Dateline: 1926. Deep within the timeless sands of ancient Egypt, a most peculiar discovery has been unearthed… long believed to be only a legend, the burial place of the high priest Imhotep is indeed real… and its sole inhabitant isn’t content staying dead for another three thousand years…
Here at Theme Park Tourist, we’re particularly proud of our growing library of in-depth features that chronicle the detailed histories of some of the best rides ever built. The dozens of entries in our Lost Legends series, for example, retell the brilliant, behind-the-scenes stories of closed classics and fan favorites from around the world, from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Test Track and dozens more in between. Watch for links to Lost Legends throughout the site!
But this summer, we’ve taken our globetrotting to the extreme with our new series, Modern Marvels, where we uncover the details behind some of the world’s must-see masterpieces of themed entertainment, thrills, and technology. That’s why we kicked off our series with must-read entries on the magic behind Disney’s legendary Mystic Manor and took to the web-slinging streets to get the scoop aboard The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
And today, we’ll unearth the in-depth experience of another spectacular hit ride: Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida. We’ll dust away the sands of time and reveal the story behind this “psychological thrill ride,” get a first-person idea of what awaits inside the mummy’s tomb, and even see where this unexpected E-Ticket has been adapted around the globe. Ready to dive in?
For fans of the themed entertainment industry, it’s a proverbial tale as old as time: the rivalry between Disney and Universal has been written about at length, and often in greater measure than a web feature can provide…
But to recount the basics: Universal Studios Hollywood has been around since 1912, though its origins as a “theme park” in the more classical sense date back to an intentional re-opening in 1964. Even so, the park’s real draw has always been the Studio Tour, a tram-led multi-hour experience, whisking guests through real production facilities, hot sets, and famous backlots where real classics have been shot.
And by the ‘70s and ‘80s, the tour was increasingly home to equally-dazzling staged encounters… like a robotic face-to-face with the menacing great white from Jaws, a special effects extravaganza as riders relived Earthquake – The Big One, and (most famously) a banana-breathed face-to-face with the dreaded King Kong.
For the better part of the 1980s, Universal had been considering a Florida-based studio park that would doubtlessly be headlined by its own Studio Tour with similarly extravagant encounters, but it wasn’t until Steven Spielberg’s backing and the concept of Back to the Future: The Ride that executives seriously considered building a theme park in Disney World’s back yard. Plans began to creep forward and a Universal Studios Florida was assured.
But then, in 1984, Michael Eisner became the CEO of Walt Disney Productions. Eisner – fresh from his post as CEO of Paramount Pictures – was intimately aware of the film industry and set out to revive Disney’s aging studios and forgotten animation divisions. But he also foresaw film as the way to enliven Disney’s tired theme parks.
If you ask insiders, Eisner knew about Universal’s plans for a Floridian movie park from his time at Paramount, and underhandedly cut them to the quick… And indeed, Disney announced their own movie studio park – The Disney-MGM Studios – as a preemptive strike to dissuade Universal from building in Orlando.
Disney even went so far as to steal Universal’s bread and butter – a multi-hour tram-led Studio Tour – as their studio park’s major attraction.
Truthfully, Eisner and company probably expected Universal to limp away from the land they’d purchased in Florida, bruised. Instead, designers rallied and pressed ahead with Universal Studios Florida. Since they couldn’t steal back their own Studio Tour concept, Universal’s creatives instead took the components of the Hollywood park’s Studio Tour and split them into full-fledged, standalone, E-Ticket experiences… Up-close encounters with Jaws, King Kong, Earthquake, Back to the Future, and more, now built-out into full attractions of their own.
Take, for example, Kong. When Universal Studios Florida opened in 1990, the great ape that had debuted in 1933’s King Kong was given his own dedicated attraction, housed in the park’s New York streets behind the towering white marble exterior of Penn Station.
Once inside, guests were transported to the grimy, gritty, graffiti-covered innards of New York City’s subway system (it was the 1980s, after all), where live newsfeeds signaled something unimaginable: a giant, raging, insane ape was terrorizing the Lower East Side! Naturally, evacuations of town are underway, and as for us? Our only means of escape is the elevated Roosevelt Island Tramway that can get us over the Hudson River and to safety.
