Also known as: Captain EO and the Space Knights (working title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Florida)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: James Horner, Michael Jackson
Cast: Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, Dick Shawn, Tony Cox, Debbie Lee Carrington, Cindy Sorenson, Gary DePew
Three D D D Productions, Eastman Kodak Company, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 17 Minutes
“Now listen, the command considers us a bunch of losers, but we’re gonna do it right this time because we’re the best. If not, we’ll be drummed out of the corps.” – Captain EO
Captain EO is a pretty bizarre short film but it wasn’t made to be viewed in a traditional sense or to even have a traditional narrative. It was made to be an attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Being an attraction it had to be short enough to keep the asses moving in and out of seats.
It was also made to be 3D. While that was hardly a new concept in 1986, it was a concept that had sort of faded away and was somewhat new to a generation of ’80s kids that weren’t old enough to go to the theater to see things like Friday the 13th, Part III in 3D.
However, this was actually promoted as being the first film in “4D”, as it used special effects, lighting, smoke and lasers within the physical theater to enhance the overall viewing experience in the theme park.
The film does start out like a fantasy sci-fi space opera but quickly evolves into an extended music video for the Michael Jackson song “We Are Here to Change the World”. It also ends on another, more famous Jackson tune “Another Part of Me”.
Now this came out when Michael Jackson was literally the biggest thing in the world, so a partnership with Disney was huge in 1986. Add in the fact that this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by George Lucas, whose Lucasfilm provided the effects, had costumes designed by the team behind Cats and had it’s makeup overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, this project was a pretty big f’n deal.
Also, James Horner, just coming off of his success with Star Trek II and III, provided the orchestral score for the film.
Production was a bit of a clusterfuck and the process took a lot of time with several different groups trying to fix some of the film’s issues but on screen, most of it came off well.
The narrative is pretty incomprehensible and you have to severely suspend disbelief when Captain EO uses dancing and singing to turn an evil space queen and her minions into nice people but when I was a kid, I totally bought into it and it worked. Seeing this again, as an adult, it’s a pretty wonky and strange narrative but I can’t deny the commanding presence that Michael Jackson has on screen. It’s not too dissimilar from his music video for “Thriller”.
Captain EO is a unique experience. It might not be a great one but it’s certainly interesting enough to sit through for just 17 minutes.
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and lengthier music videos like Thriller and Ghosts.