There has been a lot of talk, at least on a corporate level, about the ongoing “evolution” of Universal Studios Hollywood, the theme park perched on the side of a mountain, that exists cozily with a working movie studio. This talk began, in earnest, with the opening of the west coast version of the highly immersive Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and has continued with a number of projects, including the as-yet-unannounced Mario Kart attraction that is currently rising out of the ground on the lower lot, arguably the worst-kept secret in all of themed entertainment. But the word “evolution” was brought up a lot at last night’s dedication of the Jurassic World: The Ride attraction, an elaborate re-theme of the Jurassic Park: The Ride. As the park is evolving, so too must the ride.
But honestly, what an evolution it is. Jurassic World: The Ride is a smart, scary, totally sophisticated update that keeps the fundamentals of the original attraction while upping the scares and the storytelling significantly.
The original Jurassic Park: The Ride, was in development concurrently with the film, and was released, amazingly, just three years after the film’s release. Synthesizing elements of Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel (most notably the boat ride sequence) and Steven Spielberg’s paradigm-shifting blockbuster into a single, white-knuckle experience, it was, for many years, the high-water mark against what all other Universal attractions were judged. But recently the once-classic attraction seemed creaky, especially when, in 2015, “Jurassic World” was release, kick-starting a new, entirely separate leg of the franchise that the attraction had no relationship to.
So, somewhat quietly, last year, the original attraction was shuttered and plans were unveiled to turn Jurassic Park: The Ride into Jurassic World: The Ride, with the updated attraction officially opening to the public a couple of weeks ago.
And honestly, this is the most successful kind of redo -- one that reminds you of the original ride (the track layout and, of course, that wicked drop, remain intact) while pushing things forward virtually everywhere else, like technologically and on a storytelling level.
One of the greatest additions to the attraction happens early on, as you’re drifting through a newly-enclosed section of the ride. That’s when you meet the Mosasaurus, the giant aquatic dinosaur that was featured prominently in both “Jurassic World” movies. It’s also where you’ll first get wet -- really wet. (The combination of practical effects and the animation work by Industrial Light & Magic is phenomenal.) From there, you get more of a story than you did the last time around, set up during the pre-show in the queue but really hammered home in the actual attraction. Instead of just something going wrong and the dinosaurs getting out, the Indominous rex escapes, which leads to other system failures, and a confrontation with the T. Rex. It both closely follows the events of the first movie and allows for a more immersive experience; you feel like you were at Jurassic World when things started to go haywire.
What’s more, there are appearances by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard in the attraction (and BD Wong in the queue), further adding to the immersion and deepening the storytelling. And the big show scene at the climax of the ride isn’t just a quick scare but an actual scene – you see a wonderful new animatronic of Pratt’s faithful Velociraptor sidekick Blue and huge, hulking figures of the Indominous and T. Rex. It feels like an altercation. And instead of simply seeing the T. Rex’s head, you see all of her.
This was made, of course, even more intense at night.
There will probably be die-hard Jurassic Park: The Ride fans out there, who will miss the old version of the attraction (don’t worry, it’s still in operation in Japan and Orlando). But this really is an improvement, start to finish. They’ve enclosed the ride at the right moments so your eyeline can no longer drift to the soundstages beyond and they’ve made everything scarier and more cohesive as a whole. The new animatronics are dazzling and actually seeing the characters from the movie in the attraction adds a lot. By the time Jurassic Park: The Ride said goodbye, it was old and tired and a nonessential part of your trip to Universal Studios. Now, with Jurassic World: The Ride, they have pumped some fresh blood into an ailing attraction and made a ride that everyone has to go on, even if you will end up soaking wet. Life, as Dr. Ian Malcolm once said, finds a way.