Friday, January 21, 2005
Revenge of the Mummy goes Hollywood
Theme park attraction review by Sombrero Grande
Recently, Universal Studios has taken to opening new attractions at its bicoastal theme parks simultaneously (or at least within a few months of one another). First it was Shrek 4-D in 2003 and now Revenge of the Mummy has invaded both Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida. When I was last in Orlando, I missed Florida’s Mummy opening by just a week or so. This past weekend I visited Universal Hollywood and had the opportunity to experience the Hollywood version of the ride (from what I’ve heard, both rides, while they are essentially the same general experience, possess some strikingly unique features).
Apparently someone at Universal has a giant obelisk-size hard-on for Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy and The Mummy Returns because I counted no less than three significant Universal Studios Hollywood attractions in which The Mummy played a very prominent role. First there’s the famous Studio Tour where the “spinning tunnel” effect (which has been previously themed to both an icy avalanche and Dante’s Peak) is now themed as a cursed set from The Mummy. In addition to the Revenge of the Mummy ride, Universal’s Lower Lot also houses the Special Effects Stages where a sphinx model from The Mummy plays a central role in the first room’s special effects demonstration. This overabundance of Mummy mania gets a bit old after a whole day spent at the park, especially since some of the effects/gimmicks used on the Mummy’s portion of the Studio Tour have been directly copied for use in Revenge of the Mummy. Plus, let us not forget that the actual films are quite soul-crushingly awful and the fewer reminders we receive of them, the better.
Revenge of the Mummy has overtaken the old E.T. Adventure building just to the right of the Starway on the Lower Lot. The exterior themeing is minimal: a few scattered Egyptian artifacts and a tan paint scheme is about all that distinguishes the building from its previous appearance. USH has never really been big on exterior themeing, rather saves their ammo for going full-gusto on interiors. As soon as one enters the rather plain soundstage, he/she is immediately plopped into what is essentially a sharply abbreviated version of the indoor queue from Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure. Not only are the ruinous surroundings very similar in appearance, but you’ll also find two “interactive” surprises--forbidden artifacts designed to startle those who insist on touching them. A large, circular screen plays video of a shrouded woman chanting, “Imhotep,” interspersed with terrifying clips from The Mummy--“terrifying” in that they maliciously force those waiting in line to recall moments from the film.
One very nice and unique show scene visible in the queue allows guests to peer in on Imhotep’s tomb and see that his sarcophagus is empty and splintered upwards. A small amount of smoke rises from the now empty casket. Imhotep is loose! The lifeless corpse of an Imhotep victim lies in the next room. In a queue that otherwise feels like a direct lift from Disneyland’s Temple of the Forbidden Eye, this is a cool, original, foreboding setup.
The ride itself is similar to another Disney attraction, Space Mountain, in that the majority of the ride is a roller coaster that speeds through a dark interior. Occasionally a painted scrim of an evil mummy warrior spirit will be illuminated via strobe lights, but otherwise, Revenge of the Mummy chooses to leave its riders in pitch darkness. To fit inside the old E.T. building, the ride can’t be too long, or too hair-raising. My biggest complaint is that the ride is too short, feeling to me to last only around half the duration of Disneyland’s Space Mountain (that’s just a rough estimate, though). While the ride isn’t too “thrilling” (though I have to admit the initial launch into darkness will catch you off-guard), it is fun. Revenge of the Mummy is more of a “wheee!” experience than an “aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” So it’s all the more surprising to see the litany of warnings guests encounter before riding. In fact, there is even a rule that absolutely no carry-on items will be allowed. So what does this mean? Do you have anything on you that won’t fit in your pockets? A purse, camera or giant stuffed Spongebob Squarepants souvenir, perhaps? You’ll have to stow it in a locker outside the ride. The park offers free lockers here--free for two hours only--which is nice, but the fact that you’re forced to stow your possessions in a locker each and every time you want to ride is a real nuisance. Renting a locker too is a hassle, especially if there’s a crowd. It’s not just a simple matter of getting a key--you have to use one of their computer screens to be assigned and then open and close your locker. It seems to me that the real “revenge of the Mummy” is if you accidentally lose your slip of paper printed with the code to get your stuff back.
My second biggest complaint with the ride is the laughably confusing climax. Perhaps the “what the Hell?” factor of the ride’s final scene is a major contributor to the ride’s feeling of unnecessary brevity. Both times I rode it I felt like, “oh, that’s it? It’s done already?” I’ll leave a description for the spoiler section below, but the climax seems like it’s going to set up something big for a finale, only to end up revealing merely the back of the car in front of you at the unloading station.
All in all, it’s not a bad ride. I wouldn’t plan a trip just to experience it, but if you’re going to be at Universal Studios Hollywood anyway and the line isn’t too long, it’s worth a ride.
Late next month I’ll be back at Universal Orlando, so be sure to come back for a comparison of the two Revenge rides.
Things start happening quickly upon immediately leaving the station. A scarab beetle forebodingly skitters along a wall. A skeletal mummy with glowing red eyes rises up from its tomb. A doomed soul screams, “the curse is real!” and is immediately engulfed in scarabs. Will the same fate become us? More skeletal remains animate and bony appendages reach through ceiling cracks toward the passing cars. In an enormous treasure chamber (which I really wish the cars would have paused in because there’s far too much detail to absorb as the cars roll through) the spirit of Imhotep arises in a cloud of sand (in a not-so-remarkable projection) and says if we join him, this wealth will be ours. But, if we do not, there is imminent death. In the next room we see Imhotep standing above us. Apparently, we decided not to join him--this is the “eyes of Mara” moment in the ride, though it’s not handled as coherently here as in the Indiana Jones Adventure. Mummy warriors drop from the ceiling to distract us from the fact that we’re an instant away from the ride’s launch. And then it happens. We speed into the pitch-blackness of the tomb. After a few twists and turns our car stops inches from a dead end. Scarabs swarm on the walls (in yet another projection effect, less believable than the same used in, again, the Indiana Jones Adventure) and some even “drop” onto us. It’s actually the exact same water droplet gimmick used on the Studio Tour when the scarabs supposedly take over the tram, so it comes as no surprise. To escape this dead end, our car begins rolling backwards, only to tumble back down into darkness with Imhotep’s evil laughter echoing around us. After a few more backwards turns and dives, we arrive at a roundhouse where our car turns to face forward again. Smoke is blown in our faces, which then dissipates to reveal...the unloading station. There’s this great build-up with the voice of Imhotep bellowing, fake fire and a blinding burst of smoke as if something really dramatic is about to happen...and then it’s done. What feels like a set-up is actually the finale...of sorts. It really reminded me of that classic Jungle Cruise joke some skippers use as the boats make that final turn towards the dock, “and now for the most dangerous part of the ride: the return to civilization and the California freeways.” Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!