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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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