The Annenberg School of Butt-Kicking

I can’t wait to see the "4-D" movie at the newly new Newseum. It sounds like a cross between Front Page, Spiderman, and that Honey I Shrunk the Audience movie at Disney World, only in this case the Newseum has apparently enlarged the profile of journalism to epic proportions.

I have to admit my daughter beat me to the punch–and splash and rumble and shriek–seeing the film/adventure, "I-Witneess," at a "friends and family" day at the museum over the weekend in advance of the official opening  April 11. She called it "really cool."

This is clearly not your father’s news museum. It has a host of interactive features from a do-it-yourself newpaper front page game to green-screen stations to record your own stand-up in front of a Washington monument.

But the film, which plays at the Annenberg Theater thanks to a $15-million donation from the Annenbergs, apparently adds a particular action-picture muscularity to the practice of journalism that might make its practice cooler in the eyes of the offspring of journalists the world over,  a "coolness" not seen since Robert Redford played Bob Woodward.

According to the company that made the film, Cortina Productions, the movie, which fills a 60-foot screen with journalistic exploits, deals with three major events: Isiah Thomas (the Massachusetts printer not the Detroit basketball legend) on the "Shot Heard Round the World"; Pioneering journalist Nellie Bly investigating Blackwell’s Island insane asylum in New York, and Edward R. Murrow’s broadcasts from London during The Blitz in World War II. The Murrow segment debuts just days before the centennial of Murrow’s birth April 25 (there is some question about that birthdate, at least in my mind, but that is another blog item).

There is plenty of inherent drama in stories of journalistic courage under fire in pursuit of the truth. But in the spirit of theme park-inspired 4-D, that experience is buttressed by "leg ticklers, butt kickers, wind and water," says Cortina.

For example, Bly’s muckraking about conditions at Blackwell include a scene with rats, with some appropriate leg-tickling for the audience as the rats scurrey by. But my daughter said the neatest part was a scene panning up a building in London atop which Murrow was reporting on The Blitz. She said the scene made her and her friends feel like Spiderman crawling up the side of the building–she says the seats tilted up as they "climbed," leveling off with a panoramic, Murrow-eye view of the city, with fires burning to made the similarity to the Spiderman movie rooftop action scenes even more pronounced. 

Then there was a scene during the Revolutionary War in which a musket is aimed directly you and as the bullet fires, you are hit with a little burst of water. "From now on other movies will be subpar," said my daughter, "because they won’t squirt water at me."

I assume the "butt-kickers" came into play during the scene with the planes flying over during The Blitz.

The museum is operated by the Freedom Forum and is committeed to a free press, but it costs money to maintain, so unless you are unders six, access is not free. An adult ticket  (13 and up) costs $20, seniors get im for $18, while kids get in the door for $13.

Season passes sound like a good deal for Washington area residents. $25 per year for kids., $50 for seniors, $75 for adults.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.