RAINBOW WAR: A DIFFERENT KIND OF COLOUR LESSON
"Once upon a time, in a timeless place, there were three kingdoms: one blue, one red, and one gold. In the blue kingdom, everything was blue, because blue was beautiful. And besides, everyone who was anyone loved blue.
In the red land, everything was red, because they trusted red, but they were afraid of everything else.
The golden kingdom was dominated by yellow. Other colours were to be eliminated on sight. Blue and red were censored, covered up, thus yellow reigned supreme.
But it really didn't matter if the kingdoms didn't like each other, for, you see, travel between the kingdoms was impossible, so they never came into contact. In isolation, each kingdom taught its young what to like and dislike; other ideas were discouraged. But it couldn't last forever. In time, there came a new idea... a moving new idea... and the world would never be the same!"
So begins the narrator's intro to Rainbow War, an allegorical semi-animated short film that played to millions of visitors as part of Vancouver's EXPO 86 world's fair. A spin on Romeo and Juliet, where monochromatic monarchs rule and mixing is forbidden, this light-hearted story trades poison and daggers for buckets of paint, and in their attempts to stay true to their own hues, a war breaks out. Blue brushes over Red, Yellow rolls over Blue, Red dumps on Yellow. Before long, colours are splashing all over the place and... well, with 'rainbow' in the title, you can probably guess how this 'happily ever after' fairy tale finishes. Here's the trailer:
Rainbow War was the feature at the Canadian Pacific Pavilion, and its crafted combo of slapstick and sentiment made it one of the fair's 'must-see' and most loved attractions. It was filmed in Vancouver in 1985, during a time when the city was quickly earning its reputation as 'Hollywood North.' Aside from teaching millions of EXPO 86ers a colourful lesson about tolerance, it got the attention of the movie industry in general, nabbing an Oscar nomination for 'Best Live Action Short' that same year.
I was lucky enough to see Rainbow War a few times that summer, catching it when I could, when I wasn't performing fairy tales of a different kind in live shows around the site with SAK Theatre (read about that in EXPO 86, PART 1). And yet, there wasn't a single screening of that 20-minute film (and there must have been at least 20 every day) where I wasn't in the theatre. How could I have been in two places at once, never missing a cue with SAK and also never ever missing out on the greatest paint battle ever? Here's how...
ME IN THE MIX
In the final scene of the movie, when all the once-one-coloured characters are covered in not just their rival's hues, but in new hues previously undiscovered, the Blue King stands with his subjects to ultimately and happily accept the new world colour order. Here he is, proudly posing as a rainbow is painted across his coat:
But never mind the King. Check out the painter. See that white-gloved hand holding the brush, adding the final touches to the movie's iconic arc? That's my hand! I'm the painter! I know, right? How cool is that? Sure, I was just one of a cast of hundreds who got to spend a week or so 'at work' playing this crazy, creative, pre-cursor game of paint ball (I know, right? How cool is that?), and in most of the scenes I'm in, it's hard to pick me out because I look like everyone else (ahhh yes, and isn't that part of the movie's message?). When the Yellow Queen first shows up with her army, their rollers fully loaded, I'm on the front line for Team Blue (at 10:10, third from the right), just one of many about to go Green. But here, in these final frames, I was appointed Artist to the King's Court, an extra-special extra who had no idea back then that 30 years later, she'd be sharing rainbows with the world.
If you missed seeing Rainbow War at EXPO 86, there's a version on Vimeo here. It's a little grainy, and not as wide as the 70 mm Cinemascope IMAX original, but the story and its multi-colourful message still comes through.
FILM FANS AND COLOUR GEEKS, KEEP READING...
If you want to get a full-width full-spectrum version, a 25th anniversary edition was released in 2011. Here are some notes about that from producer/director Bob Rogers:
"The video conversions broke my heart because, at that time, absolutely no consumer wanted a letter box video version showing the full 70mm wide screen, so a “pan-and-scan” was created by Rick Gordon. A “pan-and-scan” vertically fills the standard television screen, but cuts off the sides of the wide screen. This cuts off all kinds of wonderful detail and action taking place on the deleted sides.
In 2010 and 2011 for its 25th anniversary, the film was painstakingly, digitally restored with the help of [IMAX industry guru] Rick Gordon, and is now available for the first time in Blu-ray. The Blu-ray restored the sides of the picture which had not been seen in a couple of decades.
One of the original difficulties in shooting the film had been the poor job that Kodak does with color control. For this film red had to always be red, never orange. Yellow always had to be yellow, never greenish. And, of course, Kodak never did know how to make real purple. Twenty-five years after its original production, Rick Gordon’s 2011 digital restoration finally solved those problems. The color and image quality in the Blu-ray is, in the opinion of the director and the producer (both are me), superior to anything we ever saw in 35mm or 70mm."
This may be more detail about a little movie than most might want to know, but it really makes me appreciate the attention to detail that filmmakers like Rogers and Gordon uphold, despite limited and transitioning technologies. I should really get myself a copy of the re-widened version. Aside from being the director's choice, my son would get to see more than just his mom's arm...