Posts Tagged ‘Universal Creative’

 

 

First I want to start off this blog post by saying that I am in no way an “insider,” or know really anything about anything. I’m a die hard fan of Jurassic Park (big shocker there,) and Universal theme parks in general. I can only speak on behalf of the experiences I’ve had, what I’ve read in articles as well as other postings online, and also from what I’ve heard from interviews. I’m just a nerd, with big thoughts and big questions.  Also, for a majority of this post I’ll be talking mainly about Universal Orlando although it does not totally negate the dynamic of Jurassic Park at Universal Hollywood.

Secondly, I’ll start with this:

 

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I received this letter… oh, back in 2004 when I was 12 years old. A little bit of context to the letter: in 2003 my family surprised me with a trip to Universal Orlando for my birthday. This was a BIG deal. Literally ever since I knew that Universal Hollywood had a Jurassic Park ride I had wanted to go. When Orlando announced Islands of Adventure and their Jurassic Park island (called Isla Adventura for those who are wondering) I was dead set on going at some point in my life. The problem was a trip like that is that it’s obviously expensive and I was never sure I was going to be able to go. Then came my 12th birthday and my parents absolutely shocked me when I was handed the plane tickets for our Florida getaway.

That trip in and of itself is an entire grand memory and filled with stories I may sometime divulge. But for now all you need to know is a few things:

  • From that moment on Universal was set in stone as my theme park destination of choice
  • Jurassic Park awed me
  • Not all of the Jurassic Park area was open.

You see, unbeknown to us at the time Universal had closed down both the bottom half of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center, as well as their Triceratops Encounter. At this time Universa was working on that years Halloween Horror Nights, and they were using the Jurassic Park area for a zone and these specific areas for two houses- Jungle of Doom, and Psycho Scareapy.

Once I got home my first instinct was the write to Universal and tell them how amazing of a time I had (mind, this was the days before Twitter and other forms of social media like that.) In that letter I told them how much fun I had, as well as how much I hope to attend again in the future so that I could hopefully get the full experience (since two of the attractions were closed) as well as attend Halloween Horror Nights- which I very quickly became enamored with as well.

Months went by and I had all but forgotten about the letter, until the gem I posted above arrived at my house. I was so excited when I got this. Like, beyond excited. Not only was I getting a letter back from Universal directly, they were telling me special information about their Jurassic Park area. A new attraction was going to replace Triceratops Encounter? No way! While I always wanted to experience Trike Encounter, I couldn’t not be excited for the idea of the Jurassic area getting some new love! It had been two years since Jurassic Park 3 and this was right on the cusp of Jurassic 4 going in to perpetual limbo for a LONG time. I was excited.

But then years went by and… nothing happened. Nothing came of this “new” attraction, and Trike Encounter remained closed. So now not only were we not getting any new movies as the years passed,  but the Jurassic Park rides/areas at the Universal parks were seemingly getting little to no attention as well.

 

Then came 2009 and this is when I made my second trip to Universal. It was kind of an early high school graduation and birthday gift to myself. Not only would I be returning to the park, but I would be going to HHN for the first time that year as well.

Much like the first time I ever went I had an amazing time. Construction was just beginning on Hogsmeade and while I felt a little territorial about Harry Potter encroaching on the Jurassic area’s space- it looked awesome. This time I also got to experience the Discover Center in all its glory. But two things really were itching at me in my mind: one being that I just couldn’t understand why Trike Encounter was still closed if they planned on doing nothing with it. The second being, despite all my love for it and how technically amazing it still was… once I removed my rose colored glasses it was hard to deny that Jurassic Park River Adventure was aging. It had been around for over a decade now, and some aspects were just really not up to par with where you could tell they originally were. Slow mechanics, and several effects and dinosaurs not working at all. This caused me distress because I realized that the license I loved most just really was getting no attention or care for at all. Period. All around. Nobody seemed to care about Jurassic Park. I’ll hit more on this point later but just know that at the time, while I don’t mean for it to sound as overly dramatic as this does- it stung.

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Image from Behind the Gates

There was a final note though to this trip. Anybody who’s ever been on the River Adventure may recall a giant mockup of the island at the beginning of the ride. Each area is pointed out with a red tag. If you go to the back side of this island though you will see a red tag that reads “Jeep Safari.” Literally every other tag on this model corresponds to an area physically in the park… except this one. My first thought was that this had to have been the ride that was originally planned to replace Trike Encounter. But what happened to it? We’ll get to that later.

