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Mysic Manor Courtesy of DAPSMAGIC.com

The future is here and it is unrestricted. Since the dawn of the dark ride and amusement park history the thrill of a ride has always been restricted to a metal rail, the ageless relative of the railroad track, that has long served as the backbone of both the ancient and modern thrill ride. Those days may be over…and it may be the single best thing that has ever happened to the themed entertainment industry.

Recall for a moment your favorite theme park attraction, how it felt to experience it for the first time, the thrill, the uniqueness, the sheer excitement of turning that corner out of the load station for the first time…

Now, imagine that same experience without any restrictions, no guidance rail that spoils the direction you’re headed, nothing binding you to the center of a track enabling completely free movement through a space. Now that’s easily said, but take a moment and really think about what that means…the Haunted Mansion with wood floors, simulated staircases, actual hills you descend down in the graveyard, no glaringly obvious track, no fixed viewing points and the ability to visit completely different areas of the house than you did before. Now take this and multiply it by every dark ride you have experienced and you begin to see the scope of this advancement. Now obviously, this is just an example, but the possibilities are breathtaking. The technology improves every aspect of the experience from immersion to reliability now that there is no track to be bound to and by extension no wheels and train components to have to replace/repair. Reduced down time, exponentially more ride experience variations, interactivity between vehicles, scenes that use the floor as a thrill point/scene itself, we really are only seeing the birthing stage of the trackless ride system and while current examples still bear many of the design restrictions of a standard track system, you can indeed see that Imagineers and ride designers are starting to realize the possibilities.

Point-in-case, Hong Kong Disneyland’s brand new ride Mystic Manor, a trackless first for the Walt Disney Company that clearly is the best example of what this technology can do. No on-board attractions host is needed and the ride floats effortlessly around corners and through the doorways of Mystic Manor, following the misadventure of the mischievous monkey Albert as he opens an ancient music box that brings inanimate objects to life throughout the antiquity-filled mansion. This ride has two tracks and is a seamless 360 ride experience, meaning no blank walls, no restricted viewing, nothing to ruin the illusion. In fact, the ride path even crosses over itself in the whirlwind finale that has to be seen to be believed, something that never would have been possible with track systems. Don’t believe it? See it in action for yourself.

Sea World’s Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins is another excellent example of how the ride can work. Sea World took a better approach when thinking of the ride track and

Antarctica, Courtesy of Attractions Magazine

really played with the mechanics of no longer have fixed cars, weaving the cars in and out of each other’s paths, facing other pods as they enter and exit spaces, using the exposure to the other riders as an enhancement rather than distraction, etc. Sea World’s ride itself may have a few issues with quality and general story, but the execution of technology is the true star in this attraction and it really seems Sea World wanted to show off the new system as the centerpiece of the entire experience and indeed, it is almost more entertaining to watch the other cars move and glide than it is to pay attention to the actual show (which is a huge problem in actuality, but hey, we’re having fun here.)

The story revolves around a penguin who you meet in the queue as an infant and follows his story as he learns about life for the penguins as well as his beautiful and dangerous home, Antarctica. Seals chase you under the sea, you emerge into luminescent caverns of glacial ice, sea water flows and falls around you as you glide through the caverns with your trusted friend on his journey, culminating in an unbelievable (to the point where it has already caused problems) finale where you are face to face with the penguins themselves, all while freezing at an authentic 0 to 1 degrees Celsius throughout the experience.

We are not there yet with this technology, we have only begun to tap the surface of trackless ride systems and the innovative possibilities they hold that are just waiting for the taking. It will take an entire paradigm shift, a completely new way of thinking and creating to use this technology to its fullest. The dark ride rule book is about to be rewritten and I will be on board for the ride, will you?

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Following the jarring events at Tarantella’s mansion the night before, Jules arrives at the London Fog only to receive a new delivery from an address that is strangely familiar….

Click on the link below or click the picture to the right to join Jules….

TARANTELLA

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Tarantella continues with the conclusion of Chapter III: Mob Mentality…

Join Jules as he races to the house of Lady Tarantella only to face a violent, armed mob at the gates to her home, forcing Tarantella to protect herself by ANY means necessary….