This was all to set the stage for a wild E-Ticket adventure that would impress even Disney’s Imagineers… In true cinematic form, Universal’s designers built entire New York City blocks six stories tall in all directions, positioning guests in suspended trams to glide through the carnage and destruction, perpetually 30 seconds behind the behemoth Kong.
Of course, it wouldn’t be showstopper unless we earned our face-to-face with the raging ape, and Kongfrontation offered two unthinkable encounters with some of the largest, most complex, and most chaotic Audio Animatronics figures ever designed, allowing us to look into the crazed eyes of a giant who just wants to go home.
The scale, size, and scope of the ride were truly unprecedented. That’s why it’ll live on forever with its own dedicated entry here, Lost Legends: Kongfrontation. Fans of Universal Orlando or even just the themed entertainment industry ought to read that in-depth dissection to understand the true mastery of Universal’s designers.
Even with showstoppers like Kongfrontation, Universal’s place on the food chain was clear: it was obvious that the park would always be an aside to Walt Disney World. Indeed, while it was packed with stunning E-Tickets that matched Disney’s innovation note-for-note, Universal Studios Florida couldn’t compete with the San-Francisco-sized Juggernaut ten minutes down the road.
And that’s not a surprise… after all, Walt Disney World had a two-decade head start and about 26,500 acres more to work with. By time Universal Studios opened, Walt Disney World offered three theme parks (including, thanks to Eisner, its own movie studio park) with a dozen resort hotels, boating, swimming, dining, and more. As “the Vacation Kingdom of the World,” Disney World was unstoppable. People would come to Orlando for Disney… and if they had pre-teens or teens with them, they might add a single day for Universal Studios.
That wasn’t good enough. So Universal fought back with two major projects.
The first was their transformation into a full-fledged Universal Orlando Resort, anchored by a second park – Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Built in part by Disney Imagineers (as we chronicled in the in-depth Lost Legends: The Lost Continent feature), Islands of Adventure was a creative triumph meeting and sometimes exceeding Disney’s own standards in the era. Most importantly, Universal had amassed a collection of intellectual properties that weren’t just popular; they were timeless. Dr. Seuss, Marvel, Jay Ward, and Jurassic Park served as highlights in a park that would feel forever current just like Magic Kingdom.
The second project? To bring the aging Universal Studios Florida up to the same standard. By its nature, the Studios park had riffed off of Universal’s original Hollywood campus and copied its classic characters. But by the dawn of the New Millennium, it was clear that rides like Kongfrontation and its peers (no matter how grand they were) were increasingly alienating a new generation of young people (and young families) who held no allegiance to Universal’s films from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. For the families of the 2000s, these attractions (while astounding!) weren’t a marketing draw.
A new philosophy emerged at Universal: they determined that, if their Studio park was ever going to be a contender, it needed to shed its classics and super-charge the park with whatever’s new, now, and next. Put another way, Universal was willing to bulldoze their classics if they had to, so long as their reputation changed; so long as Universal became the place to see the hottest films of today.
And at the dawn of the New Millennium, Universal had just the film to start with: The Mummy. But do you know how the blockbuster film came to be, or the "real" curse that inspired it? Read on…
Now, to get a full view of how Revenge of the Mummy came to be, we have to flash back to nearly a century ago.
It was in 1922 that Howard Carter – noted British archaeologist and leading Egyptologist – led an unprecedented search for the tomb of the lost pharaoh Tutankhamen, young ruler of Egypt’s New Kingdom. “King Tut” is thought to have ruled between about 1332 – 1323 B.C. – nearly three thousand years ago. The discovery of Tut’s tomb (official Egyptological designation KV62) by Carter and company is remembered today as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in modern history.
It’s also noteworthy for two reasons:
- Tut’s tomb was largely intact… a sincere rarity in the Valley of the Kings, where millennia of pillagers and raiders had desecrated most burials. (Archaeologists suggest it had been breached only twice, and its inner chambers remained sealed up unto Carter’s entry);
- Almost every member of Carter’s team died by mysterious, unexpected, and oftentimes violet means in the years following their entry to the tomb. Plagued by unidentifiable disease, uncharacteristic suicide, acts of God, and seemingly random violence, the sensationalized media of the era quickly picked up on a headline: a “curse of the Pharaohs” was striking down any who had dared enter the burial chamber protected by ancient magic.
