Title: Class Action Park
Release Date: August 27, 2020
Director: Seth Porges, Chris Charles Scott III
Production Company: Pinball Party Productions | Strategery Films | Warner Max
As a kid growing up in Connecticut, ads for Action Park were constantly on the tv and radio, but my requests to go there were denied. My mother was not fond of driving to New Jersey nor did our family budget have much room for visits to theme parks. It was only until years later that I learned that I may have dodged a bullet since Action Park had such a reputation for guests getting injured and sometimes killed. In fact, back in the 80s, I remember New Jersey’s other theme park Great Adventure having the reputation for danger since several teens were killed in a fire and one person fell off a roller coaster.
Class Action Park features interviews with former employees and guests of Action Park mixed with archival news footage and old home movies. The general theme of the movie is “can you believe how dangerous this place was” and the strange nostalgic feeling of having survived it. The jokey tone of some of the commentators is placed at odds with survivors of people who died at Action Park, with the ending of the film actually featuring the most uncomfortable contrast of narration and film.
The villain of the piece is Gene Mulvihill, a shady investor in penny stocks who opened Action Park as a summer activity at his ski resort in 1978. Action Park was a pioneer of the modern waterpark, so a lot of the rides were experimental to begin with, but Mulvihill refused to hire professional ride engineers and often redrew the plans himself to make them more extreme. If the rides weren’t dangerous enough, the park was run almost entirely by teenagers with underage drinking and drug use common among the staff. Mulvihill’s libertarian emphasis on freedom and profits with his callous disregard of people injured and killed at the park becomes emblematic of the USA in the Reagan Era.
I found this movie to be interesting in how it showed how the most unbelievable aspects of Action Park came to be and persisted. But I also don’t think it is a very well-made documentary. For one thing, it could’ve used a wider of variety of commentators as the handful involved said mostly the same things. Also, the frequent reuse of b-roll footage throughout the movie feels lazy and unprofessional. Still it’s an interesting movie to watch if you’re curious about how an experiment in pure libertarianism in Greater New York City went horribly wrong and why regulations may be good, actually.