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A Look at the new Mummy Ride

By Garth Franklin Tuesday July 6th 2004 02:32AM

OK, so let me begin by saying that the whole scary ride thing, that rollercoaster ride phenomenon has never been my cup of tea. I'm a wimp when it comes to fast and frenetic rides. Those of you who read my interviews with the sitars on this site, may wonder: Why do a story on a rollercoaster? Well, this is the 40th year of Universal Studios' Theme park, and what a better way to mark that anniversary than by previewing its first blockbuster ride: Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride. As the accompanying photo clearly suggests, it's a terrifying, yet spectacular experience [I'm the one with the biggest scream at the back of the coaster]. Frightening, fast and exhilarating, Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride, is the first ride to incorporate much of what we see in the movies, from CGI special effects, to eerie characters and exploration of our deepest fears. This is very much an adrenalin-charged movie-going experience, and one that visitors to this fair city of Los Angeles will enjoy and revel in. Encased in the same structure which was the home of the beautiful E.T ride for a decade, this unique ride combines the slow, haunted house-type ride with the super fast thrills and excitement of a roller coaster that goes both backwards and forwards on separate tracks and at breakneck speeds.

Even waiting in line is part of the fun and fear of what lay ahead, with the chilling Imhotep (once again voiced by Arnold Vosloo from The Mummy movies) returning. Frightening yet visually extraordinary, even experts of rollercoasters will see something dazzlingly unique. After previewing the ride, a few days shy of its world premiere, John Murdy, Creative Director of the ride, discussed what it is that makes a memorable ride, and why The Mummy? How do you deal with the phenomenon of rides as movie sequels? A lot of people have asked us why we chose The Mummy. This ride has actually been in development for over 10 years. When I say that, what I mean is the idea of combining what we call a dark ride, a slow moving ride through a building, with a roller coaster. We just didn't know what property we were going to use. When the first Mummy film in 1999 came out, it set off a light bulb and everybody went, "This is the perfect property to use this ride system on." To answer your question, they're kind of an extension of the movie experience. People go to the movies and a movie like The Mummy is almost a ride in itself in terms of its pacing and the action in the movie. Being a movie studio, where 99.9% of everything we do is drawn from movies and television shows, we are in a unique position where we get to collaborate with filmmakers. So to them, it's a big deal but they want to extend their story of the movie into a ride experience so that you can keep on reliving it on and on and on. What will people who have not seen the Mummy movies get out of the ride? Well, I think that's the purpose of creating a themed queue line and a pre-show experience. No matter whether you didn't see any of the Mummy movies, we're going to put the key things in your head before you ever get on the ride. Those would be scarab beetles. Everybody came away from the movie going, "Oh, the scarab beetles were cool." So we're going to make sure that you know what those are. We're going to make sure you know who Imhotep is, the mummy, the skeleton warriors, the idea of tying the mummy's curse into the Egyptian plagues, the time of darkness, the solar eclipse, the plague of locusts, the water turning into blood. All of those things that are on the movie that are also in the ride, we revisit in the pre-show experience before we ever get on the ride, so it's all in your head. What were the biggest challenges of making this particular ride? Combining the two technologies which has never really been done before. Combining the idea of a dark ride with a roller coaster. People have been doing roller coasters for years, people have been doing dark rides for years. No one's ever tried to tie the two together to the level of feeling and detail that we have. Making the roller coaster and the ride work together is technically a huge challenge in terms of timing, in terms of making sure that everybody's seeing things when you want them to see it. But the roller coaster is still gravity. Once you take off, in terms of triggering lights and audio and effects, it's gravity so it depends on the weight of the vehicle. Was there anything you couldn't do because of the interior space available? Nothing that immediately pops to mind. You're building a ride into an existing facility so that dictates what you can do with the ride. What was there before? It was the E.T. attraction. We still have it in Universal Studios Florida, we still have it in Universal Studios Japan, and so it still lives on in our other parks. We just felt like it was time to put something new into this park. How does a filmmaker like Stephen Sommers work with you? The thing that surprises me about movie directors when we bring them into what we do in the themed entertainment or theme park industry is the level of youthful enthusiasm for what we do. The first time I ever met Stephen Sommers, I met him at a party and he had just done The Mummy, and the first words out of his mouth when we started talking was, "When are we going to do a ride based on The Mummy?" And I've found this time and time again with people like Steven Spielberg, Stephen Sommers, Ron Howard, different directors we've worked with, they'll say things like, "Now I can tell my parents I've made it in Hollywood because I have a ride based on my movie." It sounds hysterically funny to us because you think about the success that Stephen Sommers has had with those Mummy movies, and you think with all that success, doing a ride might not be a big deal to him, but it's exactly the opposite. They love it. They're like kids in the candy store. In 1999, we were right out of the gate even before the movie came out, we were reading the script, and we were talking to the filmmakers. So we've been working with Stephen Sommers, his producing partner Bob Ducsay, his art director Alan Cameron, his composer Alan Silvestri, Arnold Vosloo, all of these people. They're kind of like a family. Stephen Sommers likes to use the same people over and over again. It's just been a really in-depth long collaboration where his art director's looking over our drawings going, "No, you ought to have this column tilted more to the left." It's been like that every step of the way. They've been involved in the project. What's the decision to replace a youth oriented ride like E.T. with something more for adults? Obviously, you want to try really hard not to exclude people from being able to ride a ride. It's designed to be a smooth coaster. We don't want to create a coaster that can only appeal to a 12 to 18-year-old. We want to create a ride experience that's for the entire family, to kids that are 48" tall which is like six, seven, eight years old, up to, the other day, I had a 75-year-old grandmother on the ride. We want to make sure that they all can ride it. When we put in something new like this, we want to make sure that we're still offering enough attractions for the very, very small kids who maybe can't ride the ride. So things we're doing in the future, there are things geared specifically to that. Why did it take so long to build a roller coaster at Universal Hollywood? We've looked at it in the past. We always looked at it being an outdoor roller coaster in the old days, and in this particular park, you just can't do that. You've got a movie studio all around you. They're filming constantly and the thing about roller coasters, the thing that travels the furthest sound-wise is screams. So when you get a roller coaster with a really high drop and screams, it goes everywhere. So in this property where there are soundstages all around us, doing an outside roller coaster was never feasible. How did you soundproof the Mummy ride? We did endless amounts of tests on reverberation. The columns of the roller coaster are all filled with sand to soak up the reverberation of the track. That's one of the reasons it feels so smooth. The screams of the guests are all contained within the building but the building's all extremely sound proof. Did you beef up the space when you tore out E.T.? We moved a lot of stuff around .We moved a lot of columns around. Trying to fit a roller coaster track inside that building is a definite challenge.

What happens to the E.T. stuff? It's all packed away in storage and we're looking into ways to use it in the future.

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