Perhaps the most ingenious element of TOMB RAIDER: The Ride is just how simple it really is. If you removed all the pomp and circumstance and placed the ride at a local carnival, it would look right at home.
TOMB RAIDER was a HUSS Top Spin – a fairly common carnival ride that your local Six Flags or Merlin park probably has. But it’s not just the theming, synchronized music, water, and fog that gave TOMB RAIDER an edge over its carnival compatriots. The ride was also big. Huge, even. While a normal carnival top spin holds 40 riders, lifting them to a height of 50 feet, TOMB RAIDER was the world’s first and only Giant Top Spin, a much larger model of the ride holding 77 and reaching heights of 80 feet – absolutely gargantuan, with powerful movements, theatrical quality, and stunning adaptability.
The clever use of such a simple attraction was a pretty innovative way to stun guests. After all, even exiting guests usually couldn’t find a way to explain what exactly they had just ridden. Even guests who had seen a Top Spin before likely wouldn't know what it was called or how to identify it. And Paramount's theatrical effects and lighting wizardry kept riders from seeing the chamber or even the physical ride apparatus until the ride started moving.
Put simply, TOMB RAIDER: The Ride stood as evidence that with a little theatricality, even a simple and unassuming midway ride could become something tremendous. The patent filed for the impressive and unique ride is a testament to just how extravagent it was. From the queue and preshows to the synchronized musical score and Technifex's stunning special effects, TOMB RAIDER: The Ride was above and beyond what anyone could’ve expected from a seasonal amusement park in Ohio. It seemed too good to be true. Maybe it was... Because today, TOMB RAIDER is missing from Kings Island’s park map. Why? Well, that’s the real tragedy.
Paramount Communications bought Kings Island (and its sister parks) in 1992. The very next year, Paramount itself was purchased by Viacom. Put simply, Viacom didn’t have much interest in owning or operating theme parks, and for a time the Paramount Parks division was technically under the umbrella of Blockbuster Entertainment (the operators of the video rental chain)! 2002 saw the Parks division shift back to Paramount Pictures, but it didn’t stay there, either. In 2006, Viacom split itself into two new entities: Viacom and CBS Corporation. The parks went to the latter.
At that time, the looming economic recession weighed heavily on corporations who sought to offload their “non-core” assets. It was around this time, for example, that Anheuser-Busch Inbev announced that it was selling its Busch Entertainment division (operators of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens). Put simply, times were tough, and while their parks were doing swimmingly, Busch needed to focus on its actual business: breweries.
Similarly, CBS had very little interest in owning or operating theme parks and immediately set out to sell the Paramount Parks division. They found a willing buyer in Cedar Fair, owners of Cedar Point (just a few hours north of Kings Island) and Knott's Berry Farm, among others.
Cedar Fair paid handsomely, going into massive debt as they purchased the Paramount Parks for $1.24 billion. The staggering exchange gave Cedar Fair a complete monopoly on Ohio’s four parks, which had previously been their own flagship Cedar Point, Paramount's Kings Island, and the combined SeaWorld Ohio and Six Flags Ohio that they had stepped back to the family park Geauga Lake. (By the way, it was the staggering debt they took on during the Paramount Parks purchase that likely led to Cedar Fair's unceremonious and downright unfair closure of that park which had, just a few years before, been the largest in the world – a combined Six Flags and SeaWorld. We chronicled that unimaginable park's growth, decline, and closure under Cedar Fair in its own in-depth Lost Legends: Geauga Lake feature.)
Cedar Fair – under a much different management than today's company – at once set-out de-branding the parks to remove any and all allusions to Paramount’s films – what you might call a "necessary evil." However, the hasty and thoughtless removal of Paramount's intellectual property resulted in some groan-inducing renaming as Top Gun became the laughable Flight Deck; Drop Zone became the uninspired Drop Tower; and the Italian Job: Stunt Track became the generic Backlot Stunt Coaster. Of that de-branding alone, volumes could be written. One has to wonder why Cedar Fair at the time chose identities that were clearly generic replacements for previous identities. Top Gun could've been renamed anything at all, so why intentionally give it a name like Flight Deck – an obviously starved version of its past identity?
