Saturday, March 12, 2005
Revenge of the Mummy, Florida style
A Tale of Two Mummies
Theme park attraction review by Sombrero Grande
Shortly before I left for Florida, a friend asked me what I was most looking forward to there. When I mentioned trying out Universal Studios Florida’s Revenge of the Mummy ride among other things, he asked, “didn’t you already go on the one here [in Hollywood]?” I don’t think the general public knows just HOW different the California and Florida versions of the ride are. I certainly didn’t, and as a result I was positively blown away by USF’s Mummy. For those who don’t want to hear anything that even merely resembles a spoiler, let me just assert here that nearly every aspect of Florida’s Mummy ride is vastly superior to California’s. For those who’d like to know a little more, continue reading knowing that I’ll save the major spoilers for the full ride-through description in the clearly labeled “spoiler section.”
The exterior of the ride is definitely a step-up from Hollywood’s basic tan soundstage. Set in the New York area of the infinitely more detailed Florida park, the ride’s entrance resembles the columned façade of an Egyptian museum. The juxtaposition of New York and Egypt is a bit of a stretch (the surroundings made more sense for the New York-based Kongfrontation ride which Revenge of the Mummy replaced) but it doesn’t matter much once you enter the building because immediately your surroundings change to take on the appearance of being backstage of a movie set. Props for Stephen Sommers’ Mummy movies lie scattered around while TV monitors show interviews with the cast and crew, from underrated actor Brendan Fraser to the no-talent ass-clown Sommers. Though I only caught a bit of the interviews (the line was short that day so we were moving quite briskly) I heard several interviewees mention a rumor that the Mummy set was cursed. From here the line moves into said “cursed sets,” which were nicely detailed and darkly atmospheric. As with the Hollywood version of the ride, there are a few interactive artifacts in this tomb-like area, though what they accomplished was more difficult to discern than the straightforward, startling Hollywood ones. The queue winds up a staircase, which wraps around a precariously hanging stone statue, before reaching the load area.
The moment the ride starts, it’s clear that this is going to be different from its Hollywood counterpart (as if much of the queue didn’t already indicate such). While the Hollywood version of the ride had me giggling “wheeeee!” throughout, Florida’s Mummy had me SCREAMING from the moment the coaster portion of the ride started so loudly and consistently that the insides of my mouth were completely dry by the time we hit the unload station. Though the ride doesn’t seem to be any longer than the abbreviated-feeling Hollywood version, it is far more satisfying and remarkably more thrilling. While rolling through the darkness, Florida’s Mummy keeps you constantly disoriented. Each drop is accompanied by a turn--each twist with a dip--each curve with a climb or...well, you get the idea. Hollywood’s Mummy coaster is made up mainly of longer, smoother movements, peppered in the darkness by neon painted scrims of clearly illustrated phantom warriors with rather obvious paths for your vehicle to move past them. While riding Florida’s version, I could barely tell what was popping up in front of us; all I knew is that something was there and our car was about to do something drastic to avoid it.
Ultimately, I can’t figure out why the two rides are allowed to carry the same name. They’re THAT different, with the Florida Revenge of the Mummy ride stomping all over the slightly goofy Hollywood incarnation. While I rated USH’s Mummy as something to do if you’re already at the park and the line isn’t too long, USF’s is definitely worth a trip just to experience it. Revenge of the Mummy is a definite E-ticket jewel in USF’s crown, making the studio park increasingly better suited to be next-door neighbor to what is arguably the greatest theme park in the U.S.: Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
Our car begins moving slowly through the catacombs. Mummified bodies lie about, but do not animate like the ones in Hollywood’s ride. A voice calls out that the curse is real, but here the warning comes from an animatronic USF Cast Member who has been wrapped up like a “traditional” movie mummy. The sarcophagus next to him bursts open and out springs a very impressive animatronic of Imhotep in his “juicy” state. He proceeds to suck the soul from Cast Member “Reggie” as he warns us the same kind of fate will befall us if we do not join him. What I think largely makes this animatronic figure more impressive than the more human-looking Imhotep in Hollywood’s Mummy ride is that this one is so close to our car, not perched high above in a room with other distractions, making it easier to marvel at.
Our car rolls past Imhotep, seemingly snubbing him, and into a treasure room similar to the one from the USH’s ride. Imhotep appears via the same projection effect here, which somehow looks a bit more impressive this time around, and gives us the ultimatum: join him and enjoy wealth--at this point the room illuminates to show the treasure piles within--or snub him and perish. At this point actual fire springs up from the floor (not the fake stuff as in Hollywood) and giant mummy warriors leap up in the blink of an eye, reaching menacingly for our car. The car leaves the room and rolls down a drop, thudding against a dead end. It surprised me how suddenly the “scarab-infested dead-end” came so quickly in this ride. Instead of Hollywood’s clichéd water-sprinkling effect here to simulate the bugs dropping onto you, the projection is accompanied by actual bug-like objects pouring from a hole out of the wall in front of the car. The car then rolls backwards to escape. One concession I must make for the Hollywood version of the ride is that the backwards portion of the coaster is better and longer. In Florida, there’s one small drop and then it’s over and the car begins turning around to proceed forward again. A floating projection of Imhotep follows our car as it spins, saying no one can help us now. He materializes again at the top of the lift hill as we begin our slow ascent up it. “Now you’re souls belong to ME!” And to accentuate that last word, suddenly our slow climb becomes a high-speed launch directly into the mouth of Imhotep! From here on there is only glorious, disorienting chaos in the coaster portion of the ride.
The ride comes to a sudden halt in a darkened room. A voice tells us the ride is over, presumably emanating from the figure of a female Cast Member behind the glass of an unload control station. We see via projection that she’s abruptly whirled down to mere skeletal remains, the glass shatters and Imhotep appears once again to let us know we aren’t getting away that easy! This room wasn’t really convincing to me. For one, with all the regulations surrounding theme park safety nowadays, there’s no way a real unload station would be allowed to be that dark. Also, everything I just described happens so rapidly that as soon as I figured out what was supposed to be going on, the second Imhotep animatronic (not as impressive as the previous one) was already leering out of the broken window. Then there is a very cool fire effect here where the whole ceiling is set ablaze, which just about makes the whole room worth the stop alone, before plunging back into the ride for a few more hair-raising moments. While I applaud Universal for implementing the rather ingenious idea of a fake unload station, the execution isn’t as convincing as such a cool idea deserves.
Our car rolls into the true, brightly-lit, unload station a few moments later and we see a filmed clip of Brendan Fraser welcoming us back before exploding that he never got the cup of coffee he requested in the queue video. The mummy appears as a shadowy apparition and gives him one, to which he does the traditional comic take, “oh, thank you--aaaaaaahhhhh!” While this isn’t a particularly clear ending--let’s face it, theme park rides often have trouble crafting a truly satisfying denouement--it’s a far cry better than the bafflingly abrupt one sported by USH’s Revenge of the Mummy. So, is the mummy’s curse real and Brendan Fraser just got killed--perhaps mercifully to prevent him from wasting his time on another Mummy, Dudley Do-Right or George of the Jungle movie? Or is this ending trying to show us that the whole thing was just movie tricks all along? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is the fact that I had a huge, dopey smile on my face after this ride, as did everyone else in my party as we clapped our hands and sped around to get in line again.