TARANTELLA

Click on the link above or the picture to the left to join TARANTELLA today!

Please leave comments and Subscribe!

**WARNING: THIS INSTALLMENT CONTAINS THEMATIC ELEMENTS THAT MAY BE UPSETTING. ESPECIALLY FOR READERS WITH ARACHNOPHOBIA. PLEASE USE DISCRETION BEFORE READING**

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TARANTELLA continues with the conclusion of Chapter II: Headlines!

Join Jules today as he begins to unravel the truth of the disappearances and illness that is plaguing London…

TARANTELLA: Chapter II: Headlines Continued

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5. Marie Antoinette

Director: Sofia Copola

Production Designer: K.K. Barrett

In 2006, young Sofia Copola (Lost in Translation) brought to the table of cinema a very different portrayal of one of history’s most notorious characters in a world of pastels, gold, pastries and excess. Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst in the namesake role, is a cinematic treat both for the eye and for the soul. Namely because it is one of the first and only sympathetic portrayals of the young French monarch, Marie Antoinette, and her arranged marriage to the equally young, equally naive Louis Auguste XVI. Criticized largely for its historical inaccuracies (despite being hailed by many in France as one of the better portrayals of Antoinette and winning multiple palms at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006) as well as for its long-winded second act, Marie Antoinette was only a moderate success at the box office, but visually, it is a treat unlike any other. Granted the privilege of being one of the few films allowed to shoot at the Palace of Versailles, the film has an insane oppulence to it that is scarcely seen even in period pieces. This is partially because of the palace/grounds itself and the historical scope it offers, but it is also attributable to Sofia Copola’s vision to purposefully deviate from history and interject colors, styles, motifs, palettes, music and language that admittedly would never have existed (or at least allowed in royal court) in late 1700s France. This clash of the historical and the modern, specifically in a period piece, creates such a subconsciously juxtaposed visual that it is hard not be awed by the sheer magnitude of what Copola is presenting. Add insanely designed pastries to boot and you’ve got a film that is as visually yummy as it is long…

3 Scenes to watch:

Copyright Columbia Pictures 2006

(Left: The Coronation, Middle: The Birthday Party, Right: The Hand-off)

Copyright 20th Century Fox

6. Alien

Director: Ridley Scott

Production Designer: Michael Seymour, Roger Christian (uncredited) and H.R. Giger

“In Space…No One Can Hear You Scream”

Alien. The 1979 science-fiction, low-budget horror film that arrested the minds and the hearts of theatergoers the world over. It’s almost ludicrous to even describe the plot it is so well known in modern culture…and for good reason. The story revolves around the towing ship Nostromo and its ship board computer “mother” that wakes up the crew from cryo-sleep with months until they reach Earth so that they will, according to protocol, investigate a distress signal sent from LV-426, a desolate planet devoid of life.  Aided by last-minute crew addition Ash, the doomed crew lands on LV-426 where they trace the signal to an abandoned, behemoth spacecraft. Yet, while 3 members of the crew search the derelict ship, they discover a massive, fossilized alien, named the “space jockey”,  whose ribs have been blasted open from the inside out, while all the while, back on the ship, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been decoding the original message only to discover that it is, in fact, a warning to stay away from the planet. Ash convinces her that it is too late to warn the other crew members and she believes him, the crew aboard the ship searching the cavernous recesses of the craft only to find a chamber of leathery eggs that respond when a layer of protective mist is disturbed…the egg unravels, a hideous arachnoid creature attaches itself to the face of one of the crew and hours later, an alien xenomorph explodes from the chest of the doomed crew member…the rest, as they say, is cinematic history. A history it owes to the claustrophobic and nightmare inducing designs of the production designers and they’re inspiration, HR Giger. From the hyper-sexual design of the Alien itself and the derelict space ship to the claustrophoic, dark corridors of the Nostromo, the entire film is a psychologically visual mind game.  Playing on the human mind’s psychosexual nature and the primal fears of the hunter versus the hunted.

