Question of the Day May 24, 2016
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Q:Vegas Resort Attractions, the Bygone Years, Revisited: Caesars’ Omnimax; The Forum Shops; and more!
A:As promised, today we revisit the second part in our history of Caesars Palace and the attractions that this iconic Strip resort has seen come and go over the years, starting with a step back in time to before the 1986 World of Caesars addition profiled yesterday.
Anyone who arrived at Caesars Palace between 1979 and 2000 will recall the large "golf ball" that looked like some kind of a jewel from another planet situated on the north side of the property. The giant multi-faceted structure was Caesars’ Omimax, a variety of IMAX theater that projected its over-sized images onto an angled dome.
It was the last full-time IATSE-staffed projection booth in the state of Nevada but was plagued with issues from the beginning, ranging from a leaking roof, to a lack of good material to show. Here’s a great history we found from Paul Mayer, a long-time staffer in the projection room who shared this history in a forum post on film-tech.com on May 26, 2000, two days after the Omnimax had closed for good. His post was in reply to a fellow enthusiast who recalled seeing an early IMAX fiction flick at the facility:
"My Strange Uncle starred Cloris Leachman. The film was backed in-part by Caesars, in an attempt to get something into the theatre other than museum films. Unfortunately it bombed big time, box office-wise. There was still a print of it stored in the booth (as of ’96, the last time I worked there) but we weren’t allowed to run it, even privately. Apparently there were financial/legal problems with that production that rendered even a mention of it taboo...
"...Caesars is in the middle of a long-term expansion and modernization project, and the focus on entertainment in the hotel is being scaled back. Originally the dome was going to come down in 1996, but it got a reprieve until now due to hotel ownership and expansion plan changes. My understanding is that the phase-two tower (adding another 850 rooms) is to go up where the dome is now. The hotel has already announced that the Circus Maximus showroom will be closed later this year, to make room for the phase-three tower (another 850 rooms, plus more high-roller suites).
"Yeah the dome screen looked terrible--it was an embarrassment to all of us. The problem was the dome leaked badly from day one, and continued to do so despite repeated attempts by the hotel over the years to seal it. We used to take the theatre down for a week once a year, mostly to clean the rusty water stains from the screen. Then around 1990, some accountant figured he’d save some money by painting rather than cleaning the screen. Some Spitz Dome people heard about this and came by to see the result--and just laughed. The paint job, plus more water stains on top of it, finished us off image-quality wise, and the hotel didn’t want to pay for a new screen (about $300,000 USD at the time). The opening of the Luxor 3D IMAX (staffed by a non-IA ex-Century crew) and a 3-D IMAX DOME simulator ride (also non-IA) next door in the Forum Shops were more nails in the coffin. The hotel started booking only the cheapest titles that IMAX producers were offering, refusing to get into bidding wars with the competition. That pretty much killed the old place off."
So, there’s the lowdown on Las Vegas’ first IMAX screen and its sad demise, which segues nicely into the story of the Forum Shops, whose own 3-D simulator ride was in part credited for the downfall of its neighbor.
It was in 1992 that The Forum Shops at Caesars opened, the realization of a concept first suggested by then CEO Henry Gluck (who went on to help develop the Lake Las Vegas community where Celine Dion resides). Designed by Dougall Design Associates, it was the first high-end "destination" mall in a city that's now awash with them, from Via Bellagio to Wynn Esplanade, and from Fashion Show Mall to Tivoli Village, to name but a few. At the time, most scoffed at the crazy idea of wasting valuable gaming-floor space with shopping, but Gluck had the last laugh: Since opening, it's been and remains among the most profitable retail spaces in world, with more than 25 million visitors per year, and is home to many of the world's most exclusive designer brands including Cartier, Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Tiffany, Valentino, and Versace, among its 270 retailer, restaurant, and bar tenants.
Although shopping's the main attraction, the Forum Shops is like an average mall experience on Acid. As the pioneer of the "painted-sky" ceiling effect, since copiously replicated, it helped drag Las Vegas out of the perpetual-nighttime mindset and pave the way for "daylife," while no expense was spared on the signature Graeco-Roman theming, including an elaborate replica of Rome's iconic Trevi Fountain and an debuting slogan that encouraged guests to "Shoppus Till You Droppus" (mercifully since abandoned). In 2004 a massive extension was added, which included the installation of the second-ever circular escalator in the U.S. and extended the previously set-back building right out to Las Vegas Boulevard.
Debuting with the Forum Shops was the animatronic "Festival Fountain" show. Designed and fabricated by Creative Presentations of Valencia, California, the seven-minute sight-and-sound show featured Roman-god characters, special lighting effects, and smoke -- until it was permanently retired in 2013. The similar "Fall of Atlantis" show also went on prolonged hiatus, but rose from the deep, so to speak, at the end of 2013, with 40 new state-of-the-art speakers and 14 video LED screens (which can be used in unison to create a massive 11-by-266-foot screen), not to mention an "ultraviolet-reactive element" to make the whole experience that much more magical.
New armor and outfits for the characters were commissioned from Hollywood costumier Sword & Stone (which also kitted out the Pirates of the Caribbean, among many others). At the time of the unveiling, Forum Shops General Manager Mark Bell was quoted as saying, "No other indoor venue in Las Vegas has the combined special effects that are incorporated in the new Atlantis Show," an 11-minute free spectacle that plays out hourly around a tale of sibling rivalry, enacted by nine-foot-tall representations of Atlas and his children. It's located next to the Atlantis Aquarium, a 50,000-gallon saltwater tank that's home to about 500 fish, including rays and sharks (feedings take place twice daily, at 3:15 and 7:15 p.m.)
Note that the "Fall of Atlantis" is not to be confused with the Race for Atlantis experience, the first IMAX 3-D simulator ride, which was created especially for Caesars Palace and was awarded the World Animation Celebration Award for Best Animation for a Theme Park Ride when it debuted in 1998. The five-minute ride involved a high-speed simulated "chariot" race through the streets of Atlantis, against the diabolical Ghastlius, to determine who would be the next king of the legendary city; the ride, which quickly became outdated, closed permanently (and poetically, although we're not sure if the ominous date was chosen deliberately) on March 14, 2004.
Tune in tomorrow for the concluding part of our trilogy about Caesars Palace attractions, past and present, which features some surprises...
Images appear courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau, UNLV Special Collections, CinemaTreasures.org, Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Green.
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