 

Hop forward to 2013. I am going to Universal in September of that year again for research concerning my senior thesis covering horror in theatre. To say that was all I was doing down there would be a downright lie because obviously I spent the days at the park, but at night I was doing “research” by attending HHN. By this point Hogsmeade had been opened, and literally a week after Jurassic Park 4 (before it was given the title Jurassic World) had been announced and had a release date. I was PUMPED. When I got to Universal it hadn’t seemed like a lot had changed in terms of their Jurassic area. And it wasn’t like I expected a complete overhaul overnight because of the new film. But I was excited for the future. I though “hey, this could really get things started” and JP could finally be getting some much needed love. The ride still was aging, and there seemed to be even more mechanical problems now than there was when I last went in 2009. The only thing that the JP area was getting that was new (at this time) was street games where you could win prizes, and they weren’t even operational yet.

Earlier in 2013 there was an official notice that went online for the JP ride going through refurbishments. While  it’s well known that many/all the rides go through yearly maintenance word of this spread like wildfire in the JP fan community, as everyone was expecting something big to happen with the newly announced Jurassic World AS WELL AS the fact that Jurassic Park was reaching 20 years old and Universal was re-releasing it on 3D. When the ride reopened though… nothing had changed. The animals got a few color tweaks on their skins, but that was it. Nothing majorly new had been done.

Then came 2015. Jurassic World was literally around the corner and… it seemed like Universal had nothing planned. While I still tend to think that Jurassic World had some fairly decent marketing, I do concede that it wasn’t as strong as it could have been and many fans though it was even less than that. Many felt that Universal was not pushing it as hard as they should have. Now I know everyone thinks their fandom or interest is special, and obviously I’m no different. Jurassic Park really helped shaped my life; my interests, creativity, goals- everything. So I wanted it to get the attention I thought it deserved. What I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand is why Universal seemingly couldn’t see it. Jurassic Park was, for the longest time, Universal’s highest grossing franchise and was only recently passed by the Fast and the Furious franchise (which I would like to point out only surpasses Jurassic by $300 mill, but has seven (soon to be eight) films. In other words Jurassic has done WAY more for Universal with less. ) And Universal is treating it like it’s this outsider property. The fourth film took more than a decade to develop, the rides at both parks have been slowly wearing down with only minor upkeep, and even with a new film finally underway it seemed like Universal wasn’t pushing it or doing anything exciting at their parks for it.

As the release of the new film crept closer everybody was surprised at the kind of presales Jurassic World was doing. A few weeks before the release of the film Universal Orlando surprises everyone with the opening of their Raptor Encounter (quickly followed by Universal Hollywood- both inspired by the “encounter” at Universal Singapore.) While it may not have been a new ride or anything many fans were excited to see Universal parks finally back in on Jurassic and hoped that it led to more soon.

Jurassic World released and smashed box office records just like the original film back in 1993. Nobody expected it to do that well, and many fans hoped that this would grab Universal’s attention. Yet there was seemingly nothing on the horizon. I made my fourth trip to Universal in September of 2015, and while the Raptor Encounter was everything I had hoped it would be, and I had an amazing time I couldn’t help but feel that there could be more. Why wasn’t Jurassic utilized at HHN (they don’t have to use the area at IoA, they could have just made a house)? Why wasn’t there any real updates to the ride, or elsewhere? Obviously there was tons of Jurassic World merch and signs, but… that was it. And there were no substantial news or new rumors anywhere that Universal had anything planned. Even with Universal Japan announcing that October they were going to build a new Jurassic themed roller coaster,  Universal stateside was mum on everything about the prehistoric franchise.

 

Now that I’ve recapped a lot of my personal park going timeline and experiences I’ll tack on some other info and rumors that have been long standing. Ever since 2010 (perhaps even before) there have been rumors of Isla Adventura/Jurassic Park being shut down and removed. I don’t know if there is any true substance to this, or if is just forum talk- but I’ve conversed with many who have suspected it. Jurassic Park was an expensive ride to build to begin with, and it has a lot to upkeep. There is a reason why not very many rides nowadays utilize animatronics and practical effects the way JP rides do and are now leaning more to “dark rides/screen rides”… their cheaper. Take Jurassic Park: The Ride’s $100 million price tag (and JUST for the ride mind you, that doesn’t even cover the rest of area) and compare that to the $256 million it cost to create the entirety of Hogsmeade. (that’s the Hogwarts ride, the area- everything.)  The thought was that Universal felt they were losing money in the JP area. By not having a new film or any new interest there was no point in the island. They could easily dismantle it and fit several cheaper rides in that area which would a.) bring in more guests, and b.) save them money in the long run.

