The scene: The crowded, narrow portion of 7th Avenue where it meets West 34th Street in New York City; a picture window near the rear entrance of Macy’s, the world’s largest department store.
The time: Sunday evening, at dusk.
The crowd: Exotically dressed tourists, walking behind the people waving their arms in front of said window trying to make brooms dance or plasma bolts explode. Every now and then passersby stop and take pictures.
The feeling: Very Diagon Alley, i.e., the back-alley shopping area in Harry Potter, where the wizards are free to wander the cobblestone streets in their robes and buy magic supplies (and the whole thing is invisible to Muggles — non-wizards.)
The purpose: A window display to promote The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the Disney movie opening nationwide on July 14, 2010. In the movie Nicolas Cage plays Balthazar, a 1,000-year-old former student of Merlin the Magician, who, as one reviewer said, now has the wardrobe of Stevie Nicks. He tries to mentor an apprentice (Jay Baruchel) in modern-day Manhattan. Much CGI ensues.
How it works: Visitors stand on a mark on the sidewalk as a screen welcomes them to “The Sorcerer Experience.” It’s created from “3-D gesture technology,” which Jeffrey Cohen, managing partner of Inwindow Outdoor, the company that produced the display, says is similar to Microsoft’s soon-to-be-released Xbox Kinect. It uses infrared light from the camera to read the viewer’s body in 3-D and also in relation to other pedestrians. The camera interprets movements, allowing the user to throw plasma balls, levitate mops, etc., on the display screen.
The process: Fun, although the screen advised me several times that I was “standing too close to the Sorcerer” and to move back. Many of the tourists trying out the game could not read the admonishments in English and just left.
Social media bonus: Play time ends with the screen asking if you’d like a photo taken; if the answer is yes, an image of your head is then placed on a picture of a body sporting medieval-ish apprentice-wear, which is then uploaded to Facebook. So far, 95,000 fans like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice page.
Overall grade: A solid B. Once they got the nature of the challenges, many people seemed to love playing. The action essentially repackages and promotes the movie’s highpoints, which, judging from the tepid-to-bad reviews the blockbuster film has received, seem to consist of a reworking of the famous scene from the animated Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse dancing with brooms (no Mickey in sight here or in the movie, however) and basically throwing a lot of plasma bolts around. It should also achieve some old-time word of mouth.
Possible tagline: “Even if you were bored by the movie, you’ll love the game!”
Also available in windows at Hollywood and Highland in Hollywood, Calif. Will be up throughout July.