Of course, no one can say whether the opening of Tut’s tomb really unearthed an ancient curse determined to seek vengeance on any who disturbed the pharaoh’s resting place… but we do know that the sandstorm of media coverage ignited a global interest in Egyptology and, particularly, the mysticism of the ancient Nile Valley.
From Screams to Screens
To be clear, one person who was intently watching the hysteria surrounding the decade-long effects of the “curse” was Carl Laemmle Jr., son and namesake of the founder of Universal Studios. The junior Laemmle took over as head of the studio’s production in 1928 (at the tender age of 20, mind you) where he heralded in the age of the “talkie” that his father had helped shape.
But it was in 1931 that the future of Universal fell to the young moviemaker. That year, Universal debuted two pre-code horror films that would shape the studio forever: the definitive and still-celebrated versions of Dracula (starring Bela Lugosi) and Frankenstein (with Boris Karloff as the mad scientist’s monster). Together, the two movies had turned around Universal’s sinking finances, and that meant that more monster movies were assured.
Laemmle tasked his team with creating a third creature feature: The Mummy.
The film, debuting just a year later in 1932, cast Boris Karloff once more as Imhotep, a recently unearthed Egyptian priest accidentally revived by a British archaeological expedition reading from the long-lost Scroll of Thoth. Imhotep, set free upon the Earth, scours the globe hell-bent on finding the modern reincarnation of his forbidden lover – princess Ankh-es-en-Amon – so that he can kill, mummy, and reanimate his lost love.
Of course, the film (with Dracula and Frankenstein) would complete the original talking picture trifecta of Universal Horror. In the next decades, The Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and countless more joined in turn, creating a headlining and unstoppable lineup of Universal Monsters that’s still revered today.
Returning to the Tomb
Now, fast-forward sixty years to the early 1990s. Two film producers – James Jacks and Sean Daniel – approached Universal with the concept of remaking their early monster movies for a modern audience, and recommended The Mummy as a good candidate to start with. Granted just $10 million, the duo set out to make a low-budget horror film. They just needed a director.
First, Clive Barker (creator of the darkly sexual Hellraiser) signed on and crafted a violent, grisly, sexual horror-thriller version of The Mummy before ultimately losing interest and parting ways. Next, Joe Dante (director of Gremlins) suggested The Mummy take the form of a contemporary love story, downsizing the horror and casting Daniel Day-Lewis as a brooding mummy searching for his lost love.
When he, too, left the project, Jacks and Daniel brought on George A. Romero (creator of Night of the Living Dead) whose modern-set romance/thriller film would’ve been dark and violent featuring a female archaeologist who unknowingly falls in love with the revived mummy. Universal passed.
Ultimately, the project couldn’t move forward without a director and a vision… and both finally arrived thanks to Stephen Sommers, best known for his live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book. Sommers had an idea that diverged from all the concepts that had come before… rather than a modern-set horror romance, he suggested that The Mummy be imagined as a swashbuckling action-adventure film set in the 1920s – “as a kind of Indiana Jones or Jason and the Argonauts with the mummy as the creature giving the hero a hard time."
Executives were so enamored with the concept of having their own Indiana Jones-style franchise utilizing their movie monster, they green-lit the film with Sommers attached as a director and upped the budget from $10 million to $80 million.
It paid off in spades.
On May 7, 1999, The Mummy opened in theaters.
It would be a stretch to call Sommers’ film a “remake” of the 1932 original, except in the sense that it cleverly breathed new life into an old intellectual property and re-used some names and plot points throughout. But The Mummy was all-new and, true to Sommers’ promise, was poised to be Universal’s own Indiana Jones.
The film – set in 1926 – follows adventurer and treasure hunter Rick O’Connell (played by Brendan Fraser) and posh, independent librarian Evie Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) who unwittingly revive the rotting remains of disgraced high priest Imhotep with the long-lost Book of the Dead. As Imhotep seeks out and devours the crew that opened his chest one-by-one, he regains his human form (played by Arnold Vosloo), seeking to reanimate his forbidden love, Anck-su-Namun, as the ten plagues of Egypt rein down.
