Monday, June 25, 2018

Reawakening the Spirit of Norway, Part Three: Revising And Presenting My Ideal Plan For Maelstrom's Return

"You are not the first to pass this way... Nor shall you be the last..."

(Mark & Paul Luukkonen on Flickr)
 In the last installment of my series of musings and thoughts about the extinct and personally beloved EPCOT Center attraction Maelstrom, I wrote that I'd conclude my series of posts about Maelstrom by revealing my lengthy, detailed ideas for a fantastical plan to return the churning Maelstrom to its rightful place at EPCOT Center, greatly expanded and improved beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

Is that still true? Yes and No.

Between my publishing the previous part of Resurrecting the Spirit of Norway many months ago and now, I've gone back and forth without ever being able to resolve what exactly a restored version of Maelstrom should be like. There was (and continues to be) a raging war between the forces of nostalgia and imagination that greatly impacts my opinion on how Maelstrom should be rebuilt; the former keeps me content with much of the original ride, weird quirks and all, and the latter challenges me to dare to dream bigger, to create a bigger show building and set forth with ideas for entirely new scenes and events, and ultimately a far different attraction than the original. As of this writing, nostalgia is winning the battle, for one big reason; at least in my mind, there was something so incredibly charming about the fast pace and unusual transitions of the original Maelstrom. Turning out of the load area straight into that dark cavern and lift hill with the vision of Odin, then the tight twists, turns and drops as the boat was sent backwards and forwards through ever-changing places and times in Norway, culminating in the calm approach to the fishing village that ended the ride, made for a short but utterly unique and fascinating attraction. Where else besides the classic Fantasyland dark rides can you get such a sense of discombobulating yet utter entrancement by the numerous fantastical environs that your vehicle travels through in such a short time? In my current opinion, expanding the show building and ride like I proposed in my previous post, thereby transforming Maelstrom from a quaint C or D-Ticket ride into an E-Ticket headlining attraction, would strip away that certain intangible quality that Maelstrom once possessed. Call it nostalgia, or charm, or quaintness, much like Snow White's Scary Adventures, another extinct Disney World attraction that was dearly beloved by me, one of Maelstrom's greatest strengths was its inherent ability to transform blacklight paintings, forced perspective scenery, and limited motion figures placed within a tightly constricted space into a truly spellbinding experience in the image of the classic old dark ride, something that proclaimed modern marvels like Flight of Passage or contemporary dark rides like Ratatouille never could.

Making Maelstrom Reappear! Reappear! Reappear!: How The Construction of Frozen Ever After Solved Some of Maelstrom's Biggest Problems

With the previous paragraph's explanation in mind, let me proceed to tell you why Maelstrom should return as the short but memorable experience it was, and why the physical changes made to the ride's infrastructure for Frozen Ever After may have been the best thing to ever happen to the Maelstrom show building.

(Joel on Flickr)
In my previous post about Maelstrom, I talked about what would need to happen in order for the return of Maelstrom to be successful, specifically the challenges that would have to be overcome. Besides the obvious need for a new Frozen attraction to be built elsewhere, I reasoned that two of the greatest challenges in restoring Maelstrom would be reworking its far too short and too lightly themed queue and reinvigorating the post-show film by updating it and giving guests the opportunity to see it without disrupting the flow of guests exiting the boats (the third was the short length of Maelstrom, which I have since argued in favor of earlier in this post). The construction crew of Frozen Ever After literally killed two birds with one stone; they demolished the theater and built a new, much longer queue in that space. The fictional village of Arendelle (pictured above) and the authentic Norwegian fishing village of Maelstrom are located in roughly the same spot and are actually quite similar; the old unload dock of Maelstrom has become the new load dock of Frozen Ever After with a new unload adjacent to it. This allowed for the former queue and load area to be completely gutted and rebuilt into a new beginning for the ride, with the boat going through a few bends before ascending the lift hill.

(Nelson Minar on Flickr)

