CLASS ACTION PARK
In the last year and a half I’ve found myself diving into a new obsession. Especially being stuck at home since March, I’ve gained a new found interest in discovering the histories of various theme parks around the world. I have watched endless video essays on YouTube, obsessing over the stories behind some of my favorite parks and attractions with the likes of Disney World and Six Flags. Through wonderful YouTube channels like Defunctland and Theme Park History, I can see these parks through a new creative perspective. The parks I used to dream about and the rides that used to tower over me as a child now fuel a never ending hunger for world building that I have as an adult. Certain places where we’ve spent time as children can stay in our hearts as magical and untouched by their reality. Class Action Park is a documentary that looks beyond the rose colored past and tells the story of the infamous Action Park through the memories of the now all-grown-up park guests, past employees, theme park tycoons, and the family of one of the park’s tragic victims.
To sum it up, Action Park was a gigantic water park in Vernon, New Jersey and was owned by an ambitious entrepreneur with no worries whatsoever. What once was a ski resort, became one of the biggest water attractions in the country. Action Park had no rules, minimal supervision, and took zero responsibility.
There is a lot of playfulness in the direction at first, starting with the nostalgic memories of former guests and employees, now nearing middle-age. They do a great job setting up the general reputation that the park had at the time and I really enjoyed hearing from the former teenage employees in their own words. But if you know anything about the park and it’s owner Gene Mulvihill, you know it’s not going to be a happy nostalgia trip for long. It's clear from early on that the owner of the park is not the hero. The film takes it’s time to work up to it, as all we see or hear from the management side are some occasional clips of Gene’s son, Andrew Mulvihill, speaking about the park’s short lived reopening, which the film makes clear was recorded back in 2013. You can tell that what they’re setting up is not a redemption story in the slightest, but more of an exposé of the working conditions and behavior of the park’s creator and lead visionary himself.
The focus of the film doesn’t shy away from showing Gene being at fault for his disaster of a business, despite what the media and local politicians portrayed at the time. The carelessness of his business tactics resulted in not just tragedy, but zero repercussions and no remorse. There’s a particular scene in the doc where one former employee describes Gene as a “cool dude”, and then cuts to a woman calling him as P.O.S. As we soon learn, that woman is the mother of a child that tragically lost his life after falling off a water slide at the park. Of all the different memories that are re-lived, and all the different perspectives given, everyone seems to agree on one thing: Action Park was pure chaos. Nobody had ever seen anything like it before or since, and nothing like it will ever happen again. That level of chaos comes with a lot of complex feelings and emotions, and it’s story is best told by the ones who lived it.
I think my only real issue was that the ending felt a bit off. It's almost as if the filmmakers wanted pieces of two different stories to crescendo into each other to cap it off, but didn't have the corresponding visual and sound bite to match so they just combined them hoping for the best. It just didn’t feel very conclusive to me. Other than that, the overall flow of the story was engaging and effective. The ending of the film may be slightly abrupt, but hey, so was the ending of Action Park, right?
Watching Class Action Park took me back to a time that I didn’t even experience, hell I wasn’t even born yet, but somehow I’m left having a tiny bit of nostalgia for it. It especially satisfied my curiosity for theme park history, but even more so, it’s left me envious for a time when you could actually go to a water park at full capacity. Class Action Park is now streaming on HBO Max, that’s of course if you’re not too chicken...