Anyone who spends much time around Jon Peters will probably hear his "I Have a Dream" speech. It usually begins with something like, "You see, I'm the dreamer, Peter's the insider." Then he segues into how he's fought the odds to make all his past dreams come true, and it ends with a description of his current fancy, Sonyland.
If Peters' dream comes true, sometime around the turn of the century millions of tourists will pour through the gates of an elaborate new theme park in Oxnard, where Sony now owns 2,000 acres of lemon orchards.
They will fly through the darkness of "Never-Never Land"--inspired by Tri-Star's upcoming Peter Pan fable, "Hook." They could take a trip to Mars on the "Total Recall" ride. Or they might check into their hotel rooms after riding a submarine that emerges into the lobby.
Sonyland is not the favorite name among Columbia's new team of executives, but it has stuck. So has the idea. Top brass Sidney Ganis and Paul Schaeffer are assigned to an executive team developing the project.
Peters himself is doing more than dreaming up rides. Sources say he is trying to recruit the Las Vegas magic act Siegfried & Roy for the park. And he is reportedly trying to draft such imaginative filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and George Lucas to help design the park in return for an ownership share. (Spielberg is tied to Universal's park for the moment. Lucas, who designed Disney's "Star Tours" ride, is a free agent, and executives say that one of Ganis' main assignments is recruiting his old boss to Columbia for the park, as well as for movie production.)
This is not the first time Peters has tried to get into the amusement park business. Several years ago, when he was a producer on the Warner Bros. lot, he tried unsuccessfully to persuade the top executives at that studio to join in a partnership with him to buy Magic Mountain.
Peters may also have a selling job to do on Sony's top brass. One source close to the company says the Japanese have no intention of building a theme park. When asked about it, some of Columbia's own executives play down the project. "Too much has been said about it already," said one. Another insider put it this way: "Certainly (Sony executives) have an interest in theme parks, but they made clear last spring they didn't want Columbia to deal with it until they had gotten their act together" elsewhere.
Sony Software President Michael P. Schulhof called Sonyland a back-burner issue. "The priorities laid out by Columbia management for the next three to five years do not include a theme park," Schulhof said. "Of course, at some time in the future it will make sense to study how we might do something in this area."
Analysts, who say it would cost at least $500 million to build a park, said that there may be room for another theme park in Southern California. Sony's challenge, they say, is creating something different enough to appeal to the 31 million people who already visit the area's theme parks each year.
"The issue is what market are they going after?" Jeffrey Logsdon, an entertainment analyst with Los Angeles' Seidler Amdec Securities. "Do we need another variation on Mr. Toad's ride? Probably not. They could come up with something so visually outstanding and stunning and creative that everyone will want to go. But if they come up with the same old 31 flavors, they might have a tougher time taking market share away from existing competitors."