We haven't had one of those absolutely wonderful (and unique) on-board safety videos from Air New Zealand for a while, so let's correct that. This one is titled, "Bear Essentials of Safety" -- and it features Bear Grylls, here taking you on his own adventure to help make your flight as safe as possible.
Last week, I wrote about and posted here a spectacular in-flight safety video for Air New Zealand, "The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made" that was an extension of The Lord of the Rings I noted that the airline has a history of making wonderful and elaborate air safety videos, including several others based on Middle Earth.
Here's a second of those Middle Earth safety videos. It's not as near-operatic as the original, but great fun on it's own -- and would stand out even more if it wasn't for the "Most Epic" one that was, indeed the most epic.
A while back, I posted a video that I titled, "The most epic safety video ever made." But that wasn't my name that I gave to the little film, it was what Air New Zealand called their own video. And the thing is -- it is. It turns out, though, that Air New Zealand has a history of making outlandish, funny and extremely wonderful safety videos. I've tracked a bunch of them down and will post them here in the coming days.
But first, as a reminder, or for new people to these pages, before we get to the others, I thought it best to repeat that original video. So, here is it is and the article I posted about...
"The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made."
* * *
And no, that is not hyperbole.
In fact, the video itself begins by saying on-screen, "The most epic safety video ever made." And it's being low-key and polite. To be fair, "Epic," in this case, is sort of a tongue-in-cheek reference, as you will see. But it's nonetheless epic in the generally accepted sense, as well. This is far and away like no in-flight safety video you've seen, or likely will ever seen. It's so far away that everything else is in third place. Just leave second place empty. And, honest, that's not an exaggeration.
The in-flight video is for the safety explanation aboard Air New Zealand flights, and...well, let's just say as a reminder that New Zealand is where they filmed The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. And we'll leave it at that, and let your imaginations take over..
There are twists and turns here, and a lot of tongue-in-cheek fun, and some surprises. And further, when is the last time you ever saw credits at the end of an in-flight safety video?
As a safety video, I'm going to guess that patrons aren't going to be paying the closest attention to what's being told them, which probably isn't ideal. On the other hand, a) most people by now have a pretty good idea of the safety procedures on an airplane, b) in some ways, people are going to watch this much closer than the regular in-flight safety videos they zone out of, and c) this is going to be see FAR more by people who are not on an airplane, so there's no risk of going down in the water.
Which brings up the other point.
Beyond being the Greatest (and Most Epic) In-Flight Safety Video Ever, this is also a brilliant promotional video for the next film in The Hobbit series. If I had the opportunity to bet all my cash money, it will go viral around the world, if it hasn't already. However much it cost, there will be no need to buy TV air-time (which is so expensive), and you wouldn't anyway, since it's 4-1/2 minutes long. Maybe they'll cut down a 30-second version, but it's really not necessary, and it won't do it justice.
This is so wonderful and so smart. Just a brilliant idea, and whoever came up with the idea deserves a major promotion and bonus, and hats off to all the people on both sides of the aisle who approved doing it.
So, here, then is the most epic in-flight safety video ever made. Really.
As I always have tried to do on my more recent trips to Chicago -- since I now stay with relatives who live in Evanston, just blocks from the beloved Northwestern University -- I like to walk through the campus which has retained its charm on the shores of Lake Michigan, but added serious construction over the past couple decades. A bit too built up in some areas, in my taste, but with incredibly impressive additions in other areas. (Particularly in the theaters arts and music areas with new stages and performance halls, and also in athletic facilities on the landfill.)
To be clear, this body of water is not an inlet from Lake Michigan but a lagoon they built on campus a while back. You can make out Lake Michigan right behind the trees. But this lagoon plays a fun part in family history.
Back when I was going to NU in the School of Speech (now Communications), I took a Communication Studies course, and for reasons I don't remember, one day the professor took the whole class down to the lagoon to practice projection. (It wasn't a performance class, so I really don't recall at this point why we were doing this, perhaps to expand our awareness of the use of the voice or...oh, I don't know.) But half the class stood on one side of the lagoon and the rest on the other shore. And for decades after, my father who still be bemused by this and said, "So, just to be clear, I was paying tuition so that you could learn to yell across a lake..." For what it's worth, I thought it was sort of silly at the time, too, though I enjoyed the rest of the class. But that didn't matter. It was always "That class where you yelled across the lake."
