Captain EO, 1986
“The planets are linin' up, we're bringin' brighter days, They're all in line, waitin' for you”
Back in 1986, Michael Jackson was the biggest star in the galaxy. So it made perfect sense for him to star in the 3D science fiction film Captain EO, shown at Disney theme parks in the 1980s and 1990s.
In the film, Jackson plays the title character, sent with this ragtag group of misfits to fight the Supreme Leader of an imprisoned planet. (Doesn’t it seem like it’s always a ragtag group of misfits saving the galaxy – or have we just been watching too much Spaceman Jax?)
I saw the film at Disneyland as a kid and I remember being blown away. Michael Jackson was a big draw, of course, and the shot that first reveals the Captain EO character captures how cool Jackson’s public persona was back then. His acting was not quite so awe-inspiring; he comes across much too earnest and a little wooden. But as soon as the music starts, he is right in his element.
Jackson wrote two songs for the film, “We Are Here to Change the World” (which wouldn’t be released until the 2004 album, Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection) and “Another Part of Me” (later re-mixed for his 1988 album Bad). Jackson is joined by a troop of dancers for both songs, and the dancing, while not as iconic as the choreography of his earlier “Thriller” video, was still really cool – especially when he danced out over the audience in 3D.
Captain EO wasn’t just a 3D film, though. It’s known as the first 4D film, incorporating in-theatre effects like lasers, smoke and starfield lights that filled the cinema. Audiences weren’t just watching the action, we were right there struggling with Captain EO.
Captain EO was never released on home video, and was shown only once on television, so once it closed in 1994, it slipped into obscurity. After Jackson passed away in 2009, Disneyland brought the film back to their parks in tribute to him. The tribute release doesn’t have all of the in-theatre effects, but it does use hydraulics to make the seats bounce and shake along with the action. Although the story may seem a little hokey now that I’m an adult, the music still holds up, and with the bouncing seats it’s hard not to dance in your seat. As Michael would say, “Whoooo!”
Did you know? The design of Angelica Huston’s character The Supreme Leader would later inspire the look of the Borg Queen from Star Trek.