Can you guess who’s winning the theme park wars? Disney World…
…Or Universal Studios Florida.
A better question:
Do you care?
You are certainly more interested in Disney’s Star Wars debut, which was followed by Universal’s equally blockbuster announcement…
…The $1 billion supercharged ride was on its way (we say $1 billion because it was the fastest movie series in history to reach that amount)…
The Fast and the Furious ride at Universal Studios Orlando.
The Fast and Furious ride may be the most action packed ride ever.
What will it be like? And will it live up to your high expectations?
You know it’s going to be fast. But what else do you know?
We can’t say specifically what it will be but we have some ideas for what to expect. We can say it will be a “supercharged” experience.
And we’ll get into more details later.
But first, let’s take a look at what the theme park wars in Orlando means.
To you, that is. The person who has visited or is going to visit or is returning again and again.
The theme park battle is definitely on.
What it means to you
And it really is joined by the area’s third major park, SeaWorld.
They are competing, of course, for the 62 million visitors that come to Orlando each year.
The fact that the parks are now spending more money than ever on new rides, etc., is no surprise.
The US economy has come back.
People are again spending money.
And attendance at parks is up.
You don’t need a degree in college economics to realize this is prompting new spending and sharper competition among the parks.
Disney made its big news recently with its announcement of Star Wars.
But Universal Studios Orlando countered soon after with The Fast and the Furious.
Both Disney World and Universal Studios are short on details.
They obviously like to keep you in suspense.
That way, you’ll be talking about the coming attractions.
One major implication of all this is also simple economics.
The bad news will be you will be paying more to visit (multi-million-dollar rides can never be free).
But the good news is that there will be more rides than ever.
And new rides should keep coming up in future years, as long as the parks prosper, attendance-wise.
What will it be like?
Which all brings us to what “Fast” will be like. And how it all came about.
“Fans of Universal Pictures' "The Fast and the Furious " film franchise – with the latest installment, " Furious 7," grossing more than $1 billion in the box office – are accustomed to top-speed car chases.”
They also expect “massive explosions, sprays of gunfire and unbelievable stunts,” wrote the Orange County Register newspaper.
When Universal Studios Hollywood's executive show producer, Chick Russell, sat down with his crew to write an original script and actually shoot a short 3D movie for the ride, they knew it had to have the same kind of high-octane action from start to finish.
Universal says of it:
"This ride is going to fuse everything you love about the films with an original storyline and incredible ride technology. You’ll get to check out some of the high-speed, supercharged cars you’ve seen on the big screen. You’ll be immersed in the underground racing world made famous in the films and explore the headquarters of Toretto and his team. Then, you’ll board specially-designed vehicles for an adrenaline-pumping ride with your favorite stars from the films."
So what does all that mean?
The ride is already at Universal Studios Hollywood, where it opened in June.
At the Los Angeles location, it's the conclusion of the big Universal Studio Tour.
However in Universal Orlando it will be its own separate ride, located in the Universal Studios Florida park.
Actor Vin Diesel and his co-stars Michelle Rodriguez and Tyrese Gibson were among those on hand to kick off the attraction in California.
Can we do it again?
"Everyone around me was like, 'Can we do that again. Right now?'" Diesel told USA Today after getting off the ride with his three children. "That pretty much summed it up. Wow! Talk about amazing."
Well, of course he liked it.
But how about some more details?
We have to assume that the Orlando version will at least have some similarities to what started in California.
How it all came about
"There are so many incredible stunts in the films themselves, so we felt we had to somehow top that," Russell says in a newspaper story. He and his crew brainstormed hundreds of scenarios and came up with some original stunts never used before.
The crew had seven films to study and use as research, as well as the ability to tap the original scriptwriters for authentic dialogue. They also had the full participation of actors from the feature films including Vin Diesel (Dominic "Dom" Toretto), Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Agent Luke Hobbs), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortiz), Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce) and Luke Evens (Owen Shaw).
The resulting six-minute ride had, needless to say, cutting-edge technology.
The best comparison might be to the 3D-HD imagery found at the California King Kong ride, which opened in 2010.
"We're able to use technology to make you actually feel what it's like to be in these films," Russell says.
"So when you're racing through the streets of L.A. at (a perceived) 120 miles per hour on the tram, you actually feel the wind and all of the images are racing at the same speed. We added things like water effects so that when things are blowing up, refineries are exploding, you're feeling some of that hit your skin. We added smoke in there as well, so you're really in an environment that's very tactile and makes your brain and body feel like you're really in that space."