Alright, so the globetrotting adventure might not have won any Academy Awards… but the mile-a-minute fun of the film did make it a summer blockbuster, and it handily earned $416 million against its $80 million budget.
And you know what that means.
The day The Mummy was released, The Mummy Returns was green-lit. Two years to the week later, the sequel (arguably even more fun, absurd, and adventurous than the first in its way) earned $433 million more. Not to mention, The Mummy Returns jumpstarted a Saturday morning cartoon that aired on Kids WB (The Mummy: The Animated Series), a third film (the universally panned Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which earned $400 million, too), and a spin-off film series, The Scorpion King (with four entries of its own) that made Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson into a household name.
This much was clear: even by the dawn of the New Millennium, Universal had found their new hit – a true Indy-sized franchise ripe for the picking. Next, they just needed to find a way to leverage it in their theme parks…
From Downtown to Tomb
When the 2001 opening of The Mummy Returns brought the box office gross for the series near to a billion dollars, it assured that The Mummy would be the first foray into updating Universal Studios Florida. The question is… where would it go?
Bolstered by the promise of rejuvenating their Studios, Universal looked out across its slate of opening day dark rides and saw the perfect place: the massive, gargantuan soundstage (one of the largest showbuildings ever developed for a theme park) on the streets of New York, concealed behind the white marble exterior of Penn Station….
Kongfrontation closed forever on September 8, 2002 – the first of Universal Studios Florida’s opening-day masterpieces to fall to progress.
At once, the six-story showbuilding became a construction site as the streets of New York fell. In dismantling one of the most elaborate attractions in Orlando, Universal opened up an unprecedented blank canvas with 62,000 feet of cavernous soundstage interior to work with. (They also, by necessity, left large swaths of Kongfrontation’s track bolted to the ceiling, given that the former ride was quite literally built into the soundstage’s structure.)
Working closely with film director Stephen Sommers, Universal devised a plan for what they deemed “the world’s first psychological thrill ride.” An ambitious promise, they were mostly right – Revenge of the Mummy is a roller coaster that cleverly disguises itself as a dark ride, with vignettes designed to antagonize… from beetles (entomophobia) and spiders (arachnophobia) to corpses (necrophobia) and darkness (lygophobia), the ride is perhaps best understood as a haunted house thrill ride teasing out one particular “phobia:” fear of the unknown.
Premier Rides of Maryland was brought in to manufacture the roller coaster itself, utilizing their industry-shaping LIM (linear induction motor) technology.
The LIM system – first used in 1996 on Premier's Flight of Fear roller coasters at Kings Island and Kings Dominion – uses electromagnetic fields to launch roller coaster trains. It's simpler than it seems. On an LIM-launched coaster, linear induction motors are bolted to the roller coaster's track, while each train is affixed with metallic fins that pass through a groove in the motor. When supplied with electricity, the LIM becomes an electromagnet, attracting-in and then repelling-out the train's fin. When LIMs are lined up down a coaster's track and powered in succession, they can create gradual and quick acceleration (a launch) using magnetism: a non-contact force!
(It doesn't hurt that LIMs have a distinct electrical hum that's music to coaster enthusiasts' ears.)
The advent of LIMs was a big deal, because before LIM technology, roller coaster launches relied on dropping heavy counterweights, spring tension, friction wheels, flywheels, or diesel engines to catapult trains... systems which can – and do – fall victim to friction, sometimes shredding cables, spraying riders with shrapnel, or failing to gain enough speed to complete the ride circuit.
On Revenge of the Mummy, LIMs would be ingeniously placed at intervals along the coaster's "dark ride" section, giving gradual, continuous miniature "boosts" to keep the cart moving like a traditional dark ride. Then, at key points during the ride, grouped LIMs would gradually and rapidly accelerate the train to the ride's top speed.
Dynamic Attractions was also brought in to construct some tricky track sections that would turn, rotate, and realign the vehicles to do things riders simply wouldn't be expecting.