Indeed, while Cedar Fair’s de-theming was eye-roll inducing in its shortsightedness, at the end of the day their “Drop Tower” provides the same experience as "Drop Zone: Stunt Tower," even with a half-baked name. A rose by any other name... Problem is, TOMB RAIDER would need more than a simple name change if it were to escape Paramount’s licensing.
Sealing the Tomb
In 2007, Kings Island opened without the “Paramount’s” prefix. But it wasn’t until 2008 that the cinematic allusions finally left. That year, visitors found that TOMB RAIDER had received a new name: The Crypt. What’s more, a sign outside proudly proclaimed, “This ride now has more THRILLS.”
Inside, much would look familiar… Sure, the monkey warriors are missing, leaving empty alcoves in the still-elaborately-designed Southeast Asian temple. But now, there’s no rolling door. It’s there, permanently rolled back into the wall. That might be due to the Triangle of Light carved on it. But the answer is probably much simpler. The circular door was meant to close off the pre-show in the Antechamber, and there’s no pre-show anymore.
In fact, the impressive Brahma statue from the film is gone, replaced with a hokey animatronic bat-demon, which slowly and mechanically opens and closes its wings, emitting a high-pitched, raspy snarl. Maybe it would be more intimidating if it were simply motionless or painted like stone… As well, the bat simply signals a slight change in tone and style for the once Hollywood-caliber ride. For some reason, camoflague netting has also been draped behind the bat (and indeed, across most everything in the queue), as if the carved stone behind the Brahma needed disguised, too.
Certainly the ride can’t have changed too much. Sure, the sliding wall that once hid the ride is gone, allowing you a peak of the vehicle circling around in the next chamber, and yes, you can hear the screams of riders and see what the ride is doing. So it’s not as mysterious or thoughtful as TOMB RAIDER. But the sign outside said there are more thrills now, right? That can’t be bad.
During the ride’s first season as The Crypt, guests were stunned. The front row of the three-rowed vehicle had been chopped clean off, reducing the capacity to be a bit closer to a typical, carnival Top Spin. That, we can imagine, was on purpose, allowing the once lumbering, theatrical vehicle to instead perform the more agile, nauseating nine-flip ride cycle of a carnival ride. And it did, flipping around in total darkness with no special effects to the “uncha-uncha” of electronic club music.
As the years progressed, The Crypt was marginally improved by bringing a few of Tomb Raider’s theatrical lights back online – just enough to make the towering goddess and volcano visible, even if they remained inactive and silent the whole time. No fountains, no icicles, no fog, no storyline. Just flipping around in a chamber with jungle animal noises and howling wind as the soundtrack.
The arrival of the Diamondback roller coaster in 2009 meant that the ride's atmospheric entry tucked back into a bamboo forest plaza was eliminated. The plaza was covered with a neatly-trimmed grass lawn fenced in with a "western" style fence, and the roller coaster itself screamed right over the temple's entrance, with the now-visible showbuilding looming beyond.
The bulldozed foliage and manicured lawn turned the once-remote, forested corner of the park into something a bit less mysterious... The Crypt no longer had a moody and atmospheric entry, but the ride wasn't really moody or atmospheric anymore, either. The change was evidence of Cedar Fair's midway-style rather than the more Universal Studios direction the park had leaned in.
After just a few years of its ultra-intense ride cycle, The Crypt changed again. If you ask fans and insiders, they say that the mega-sized model – even with a third removed – was simply too big and too heavy for the agile, acrobatic “thrill” ride cycle. The ride was intended to operate more or less as a theater that flipped three or four times, not as a thrilling carnival ride. Without explanation or comment from the park, the ride was reprogrammed to perform two flips – one forward and one backward – as a pitiful and pointless ride that earned literal boos from riders upon ending. It wasn’t worth a ten minute wait.