Whether it be the wondrous cyberpunk interiors or the heart pounding, beacon filled, steam ridden finale of the Nostromo self-destruct sequence, Alien is a creature-feature unlike anything the world has ever seen and to this day, it still, despite many attempts, has yet to be duplicated…

3 Scenes to Watch:

Copyright 20th Century Fox

(Left: Derelict Spaceship, Middle: Nostromo Self-destruct sequence, Right: Nostromo Cryo wake-up)

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INCEPTION. The mind-bending run-away hit of the summer season that has already grossed over $100 million domestically is without a doubt one of the coolest films of the last few years. Such an awesome film, though, must have an awesome soundtrack to go with it and Inception is no exception. The insanely dark, riveting and instantaneously recognizable score by film composer wunderkind Hans Zimmer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Gladiator) is now as well-known and as distinctive as the film itself. But what, exactly, inspired Hans Zimmer to create the bellowing theme that has become Inception‘s audible calling card?

Well, it turns out fellow blogger and Youtuber Cameron (camiam321) cracked Zimmer’s orchestral code while listening to the Inception soundtrack… what he found is so poetically perfect, simple and subconscious that it is truly mind blowing that A) Hans Zimmer thought of it (though he is considered by many to be a genius composer) and B) Cameron was studious enough to find it.

In truth, the secret is simple and is hiding both in the film and on the soundtrack the whole time. Ready to know what it is? Well, I won’t steal Cameron’s glory…I’ll let him tell you himself…

Let’s just say Edith Piaf gives you a ‘KICK’ in more ways than one…

Also, please visit Cameron’s blog! He is quite the artist: Cameron’s Sketchbook and What Not

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….Suddenly, overhead, using the same projection technology as before in the queue, Hermoine appears and throws floo powder on you, spewing a tiny plume of green fog into your face, sending you flying  up into the air and through the floo network, emerging into the Astronomy Tower. I hate to say this, but the floo network sequence is HORRIBLE. It is very obviously a projection, and a bad one at that, with the edges of the projection visible to all of the riders and the motion of the seats, although smooth, feeling very inorganic. Additionally, the floo network itself is video-game quality CGI, which only adds to the unbelievability. The whole effect, including the lackluster fog at the beginning, is not very well done. Why they couldn’t have it appear as though you are entering a fireplace, even if doing so sideways, and THEN flying through the floo network after getting consumed by green flames, is beyond me, but they needed to (and if at all possible, need to think about reprogramming/updating to include that) because what they have now is laughably BAD. Out of the floo network, you emerge into a practical themed area which is the Astronomy Tower, a surprisingly immense and beautiful space that acts a anchor to the reality of what you are about to encounter, complete with an enormous armillary sphere and blue sky beyond the pillars of the astronomy tower. From here, you fly left to a concave screen of Harry and Ron high above Hogwarts, both of who greet you and quickly whisk you down closer to the castle where you suddenly meet Hagrid and Fang who ask if you’ve seen a dragon, menacingly producing an enormous chain with nothing attached to the end of it…

Harry and Ron disregard him and fly underneath the bridge and on towards the Quidditch pitch, but suddenly, the dragon flies up and begins to chase the boys as well as you, bumping you down away from the screen and into the bridge (as featured prominently in the Prisoner of Azkaban). The Bridge/dragon sequence is hands down the most thrilling and best part of the entire ride. It is done entirely through practical effects and is actually kind of scary for a few seconds. Once inside, you fly through the covered wooden bridge at a dizzying pace as the dragon’s wing appears menacingly in front of you beyond the bridge, flapping as flaming rips tear through the roof of the bridge. Suddenly, there is a roar and the crash of splintering wood and suddenly, you are faced with the broken bridge, falling down into its support beams where the dragon is waiting for you. Coming within inches of each other, the dragon spews flaming fog into your face, propelling you back down into the Forbidden Forest. (Just as a side note, that dragon head is a practical effect as well, and it is SPECTACULAR, a fully-operational animatronic that is frightening to behold and unnerving to literally come within inches of. Just so you know!). Now in the dark and misty Forbidden Forest, you see the thin thread of spider silk surrounding you as spiders drop from the trees, spitting venom at you as you delve deeper into Aragog’s layer. Suddenly (and if you blink you’ll miss it), you come face to face with Aragog himself, the dark, blind Acromantula that inhabits the grotto of the Forbidden Forest. He is terrifying, especially considering how close you are to him, but he is lit very poorly and you speed past him in a flurry. If you close your eyes at the wrong moment (or, if you’re arachnophobic, at the right moment) you’ll miss him completely, even though he’s literally right in your face and even spits on you, so keep those eyes open! Trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t!

