So I was having a conversation with an old friend where I mentioned that I used to be the artistic director of Tuacahn Center for the Arts in southern Utah, which is home to a massive 2,000-seat amphitheater placed in the shadow of breathtaking 1,500-foot red rock cliffs.
“I’ve heard of Tuacahn,” he said. “Isn’t that the place that’s pretty much ‘Disney on Ice,’ but without the ice?”
That made me laugh, mainly because it’s actually a pretty good way to describe what happens on Tuacahn's stage. People going to see a "Disney on Ice" show — or Tuacahn performance, for that matter — aren’t looking to explore some intimate character drama. They’re looking to be blown away.
The theater was created to present an original musical about the history of southern Utah that included a built-in live flood effect that poured thousands of gallons of water across the stage. So once they scrapped the original musical and started doing Broadway fare, they felt it necessary to shoehorn a flood effect into everything else they did.
So in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” it was a flood, not a landslide, that cut off the pass at the end of the first act. And at the end of “Fiddler on the Roof,” the abandoned village of Anatevka was entirely washed away. When I directed “Guys and Dolls,” I wanted the flood effect in the sewer scene until the choreographer pointed out that dancing in sewer water would be an unpleasant idea for the audience to consider. So the flood didn’t make an appearance in that show, and I felt like I had let the audience down. After all, each show was supposed to be bigger than the last.
I thought about that as I watched “Jurassic World,” the latest entry in the Jurassic Park franchise that’s breaking box office records all around the world. Everyone, including me, who goes to see this movie expects to blown away, and they don’t leave disappointed on that score. It’s all about seeing bigger, badder dinosaurs tearing up the screen. Oh, sure, the movie had people in it, but if they weren’t being carried off by pterodactyls or eaten by T. rex hybrids, they didn’t really matter.
If it sounds like I’m complaining about that, I apologize, because that is not my intent. I had as much fun as everyone else watching Indominus rex chew all the scenery, and I’m not one of these elitist types that thinks everything has to be high art. There’s nothing wrong with spectacle — go big or go home, I always say.
The challenge, however, is that once you go too big, you’re pretty much left with nowhere else to go.
The original “Jurassic Park” was the first time moviegoers saw dinosaurs on screen that didn’t look like puppets. CGI was in its infancy, and so the thrill of seeing a photorealistic brontosaurus was enough to propel that film to staggering box office grosses. But today, CGI is everywhere, and we’ve pretty much seen everything by this point.
So to even compete with the magic of that first experience, you have to exponentially raise the stakes. Where you once had a handful of dinos menacing a small group of people, now you need swarms of prehistoric beasts chomping on whole hordes of people to get the same response.
So what do you do for an encore? One producer suggested raptors on the moon for the next installment. While I’m sure they were joking, don’t be surprised if the sequel isn’t too far removed from that.
And next summer, we could see the live-action version on stage, where the T. rex drowns in “Jurassic Flood.”
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.