I saw a film at the weekend which was an eloquent example of such a less-is-more philosophy. "Dean Spanley" is a low budget production, starring Sam Neil and Peter O’Toole, which despite being thoroughly lacking in CGI, animatronics and special effects (save for a convincing Edwardian London), manages to concoct a spellbinding and magical supernatural story with nothing but the tried and tested tools of cracking acting and a superb, understated script.
It is as easy in cinema as it with themed attractions and amusement parks to overload a story with theming and to overdesign. The most effective stories can often be created in the mind of the visitor/audience with little more than hints and nudges. Peter Jackon‘s King Kong, for example, was very much a flawed masterpiece, as although it boasted a number of astounding scenes – the last half hour was beautiful – it was padded out with too much action, too many dinosaurs; inside the 3 hours lurked a great 90 minute film.
Nick Farmer of Farmer Attractions Development, worked on theming and design at Bewilderwood, a UK attraction based in Norfolk and like Dean Spandley, an object lesson in the art of storytelling.
This unique park – a nature-based attraction aimed at younger children and families – has a theme. The hook is that it is populated by a magical race of pixie-like creatures living in the trees, rowing the boats and shuffling through the undergrowth. Visitors leave Bewilderwood with the distinct impression that they have experienced these creatures all around them. But have they? In fact none are ever actually seen. Tantalisingly, there are unattended cooking pots, tiny tree-houses and many more pointers arranged subtly throughout the park but although they are pictured in the books for sale at the shop (written by Tom Blofeld, the park’s owner) the creatures themeslves remain elusive. This was deiberate on Farmer’s part; a subtle excercise in the art of smoke and mirrors and testament to the finely tuned skills of the successful designer/story-teller. He’d appreciate Dean Spandley.