The entire Aragog sequence is very, VERY dark and potentially terrifying to severe arachnophobes. None of the animatronics are very complex or advanced, and truthfully, beyond the unnerving hissing noise that they feed into the benches, the atmosphere itself is a bit barren, but just like Disney’s DINOSAUR, this is one place where a dark room, some loud noises and couple of carefully placed ‘startle’ moments really turn an otherwise boring sequence into something that was, surprisingly, talked about after the ride.

Flying out of the grotto, you are greeted (rather randomly may I add…hmmm…) by Hermoine who, for some reason, appears in a hole in the side of the grotto telling you to quickly head towards the Quidditch pitch (which makes absolutely NO SENSE, seeing as we are muggles and have no clue how to get out of the Forbidden Forrest, much less make it to the Quidditch pitch, but I digress…). From here,  you emerge into a giant room that is very obviously a metal warehouse room that houses the enormous Whomping Willow. This is the first place in the ride where the magic is broken a bit, as you can clearly see the room containing the ill-tempered tree, despite it being very dark, and the tree itself does not move save for two separate branches, one of which flings randomly in the air overhead and the other of which ‘slams’ down onto the flying benches. Unfortunately, you can clearly see where these branches connect into the trunk of the tree with no blending of the static and dynamic occurring themeing wise here. Lastly, a sharp burst of air blasts you as are ‘hit’ by the bulbous tree branch.

Normally, this might be an enhancing effect to an otherwise lackluster event-room in the ride, but the pneumatic compressors used to produce the blast of air are so painfully loud that they overpower the soundtrack and are even audible upon first entering the room itself (which is NEVER a good thing- the audience should never see or be aware of an effect before they reach it).  Following this blast of air, you are thrown upward/sideways into another concave screen (all of which I should add are hidden VERY well, not at all suffering from the same ‘blending’ problem that plagues the screens of The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman that is just across the Islands lagoon)   where you are confronted by Harry who whisks you off into the throes of a Quidditch match alongside Ron. Like the other moments in front of the screens, the flying bench moves very smoothly, (in my opinion unnaturally so, but many who have ridden actually like how smooth it is, so there you go!).

After only minutes in the match, zipping around the field, a dark funnel cloud swirls down from the sky from which pour a deluge of Dementors. Harry, naturally, flips his lid and pulls you down into the trench run of the Quidditch pitch with Draco Malfoy tailing you like the obnoxious little git that he is…until, suddenly, a Dementor flies in front of you and the bench is knocked backwards into a dark cave. In a flash, a Dementor vaults from the dark and into your face, its ghoulish breaths filling the air around you.  Now, almost nothing on this ride up to this point made me recoil or feel even the slightest twinge of fear, but this part scared the willies out of me…it is so unexpected and so quick, you literally have no time to prepare for it and before you know it, that soul-sucking beast is within inches of your face! I was startled, freaked out and simultaneously proud of Universal for being smart enough to engineer a scare like this! It was strangely refreshing in a way (What does that say about me as a person? Hmmmm….oh well, I’m weird, you all know that by now…)

Unfortunately, this bright moment is quickly snuffed out as a continuous barrage of Dementors attack you in the cave. While the first Dementor was well planned, well placed and adequately hidden, the rest are visible long before you ever reach them and many, even, are still interacting with the car in front/behind you! Clear as day! Now, this may not seem like much, but it ultimately destroys the entire surprise factor. Couple this with the fact that the Dementors’ hydraulic arms (including limited-edition accessories of green LED indicator lights and fabulous electrical cords) are not even attempted to be hidden and you have yourself a hot, Dementor mess. However, apart from that initial one, when you get a good look at these things, which are supposed to be the single scariest thing in all of the Potterverse (according to JK Rowling) then you begin to see that they appear to be nothing more than standard, garden-variety Halloween decorations. Their black capes actually looked like shreds of old cheesecloth and their heads, which could have been organic and dynamic and terrifying to behold, looked like oversized Nerf footballs covered in pantyhose….they were so poorly done and so obviously animatronic that it was laughable by the end of their scene.

