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Behind the Ride: Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland

“The Big Room”

Much of the ride takes place in this main chamber, including a harrowing suspension bridge before Mara's Forbidden Eye. © Disney.

In one of the most dramatic and well-appointed musical moments on any attraction, the vehicle next turns to find itself facing the ride's most impressive scene: a massive, towering chamber lit from below by a pool of boiling lava. As the music crescendos in John Williams' iconic chorus, the EMVs tilt forward, providing "stadium seating" views of “the Big Room” (which is actually what it’s referred to as on official ride blueprints) before slamming down the aforementioned "big steps" (at :30 in the video from the last page). 

This massive chamber features, at its center, the looming stone face of Mara. But now, he’s not so handsome. While the left half of his face looks much as it did in the Chamber of Destiny, on the right half the stone has eroded away to reveal a skull underneath with – you guessed it – the Forbidden Eye itself represented by a swirling flame, shooting beams of green light. Mara’s rotten teeth form a waterfall of lava, emptying into the glowing, rocky chasm below. Before the fifty-foot tall face of Mara is a suspension bridge formed of old ropes and wooden planks.

The ride spends a good amount of time in this enormous chamber, darting into caverns alongside, traveling across the bridge (where two vehicles come face-to-face, and one has to dart away to avoid both colliding over the lava), and even traveling down a mudside behind the carving of Mara’s face. As for the green beams of light that Mara blasts from his eye? They trigger explosions of real flames, fog, and rockslides as the transport leans, races, and jerks to avoid them. 

Let’s hope you don’t stall out on the bridge, where you’d be a sitting duck. The interaction with other jeeps and the magnitude of the massive chamber gives the impression that the ride is happening to others, but that you’re the only one experiencing your path. It also lifts the dark ride out of the usual confines of carts entering one scene after another in linear order, separated by tall black walls, instead building a physical space that's explored from top to bottom. 

The Boulder

Of course, no adventure with Indy would be complete with a menacing rolling boulder that threatens to flatten the expedition (a recreation of the pop-culture-cemented scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark). On the Indiana Jones Adventure, you’ll get closer to that boulder than you ever thought. Just when you think you’ve escaped Mara’s wrath, you pull into a dark chamber with Indy suspended overhead. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this!” he warns. “Uh oh... Back up. Back. Up.” Up ahead, in the darkness, you see it through a shaft of light in the temple’s crumbled ceiling.

It rolls closer and closer. Following Indy’s advice, the vehicle backs up slowly, but it’s pretty obvious that that’s no recipe for escape, so the jeep bursts forward, flying right at the massive rock and passing close enough to elicit ducking from all on board as the jeep flies down a hill. Of course, with the booming, shaking bass of its landing behind you, the jeep turns to see the cracked boulder with Indy standing in front of it with helpful parting advice like “Next time, you wear blindfolds!”

But certainly Disneyland doesn’t send a boulder – real or artificial – freely rolling toward guests over and over and over again very minute of every day?

And yes, the system behind the boulder is extraordinary in its simplicity. So much so, in fact, that you've probably seen its foundational concept at work before.

When the transport enters the long tunnel, it pulls all the way forward and parks. Indy is suspended from the tunnel overhead, hanging from a rope. Far off in the distance at the very end of the tunnel, a shaft of light illuminates the rolling boulder (which is constantly revolving, affixed to two arms as seen in the blueprints above) for only a second. Indy notices it. "Uh oh... Uh oh! Back... Up... Back up!" And you do! Except, you really don't. The vehicle stays parked exactly where it was. The tunnel itself – with Indy suspended from it – slides away from the vehicle and toward the advancing boulder. Paired with the clever motion of the EMV, the moving walls give the impression that you're backing up to try to escape the boulder and that the boulder is coming at you and fast.

As the boulder grows closer and closer and the tunnel moves further and further, the vehicle finally moves, pressing forward down a small drop and "narrowly avoiding" the massive rolling stone. And the effect is convincing even after multiple rides, often earning legitimate yelps and shrieks from riders. And as the point-of-view videos embedded below will prove, the boulder ends up mere inches from riders, and sincerely rolls "over" the car!

Of course, right as the transports fall down the drop, the tunnel slides back into its "staring" position and the boulder – still revolving – glides away into the dark, distant end of the tunnel once more, reset for the next vehicle.

The effect is ingenious and gives the ride its perfect, E-ticket ending. You can see how it all works in a very revealing night-vision video. You may also want to hear it straight from the Imagineers mouth, seeing the scene in action (and a rare shot of it resetting) with this video

Tony Baxter – the ride's lead Imagineer – apparently developed the idea after visiting a car wash; the kind where you park the car as a large washing apparatus moves back and forth over your vehicle. Your car is parked, but the car wash apparatus moves around it, filling your entire field of vision so much as to make you feel as if you're moving back and forth. The same concept is at work when you've got a semi-truck parked on either side of you at a red light. When they start moving forward, you might feel as if you're moving backward instead. 

The simple trick is totally effective and catches riders by surprise every time.

So we've seen some of the trick that fuel the unbelievable moments of Indiana Jones Adventure. On the last page, we'll talk about the ride's story and creation, and get an unbeatable glimpse of the ride first-hand. Read on...

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There are 2 comments.

The unique personification of the ride vehicle itself sounds interesting, like the different vehicle reactions such as "being afraid of the dark". Something very subtle that I never noticed. I'm DEFINITELY going to have to check that out soon next time I go.

Riding the ride isn't nearly as exciting as reading about it. When I went last year, it sucked. First off, the ride kept having mechanical failures, second, you could barely understand what the God was saying over all the other noise, and as far as the vehicles go, if they are different, they move too fast for you to really notice.All in all, the ride could've been much bigger, much longer, and much better, giving people more time to take in the things ranter than throwing them about. Otherwise, it was good, and worth maybe a 10 minute wait, at longest, 15 or 30.

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