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Modern Movies

Image: Universal

1990’s Universal Studios Florida was literally made of expanded studio tour segments straight from Universal Studios Hollywood of the ‘70s and ‘80s. And while the era of plucking California’s encounters and expanding them into full-fledged standalone rides might’ve seemed like a one-off, Universal returned to the format with two high-profile projects in the 2010s. 

4. King Kong: 360 3-D (2010) -> Skull Island: Reign of Kong (2016)

Image: Universal

STUDIO SEGMENT: After that devastating fire spelled the end of the original King Kong Encounter in 2008, Universal assessed the damage and sadly announced that the segment would not be rebuilt… but that didn’t mean Kong would be gone forever. Quite the country, Universal paired with Peter Jackson (director of 2005’s epic King Kong film) to craft a new take on the encounter. Marketed as a new anchor of the Studio Tour, 2010’s King Kong: 360 3-D employed a new strategy.

With an introduction from Peter Jackson and a look at the digital effects that brought the 2005 film to life, the tram would pull into a new soundstage, parking between two long, curved screens that completely envelope the tram’s field of view. The screens spring to life with the jungles of Skull Island as the tram (parked on a gimbal) shifts and bobs along to high-energy, all-encompassing digital adventure. In a way, it’s fitting that a “modern” Kong encounter on the Studio Tour would be digital… After all, most special effects today are, including the Kong featured in the 2005 film.

Image: Universal

STANDALONE STAR: By time Hollywood’s new-age, rebuilt King Kong: 360 3-D debuted, the Floridian ride had long-since been rreplaced by Universal’s Mummy franchise… Kong wouldn’t return to the studio park. But… In 2016, Universal returned to its classic M.O. of transporting and expanding Hollywood tour segments to Florida when Skull Island: Reign of Kong opened. 

Fittingly, the more mystical, otherworldly setting of Skull Island was wedged into the literary Islands of Adventure park next door. The tram was replaced by animatronic-piloted trackless troop transports that descend into the jungles of Skull Island. Despite two new screen-based scenes and the inclusion of an impressive animatronic finale, it’s clear that the centerpiece and purpose for the ride is to re-use the 360 3-D projection tunnel.

Image: Universal

Frankly, Reign of Kong has a few issues, not the least of which being its frustratingly weak story, its half-hearted job of blending into Islands of Adventure, its gloomy tone emphasizing the horror aspect of Kong rather than its frenzied fun, its almost-exhaustive reliance on a far-overused formula we’ve just seen too much of from Universal, and not living up to the Lost Legend: Kongfrontation that preceded it.. While the 360 3-D tunnel is impressive, Universal somewhat diminished its “gee whiz” factor by its next tour transplant…

5. Fast & Furious: Supercharged (2015) -> Fast & Furious: Supercharged (2018)

Image: Universal

Just five years after decreeing King Kong: 360-3D as the new anchor of the studio tour, Universal Studios Hollywood announced that the park would gain an even bigger attraction to serve as the Studio Tour’s finale: Fast & Furious: Supercharged, based on the long-running and high-earning action film franchise. Frankly, that much wasn’t surprising. What seemed odd was when fans figured out that the new Supercharged attraction would also use the 360 3-D projection tunnel… it not only meant two back-to-back Studio Tour additions would use identical technology, but that guests would practically exit out of one and into the other in the course of a single ride… Huh.

It didn’t bode well for Supercharged. But when the “ride” opened, reception was swift and merciless. It wasn’t just that the Fast & Furious segment was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for screen-based ride overload or its one-two punch right after the nearly identical Kong attraction; Fast & Furious was rife with an embarrassingly bad “pre-show,” a nonsensical set-up, and graphics you’d expect from a Playstation 2.

So when Universal announced that an attraction based on “Fast & Furious” would replace the Disaster! (formerly Earthquake) at Universal Studios Florida, many fans were in willful denial. Maybe Universal would be introducing a well-themed indoor coaster (like Revenge of the Mummy) or experimenting with a variation on Disney’s high-speed Test Track technology to bring a more compelling, exciting, and appropriately-action-packed Fast & Furious story to life!

Image: Universal

STANDALONE STAR: Yeah, no such luck. Almost inexplicably, the terribly received Supercharged studio segment was sent to Florida entirely unchanged and barely expanded. Just as Kong had recast tram segments as troop transports, Supercharged reclad them as “party buses.” Predictably, Fast & Furious: Supercharged in Florida is pretty much a laughing stock outright rejected by industry fans and casual tourists alike. 

Orlando’s ride suffers from the same problems Hollywood’s did (for example, copying Kong, low-quality animation, embarrassing acting, and a really slow ride system for a ride called Fast & Furious). It also adds a few problems of its own, like the fact that Earthquake and Disaster – for all their faults – were more substantial experiences, more impressive experiences, and – frankly – more fun. Supercharged is so frustratingly bad, we crossed our fingers upon ranking it among our rides unlikely to survive the 2020s.

Tour takeaways

Image: Universal

From Universal’s first era of relocating-and-expanding studio tour scenes (like Earthquake, Jaws, and Kong) to their second era (today’s Skull Island and Fast & Furious), one thing is certain: Over the years, Universal has culled some of its greatest and worst rides from stops on studio tours…

Between California and Florida, trams have transitioned to subway trains, skipper boats, Roosevelt Island trams, troop transports, and party buses; ideas have grown and shrunk between coasts, swapping roles and set-ups. Cinematic samplers have been expanded into E-Tickets, creating some of the most beloved attractions in modern parks. The lesson? Studio Tours are testing grounds… so keep an eye on them. They just may give you a hint of what’s next. 

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