However, in the middle of the Dementor sequence, you emerge into a spectacular space and truly one of the best scenes of the ride (visually speaking): The Chamber of Secrets. This room contains all of the fixings of the film version of the legendary vault of Salazaar Slytherin, including a giant, carved portrait of a man (whose mouth you fly through…enough said…), stone snake heads and perfect rockwork/lighting. The space is immense, interesting and like the rest of the scenes on the ride, doesn’t last long enough for you to truly take it in. After flying sideways through the agape mouth, you are confronted by a final Dementor who leans in close and sucks your souls from your body, portrayed rather comically by an LED light in the mouth of the Dementor and a smoke screen displaying a picture taken of your bench earlier in the journey.

Now, this effect is fun, funny and a great way to make you feel a part of the magic…when it works, that is. Altogether, I rode this 4 times over the course of a week and the effect only worked properly once, with the smoke screen (think Davey Jones on the Pirates of the Carribean) failing to cover enough space for the projection to work twice and one time, the Dementor that does the ‘soul sucking’ never even moved… it wasn’t good. Particularly seeing as this is the final big thrill of the ride as you are then propelled into another concave screen where you see Harry shout ‘expecto-patronum’ and blast away the Dementors attacking you. The moment could have been  (and SHOULD have been) the climax of the entire ride with a blast of practical effects and slew of animatronic Dementors flying back as you charge through them in a flurry, but instead, he shouts the famous spell with about as much gusto as Snape on bath day. The next part, made me cringe in shame…. Harry yells “it’s caving in” and the bench follows the movement of the screen as CGI rocks fall from the ceiling, almost crushing Harry before he valiantly escapes and emerges out above the grounds and flies back to Hogwarts. This concept is not inherently bad (though certainly not original either) and it could have provided a much needed traditional thrill to the ride with the benches suddenly plunging down (as in a REAL hill, just like a rollercoaster would do)  as the rocks just barely miss the riders as they descend only to suddenly spring back up and out over Hogwarts (which could have been a separate screen at the top of the next supposed hill). This would have been thrilling and unexpected, but no such luck. Instead, you get a few seconds of motion simulation before you are thrown back into the Great Hall where you are greeted by all of Hogwarts, clapping and waving through the doors of the halls. The moment is neat and the practical themeing surrounding the screen is very, very well done. Flying again to the right, you reach another doorway and another screen, where Dumbledore says thank you, proclaims that you are always welcome back and to tuck in your elbows as you are flung once more into the Floo Network (UGH…it’s SOOO BAD!) and finally descend back onto the loading dock to disembark. Thus ends your Forbidden Journey through Hogwarts!

Overview:

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a fun, innovative and generally well-conceived ride that, with some tweaking, will stand out for years to come. It does have flaws though, and the flaws that it has are fairly major ones that did draw notice and criticism from other riders beyond myself. Universal, once it gets a handle on the ridiculous crowds, needs to go back in and redo a number of things  on the Forbidden Journey during the off-season, including (but not limited to): entirely new/reworked floo network sequences, new Dementors (or at least new heads…Creepier/more realistic please!) , retooled Whomping Willow scene, a fix for the hit-or-miss soul sucking Dementor, and finally, a re-imagined ‘expecto-patronum’ moment at the end. All of these fixes are well within Universal’s capability and budget, it is just a matter of willingness on the part of Universal Creative (who, admittedly, may have bigger fish to fry with the looming end of the Marvel contract which was bought by Disney just this last year).

Overall, the Forbidden Journey is a fun, magical but flawed experience that is great for fans and newcomers alike. Don’t expect huge thrills or scares and you won’t be disappointed by what Hogwarts has to offer!

The Good: Dragon Sequence, AWESOME queue line, Chamber of Secrets scene, smooth ride motion, Great practical themeing.

The BAD: FLOO NETWORK ( YES. It really is THAT bad.), Dementors, Whomping Willow, Cave-in moment.

WWoHP: Review Part I

WWoHP: Review Part II

WWoHP: Review Part II

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