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O.C. Attractions Review : Reflection: Lodge’s Most Special Effect

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Knott’s Berry Farm, an amusement park of relatively modest means, has come up with a relatively modest new attraction, Mystery Lodge.

Modesty is a virtue that is often overlooked in the theme-park business, where the big guns battle for attention by building screaming new roller coasters and other high-tech dazzlers (witness the promotional blitz for the new Batman ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain).

As its designer has said, Mystery Lodge shoots for the heart rather than the stomach, and at that it succeeds in some admirable ways. Think of it as a sort of Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, updated with a ‘90s sensibility and with a few new technological tricks.

It is a show, not a ride, in which a live actor (mouthing the words of a recorded narrator) plays a Canadian Indian storyteller, spinning a 10-minute tale of his own life and, in the process, imparting lessons about the importance of passing the best in ourselves on to our children.

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Some fairly sophisticated special effects aid in the storytelling: The “smoke” from a campfire forms images from the storyteller’s past, or of some of the spirit gods of his beliefs. The storyteller disappears and reappears instantaneously at several points, and once his face turns into that of a raven mask.

Even upon a second viewing, the effects in the show were startlingly good. However, the glass partition separating actor and audience, while no doubt necessary to the effects, creates a somewhat distracting barrier. Overall, the technological gimmickry is used with taste and restraint and does not overwhelm what is at heart a simple story.

In a brief pre-show, a Knott’s host goes to painstaking lengths to explain that the attraction was developed with the help of advisers from the Kwak’wala-speaking people of coastal British Columbia and also has the blessing of local Native American groups.

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Though it is admirable that an amusement park is taking such pains to portray native beliefs with some respect, it should be remembered that this is an entertainment show and not a cultural lesson.

Mystery Lodge achieves an effective balance between story and technology. The effects held the attention of the children in a recent audience, while the story--a little rambling, but told with warmth and humor--will send adults out with a positive glow.

The attraction is a good addition to Knott’s, which has long aimed to blend adrenaline-inducing roller coasters with more family-oriented fare. It’s one more reason to visit the park, but whether it is, on its own, a reason to go to Knott’s this summer is a question with a less clear-cut answer.

It’s hard to imagine crowds lining up for repeat viewings of Mystery Lodge, as some younger park-goers might with the thrill rides. But then, it’s also hard to imagine anyone coming off Batman thinking about life and the moral responsibility to our children.


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