But hey, as long as we're down by the waterfront, I thought I might was well also include of my buddies who joined me for part of the walk.
Anyway, I bring up my walk for another reason entirely, for a reason that will likely mean absolutely nothing to most people, but it was a big deal to me.
Over the past few years, as I mentioned, I take this walk through the Northwestern campus. And each time, there's one place I always make sure to stop at -- there is a museum on campus, and I always want to see it. I don't mean I "always want to see it again", I mean quite literally...I always want to see it. At least once. But every single time I've been on campus, the Block Museum has been closed. Either that was the one day it wasn't open, or they were closed for lunch, or they were closed for renovation, or they were closed to put in a new exhibition. Whatever the reason, it's always been closed. Always. So, I've never seen it, and it looks very nice, and has a good reputation for a small museum on a college campus.
But this year ...are you ready? -- it was OPEN!!! O joy! I told the receptionist how thrilled I was to finally get in, and explained why. She laughed and said, "Yes, we do seem to close a lot" -- but really, she was just being polite. They don't close that often, just often enough when I'm there.
Alas, they only had one exhibit, but when I rolled my eyes at my timing again, she said, "Oh, no, it's a good one." And it was. "Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa." It look at the Trans-Saharan trade culture from the days of antiquity, how the gold and even salt were such major factors in the area, and how historians and archaeologists have been able to put the past in perspective, often from only fragments.
It wasn't a deeply-extensive exhibit, but respectably comprehensive, and very well presented, along with interesting video interviews of archaeologists talking about the area and this exhibit. It will be traveling to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto this Fall -- and to any folks reading this in Washington, D.C. (and yes, this means you Nell Minow, who I know not only lives in the area, but even went to the beloved NU briefly, and we had a class together -- but she transferred to be with her longtime boyfriend who is now her longtime husband. But I digress...), the exhibit will be there in the Spring of 2020 at the National Museum of African Art which a part of the Smithsonian Institution.
The exhibit got a lot of funding, but notably some came from the Buffett Institute for Global Studies. Yes, it's that Buffet, but only in being the same family. Not Warren Buffet, but his sister Rebecca Buffett Elliott who went to Northwestern and about two years ago gave the university a massive donation for that Global Studies institute. And when I say "massive," that's not hyperbole. It was $101 mlilion. Mainly, I love the extra "$1 million" so that it wasn't just a flat, dull $100 million...
Anyway, I finally made it to the Block Museum on the Northwestern Campus. All is well...
Just a few cherished memories of and inside Notre Dame Cathedral looking out over Paris from photos I took on a family trip around 1966, .Even as a little kid it was enthralling to approach and wander through, and the sense of history could be felt in every nook. I wish I had more pictures and better ones, but I'm glad for the ones I do have and even more grateful for having been there. And, having been a kid, I'm just glad they're framed well and in focus.
I've been seeing billboards and TV ads for a few weeks now promoting the remake of the movie based on Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary. They've caught my attention more than most remakes since (during my early, dark days when I was a kid and didn't know better and did movie publicity) I was the unit publicist on the original film of Pet Sematary. I'm not quite sure why they feel a remake is needed so soon after the first one -- it's not like it comes from another era, mind you, but 30 years ago in 1989 -- but they do, and so be it.
One notable difference between this new version and the original, which is why I'm glad I worked on that one, is that the original had a screenplay by Stephen King himself. And since we shot the movie in Maine, not far from where he lived -- which was in his contract that we film in the state -- he visited the set periodically. We didn't talk a great deal, but did on occasion. And since I was always wearing my Cubs hat and he's a well-known Boston Red Sox fan, that always served as a good conversation opener.
Our conversations, though not many, actually lead to probably my favorite story. Of any story I've ever told.
