United States – July 20th 2011 – Zambelli Fireworks

Hot and humid mid-summer conditions were accompanied by very gusty winds leading to the interruption of the countdown just thirty seconds before show-time. This must have been very nerve-wracking for the Zambelli team as one option to make the display safe for firing would have been remove their nautical shells.

The original version of The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939, is a 20th Century classic film with many lines that have entered the cultural lexicon of the western world. Using a re-mastered original soundtrack was a bold move for two reasons – first of all, the quality of the recording is not as high as modern digital technology is capable of and, secondly, the type of musical soundtrack is a significantly different style that used in modern films, whether they are musicals or not. To attempt a pyromusical to such a soundtrack is an audacious move, not without risk.

Zambelli’s designer, Patrick Brault, had hinted in his interview with me that the style of the display would be distinctly American, with an emphasis on aerial shells rather than low-level effects. He also noted that several characters and themes in the soundtrack would be portrayed in pyrotechnics and that they would use the thematic element of the yellow brick road as a link between segments.

I was pleasantly surprised that there were rather more low-level mine, comet and one-shot effects that I had expected, together with an impressive array of nautical effects. I particularly liked the used of cube-shaped yellow pattern shells to represent the “yellow bricks” of the interlinking sequences. When the yellow brick road was first introduced, the lake was dramatically covered with bright yellow bengals, to gasps from the audience. Character elements such as spiral shells were used to represent the brainless scarecrow; heart shells for the heart-less tin man and kaleidoscope shells with sparkling pistils to represent the Wizard of Oz himself. Knowing that these elements would be present certainly made the display more effective as did a knowledge of the film itself.

Nautical effects were used at many times throughout the display culminating in some very large nautical salutes – a first in Montreal that I’ve seen. Other pyrotechnics were of a generally high quality, with some effects (such as the “ghost shells”) not seen before in Montreal. That said, some of the large calibre shells had the same problem as those used by Pyro2000 – they burst very loud and many of the stars were dim or blind. That Zambelli had supplied Pyro2000 surely explains this common problem.

The low level effects, though more numerous in quantity than I had imagined, did suffer, to some extent from somewhat simplistic firing patterns and angles and some of the angles themselves were rather messy in that they differed from position to position across ramp three, spoiling what would have been strong criss-crossing patterns. Attention to such details can really make or break the effectiveness of such low-level effects. I was also disappointed by the fireworks used in the Over The Rainbow segment. Unfortunately one position on ramp 3 had been knocked out, but I found the colours week and there didn’t appear to be any attempt to provide any rainbow effects in the shells that were augmenting the colour-tipped silver comets below. Since we’d already seen two other rainbow sequences this year, this was an opportunity to make a really effective rainbow that was lost. I also found the final 15-20 second colour-and-salute finale that was “bolted on” to the end of the track somewhat jarring and out of place, even though it was loud and exciting.

All in all, it was a well done display that would have done better with some refinement and attention to detail. The soundtrack, with its narrative elements and “old fashioned” sound made fora difficult job and I think kudos should be given to the designers for their ability to tell the story through pyrotechnic effects. A good display, but not a Gold Jupiter this time. Possibly the contender for Bronze, though there are still two strong competitors left in the 2011 edition.

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