Combined with that fear of the unknown, the unassuming statistics behind the coaster (which, on paper, reads as a clear family roller coaster with a height barely topping 40-feet and a 40 mile-per-hour top speed) into a three-minute thrill ride that's as fun, energized, and electric as the films. And for $40 million, we would sure hope so.
Ready to face the Revenge of the Mummy? We’ll take a journey into Imhotep’s tomb on the next page! Read on…
Museum of Antiquities?
If there's one thing we can agree on, it's that Universal's sets just can't be beat. And that's fair given that the studio has a century of work in their porfolio crafting sightlines believable to the camera lens. Here at Universal Studios Florida, they've put that expertise to work. But while Magic Kingdom has themed "lands" of imagination and fantasy, Universal Studios Florida has built locales much more familiar: Hollywood, San Franscico, Martha's Vineyard, and New York have been recreated with such detail, a snapped photo could convince relatives back home that you've indeed taken a cross-continental road trip.
Our sightseeing today brings us to the streets of New York and to a particularly interesting destination: the Museum of Antiquities.
Banners unfurled between sandstone-style columns advertise the Museum's current exhibition, Mummy: The Curses & Legends of the Pharaohs. Seems like an interesting topic for an exhibit, right?
Inside the Museum's doors, you might be surprised to find that there's no museum at all. Rather, you appear to be standing in a studio soundstage's props department. Behind wire mesh, you can see real production notes, costumes, molds, and equipment from the filming of The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001). Stage lights, wrapped cords, and industrial studio equipment signal that we're about to get a behind-the-scenes view of how exactly The Mummy was created... A nod to Universal Studios' opening day promise of seeing the making of Hollywood's best pictures.
Overhead, monitors feature authentic interviews with the cast and crew of The Mummy, and introduce the idea that we've arrived at the set of an (imaginary) third entry in the series: The Revenge of the Mummy. It's being filmed right here, today, and the cast in on hand not only to share real production footage from the series, but to warn us about some strange occurances here on set. A few disappearances (including a crew member named Reggie) have spooked the team. However, Brendan Fraser is on set to remind us that the mummy's curse can't be real.
That's why he's refusing to wear the Symbol of the Medjai – the ancient order of Pharaoh's bodyguards forever sworn to protect the world from Imhotep's darkness.
Rounding the corner, any semblance of a studio's prop department melts away. The rest of the queue takes place in a winding Egyptian tomb filled with artifacts, heiroglyphics, and booby traps meant to startle, amaze, and set the scene.
But... wait... What is the scene? We've stumbled on a sometimes-recurring issue for Universal. Are we in the Museum of Antiquities at all? Or are we supposed to understand that that was merely a ride facade? After all, we're then on a "hot set..." So, is this tomb a man-made set? Or have we been transported to Egypt?
No matter... The queue continues into an active archaeological excavation with a towering statue of Anubis having been uncovered. We climb the makeshift excavation stairs and catwalks suspended around the idol and find our path forward: massive mine carts seating four across in four rows (so, it's a real tomb?). These aged, rusted, shoddy mine carts don't look very promising, but what fun would it be to turn around now?
As the mine car slowly and steadily advances out of the station, a rotating track piece flips to align a path forward into the tomb. With a steady, electrical hum, the vehicle advances forward into the darkness. Meanwhile, the subtle, suspenseful tinge of a synchronized on-board audio track begins, amplifying the eerie emptiness of the winding stone corridor. As lanterns flicker, a shadow seems to pass by a set of stairs ahead as violin strings screech.
From around the corner, a voice cries out. It's Reggie, the lost crewmember from Revenge of the Mummy (so it's definitely a movie set?): "Are you insane?! Get out of here! The curse – it's real!" The cart rounds the corner where Reggie is half-wrapped in mummification dressings, trapped in an open sarcophagus. "This whole place is a trap! He's after your souls!" With an echoing stone thud, the sarcophagus of Imhotep next to him bangs open and, from the darkness inside, Imhotep jumps out. (This astounding Audio-Animatronics figure – the only one we know of that "jumps" – ranked high on our must-read Countdown of the Best Animatronics on Earth.)
"Look for the Medjai symbol!" Reggie tries to scream as Imhotep roars over him. "It's your only hope!"