With two simple modifications, the Norway Pavilion attraction's queue was lengthened (though not enough to prevent the frequently long line for Frozen Ever After from extending outside the building), the theater was removed from the exit, and the ride was actually extended. What if these changes were kept intact when Maelstrom was returned? Just imagine; as you enter through the restored original facade of Maelstrom, you find yourself in a Norwegian fishing village rorbu cabin (a cabin rented out to fishermen by the owner of the fishing village; the above picture is of such a cabin in Reine, Norway), filled with warm and cozy Scandinavian furnishings and decorations yet unoccupied, similar to Swiss Family Treehouse. Exiting through a side door, you enter into the fishing village proper. You wind your way through a square surrounded by charming Norwegian buildings and then walk onto the pier where Viking longships are ready to welcome you aboard. The boat passes through a short cavern and then enters an open space, but instead of seeing Olaf, Sven and some trolls that bring shame upon the entire troll race, especially the old Maelstrom trolls they replaced, you pass through a spectacular Norwegian forest, majestic trees rising high above you with towering, powerful mountains in the distance. This is very similar to the original concept for Maelstrom's load area (which I talked about briefly in my previous Maelstrom post), in which guests would have boarded their longboats in a Norwegian forest on the banks of one of Norway's great fjords. Changing the Norwegian forest concept from a load area to a new first scene means that Maelstrom would now start off with a beautifully captivating yet mysterious scene imbued with the atmosphere of Norway, not unlike the beginning jungle and pyramid diorama scene from El Rio Del Tiempo/Gran Fiesta Tour. This would be an effective prelude to an entrance into a mysterious cave filled with ancient petroglyphs, where the boats would start to ascend as Odin's voice and glowing countenance marks the beginning of our journey and search for the true spirit of Norway.

Picture something like this and you're not far off from what the new first scene of Maelstrom would look like. (Simo Rasenen on Wikimedia Commons)

How The Rest of Maelstrom Should Be Improved

Maelstrom's old rock troll keeping a careful eye on my suggestions for improving his attraction. I hope he approves of my ideas or I fear he may send me down to the North Sea again! (Sam Howzit on Flickr)

Here's a basic summary of what I would improve in Maelstrom (please note that any scene, effect, prop, dialogue or other ride component not mentioned here is exactly the same as it was in the original attraction).:

  • The lift hill should have some more rockwork to hide the bare walls that were sometimes visible when the light from Odin's eye shone across the hill, but otherwise the scene is perfect as it originally was.
  • Improved movements and performance of the Viking animatronics.
  • A return of the incredible fog and smoke effect in the three-headed troll scene that was unfortunately allowed to deteriorate and stop working for years in the original attraction, and an upgrade to the three-headed troll figure itself.
  • A major upgrade of the polar bear animatronics, particularly the rearing one, which originally was far fiercer and closer to the boats in its motions but was toned down after falling over the track in 1993. Between this bear and the yeti in Expedition Everest there is bad luck at Disney World with the breakdown of animatronics that are supposed to threaten and menacingly move towards guests, making me that more determined to make it work this time!
  • A complete overhaul of the transition scene between the Far North and the Fjord. In the original Maelstrom, after encountering the rearing polar bear, the boat continued to travel backwards, icy walls giving way to darkness and then abrupt daylight as the boat entered the fjord, the polar bear visible the whole time as it faded into the distance and then was hidden by closing doors. My solution for this rather sad transition is the rapid retreat of the boat into a stunning Arctic ice cavern almost immediately after the polar bear is encountered, a multitude of reflections of the boat bouncing off the cold, beautiful clear ice walls, but with an alarming sense of danger as the echoing roar of the polar bear shakes the numerous sharp icicles above us, threatening to send them crashing down upon us. A cool, foggy mist grows thicker the further back the boat goes through the cave, first obscuring and then completely hiding the polar bear, the ursine inhabitant of the Arctic disappearing from sight as likewise the ice cavern around us gives way to the rocky cliffs of the fjord.
    The new transition between the Arctic and fjord would look a lot like this, except with 110% more icicles. (arctic_council on Flickr)
  • Modifications to the mural and rockwork in the area surrounding the drop in the fjord scene, so that instead of the boat passing underneath a flat mural of the fjord directly into the North Sea, there is a modified version of the same mural (the one with the cruise ship), below which is a very short cavern that the boats drop into, which uses fiber optic lights and sparkling sounds similar to the spell cast by the three headed troll to create the effect of the boat being magically transported from a cavern in a fjord to the middle of the North Sea, finally making one of the strangest transitions in the original Maelstrom a bit easier to understand.
  • The return of the backpacking man who used to stand on top of one of the fjord cliffs, overlooking the majestic fjord itself.
  • A major renovation of the special effects in the North Sea/oil rig scene. The original plans for guests' visit to the North Sea in Seaventure (that was Maelstrom's original name up until very late in the ride's construction) called for wind, waves, rain, thunder, and real Tesla-coil induced lightning(!). Although the last effect sadly was turned off because of the inherent danger of actual lightning in an enclosed boat ride, strobe lightning is a safe and acceptable substitute, one that was used along with thunder effects for the rest of the original Maelstrom's lifespan. As for the other three, wind effects would be easy to implement, a carefully small but noticeable wave effect could be feasible, and a slight drizzle could work as rain without soaking everyone. The oil rigs, one of Maelstrom's most memorable scenes, and still a major part of Norway's economy and heritage, should be kept.
    This original concept art for Maelstrom captures the essence of what the oil rig scene should always have been like. Copyright Disney
  • A short new finale scene between the North Sea and the fishing village, in the approximate site of where the final scene with Anna, Elsa, and Olaf is in Frozen Ever After (with a track modification to create a slight bend in the boat path), which will feature a gorgeous diorama of Norway's coastline, the cliffs and villages of the fjords stretching out into the distance as stars twinkle and the northern lights sway across the sky, their reflection dancing in the vast ocean. As the boat prepares to leave this stunning sight, the face of Odin appears above us again and for the last time as he proclaims: "Norway's spirit has always been - will always be - adventure!" The critical purpose of this new scene and the new doors put between it and the fishing village is to prevent guests in the queue from going mad listening to that line repeated over and over as they would have in the old fishing village, where there was no buffer save for ambient atmospheric sounds preventing the final dialogue of the attraction from being heard throughout the village. 
    A perfect example of what the new finale scene between the North Sea and the unload at the fishing village would be like.
  • The fishing village is now the site of the queue, load and unload of Maelstrom, and has been partly reduced thanks to the new final scene, but otherwise, it is the same as it was in the quarter century when Maelstrom sent guests on a seafaring adventure. Countless people like me who enjoyed the quaint, charming Norwegian fishing village can now admire the sight of the simple seaside buildings, the sailboat at the harbor and the coastline in the distance or listen to a lively conversation in Norwegian emanating from a house while waiting for their turn to look for Norway's spirit. 
(Mark & Paul Luukkonen on Flickr)