As guests board the studio tour trams, they're treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the back lot and are taken through a variety of other attractions, including narrowly escaping "Jaws," experiencing a magnitude-8.3 earthquake in a subway tunnel, and, of course, surviving King Kong's epic 3D battle.
Along the way, tram guides have incorporated bits of Fast & Furious – Supercharged.
These include Dom's 1970 Dodge Charger parked on the back lot. An alert is called in to security. As the tour continues, video screens inside the tram suck guests’ into the thick of yet another movie plot line as they see security contacting the FBI.
Eventually Agent Hobbs takes over the entire operation. The trams must be guided to safety to avoid the capture of an onboard witness (they never say who, exactly) by the films' antagonist, Owen Shaw.
"Some people might say there's too much going on, but we love too much going on," Russell says. "That means you're never bored and you're always excited to look around. It also means you have to come back and see it again. There are four cars to the tram, so depending on where you sit in the car, it changes the perspective of what you're seeing. On one side you may see Hobbs firing his machine gun and crashing into cars with his truck, and on the other side, you see Shaw ramming into Dom's Charger. If you're in the front, you get more of a view of Roman with his tow truck pulling the tram. It's fun because you can come back multiple times and each time it can be like a whole new experience."
A steroids ride
“What we have here is a 600-foot ride that you don’t even know is there,” says Chick Russell, executive producer for Universal Creative.
“It’s a thrill ride on steroids,” he told reporters.
The technology may be complicated but the idea behind it is simple: give you a sense of being in the movie.
For that reason, actors such as Diesel, Rodriguez, etc., all appeared in the creation of the ride, according to Universal (money may also have played a part).
Universal’s Russell describes the ride as supercharged.
That means it is a hydraulic based ride that fuses special effects with a state-of-the-art 3D audio system, as well as 3D-HD imagery. This is all projected onto the world’s largest 360-degeee screen (spanning 400 feet).
As viewers or participants, you will find that water and wind is used to heighten the realism of the ride.
The ride itself begins in a truck repair shop. It has character Gibson’s souped-up tow truck and grappling hook. That becomes an essential part of the ride as the story unveils. And the action picks up seemingly outside of the shop.
A Los Angeles Times report said of the California ride:
“Once inside the Fast & Furious: Supercharged 3D attraction building, the action starts when a pair of tow trucks attach their grappling hooks onto the tram and take us on a 120 mph chase along Los Angeles freeways. The highlight of the attraction occurs at the climax of the film, when the tram appears to jump off a bridge and soar through the air.”
During his visit, the reporter sat in the second row of the tram as the action enveloped on a 270-degree panoramic screen.
“Throughout the high-definition movie, I watched with a mix of shock and awe as vehicles, debris, shrapnel and missiles collided with the tram in concert with multiple special effects, including water, mist, fire, smoke and wind,” he writes.
The most impressive part of the attraction was the retractable nose screen, which allows the action to wrap around the front and both sides of the tram.
If you ride it…
His advice when you do get to try it:
“Next time I plan to try a seat closer to the middle of the tram to see what I missed on my first trip.”
Another of his observations:
While the new 3D film delivers an action-packed jolt to the end of the tram tour, the setup to the attraction spends far too much time revving the engine before starting the race.
The reporter viewed the attraction’s two preshow rooms as essentially unnecessary — especially with all the video previews shown during the tram ride. The attraction’s first scene involves little more than vehicle props paired with yet another video setup. The remarkable digital pepper’s ghost illusion in the second scene is wasted on a party scene with even more exposition from the cast of the films, the reporter thought.
Say no more
The reporter writes:
“How much do we really need to know? All that really needs to be said is, ‘You're in the middle of a wild car chase. Go!’”
“One of my pet peeves about Universal Studios Hollywood is that half the attractions in the park are cleverly disguised movies set up by a seemingly endless series of shorter movies. And while all that backstory helps to kill time when you’re waiting for a ride in the park, it’s wholly unnecessary on the tram tour,” he says.
His other criticism is that the show elements are essentially identical to King Kong 360 3D.
As for that theme park war…
Universal’s parent company, Comcast Corp., has committed to building one new attraction each year.
And the next one may be Nintendo. ###