"Silence!" The deep, thundering voice of Imhotep cries out (played once more by Arnold Vosloo, though in this incarnation he was invited to use his natural South African accent). He extends his hand to Reggie, and a billowing cloud of blue energy is sucked from Reggie's mouth into Imhotep's hand. Empowered, he turns to us. "With your souls, I shall rule for all eternity!"
Turning the corner, the ghostly, gravely echoes of his promise reverberate down the stone corridor. Ahead, the wall begins to glow, creating the cover of the Book of the Living – the only thing that can kill Imhotep once and for all. A golden path exends from the Book's frame, painting itself down the hall, and leading us forward into the unknown.
The next chamber is cool and calm with only a distant hiss of air. Ahead, two statues of jackel-headed warriors kneel, holding ancient urns. Between them, heiroglyphics are lit. But from between the stone blocks of the room, sand coalesces into the head of Imhotep. "Serve me, and savor riches beyond measure..." Beams of sunlight strike amplifying mirrors, casting a golden, warm glow across the room and illuminated piles and piles of golden statues, gems, and priceless carvings. "Or refuse," he snarls, "and savor a more bitter treasure!" With an ear-piercing snarl, horrifying, decaying mummy warriors leap from all sides, surrounding the cart and screeching as flames surround us.
The cart now kicks forward, boosting a bit to escape the room just as an ancient stone wall begins to lower and seal. We sincerely duck beneath the descending, grinding wall (a convincing effect) and fall to the side down the ride's first surprise for first-timers: it's a roller coaster. The cart races through pitch black darkness and around a corner until a stone wall comes into view. Still, we race toward it... faster, and faster, and faster, until the mine car literally slams into the wall, kicking dust from it.
Unfortunately, dust isn't all we've disturbed. A squeak signals the arrival of flesh-eating scarabs. They burst from the cracks in the ancient walls around us via projection, while physical scarabs come rushing out of a slot in the wall, falling toward the car. As the hissing and pittering of the insects surrounds us with 3D audio, the lights extinguish and the car is propelled backwards from the wall, falling down a drop in darkness.
As the car settles, a welcome sight appears overhead: the glowing, undulating symbol of the Medjai! We did it! It's over!
...But wait... The symbol continues to flutter until disintegrating altogether – it was sand. The sand floats to the right... and we follow it. The vehicle physically pivots, following as the gleaming sand collects into the face of Imhotep. His voice now is dark and menacing, growing ever-more distorted as he speaks over himself: "Not even the Medjai can save you now" "There is no escape" "Your end shall be my beginning" "Behold your fate!"
The vehicle, now having pivoted 180-degrees, lines up with an endless hill, lit only by the flashing blue bursts of energy emanating from the flowing sand. It races to the apex of the hill overhead, where it again creates Imhotep's giant, decayed face. "Your souls are mine!" On the last word, his mouth opens wide and his eyes glow wildly. The mine cart races at full-speed up the incline toward him. As noxious green, glowing gas fills his mouth, we race through it, immediately banking and diving hard to the right as the driving musical score crescendos.
Back and forth, the car dives and races through the darkness as flashing blacklights reveal Imhotep's warriors in the endless darkness, always mere inches away. On and on, we race ahead screaming and laughing.
Finally, the darkness subsides. The mine cart boosts up a hill and enters into an Egyptian chamber. But wait... there, on the left, is a ride operator's booth. Phew! Salvation at last! The silhouette of a ride operator is a welcome sight, and she leans into the microphone: "We hope you enjoyed your ride! Please remain seated with your arms and legs inside the–" to our surprise, the lights inside of the control booth flicker, a dark sand descends, and the woman's silhouette changes as her life force is stripped. She shrivels into a corpse. Just as the lights short-circuit and flash, the glass of the ride operator booth shatters.
As shrapnel hits the ground, Imhotep is standing in the booth. "Prepare to forfeit your souls!" He laughs. Ahead, two laterns erupt with stunning flames, momentarily blinding us against the darkness. Then, the ceiling above ignites. This tremendous and unexpected effect – called brain fire, and ranked among our list of the Best Theme Park Special Effects That Still Amaze Us – creates an undulating, roiling flame that sincerely overtakes the chamber's ceiling entirely. The heat is crippling as it reins down, baking this fake unload station and elliciting screams of surprise.