A Note About the Norway Pavilion Theater, or Relocating the Spirit of Norway Film

(michaelg83 on Flickr)
By keeping the new location of the queue and load area built during the construction of Frozen Ever After and the new scene spaces created as a result, My reimagining of Maelstrom has drastically improved the queue and increased the length of Maelstrom by a short but significant portion. There's only one problem: where does the old theater go? Even with the multiple improvements I've thought of for Maelstrom, ultimately, it's only a 5-minute attraction, and without an updated version of the Spirit of Norway film (like I described in my previous Maelstrom post) offering a richer, more detailed look into the modern culture and heritage of Norway, the search for the spirit of Norway will remain incomplete.

My proposal for the fate of the theater is to rebuild it in an expanded space in what is currently the first retail area that you enter upon exiting the attraction if you choose to go through the interlinked retail spaces instead of exiting the attraction directly through one of the doors near the entrance. A bypass would allow guests to continue to the Puffin's Roost if they desired, while those who wanted to see more of the spirit of Norway could enter the theater and enjoy the newly updated yet timeless "Spirit of Norway" film, discovering once more how the spirit of Norway lies in its past, its present, and its people.

Resurrecting The Maelstrom: My Last Thoughts On Bringing Norway's Spirit Back, Back, Over The Falls

(Dennis D on Flickr)
On Maelstrom's last night of existence, the waterfall cascading from the cavern that offered a glimpse of the fateful journey of the longboats guided by Odin looked much like it did in this picture: peaceful, serene, no sign of the cataclysmic destruction and transformation that was to fall upon the attraction within. Late that night, Odin's eye closed for the last time, marking the end of the spirit of Norway's hold over its country's pavilion. The Maelstrom closed and ceased to churn, and likewise the rocky gap that once enticed visitors of the land of Norway to discover what awaited them on a high seas adventure was closed and filled up. For two years now, Elsa has kept a firm, icy grip on a pavilion where she and her friends have never truly belonged. Whether that hold will ever melt away is yet to be known. In my three posts about what was once my favorite attraction in World Showcase, I've embarked on an emotional, logical, and spiritual odyssey, first sailing through the ocean of my memories, going on the Maelstrom all over again and remembering my deep appreciation for this highly underrated attraction, then winding through the maze of logic and reason, discovering the potential challenges in Maelstrom's resurrection and solving them, and finally looking at Maelstrom again with fresh eyes, revising and at long last presenting my humble "ideal plan" for resurrecting the Maelstrom and thus reawakening the true spirit of Norway within its old pavilion at Epcot's World Showcase. Thank you for joining me aboard this voyage; may you disembark in a way sad yet enlightened, disappointed yet hopeful that perhaps the seas of fate will one day favor Odin, the vikings, the trolls, the polar bears and fjords and oil rigs and quaint fishing villages. Until then, may the spirit of Norway always be with you, and remember Odin's final words:

Norway's spirit has always been - will always be - adventure!

Copyright Disney

Don't Forget to Read the Previous Installments of Reawakening The Spirit Of Norway!

Part One: How I Was Drawn Into A Maelstrom -

Part Two: The Challenges to Conquer Before The Maelstrom Can Return -

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