Like other people have said, it was nice attempt at bringing back the 90's shows but I felt it was a bit dull and uninspiring, and ultimately stumbled in many places. While I appreciate the fact they've tried to use a story with special effects as part of the show, they were poorly executed with low production values.
I don't want to make this out as a rant, it's mainly just my views, review, and some constructive criticism. Not having a go or moaning for the sake of it.
So, here goes everything that (I personally think) is wrong with the Alton Towers firework displays, in one post:
The Theme & Script - a battle between Dreams & Nightmares we were promised. Just from that one line, my imagination ran wild and I was thinking this may turn out to be something like the 2002 Air show, but it wasn't. Started off with the premise of building a dream, epic music building up to what? Nothing. The battle sequence was just overused flames and simply telling Mrs Nightmares to go away. Wonderful. Bravo. What a hero that Mr Dream Face is. No one would expect a Hollywood masterpiece script for a 25 minute firework show, but a little bit of character development and a journey where some kind of achievement is made could have been explored in that time.
Music Selection - all over the place, disjointed, from epic trailer soundtracks then into pop music not suited to the story sequence or emotion. While I prefer more classical and film soundtrack type music for any firework event, I have nothing against a pop music display if it's done well (i.e. Dr Pop Rocket 2004 and 2005, and 2010 30th Birthday, but certainly not the awful 2011 and 2012 mashups). The problem is you can't have it both ways. Is this a pop-tastic firework "display", or a theatrical multimedia "show"? Decide which.
Not sure what people are getting at with the Disney music? I assume they are referring to the 2nd track which was James Newton Howard's Peter Pan theme, heavily edited. It's not a track you see used on many displays. I've used it a couple of times, and there's a company in Peterborough called PDC Fireworks who love to use it on competition displays, but other than that it's not a exactly a popular choice for fireworks. So I'd say Alton win here, great choice! The first track, Voyage to Atlantis, I thought was a great opener for a show about dreams. Too bad they didn't use any of the tracks from Inception - that would have been very fitting for this theme.
Most importantly, ITHOTMK as the finale has to go. 5 years running now. Enough already. I know everyone here loves it, and yes, it's so iconic of Alton Towers but it has no place in a theatrical show because again it has no meaning to the story or emotion. It was cool as the finale of the 30th Birthday Celebration, because that WAS all about Alton Towers and it's history. Even I suggested it way back on TT months before the 2010 show because I thought it would be a good idea. It was, but not for EVERY year. Looking back at the 90's when ITHOTMK was blasting out everywhere at the park, not ever was it used in the firework shows. Actually a very short, creepy version was used at the beginning of the 2003 Duel show, but that was it. It has no place here. Get rid.
Come to think of it, that's 3 shows in very recent years which have been themed around Alton Towers rides or history. Surely they can come up with something more original than reusing the same theme over and over?
Lighting - overpowering in places, they're taking the moving beam lights a bit too far now. Sometimes the lights were on constantly, not moving, too much static time, and leaving them running while waterscreen is running ruins the illusion of a 'floating image' by lighting the entire thing. They're supposed to look a bit like holograms. Also the cheap, tacky, council house style Christmas LED's draped all over towers. For what reason? Must have been bought from B&M Bargains for 3 quid each. Overall it looked a mess. The big beams should have been either left exclusively on the towers rooftops or moved way off to the far sides of the park, leaving the lower powered movers lining the lake. But again, with the lake lights just constantly throwing them around the sky doesn't really achieve anything. Do something interesting with the lights that fit each song/story section/sequence etc.
Effects - flame projectors and lasers had absolutely no purpose in the show. I get that they tried use the flames to represent nightmares in some way but I just that was naff. In 2002 the flames were used as the Fire element. 2003 it was Flame Hypnosis. What have flames got to do with nightmares? And to me it seemed they were just hitting them in a random order for a while. Was it to warm up the audience a bit? Oh look we've got nothing going on in this next sequence, let’s hit those flames again, and again, and again. Ok Alton, we've seen enough meaningless flames thank you. The laser had no purpose either. It's was like lets fill up some space by waving that laser around a bit. If you're doing a story led show then you have to work the effects into that story.