"Death is only the beginning!" Imhotep cries.
Now, the ride has left the best for last. With another humming boost, it's tipped out of the loading station and down the ride's highest drop: 40 feet. It plunges into a steaming, billowing pit of red and orange fog, with a jetstream of smoke erupting right at riders. Twisting and turning now, the musical score reaches its height as ancient chanting grows. Then, ahead, the massive face of Imhotep appears. He screams as a massive cloud of fog erupts from his mouth, covering the train. We bank right just in time to see the glowing, golden symbol of the Medjai – the real one this time – looming overhead.
As the film's triumphant score signals Imhotep's end, flashing lights return us to the movie set where we started. Brendan Fraser appears on a screen overhead: "Hey, welcome back! Hope you enjoyed yourself. I know I would've enjoyed myself more If I would'a gotten my cup of coffee!" He screams. Just then, a shadowy silhouette passes before the camera and a rotting mummy arm holds out a cup of coffee. Fraser screams as the screen blacks out, and our adventure has come to an end.
As always, we like to end our in-depth features with a ride-through video to show exactly what a trip aboard is like. As luck would have it, we have two options for Revenge of the Mummy. You might choose to watch this night-vision video, or the low-light point-of-view video below:
3,000 Years in the Making
While Revenge of the Mummy may suffer from some of Universal's – eh hem – uneven storytelling and may leave us wondering what was real and what wasn't, it's an outrageously fun family adventure ride (just like the movies, really) that features some of the best special effects, animatronics, and thrills Universal's ever employed period, made all the better by working together.
However, did you know that Revenge of the Mummy exists in two other theme parks on Earth? On the last page, we'll take a look at where (and how) the idea was re-energized in Asia and do some speculating about what the future may have in store for a ride that's been at Universal longer than most are able to survive... We'll finish up on the last page.
Good ideas never die, and that’s why Revenge of the Mummy can be found at two other Universal Parks destinations… But interestingly, it looks quite a bit different in each…
Universal Studios Hollywood
While construction pressed ahead on Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida, the original park in Hollywood was getting its own mummified makeover, too. However, the California park’s Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride would take on a different form.
After all, we know that Universal Studios Hollywood has always been a working movie studio first and foremost, with its transition to a “theme park” being much more gradual and much less elaborate. Instead of a purpose-built park, showbuildings had been more or less scattered around the miniscule property set aside for guests in Hollywood with the Studio Tour acting as the main draw. (And in fact, it wasn’t until Universal Studios Hollywood kicked off another intentional reboot and multi-year construction project a few years back that the park began to thoughtfully reorganize itself as a theme park proper, including themed lands, a park icon at the end of a “Main Street,” etc.)
So surveying the real estate options in Hollywood, designers opted to use the largest pre-existing ride showbuilding accessible to them: E.T. Adventure.
The last flights to E.T.’s home planet took off on March 14, 2003 and sixteen months later, Hollywood’s own Revenge of the Mummy opened for business. Redesigned for the much, much smaller showbuilding in Hollywood, the Californian version of Revenge of the Mummy is by most all accounts less elaborate, with a more brief dark ride section, less impressive animatronics, and a very odd anticlimax.
That being said, Hollywood’s ride is fun in its own right, with a more significant backwards coaster section and a few tricks up its sleeves.
You can compare the Florida and Hollywood version by taking a look at the on-ride video filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood here:
Universal Studios Singapore
Enthusiasts tend to forget about Universal Studios Singapore, the unusual park in Southeast Asia. The park (which is owned by the Malaysian Genting Group who licenses the brand from Universal – like the Oriental Land Company’s Tokyo Disney Resort) is an extraordinary one: in it, designers essentially borrowed the Islands of Adventure model (themed “islands” situated around a lagoon) and merged with the more grounded Universal Studios set-up. So the park features movie-set style lands of New York and Hollywood interspersed among imaginative fantasy realms themed to Madagascar, Shrek, Jurassic Park, and a futuristic Sci-Fi City.
