diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 18, 2014

No doubt you and your family are already making plans to visit the cablecar this Christmas to enjoy The Snowman and the Snowdog.
Specially reworked version of iconic film exclusively available for passengers flying through the air on the Emirates Air Line cable car
But how will your trip differ from the usual Dangleway journey, and will you be wasting your money? I've been along to check, twice.
As well as being able to watch this exciting sequence, visitors to the Emirates Air Line will see the terminal transformed into a magical Christmas experience until Sunday 4 January. Families can also have their photo taken with a life size model of The Snowman before boarding their festive flight. All of this is available at standard ticket prices.
I'm not convinced that levels of transformation count as a "magical Christmas experience". A few snowflakes have been stuck to the windows on the southern side, and a plastic Snowman has been positioned beyond the ticket barrier at each terminal as a selfie-opportunity. The family I followed in, alas, walked straight past without even looking. Meanwhile the big screens downstairs, and then upstairs, are looping a trailer showing a few choice scenes from the in-flight cartoon. It'd give you something to watch while you were queueing, if only there were any queues.

Danny Price, TfL's Head of the Emirates Air Line, said: `The Snowman and The Snowdog is an iconic Christmas film and we are delighted to be able to bring the story to life for our passengers, as they fly like the characters over our capital city.
Passengers don't really have a lot of choice. You step into the cabin as jingly music plays from the newly-installed loudspeakers overhead, then the film kicks in as you take off and continues all the way across to the other side. If you just want to enjoy the view, or fancy some peace and quiet on your commute, bring earplugs.
Footage from the classic film has been given an exciting twist.
I'd say "exciting twist" is pushing it. The original film is 24 minutes long. For the purposes of the Dangleway Special it's been cut to 4 minutes, and then 4 minutes of additional footage has been bolted on in the middle. All the new stuff involves scenes adapted from aerial footage, in which local landmarks are digitally de-coloured and cartoonised, with electronic snow sprinkled on top. When the genuine footage kicks back in, the improvement in picture quality is marked. It's not especially magical, especially when the real thing is visible out of the window.
The iconic 'flying in the air' sequence now sees The Snowman and The Snowdog characters flying over London landmarks such as The O2, the Emirates Air Line, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Greenwich Royal Naval College and the Thames Barrier. This magical sequence is really brought to life as passengers fly over the Thames themselves.
If you've visited the cablecar this year, you'll know they have a shortlist of about a dozen nearby attractions which they plug consistently (for example on the wall map, the website, the app and the onboard 'feature tour'). All the usual suspects pop up in this film too, as the Snowman flies from The O2 to The Crystal via the Olympic Park (where you only ever see The Orbit, because that's a paid-for attraction). However endearing your child might find the aerial sequence, there's no escaping the fact it's essentially a four minute advert for places on a list drawn up by the marketing department.
Damian Treece, Brand Manager at Snowman Enterprises Ltd, said: `We were delighted when Emirates Air Line approached us with regards to incorporating The Snowman and The Snowdog as a part of their Christmas activity. There is an obvious synergy between what this experience will offer consumers and the magical attributes of our well-loved characters.
You may have giggled there at the word "synergy", but the most important word in Damian's speech comes seven words later where passengers on the cablecar are described as "consumers". There's a reason why all of this Snowdog stuff is free, on top of the usual admission price, and that's because you're being sold to.

The Emirates Air Line is open Monday to Friday from 7am - 8pm, and 8am - 8pm on Saturdays and 9am-8pm on Sundays. Visitors may like to come in the evening to experience the film and glistening lights of London at night for an extra Christmassy feeling.
Well yes. I visited in the morning and could barely see the screen for squinting into the sun, hence my enjoyment of the cartoon was significantly curtailed. So I came back after dark to watch again, and I can confirm that the film was indeed much easier to see. But it still couldn't hold a candle to the view outside the window. All the glittering lights of London spread out for miles make for a most impressive sight, certainly better than the imperfect footage blaring out from the screen above. There was a particularly surreal moment when the music of the Snowmen's dance kicked in as I was looking down into a giant illuminated hangar full of recycled rubbish, but that's the Silvertown shore for you.
Customers are advised to book their tickets in advance to make sure they don't miss out. Tickets can be booked at: https://emiratesairline.theo2.co.uk
I've ridden the cablecar twice this week, including on a Sunday which is its busiest day, and I can assure you that you don't need to book in advance. Staff outnumbered riders on both visits, and the great majority of cabins passing by the other way were empty. So, has anybody actually done as they're told and booked up front? If you go to the booking website you'll see that 250 spaces are available for each half hour slot, and almost all of these 250s remain untouched. There are (at time of writing) four people booked in at 2pm on Sunday and another four at 3pm, but the day's other 5492 seats remain readily available.

So should you bring your kids? Not specially for the film, no. Buy the DVD and watch the whole thing, it's only £8, and you get the full 24 minutes of properly animated storytelling without an promotional snowstorm shoehorned in the middle. But would your kids enjoy the cablecar anyway? Of course they would, it's a cablecar for heaven's sake, and the experience shouldn't need a festive gimmick to drag punters along.

And I spotted one more thing which the arrival of The Snowman and the Snowdog has unintentionally proven. When the cablecar was first introduced, much was made of it as a useful transport connection as well as an aerial spectacle. Timings were therefore adjusted so that the crossing took five minutes during the rush hour but ten minutes at all other times. That distinction has ended this week, and now all journeys take the longer time. The five minute crossing has been scrapped because the film would end early, and paying customers would then be shortchanged. A ten minute crossing shortchanges nobody... because there are no regular commuters - Darryl's Freedom of Information request has confirmed this.

Imagine if on any other form of transport TfL had deliberately doubled the travel time for ordinary passengers and failed to announce this anywhere in advance. There'd be an outcry, it'd never happen. But it's happened on the cablecar, because the cablecar is most definitely a tourist attraction - it is no longer pretending to be anything else.

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