Exclusive! Transformers: The Ride 3D and The Simpsons' Springfield Preview at Universal Studios
Disneyworld may be the happiest place on Earth, but for movie fans, Universal Studios brings more joy than Mickey ever could. Their theme parks in Hollywood and Orlando have always rolled out the best for film geeks, from the James Cameron-directed Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time to the recently refurbished motion coaster The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. And now they've truly outdone themselves with the state-of-the art thrill experience Transformers: The Ride 3D, which is so awesome it makes Spider-Man look like "It's a Small World."
Universal recently invited JoBlo.com to Orlando to check out the grand opening of their newest attraction, and as you'd expect with any Michael Bay-related event, it didn't just involve a simple ribbon-cutting. The official ceremony was interrupted by a full-on Decepticon attack and the immediate military response involved gun-toting soldiers, bomb-dropping fighter jets and plenty of explosions. That may seem like overkill for your average theme park ride, but for a franchise that's destroyed pyramids and leveled Chicago, it seemed a fitting way to announce one's existence. Equally exciting was a red carpet which featured everyone from producer Steven Spielberg to original voice actors Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Frank Welker (Megatron). "You have parents that grew up with this taking their kids to ride," said an amused Cullen. "It's something they both can enjoy and share the experience." (And while Cullen confirmed his participation in the upcoming fourth TRANSFORMERS movie, he had nothing new to share besides, "I'm excited to find out what Mr. Bay is going to do for the next one.")
As for the attraction itself, it's a complete blast and probably the most impressive ride I've ever been on. While it's virtually the same as existing versions that opened in Universal Studios Singapore in 2011 and Hollywood in 2012, the Orlando incarnation takes advantage of technological leaps that have taken place in the short amount of time since, including better 3D and higher resolution digital effects and animation. For the uninitiated, Transformers: The Ride 3D is similar to other motion simulator attractions that are half ride-half movie—like the former Back to the Future ride (now The Simpsons) or Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey—except with 100% more Bayhem. "It was very much a collaborative effort with Michael Bay and his creative group and all his guys who worked on the film," says Mike West, Executive Producer for Universal Creative Studio. And that includes participation from the original voices behind Optimus Prime and Megatron, as well as the visual effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic—three necessary ingredients to truly make you feel like you're in a TRANSFORMERS movie.
The story is essentially straight out of the first movie: you're a N.E.S.T. recruit helping to protect the Allspark from falling in to the hands of Megatron and other Decepticons. Riding with EVAC (a Transformer brought to life here for the first time in live-action) you travel through the city, helping fellow Autobots Optimus Prime and Bumblebee take on everyone from Bonecrusher to Starscream to the catlike Ravage. There is some support from the occasional human-piloted helicopter, but this pretty much all robot action all the time. Four minutes of constant gunfire and explosions, falling from skyscrapers, getting dragged through office buildings—essentially standard events for fans of the movie.
Studio executives praised the "groundbreaking level of immersion, technology and entertainment" involved in the ride, but what impressed us most and what sets Transformers apart from similar attractions, is the sheer scale. The ride takes advantage of a state-of-the-art "media silo"—a multi-story building that houses thirteen 60-foot screens that project life-size Transformers action. When Optimus Prime bends down to talk directly to your face, there's a moment where his massive scale really hits you and the effect is equally amazing and seamless. "One of the things I love is that you don't know when you're going up to the second floor and when you're coming back down and I think that's a huge accomplishment," says West. "We knew the length of track we needed to tell that story in a 4 minute-plus time frame, but if we had it on a single level we'd be stretching out halfway across the park."
In true Bay fashion, Transformers is also the first ride of its kind to utilize cinematic slow motion. Add in the immersive 3D, various heat and water effects, and motion picture-level CGI… well, let's just say when Megatron fires a missile at you in three-dimensional slow motion and you can feel the fire of the rocket in your face, your life has achieved something pretty special. And in some ways, entertainment like this is essentially what you want from Michael Bay. Even if you're not a fan of the TRANSFORMERS film franchise, there's no denying a four-minute burst of intense high-tech action is something the director is more than capable of. You don't have to worry about the story or character arcs. Just enjoy as loud robot carnage unfolds all around you.
So is the typical 70 MPH roller coaster a thing of the past for theme parks like this? Mark Woodbury, President of Universal Creative, seems to think so. "Taking people on great journeys, introducing them to characters, applying really stunning technology is what we've really become known for. So every time we do it we have to do it better the next time than we did it the last."
While we were in Orlando, we also got an exclusive sneak peek at Universal Studio's upcoming new Simpsons-themed area, Springfield, which should be opening later this summer. Since its debut in 2008, The Simpsons Ride and neighboring Krustyland attractions have proven incredibly popular for the park, so much so that they began expanding on the ride last year to allow fans an opportunity to walk the streets of their favorite show.
Fast Food Boulevard, the first and tastiest part of the expansion, has had a soft opening for the past few weeks. Guests can chow down at the most scrumdiddlyumptious food court in the world, featuring Krusty-certified meat sandwiches at Krusty Burger, a Basket 'o Bait at the Frying Dutchman, Meat Liker's pizza at Luigi's Pizza and the brilliant chicken and waffle sandwich at Cletus' Chicken Shack. (There's even Lisa's Teahouse of Horror, which appropriately offers more vegetarian-friendly fare.) However, most fun was a visit to Moe's Tavern, which is 100% authentic down to the out-of-order jukebox and the Love Tester machine. Also accurate to the show are the beverages. That's right; you'll finally get to see what Duff Beer and the citrus-y Flaming Moe (complete with dry ice smoke) tastes like.
All the decorations and food/drink featured in the new areas were painstakingly recreated down to the tiniest details. Writers from the show are actually writing signage for the park. The Universal team also showed us the thousand-page Simpsons encyclopedia they consulted in every step of the development process. And even though everything is made fresh on site, they still had to take all menu items across the country for a final tasting in California by the entire Simpsons creative staff, including Matt Groening. With their final stamp of approval, you can now taste Homer's donuts for yourself.
Across the street from Fast Food Boulevard, construction is already underway on the rest of Springfield. You can check out the proposed map below, but highlights include:
- Duff Brewery and Bar: Pull up a seat and have a drink at the outdoor beer garden. Universal worked with a real brewmaster to create the perfect ale to make you say "Oh yeah!" (Lite and Regular versions will be available.)
- Lard Lad Donuts, featuring an outdoor Lard Lad that will be taller than Optimus Prime
- A fire hydrant water fountain—a result of Chief Wiggum getting distracted by the donut shop and crashing his police cruiser
- Springfield Park complete with Jebediah Springfield statue
- A large Bumblebee Man Taco Truck where you can enjoy a delicious Taco Fresho
- Kang & Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl, a carnival style spinning ride
- Two new roaming characters in Sideshow Bob and Krusty the Clown
It was still early in the development of Springfield so there wasn't much completed for us to see , but if it's done with the clear care and attention to detail that the rest of the Simpsons attractions are, it should be a real treat for fans. Plus, what's better than beer and donuts?
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|Extra Tidbit:||A small piece of burning shrapnel fell on my hand during Transformers' explosive opening ceremony, so I can officially say I was injured in a Michael Bay explosion.|