In early 2012 - after just nine years – the cavern entrance in Rivertown was sealed. The Crypt never re-opened. The ride was quietly dismantled and removed, with its showbuilding now used for a haunted maze during the Halloween season. While much of the haunted walkthrough takes place in the grand, 100-foot-tall chamber – still overseen by the carving of Durga and the volcano along the back wall – the details inside are impossible to see in the darkness.
Following in Kings Island’s footsteps, in 2005 Paramount’s Kings Dominion in Virginia opened a Tomb Raider attraction, too. In fact, their ride – TOMB RAIDER: Firefall – was a Top Spin, as well, but a smaller typical version carrying only 38 riders and reaching half the height of Kings Island's. Their ride had its own synchronized musical score and special effects including fire, water, mist, and fog, though it’s located outdoors and not in a highly themed dark ride building.
At the time, fans derided Kings Dominion's cheaper version of the attraction as a cop-out – an attempt by CBS to make the parks "cheap and cheerful" in anticipation of a sale. And it was true that Kings Dominion's TOMB RAIDER probably cost a fraction of Kings Island's.
In hindsight, maybe they're lucky. In 2008, Kings Dominion’s TOMB RAIDER: Firefall was renamed The Crypt, too, but it kept its synchronized score and special effects, and is still to this day flanked by monkey warrior statues from the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. That TOMB RAIDER never held a candle to Ohio's, but at least they've still got one (and with all of its special effects to boot).
The idea of giving monumental theming to a simple HUSS Top Spin caught on, too.
In 2007 - just as TOMB RAIDER entered its last season – Phantasialand in Germany opened the stunning Talocan, clearly based on the precedent set by the two TOMB RAIDER rides. As the video above shows, it's a stunning attraction that's as fun to watch as it is to ride.
As for Kings Island, TOMB RAIDER: The Ride represented their second massive failure. The $20 million Tomb Raider – groundbreaking, unprecedented, and unimaginable for a seasonal park – didn’t live to see its tenth birthday. That said, it still fared better than Paramount's Kings Island's 2000 addition, which ultimately cost close to twice as much as lasted only until 2009 – another Lost Legend: Son of Beast. Two new millennium wonders, both groundbreaking, both living less than a decade and both remembered as two of the most expensive theme park failures ever, even if they failed for very different reasons.
TOMB RAIDER: The Ride was the world’s first Giant Top Spin. It ended up being the last, too. Likely due to its mechanical problems as The Crypt, the ride manufacturer HUSS stopped offering the giant version of the ride entirely.
As for what will come of the showbuilding still standing in Kings Island’s Rivertown, it’s anyone’s guess. It may very well be that the massive space sits unused most of the year only to open as a Halloween maze for a month every fall. Eventually, the property might be razed for expansion. But for our part, we have to hold out hope that Cedar Fair – now under the reigns of former Disneyland president Matt Ouimet – will see the value in themed experiences and decide that the infrastructure from TOMB RAIDER warrants a re-birth.
Even if a Giant Top Spin is out of the question, simply building an exact duplicate of Kings Dominion’s smaller Crypt inside of Kings Island’s building would be an E-ticket experience: fountains, synchronized music, mist, rocks, waterfalls, and more make Kings Dominion’s experience thrilling enough, so to place it in Kings Island’s meticulously themed building with theatrical lighting and the towering goddess only makes sense. For the price of a simple duplication of Kings Dominion's well-dressed carnival ride, a brand-new, highly themed, totally immersive dark ride adventure could once again find a home at Kings Island. And it would likely cost less than the half-baked Triotech interactive dark rides popping up at Cedar Fair parks, too.
But until then, let's just remember that a practical-effects laden hybrid dark ride can come from anywhere, even a seasonal park in Southwestern Ohio.
Are you surprised to find that a seasonal amusement park right here in the United States had such a grand and Disney-quality attraction? Did TOMB RAIDER raise the bar for seasonal parks, or did it simply prove that the big rides should be left to the big players? Did you ever get to experience TOMB RAIDER: The Ride? Let us know your memories and thoughts in the comments section below!