My brother John was a bit of a curmudgeon. He hated things that were popular. (Once, when he came to Los Angeles for a visit, I asked if he wanted to go to Disneyland. When he said no, I asked why not, and he said, "Because I'm afraid I might like like it.) On the other hand, his wife loved reading books by Stephen King. She would ask John to read them, but no way in the world would he read a novel by Stephen King. Even if he had the time in the middle of his medical practice, Stephen King wasn't just a popular novelist - he was probably THE most popular current novelist in the world. Stephen King would not be read.
But she didn't let up. And finally, John - the good husband - gave in. Okay, one Stephen King book. He read Firestarter. And he loved it so much that he finished the book in two days. Probably hating every moment that he liked it so much.
Well, as fate would have it, not long after that, I was hired to work on Pet Sematary. As I said, when, Stephen King would visit the set we'd generally talk about baseball or (of course) the movie, since I was also interviewing him for the production noes I was writing on the making of the film. One day, though, I said I had a funny story for him, that I thought he would appreciate.
I told him about my brother. I said he hated anything popular. I explained how my sister-in-law couldn't get my brother to read his books, specifically because they were popular. I went into great detail about who John was, and why the last thing on earth he wanted to do was read a popular Stephen King novel.
And then I explained that John finally broke down, read Firestarter -- and absolutely loved it. Loved it so much that he finished it in two days.
Now, you must understand, this is the Best Possible Reaction that any writer can ever have. It's one thing to be praised by fans - but it's something else entirely to have someone who is so deeply predisposed to hate your books that he's fought off reading them for years finally read one and love it so much that it's devoured.
Stephen thought for a moment after being told all this, trying to figure what to say. It was clear he felt wonderful by John's reaction - which is pretty impressive, considering all the acclaim that Stephen King has had in his renowned career.
And then he leaned over, looked at me and said - "Tell your brother, I apologize. I don't set out to write popular books. It's just that people buy them."
(Not long after, I was back home in the Midwest and visited my brother who lived in Wisconsin. And I told John this story. His face lit up. One of the biggest smiles I've ever seen him make. "Stephen King said that about me???!" he asked. Yes - Stephen King said that about you. He laughed out loud, and said, with much pleasure, and an acknowledgement of his own inexplicable reaction to popularity - "You know, he's probably right." And he kept smiling.)
I didn't take all that many photos of the production -- most of my pictures were of my trips around Maine on my days off, most notably to Arcadia National Park, Baxter State Park (which I particularly wanted to go to because L.L. Bean sells a 'Baxter State Park Parka'), Campabello Island, where FDR lived when he came down with polio, and had his recuperation there -- and was the subject of the classic play and subsequent movie Sunrise at Campabello (both starring Ralph Bellamy, who as whimsy has it went to my high school, New Trier. But I digress...) Interestingly, it's actually located in Canada, but has been made into an "International Park."
I did take a few photos, though. This below is 'Jud Crandall's House,' where the taciturn character played by Fred Gwynne lived. I've previously told the stories of working with him on the film, which you can read here if interested. The short version is that I quite liked him. He was a bit crusty, but personal and direct. He'd done a great deal, was an accomplished artist, hit some highs and lows in his career, and didn't take kindly to fools, but if you were straight with him, he was good to be around. And contrary to what he may have said later in public -- perhaps it was to be diplomatic, perhaps he came to accept things -- at that time, he didn't hold much appreciation for The Munsters. He was grateful for the good it brought him, but it seriously mucked up his career after that, and he didn't want to talk about it.
And this is the house from behind. It's only this rear that the production did additional work on -- the structure existed before we got there, but had to be filled out for the movie's needs.
We filmed in an area known as Hancock Point, which is a bit outside the town of Ellsworth, about 25 miles from Bangor. The town leaders wanted to give the Key to the Town to the movie company, and since the breakfast "ceremony" for that took place at a local restaurant pretty early in the morning, none of the filmmakers wanted to get up that early. And so I -- as unit publicist -- was given the honor. I had to make a little speech, was very gracious (and meant it) and was presented with the key. I figured that since none of the people on the movie cared enough to go themselves to get the key, and it was presented to me...I would keep it. And still have it. I'm not sure what it will open up for me if I ever go back to Ellsworth, but I'm ready, just in case.
