Harry Potter and the Apocalypse We're Trying to Escape
April 15, 2016, 12:47 PM ·
Theme park advertisements often tap into our emotions to sell us on why a day at their park rises above a day doing any of the other 10 billion things a family can spend its money on. While many offer a glimpse into a day of escapism, few hit it quite on those nose in the way Universal Studios Hollywood's spot for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter does.
"We all wonder what it would be like to fly, to have power, to journey to another world. We wish, hope, dream...then we come to realize wonder can be real after all."
In one commercial, Universal Studios hits every beat why the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and fantasy properties in general, are so in vogue in theme parks in 2016. Entertainment as escapism isn't a new trait peddled to reach millennials — no, but it's something that has come back into popularity in recent years following, well, if you've been alive the past 20 years, you know exactly what it's following.
The second beat in that voiceover, given by a young girl as we soar through the clouds, hits me the most. "To have power," she says, hopefully, wistfully. She's not hoping for the power Lord Voldemort sought — power to enslave the world and reach the pinnacle of wizardkind. No, what this girl, what we want is to feel we can, in some way, control our own situations.
We feel powerless. Weak. Hopeless. A political system that doesn't represent us, a Presidential election that has long gone off the rails, and this follows endless war in the Middle East we peddle as a means to protect ourselves. We are Americans, but identifying with the land of the Free (if you're a straight, white man) and the home of the Brave (unless you're in Congress) has never felt so tarnished.
Long gone are the science-fiction tales of Star Trek, and the attractions that used to proclaim the optimism of Disneyland now take us away from our inevitable, glorious future and into a world that is unlike ours as possible. Even attractions such as Jurassic Park: The Ride can at least, through some lens, be seen as a hopeful, if cautious, look towards our own future. Now we eschew glorious science for something a little less real — magic.
That's not a criticism; it's an explanation. Magic long has been the bread-and-butter word of the theme park industry, but at no other time has it felt like the only life-blood the industry has needed. "To journey to another world," she says next. Yes, send us away — send us anywhere, please, something unlike the dark, cynical world we're trapped in.
Up goes The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, here comes Star Wars Land and look out for Avatar Land on the horizon. Hogwarts, Hoth, Pandora. We want — no, we need an escape. Theme parks ready themselves to provide it to us. They know what franchises we want and they're prepared to bring them in all their might and glory.
The Hunger Games, a book/movie series based on a severely dystopian society set in a world no human would want to visit, is getting its own themed land. If it weren't for pre-negotiated theme park rights, you can bet the all-powerful heroes from Marvel's new set of franchises would be bearing down on us faster than Mystique slips from one disguise to another. That you know Mystique isn't associated with Disney's Marvel universe and were on your way to the comments to correct me only cements the impact these not-so-new worlds are having on the world in 2016.
It's not so much our new-found love affair with comic books that makes this true as it is the kind of stories we're looking to be told. Take a look at Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film. The stakes are almost painfully low. Spider-Man has to stop the Green Goblin, otherwise he's...going to do some pretty bad stuff to his aunt, his romantic interest and a bus filled with kids — I'm not trying to make light of the murder of seniors, but compare that to what we're getting this summer.
In X-Men: Apocalypse, mutants are facing off against a mutant powerful enough to destroy the entire planet. His name is literally the thing we most fear — our own destruction. Heck, want a more direct comparison? Try watching Tim Burton's first "Batman" film and compare it with the mouth-full-of-tar monsterpiece "Batman vs. Superman" delivered by hater of heroes and humans alike, Zack Snyder.
Both films provide a release for our existential angst in different ways. While franchises like X-Men and The Hunger Games give us a channel to destroy our anxiety, "Batman vs. Superman" forces us to confront it, to live it and to absolutely consume it. We take our medicine because deep down it makes us feel good to confront our biggest fears through a different medium.
"We wish, hope, dream...then we come to realize wonder can be real after all," the young girl concludes as Hedwig's Theme jingles over the sky, revealing Hogwarts to us. Universal Studios sucks us in by revealing our hopes and dreams of escape to us in all of 10 seconds of commercial time. Then, like any good snake-oil salesman, gives us the cure to our ailment: Reserve your tickets now.