Video - unfortunately wasted on two CG animated faces and stock video of rides. This could have easily just been a voice-narrated-only show like 2013. The video added nothing really. There's no point spending 10's of thousands of pounds on special effects that have no purpose or meaning. If you've got that in yer show, then make use of it properly!
Of all the actors and performers working at Towers, would it really have been too much to film a few characters? I do wonder if a certain creative manager just loves the sound of his own voice a bit too much to let anyone else in on it. From the pre-show's dodgy 'voice of god' with it's constant safety announcements and countdown straight into the main show's lead character. Come on man.
Pretentious Story - as with 2013, this years show was another 25 minutes of marketing drivel trying convince the general public how amazing the rides and attractions are. From last years "alton towers memories" it's now all about "alton towers dreams". Sorry, let me correct myself - it's about the "RESORT memories" and now "RESORT dreams". Best not forget that RESORT bit! Same thing as 2013 really though isn't it? It gets on your nerves with the constant "look at us, we have such amazing rides and attractions at our RESORT, we make millions of people happy, we're so great at what we do, you'll remember us, we create your dreams". We, we, we... RESORT, RESORT, RESORT! We know you are a resort, but you are also just simply ALTON TOWERS. Actually, you don’t even have to mention that every 5 seconds either.
Going back to the pretentiousness, can you imagine if children's books and bedtime stories were full of how amazing the book publisher think they are? Can you imagine a Disney animated film that only tells a story of how amazing Disney think they are and the experiences they create?
Seriously, just shut up! Give us a silly story of fantasy and fun, not marketing BS.
On a side note, I'm really fed up of both Merlin and Alton Towers bigging themselves up in everything they do. Can't say I'm all that surprised though, from the organisation that considers itself 2nd only to Disney. This stupidly high opinion of themselves is completely laughable, but it seems to filter down to every lower level of the company.
Although I miss the quirky comedy of the old 90's/00's shows, I could actually get away with this serious, epic style they're going for if it wasn't for the pretentiousness of it all.
VIP Packages - This has got me fuming. Get rid of it! There are no "very important people" at a family firework event (only very important pr***s). When paying for a ticket, every person has a right to stand in a position of good view (or at least let them have that choice). Like I say, VIP's don't exist other than celebrities who might be performing or presenting on stage, in which case you keep the hospitality backstage and away from public eyes. The blatant obstruction on the lawns for the paying public is an absolute disgrace. All that inconvenience for a minority of knobs who want a seat and a glass of wine with their fireworks. One must not mix with the lower claarrrrses at such festivities. Of course, this is no doubt a creation of the Marketing Department, who are the biggest cause of problems at this theme park.
In Conclusion - it's not all bad news. Best thing about the whole production? A couple of music choices like Voyage to Atlantis and the Peter Pan theme, but mainly it was just Jubilee Fireworks. Sublime display by them given what they had to work with, as always, because Jubilee are the real deal. Tight choreography, quality pyro effects, good variation, building it up and breaking it back down to create an interesting display. They clearly know what showmanship is.
As I said at the start of this post, I'm not having a moan, it's mostly constructive criticism here which I hope is taken into consideration for the next time.
I've written this from my passion and love of fireworks. It's due to Alton's shows back when I was a kid that made me want to get involved with fireworks, entertainment, and the events industry. I know many other pyrotechnicians who are the same, so I'm glad they are slowly returning the big story-led special effect spectaculars, but I seriously doubt we'll ever see the innovation and world record breaking attempts that we had with the 90's shows. Occasionally I look back at my videos of those old shows and despite the advances in technology, they still stand up to some of the world’s best firework displays of today. They were indeed something very special.