I also recall that it was a big enough deal for us to film in the state that the governor showed up one day. (Checking records, since, no, I didn't remember, it was John McKernan, Jr., a Republican.) He told a wonderful story about Hancock Point that I included in the press kit. The short version was --
Back in World War II, the Germans wanted to get spies infiltrated in the U.S. so, Hanock Point being one of the easternmost parts of the country, they got a U-boat close enough to land and dropped two men off. They were dressed as locals and went walking through the point into town -- and almost immediately were spotted and arrested, but everyone knew everyone in that small, taciturn village that any stranger instantly stood out.
One last photo. It has nothing to do with Pet Sematary, but it came during my time there and is one of my favorite pictures, although it's helped by the background. On one of my day's off, I decided to drive through the countryside. At one point, I passed a farm, and saw a large group of cows on the far side of the field. I stopped the car, and got out to look at them. What can I say, I like cows...
And then I soon noticed something unexpected. It turned out that cows are incredibly curious. Because one-by-one, a cow would turn, spot me, and sloooooowwwwllly walk across the field to check me out. And then another. And another. And another. And... Well, I decided to wait to see what would happen. And this was the result.
We all communed there for a while -- it would have been so rude of me to leave right after they had made the notable effort to graciously stop by and visit -- but then eventually it was time for me to head on. From their end, I'm guessing they returned back to the far side of the field. Perhaps discussing the whippersnapper in a Cubs cap.
I have a lot of very good memories of working on the film, and some off-beat one, not just on the set, but traveling around the state. This includes some wonderful country-dining, a lot of blueberries and blueberry pie (Machias in northeast part of the state is the wild blueberry capital of the U.S.), going to a Triple-A minor league baseball game in Old Orchard Beach for the Maine Phillies, several trips to Freeport, the flagship home of L.L. Bean that's open literally 24/7 every day with countless factory outlet stores from other companies built-up around it, eating at "lobster pots" -- seemingly almost as ubiquitous and inexpensive there as McDonalds -- most memorably Bob the Lobster, understanding from the eerieness of parts of the state where Stephen King's stories come from, dismal Mexican food and an absence of a lot of ethnic food, and seeing a concert in town by Noel Paul Stookey -- Paul, of Peter, Paul and Mary -- who lived down the road in Blue Hill.
I wish the remake well. But I'm very glad I worked on the original.
Some random Las Vegas thoughts.
Security at the Consumer Electronics Show is a joke. It began after 9/11 when they started checking all bags coming into the show. While I suspect that's fully unnecessary, I understand why they do it, so fine if it either gives the perception of safety or the reality of it. But the actually checking of bags is borderline meaningless.
One day, they looked in my bag and passed me through -- great, except the bag had three additional compartments. None of which got checked. Another day, the guard did look in several of the compartments. But in one of these I had some hardware in a smaller bag, which was clearly there to see. But whatever was in that bag -- obvious as it was -- wasn't checked. Another day, I just walked it. In fairness, it's a tough deal -- maybe 150,000 people attend during the week. But surface checks to appear you're doing something is just silly. So, they get an A for intent, and a D- for implementation.
Several years ago on his Diners, Drive-ins and Drives show on Food Network, Guy Fieri visited a pizza restaurant in Las Vegas, Naked City Pizza. I marked down the name at the time and figured I'd try it on a trip to CES if it was convenient. As it happens, I had a free day, and one of their three or four branches was somewhat nearby, so I went. The pizza was fine -- fairly tasty but nothing special, a fairly bready dough, a thin but tasty sauce, and basic cheese. To be clear, I didn't get the pizza he ate on the show. That was a pretty loaded one, and it may have been delicious. But since I had the foundational pizza that overlapped what the special pizza had, I have a good tasting of how it was made. And...it was fine. The toppings combination may have taken it to another level, but this was not special pizza. It was -- well, you know -- fine.
