GETTING MORE TALE #556: Shazam Kazaam! It’s a Fire in the Sky!
Do you recall a 1996 kids’ movie called Kazaam starring Shaquille O’Neal as a genie? If you’re like me, the answer is “no”, because you’re too old. From browsing the shelves of your local video stores, over the years you may have seen the VHS or DVD for Kazaam. It was a legendary flop, but not enough to kill Shaq’s movie career permanently. In 1997, he starred in DC Comics’ Steel (technically a Superman spinoff).
Something strange started happening a few years ago on the internet (home of the strange). People came out of the woodwork remembering a completely different movie: Not Kazaam, but Shazam, starring Sinbad instead of Shaq, as a genie. A simple case of convergent movie making a-la Deep Impact and Armageddon? Not this time. Sinbad says he never made such a movie, and there is no record of such a thing ever being made, anywhere by anybody. Not in this universe.
This isn’t one or two people who say they’ve seen the nonexistent Shazam. It’s hundreds of people (so they claim), and some have vivid memories. A man named Don, who used to work at his uncle’s video store, says he distinctly remembers the two copies he had in stock. He claims that he had to watch it many times, because customers told him it was defective and he had to check.
This kind of mass delusion has been called the “Mandela Effect”, named for the strange phenomenon of multiple people who remember Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s. Some think they may be transplanted natives of an alternate universe where the movie did exist, or Mandela did die in prison. Some think the movie (and every written record of it) was destroyed on purpose (somehow). Of course the truth is, these folks are just mixed up. They’re confusing something that Sinbad did with the Shaq movie, and people have even found pictures of Sinbad wearing a genie-like turban (from a 1995 Sinbad the Sailor movie marathon he hosted) that may have increased the confusion. No alternate universes necessary.
The simplest explanation is that memory is very fluid, and I have had my own experience similar to this. It too involved two movies with similarities.
In 1993, the sci-fi thriller Fire in the Sky was released and I was an instant fan. Alien abductions are such a neat subject, and Fire in the Sky depicted one of the most famous. Travis Walton disappeared in 1975. When he reappeared, he told a tale of being taken on a craft by strange beings. The movie elaborated on this with a scene set on the alien space ship.
The harrowing scene had Walton on an operating table with all sorts of alien mechanisms ready to poke and prod. The scene came to a terrifyingly sudden end as a sharp metal needle-like device made its way to his open eye. It touched the very surface of his eye…and jump cut to Travis waking up back on Earth!
The sequence seared itself into my memory. What a scare! I remembered the whole thing very clearly. How could you forget it? A few years after, I bought a used copy on VHS. I watched the whole thing on the edge of my seat. I cringed and waited for the spaceship scene with the needle and the eyeball. I remembered vividly. My minds eye could see the needle indenting the surface of his eye….
But that wasn’t on the VHS version. The needle never touched his eye. The scene cut away prematurely, and ended before that happened…but I REMEMBERED! I had seen it. I knew what I had seen, because I have an “eye thing”, and stuff touching eyes generally grosses me out. I don’t wear contacts for that reason.
I returned the tape to the store and explained it was an edited version with some content removed. I put myself on a waiting list for another copy. Perhaps the widescreen version would be un-edited.
Every copy of the VHS was the same. None featured the full contact eyeball scene. Can you guess why?
Because the shot, as I remembered it, wasn’t in that movie. It existed…but it wasn’t in Fire in the Sky.
It was in Star Trek: First Contact. In the flashback scene when Picard is abducted by the Borg, he is operated on. A needle makes its way to his eye…and actually touches the surface before Picard awakes. Picard was just dreaming! But that was the origin of the eyeball-touching that I had misremembered as being in Fire in the Sky. I was so sure that I returned every tape that didn’t have the shot, but it was me that was wrong!
Two science fiction movies, two alien abductions, two eye-related medical procedures (both on the right eye)…combined into one memory.
I can understand the confusion of the Shazam/Kazaam people. I have experienced it myself. You can be absolutely certain of something until confronted by the real memory, as I was. If anybody else saw the same two movies I did, then I bet at least one of them confused the same two scenes too.
Personally, I’m happy to not live in a universe where Sinbad made a genie movie.