The park’s seventh land is Ancient Egypt, an entire section ostensibly themed to The Mummy. Truly larger than life, the incredible, built-out land actually earned a spot on our list of The Seven “Ancient” Wonders of the Theme Park World, primarily thanks to the land’s centerpiece: Imhotep’s Tomb.
In Singapore’s immersive and thoughtfully detailed land, Universal Creative was finally able to do away with soundstages, filmmaking, and seeing “behind the scenes.” There’s no awkward transition from New York to tomb here… Rather, it looks (and feels) as if you’re truly entering an ancient, towering tomb.
Of course, given a blank slate, designers opted to clone Florida’s version of the ride, though Singapore’s necessarily improves upon the original with new scenes (including a replacement for the leaping Imhotep animatronic), new effects, and a tweaked story to account for the change of setting.
You’ve got to see the incredible Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Singapore, which may be the best version of the ride yet:
Since 2004, Revenge of the Mummy has been thrilling guests at Universal Studios Florida. And though it may be hard to believe, that means that it’s been around longer than its predecessor, Kongfrontation!
But as we’ve seen, appeal to an older generation (in this case, children of the ‘80s and ‘90s who grew up with Stephen Sommers’ Mummy series) is hardly enough to justify a ride’s continued existence at Universal. Sure, we don’t expect that Revenge of the Mummy is going anywhere any time soon…
But by the same count, yet another reboot of the series kicked off in Summer 2017 with Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, and Tom Cruise starring in The Mummy. It's worth noting that the 2017 reboot is a world away from the romantic adventure film from 1999... The new Mummy is set in modern day, tells the story of Princess Ahmanet (the first female mummy in the series' 85-year life), and more or less avoids the bright, fun, globetrotting, Indy-esque adventure of the Stephen Sommers movie in favor of a dark, gritty, action thriller with horror elements.
Though 2017's The Mummy was a critical disaster and a financial disappointment (earning far less than half of the 1999 film’s box office), Universal’s ambitions initially went beyond this standalone film…
The rebooted Mummy was meant to be Universal’s first entry into its own “expanded universe” (the new cross-continuity, decade-long film series trend that connects superheroes within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example).
Universal’s Dark Universe was slated to connect The Mummy with forthcoming adaptations of everything from The Wolf Man to Bride of Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, with creatures and characters intersecting in a Van Helsing film like Marvel's Avengers. The result, though, is that The Mummy ended up feeling like a film maxed out with exposition; little more than a vehicle meant to set up the Dark Universe and its complex backstory.
Mummy Producer Chris Morgan commented, "I don’t [have] regrets or anything like that. I think it’s just, you know, I think it probably was trying to come together too quickly, I would say. And I think everyone got to take a breath and take a step back and take a look at it, and now just focus on maybe doing it a little bit slower."
While Universal is clearly re-thinking their approach to the Dark Universe, insiders say they will press forward with the film series... even if it means another reinvention of The Mummy more aligned with the 1932 original… in which case, it may eventually occur to an executive that having a ready-made ride themed to a (gasp) 1990s version of a current brand is unacceptable…
We certainly hope not.
Revenge of the Mummy opened at a near perfect time in Universal’s development. Pre-Potter, the ride acts as a perfect blending of cinematic skills, animatronics, projection, and thrills all interconnected to create a breathtaking (and most importantly, downright fun) ride experience.
Given that 1999’s The Mummy was envisioned as Universal’s version of Indiana Jones, perhaps it’s appropriate to think of Revenge of the Mummy as Universal’s equivalent to Disneyland’s impeccable Indiana Jones Adventure: a true multi-sensory thrill ride with twists, turns, outstanding set design, wild special effects, and a spirit of triumph and adventure.
That’s why we happily induct Revenge of the Mummy into our growing library of Modern Marvels – from queue to dark ride to coaster, it feels like a complete experience more than a ride; a true masterpiece for fans of adventure.
Now, we want to hear from you. In the comments below, share your experiences on Revenge of the Mummy… Do you agree that this 21st century ride deserves Modern Marvel status alongside Spider-Man, Mystic Manor, and more? Were you surprised by the Mummy’s revenge on your first ride? What other Modern Marvels would you like to learn more about in our in-depth series?