For many years, I've said there are pretty much only two things I like about Las Vegas: buffets and free self-parking at casino/hotels. Last year, a few Las Vegas casinos started charging for self-parking. Most people I talked to -- visitors and casino workers -- disliked the inroad. This year, it got ratcheted up: almost every casino on the Strip now charges. I understand the reasoning. But it still seems counter-productive. Casinos dearly want people to stay at the casino and do everything to attract them and not leave. When you charge people and put a clock on when they'll owe more, that pretty much defeats the purpose. So, we're down to there's one good thing in Las Vegas: lots of buffets
What a great, long, odd day it was yesterday when an Northwestern alumni friend and I drove down from Los Angeles to San Diego to see the beloved NU to play in the Holiday Bowl -- and then back again after the game.
(A lot of friends through we were nuts to want to drive back, but I had no interest to spend New Year's Eve in a San Diego hotel and then miss most of the bowl games on New Year's Day. We also figured that with the game likely to end before 8 PM, there shouldn't be an issue with traffic. Most concerns on New Year's Even come closer to midnight as being have been drinking all night and switching between parties, and on side streets. Not driving from San Diego to Los Angeles at 8 PM.)
The game began at 4 PM, though we had tickets for the official Northwestern "N Zone" tailgate party which began at 1 PM. But my friend was wary of traffic on New Year's Eve day, and wanted to leave early -- which he kept pushing earlier. I thought traffic would be fine, but was fine with leaving early, guaranteeing that you'd beat the traffic. And if you're there early, so beat. Even incredibly early. We were there incredibly early.
We left at 8:30 in the morning, and it took less than two hours to make the drive. So we had 2-1/2 hours before even the tailgate party began! The game was still 5-1/2 hours away.
The tailgate wasn't really at the back of a car, but under a huge tent, which turned out to be a good thing because while San Diego is known for it's glorious weather, always around 70 and sunny, I am sure the city's Chamber of Commerce was beside themselves for the national TV coverage. There was nothing glorious about the weather, starting out around 58-degrees and rainy. (Thank you for the tent! A nearby corporate tailgate party had lots of tables and chairs, but zero tent. I suspect theirs was far less comfortable...)
Very good barbecue -- brisket, chicken, potato salad, barbecued beans, well, you know -- for which I dd my best to get my money's worth. The NU band and spirit team showed up, and ESPN host of Pardon the Interruption Michael Wilbon -- a Northwestern grad and trustee -- hosted, and there were several speeches. Happily, I ran into my good pal Morty Schapiro (the president of Northwestern) who...okay, maybe not a good pal, but an email buddy who I've met a few times, and his wife Mimi Rothman Schapiro (a Writers Guild member whose written half a dozen TV moves for Lifetime, most notable a biography of Olympic skater Oksana Baiul), had a nice visit and he invited us to sit at one of his tables right up from. This is Wilbon on the left and Morty on the right.
We then headed over to the stadium -- where there was still an hour-and-a-quarter to go before the game would begin. But the weather at least cleared up, and if it wasn't warm and sunny, it at least was not raining anymore, so that was something.
And then the game finally began.
And alas, that whole "it at least was not raining anymore" thing didn't hold up. Though the "it wasn't warm" did. Ah, the glorious weather of San Diego. For the next three hours, it rained on-and-off throughout, and the temperature dropped to the lower 50s. (Yes, I know that sounds balmy for the winter climes elsewhere, but San Diego doesn't drop that low often, and it was raining. And you're just sitting there.) Happily, it was never a hard rain, often fairly light. And coming from Chicago, I knew to dress in layers. Also helpful -- every seat had those big, stupid foam rubber "We're #1" fingers. And they made wonderful leg covers at you sat there, especially since so many people around us left for cover, so spreading out three of them was quite a bonus. Stupid for cheering, wonderful for rain protection...
And then there was the game.
And then came the majestic third quarter. Northwestern outscored Utah 28-0. And no, that's not a typo either. Utah's highly-rated defense hadn't given up a touchdown in seven straight quarters. But in the third quarter alone, they gave up three. The fourth Northwestern touchdown came on a defensive fumble recovery and return. It seemed like Utah was shell-shocked. Meanwhile, Northwestern and its fans were euphoric. And at the end of three quarters, NU had erased the deficit and was now 31-20. And then, the team played very well but protectively in fourth quarter, and held on to win by that score.
