Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Transformers The Ride: Changing The Face Of Theme Park Attractions As We Know It

This past Memorial Day weekend, droves of Los Angeles residents and tourists made the trip to Universal Studios Hollywood to experience the brand new attraction, Transformers: The Ride-3D. I was on the scene for the grand opening of the 100 million dollar spectacular and have returned with a detailed report on how me and a rag tag group of Autobots, Universal employees and fellow members of the press saved the world. Or rode a ride that pretended we saved the world. Shhh. Let me have my fantasy.

The event itself boasted free samples of a deliberately mysterious fizzy orange drink called "Energon", a red carpet filled with Ron Meyer, Steven Spielberg, Judd Apatow and, for no discernible reason, 10 minor actors from Glee, an impressive stunt show featuring the Optimus Prime truck, soldiers falling off of buildings, fireworks, actor Glen Morshower, and red, white and blue streamers exploding down upon us, and a large breakfast spread which boasted donuts being fried live. When I described the experience to a friend, comedian Kyle Ray, he noted,
Frying donuts outside of an amusement park ride based on a blockbuster movie that was based on a television cartoon, that was made to sell toys, this might be the most American thing I have ever seen.
Truer words were never spoken, Mr Ray. But we're not here to discuss how Universal celebrated the opening of their monumental new ride - we're here to review the ride itself, and tell you if it lives up to hype. After the jump, of course!

Stunt show FTW!
The ride has been described as a "technologically advanced motion based, flight simulator mega attraction," which is pretty damn accurate. You sit in a twelve person car with a bar against your torso and glide along 2000 feet of track, stopping in 14 different rooms along the way, each with its own screen and scene along the way. Some of the screens even reach 60 feet, and thanks to the incredible 3D paired with perfectly correlated motion simulation, it's easily the most immersive attraction experience I've had yet. From room to room there are bits of set dressing and practical effects to help make the whole thing feel just a tad more complete. Each room is also equipped to mimic the environment suggested by the scene at hand. When we're inside a building, there's no air or ambient noise. When we are outside, it becomes a little colder, the sounds of the city surrounding us. When we are on a roof, our hair flies around wildly as the cold wind blasts against us. No corner is cut, no stone left unturned when it comes to making us truly feel a part of this world.

The motion simulation in particular is unparalleled. The car reacts precisely to every action. Whether it be slicing, grabbing, pulling, dropping, reversing or more, no two movements feel the same. The ride truly excels in moments of speeding along the streets, falling from buildings, or being carried through the air as if flying, hitting buildings along the way. Don't be surprised if you find your stomach drop for a few beats here and there, or brace yourself for impact when you're about to smash to the ground.

Although the story is rather generic, with the Autobots recruiting park guests to help retrieve the All-Spark, which has been stolen by the Decepticons, it doesn't hinder the experience, although certainly if these sorts of advancements were to be applied to a truly great property, the whole shebang would be taken up a notch. But if you love Transformers and missions involving that pesky All Spark, then you'll love this even more than I did, especially because Peter Cullen and Frank Welker reprise their vocal roles as Optimus Prime and Megatron respectively, and Glen Morshower returns as General Morshower, briefing you along the way. The Transformer you specifically ride with is EVAC, who hasn't appeared in the movies, though you will encounter pretty much all of the Transformers you've met before, whether in the ride itself, or in the multitudes of expositional videos playing as you wait in line.
The Mysterious Energon

Speaking of the line, if you're one of those folks who appreciates a good themed waiting area with plenty to keep you distracted, you'll be incredibly pleased with the work done here. There are about 5 or 6 large rooms leading to the final stretch, each one acting as a different part of NEST and providing another slice of the story. The videos themselves run about 5 minutes long and have a few interstitials that ring in at about 40 seconds each. So let's say your room experience stays fresh for 7 minutes, 7 minutes multiplied by 5 rooms is 35 - the exact number of minutes the line wait clocked in at after the ride officially opened Thursday afternoon. But fear not! Even when the line jumps to over an hour, as it expects to for the summer and especially this Memorial Day weekend, the videos have plenty to look at a second time through and each room also has posters, information to soak in everywhere, and items on display, not to mention every control panel in every room is filled with buttons and switches you can actually play with without causing any harm, so you can get your role play on to kill some time, no problem.

And yes, Transformers: The Ride-3D passes the headache test! I rode the attraction three times in a row and never got a headache, which to me signals that the overall movement is smooth enough to mean if you're sensitive to such things, you should be fine. Cause guys, I get a bit of a headache on the Simpsons Ride too, and felt nothing physically upsetting during Transformers. WIN! The only real downsides to the ride at all were a. it's about the Transformers and I hate the Transformers films and b. 3D glasses and water effects don't really mix. But that may have just been a #frontrowproblem.

Overall, the ride is absolutely a success, but in my mind more so for what it means the future holds. This attraction is so seamless, so immersive, and so true to the material (Michael Bay consulted, obviously), that it only makes me wish such measures had been taken with better source material. I can't WAIT to see this tech applied to a property I truly love, of which there are many, by the way. As long as it's not Battleship or you know, The King's Speech (and something tells me I don't have to worry about that one)I will be a happy camper. Although I should probably take this moment to remind you that a Wizarding World of Harry Potter is opening in Los Angeles in 2015 as part of Universal Studios, so I have a feeling our Hogwarts ride is gonna be even more remarkable than the Orlando installment. If this tech is applied in any sort of way....holy crap BE HERE NOW.

For a complete gallery of photos from the opening day event, head here and if you want to try the ride out sooner than later without much of a line, be sure to head over on a weekday before schools officially let out in a couple weeks.