The real power of the CD-ROM being its ability to hold large amounts of reference material, the key is to find material that people actually want to reference. Creative MultiMedia not only hit on a remarkably interesting topic in the history of flight, but they did a great job putting it together. Based on the Smithsonian Institution's National Air & Space Museum, tons of text, video clips, pictures, and recordings can all be accessed and cross-referenced quickly and easily in a variety of ways. With the menu bar, Aviation Pioneers, Flying Machines, Milestones, and Culture can be investigated in drop-down format either alphabetically or chronologically. Icons and hypertext allow the participant to jump around watching, listening to, and reading just about anything, from the Wright Brothers' logbooks on that notorious day at Kitty Hawk to the sound of Hardy's Sopwith Camel (best known for putting an end to that pesky ace the Red Baron), to images of the taxpayer-bleeding B-2 bomber. From any screen, just about anything you touch generates an image or a sound. An additional option for navigation includes the Auto-pilot, with which you can "make your own flight plan" by choosing a number of items from the menus in order to create your own mini-documentary, or simply select one of the preset tours. The 2D drawings accompanying the descriptions of each aircraft are additionally downloadable as clip art. And as if that weren't enough, it comes with an Acrobatics Flight Simulator, which puts you in the cockpit of your very own Yak-55 simulation. Even without the joystick and pedals, the dizzying sensation of a flat spin to the thrill of pulling off a Cuban 8 maneuver can be had. The simulator includes an acrobatics tutorial, allows formation flying, and, I must admit, makes going to the museum a little less tempting. -Carl Bacher THE VIRTUAL BODY
Health reference and education has become one of the premier topics for CD-ROMs, rapidly replacing Mom's trusty Merck Manual. The Virtual Body, one of at least nine such products produced by IVI Publishing, aims to fill the niche of educational material for ages 10 and up. Floating eyeballs, spinning skulls, and twisting DNA decorate the main menu, which allows selection from among 52 frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the human body. As you branch out through the tree-like structure, digital animation and illustrations are generated to synthesized music and the sound of the narrator's voice. After the display and text slowly fill the screen, what look like square blisters begin to form over the image. These raised squares or "hot spots" can be pressed to find out more about the specific organ or bodily function represented. Although access is both slow and somewhat difficult, this program can be quite educational and entertaining. My personal favorite is "name that fetus" which asks the contestant to match up the picture of a fetus with its full-grown counterpart, be it a frog, cow, human, etc. Other goodies include several X-ray videos, which demonstrate the workings of the human skeleton to the sound of a creaking door, and the animated cross section of a human head showing how the tongue, larynx, and epiglottis work together to create speech (in sync with the narration). More serious subjects, such as AIDS and sex, are handled both tastefully and tactfully with appropriate comic touches, such as the teenage girl using a remote control to fast-forward over boring portions of mom's birds and bees speech. The Virtual Body can serve as a valuable tool for educating grade school to high school level kids about their own bodies, although it will probably create more questions than it can answer and won't let you off the hook when it comes time to give your own speech. -Carl Bacher
I WANNA HOLD
D: Robert Zemeckis; with Nancy Allen,
Bobby DiCicco, Marc McClure, Susan
Kendall Newman, Will Jordan.
When I was 11 years old, I stumbled upon the Beatles' world-stopping appearance in New York for the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, and I did everything - screamed outside their hotel along with the throngs, snuck inside their suite, scoured the city hoping to score tickets to the show - even though I wasn't born 'til after the Beatles split up (a sad fact which was broken to me by my mother soon after she told me there was no Santa Claus). I just happened to catch a television broadcast of I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a movie that has more to do with the phenomenon of Beatlemania than it does the Beatles - and now that Vulcan is carrying this often-overlooked film, you can catch the mania, too.
I Wanna... covers it all, from the breathless teenage girl who nearly goes into cardiac arrest at the sight of a cardboard cutout of Paul to the jealous fop of a boyfriend who's ready to climb the CBS broadcast tower with an ax just to stop the craze. The film approaches the subject of rabid fans with the same sense of fun that marked the Fab Four's own films about themselves; it's clever and hyperbolic without sinking into overblown parody. (When a girl has her foot crunched by a cop behind a police barricade, her screaming and jumping whip the whole crowd - who think she's spotted a Beatle - into a spontaneous, needless frenzy.)
The movie's story line is not unlike American Graffiti; we're introduced to an eclectic gang of kids, and soon enough they're separated due to one circumstance or another and left to their own devices in the city. Mishaps, car chases, and unlikely romance ensue, all of it pointing toward the problem of how they can possibly get in to see the Beatles. Director Zemeckis wisely avoided the expense of Beatles lookalikes by showing us the boys just as these psychotic fans see them: through the cracks of closet doors, from underneath hotel beds, from 50 feet away at a dead run down an ally - and this only brings us closer to their sense of titillation and, well, mania.
Even when it goes too far, it does so with such flair and gusto that you can't help but crack a smile, as when Nancy Allen - a reluctant participant who begins the trip obsessed with her impending elopement - finds herself in the Beatles' hotel suite, swooning in spite of herself over Paul's bass (though not until she's chastely removed her engagement ring). Then there's the classic scene in which the kid with the moptop has to ransom his Ed Sullivan tickets from his strict father - with his hair. I was already a Beatles freak at age 11 when I saw this film, and it was a good thing my mom had told me by then they were no longer together, or I'd have been on the first bus to New York. -Dave Cook