Just look at that third quarter. I was not a-lying...
By the last few minutes, what with the chill, rain and depressing score, the Utah side of the field had pretty much been cleared out of fans. A lot of the NU side stayed through it all. Cheering wildly to the end. It did make leaving the stadium easier. (Though in fairness, getting there 5-1/2 hours early and finding a great parking spot for leaving made it a whole lot easier, too...)
And then, after a few screw-ups trying to get back to the freeway, we returned in even less time than the trip down. The drive was a breeze, and I was back home by 10:15 PM, and able to celebrate bringing the New Year in. Though plenty of celebrating had been done during the game.
Huzzah. Great day, wonderfully fun day, and very odd.
Happy New Year.
Well, I'm back in Los Angeles, and what I find impressive is that I got the exact same greeting from the city's mayor and the state's governor upon my arrival that Trump got when he landed in Pittsburgh.
That, of course, would be none.
On the other hand, my pal Bill Goldstein did pick me up at the airport and drove me home. And while Trump had rides, too, that took him to whatever pandering faux-sympathy location he was going, I'm going to guess that they were on some payroll and got paid. Bill drove me home purely out of goodwill and kindness.
Keep in mind, too, that Pittsburgh is the city that Trump pointed to when he pulled out of the Paris Accord, and said, "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris." It should be noted that at that time, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto responsed -- “Fact: Hillary Clinton received 80% of the vote in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh stands with the world and will follow Paris agreement. As the mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris agreement for our people, our economy and future.”
There are many morals that one can pull from this, but the one I'm going with is -- People named "Bill" seem to be on the right side of goodness.
Well, I made it in. The train actually arrived impressively close on time -- in fact, five minutes early, getting into Union Station in Chicago after almost 40 hours on the rails.
(This is hardly the best photo of the Southwest Chief, but it did its job well, as I deboarded and headed out into the station.)
The elves taking care of the homestead said they had an even better time than I did because it was like I was incommunicado for two days, and they had everything to themselves. (In fact, I did have full phone access, and although it turned out that the sleeping cars did have Wi-Fi, the network was dicey and very slow. There was 4G broadband, as well, and better, though not ideal. But it let me stay in touch somewhat reasonably.)
Most of the yesterday was spent going through the desert, mainly New Mexico and then later in the day and through the night across Colorado. It's not the most colorful part of the journey, but the rocks and foothills are wonderful to watch as you pass by.
I didn't spend as much time in the observation car as I did on my previous trip, but that's largely because I had a coach seat the time before, and this time the windows in my roomette sufficed quite nicely. They also changed the configuration of the observation car. My recollection from before is that it had comfortable high-back chairs that swung around. Now, they had tables in one half, and smaller chairs in the other half.
I didn't find it as interesting as the previous design, although what makes the observation so nice is the wide expanse of all the windows when you look around, and the sense of the sky above.
I was also looking forward to it at night, which most people don't think of with the observation car. But the last time I recall entering the totally dark car that was largely empty, and you barely can see the desert around you -- but because you're nowhere near any towns, the sky is overwhelmed with stars that almost seemed to brighten the area. Unfortunately, this time they had some dim lights on throughout the car which mucked up the effect. Perhaps if I went later (this was around 8:30) the car would have been darkened and it would have been as wonderful.
By the way, after getting into downtown Chicago this afternoon, my train traveling wasn't over yet. I walked north along the Chicago River about eight minutes to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. That's the old, significantly re-built Chicago & Northwestern train station which serves most of the local trains in the area (though the Union Station does handle some, while more a center for Amtrak nationally). From there I caught the Union Pacific North to Evanston. Much shorter. That trip was about 25 minutes.
I may toss in a few other Tales of the Train later, but at the moment I'm still getting settled and we'll leave it there for now.
And what the heck, I might as well round things out and include that finishing train trip. I've always loved these suburban commuter trains because they're double-deck. They've been that way since I was a kid, and most of the time I love to sit above and get a better view of the ride. They felt very magical back then when they introduced them, and they still do all those years later.
And with that, we'll leave the trains for the time being.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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