video that you bought to help you beat the games that you already bought.

Metal Gear’s tips consist of “hey, recognize this screenshot and do the vague thing we’re telling you to do here”

If the flaming tips included in the video weren’t enough, there’s also an ad for a hotline to give you even more secrets for who-knows-what games! Seriously, you don’t know until you call, and at that point you’re at least two dollars deep.

Skate or Die’s tips include taking advantage of a turbo controller and getting a buddy to mash buttons while you get air. Sweet exploit, I guess. Another hot tip: be sure to land right, or you’ll fall. Money well spent, here.

Insert an odd ad for a wireless NES Advantage rip-off that is nothing short of amazing.

The tips for Defenders of the Crown are, at this point, predictably awful. “When jousting you want to hit your opponent, but not his horse.” Thanks!

A disappointing offering but hey, that’s the eighties for you. Silver lining: the video quality is fantastic.






Phil Hartman Sells The CD-i: Friday Followup

Who could be a better pitchman for the CD-i than perhaps the best SNL cast member of all time, Phil Hartman? Whoever wrote these ads really put Phil through the ringer, but he does more in thirty seconds than Sid and Ed did in thirty minutes.

It’s also worth noting that the CD-i had dropped from its initial price of $700 and its price cut around Sid and Ed time to $500 down to $300.  This must have been near the end.

Man, I miss Phil Hartman.



1995 Philips CD-i Infomercial: A Pothole On The Information Superhighway

The Philips CD-i was a system slightly ahead of its time. It tried to do it all – play top-of-the-line games, play movies in the best quality available, use all of the CD-ROM resources a PC had at its disposal, and also provide casual internet access in the living room. In the early-to-mid ’90s, a device that could do all of this at a reasonable price was a pipe dream. That’s why this thing initially cost $700, with expensive add-ons if you wanted the full capabilities it promised. It was also a “jack of all trades, master of none” as a device, being outperformed in gaming by gaming consoles, outmatched in PC functions by PCs, and so on.

Spoiler alert: it ultimately failed.

Philips made a decent go of trying to get this thing off of the ground, though; a licensing deal with Nintendo (good move) led to the independent non-Nintendo development of some Zelda and Mario titles (bad move).

They banked on non-traiditional, digital media (good move) by developing unique interactive kids content (good move), game shows and workout videos (good move) and interactive music CDs that let you rearrange the music (bad move).

They also advertised on cable (good move) with a full length infomercial (good move) that creates a weird narrative and tries to humorously portray middle-class lifestyles and provide solutions to those exaggerated lifestyles (bad move).

It’s that last one that we’re talking about here, a 30-minute infomercial called “A Day with Sid, Ed and CD-i” that aired in late night cable in the mid 1990s.  There’s a rivalry between a CD-i representative and an electronics repairman that, for some reason that we’re not privy to, exists. Sid, the CD-i guy, listens in on Ed’s repair calls and poaches them, getting there first and giving them a CD-i and a full library of games and peripherals so that they don’t need Ed’s services by the time he gets there.

He gives them the CD-i’s.  Gives.

It’s a pretty clear way of breaking out the CD-i’s advantages in different multimedia scenarios. In the first of three segments, little Timmy’s destroyed the family PC and it’s unrecoverable.  Sid shows up and marches right in. Mom’s okay with this. He hooks a CD-i into the television, telling them they don’t need a computer anymore. Mom’s okay with this.  He suggests kid-friendly games to Timmy. Mom’s okay with this.

In a few short minutes, Sid’s sold Mom and Timmy on the CD-i. Well, not sold.  Again, they didn’t buy anything.  But they now have a CD-i, so I guess that’s a win in a future, attach rate, sense? 

Part two: some believably rad dudes hanging out together playing video games, reading comics, and dancing to rock music on headphones all at the same time, all independent of each other. Headphones dude trips over the video game cable, destroying the console.  A quick call to Ed’s repair results in Sid barging in and, again, giving a CD-i console to the dudes along with a run through of the amazing games available.

Burn:Cycle was a pretty solid game, as are Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, but the rest don’t even look that good by 1990s full-motion-video standards.  Sid hangs out and games with the dudes, then moves on.  Sid’s about $2500 in the hole at this point, considering that he’s given away two consoles and who knows how much software.

Part three: date night.  Peter and Gina are watching a “Forrest Gump” VHS in full daylight when the tape gets eaten by the machine.  Cue Sid and his free CD-i to extol the virtues of digital media.  It’s worth noting that Sid has used “Four Weddings and a Funeral” as a selling point of the CD-i to all three groups at this point. Peter and Gina get more of an overall taste than the other groups do, as a run through the system’s digital board games draws out Gina’s murderous tendencies. Hilarious! I’d be interested in checking that “Clue” title out, though.

The “Feature Presentation” screen, a direct lift of a VHS copy, is the real highlight of this segment.

Ed, throughly defeated at this point, gets on board with CD-i.  He and Sid team up, equal partners in Sid’s unprofitable nightmare of a business.

Each segment is punctuated by wonderful infomercial hard-sells, run-throughs of the system’s features, 800-numbers, and payment plans.

Here it is.  So bad, so good.