Retro act renewed for ‘talking statues’

The pirate-girl booty quake left Treasure Island without giving us time to mourn. But at Caesars Palace, a robotic sibling rivalry has a new lease on life.

The dialogue still wouldn’t make Shakespeare hang up his quill, but you can hear more of it now: “Dear Brother, your force is a weak threat!”

An Amazonian princess never sounded sweeter.

It’s coincidental timing, but the Forum Shops at Caesars relaunched “The Atlantis Show” last week after a four-month makeover, days after news broke that Treasure Island’s outdoor pirate battle will not reopen.

Both free attractions were products of the 1990s (if you go back to the first, 1993 version of the pirate battle), remnants of an era when Las Vegas imagined its future as a family-friendly theme park.

Little evidence of that era remains. The noble pirates even became the campy “Sirens of TI” in 2003, forcing parents to grit their teeth and hope double entendres flew over the heads of young ones gathered to watch a giant fireball and a sinking ship.

Shopping malls are a little more family-friendly than casino gambling to begin with. So it was retail comfort food to see that no matter what stores came and went, the Forum Shops were always a haven to watch King Atlas and his dysfunctional offspring, Alia and Gadrius, sink the whole kingdom of Atlantis.

The animatronic robots represented the latest in fluid hydraulics when they debuted in 1997. But to put that in perspective, they were programmed on a floppy diskette. And Jon Harms, director of entertainment features for the Forum Shops, carried around a cellphone he called “the brick.”

The feuding family was showing its age more than the fish in the attached aquarium, some of which have been around since 1997, too. (“We have fish that should be in water-walkers,” Harms says.)

So the whole show got its first complete overhaul in 16 years. Harms compares the process to stripping a car down to its frame and rebuilding it. The characters have new skin and new costumes. They move more fluidly with new technology that “really opened up the ability to actually make them do what they’re programmed to do,” Harms says.

Homeland Security had to sign off on the system that moves the robots’ head and arms with hydraulic fluid pressurized to 1,600 pounds per square inch, “because the same type of technology that runs this is the same type that runs the drones and the drone aircraft,” he says.

“They had to make sure I wasn’t going to make a drone aircraft as opposed to a nine-foot robot.”

The biggest change may be that you can hear more of the show. A new sound system is not just aimed at your ears but your bone density, Harms says. The crew was still adjusting the volume to account for live bodies last week, but you could hear more of a drama that always seemed curiously talky, even for talking robots.

Quaint as the attraction may be, pulling the plug was never an option, says Maureen Crampton, the mall’s marketing director. Surveys show the “talking statues,” as people call them remain one of the three top reasons to visit.

“You wonder, are people still interested in this? And they are,” she says.

Harms, a self-professed Disneyphile, says the current wave of theme park technology makes animatronics just one component of new rides based more on rear-projection and holographic technologies.

“They are not so much a labor of love as these things are,” he says.

Disney premiered “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” in 1964, but animatronics remain almost as curious today. It’s not like you see them everywhere you go.

You could say the same of sexy pirates, I suppose. But whatever happens over at Treasure Island, the Forum Shops continue to give us something very Las Vegas in terms of uniqueness. Even if it’s the Las Vegas of 1997.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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