A lot of fans have wondered why not just “fix” the problems with the River Adventure? Well, it kind of goes back to the price tag. The cost to completely rip out the existing mechanics of the current ride and replace them, or to add anything new is theorized by some to be “too much” for Universal. So while it’d be amazing for them to not only update their animatronics but perhaps update some of the dinos with more film accurate molds (I.E- like the stegos we see at Universal Singapore) overall it’d be easier  and more cost efficient to rip it all out and replace it with a newer, cheaper ride.

So why not replace it with a new Jurassic Park ride? Two theorized reasons:  One being contract stipulations with Spielberg possibly.  And two being that before 2015 Universal felt that there was no real interest in Jurassic Park as a brand anymore. No film, and not a lot of new merch meant that Jurassic Park was going extinct.

Now that there IS a new record breaking film (and let us not skim over the fact that the very limited 3D re-release of the original film tacked on an EXTRA $45 million)why don’t they build something new? And THAT dear readers is the ultimate question.  Luckily because I have nothing else to do with my free time, I have some thoughts on the matter.

 

 

The original ride, which first opened at Universal Hollywood took five years to develop and cost $100 million. That’s more than the actual movie itself. But the ride was a mega hit, and Universal quickly gravitated to copying and theming one of their islands at IoA around Jurassic Park. When IoA opened, once again Universal had a mega hit. Not only was there the ride but there was the Trike Encounter, the Discover Center, and Camp Jurassic with Pteronodon Flyers. Now, remember that little “Jeep Safari” tag on the model I mentioned earlier? Apparently it’s always been there.  Rumor has it that there was a “phase 2” prepared for the Jurassic Park area. In Jurassic World Claire Dearing says “The park needs a new attraction every few years in order to reinvigorate the public’s interest.” That was the idea here. Universal had plans on future rides happening because JP was so popular. The Lost World had just been released and there were already rumbles of Jurassic 3 in the near future. JP was a hot franchise. While spacing and land had always been an issue for Universal, they had specifically spaced out several parts to build on eventually.

Then11892202_1454710778189750_1240067115970479703_n came and went Jurassic Park 3, as well as all the plans Universal had for their Jeep Ride at the time. From what I’ve gathered it’s officially unknown as to exactly why it was fully scrapped but some theorize it was due to a number of reasons, the main one being that Universal feared that the Jeep Safari would have been too similar to Disney’s Countdown to Extinction/Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom.

Apart from the concept sketches of the ride not a lot is known about it other than the fact that it basically would have been a vehicle tour (like in the first film) that followed a similar plot to the River Adventure- everything is nice and calm until the final moments and you have to escape. A secondary theory I have about this ride pertains to another hidden Easter egg in the JP

Discovery Center. On the bottom floor there is a mural that crosses over the entire wall. On that mural (as well as the corresponding mural upstairs) every single species of dinosaur/prehistoric animal that is on there is represented… except for two.

One being these guys:

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Yeah. That’s right, Carnotaurus. Keep in mind that this area was being developed around the time that The Lost World was in production, and Michael Crichton’s book was being written. It’s long been thought that carnos were originally supposed to be in the film adaptation of TLW (like they were in the book) but were scrapped. My theory is Universal liked the animals, and wanted to use them in the Jeep ride eventually. But because a.) they weren’t in the films and b.) because of Disney’s use of those specific dinosaurs they didn’t use them.

 

The second animal not represented is this guy:

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Elasmosaurus. Not this is interesting because I’m not sure where it may have fit- but it’s a fun little find no matter what and makes me wonder if Universal had originally intended on having an animatronic Elasmo neck and head in their lagoon near JP.

All that being said, I want to give a shout out to current Universal character actors in the JP Discovery Center- I always ask them about these creatures and where they are in the park whenever I visit, and I always get really unique and interesting answers from each of them.

 

In-between the Jeep Safari being scrapped and 2013 there was rumors of another new ride being developed. It was supposed to take place in the mines on the island and while you were going about, raptors had also escaped and start attacking. Basically along the lines of The Mummy ride, but  Jurassic themed. Your cart would start in the open, then go through dark tunnels. During that transition though scratches and dents would appear on your6 cart after it had been in the dark or exposed to special kinds of light.

 

 

It’s also important to note that for a short span in the late ’00’s Universal reopened the Trike Encounter, but only seasonally- during the winter months.  They only did this for about two years though and then announced its closure forever.

Once Universal obtained the rights to create their Harry Potter world though is when a lot of fans of JP started becoming a little nervous. The new island would mean creeping in to some of the land that was specifically set aside for an addition to Jurassic Park and for many that signaled that perhaps Universal really didn’t care about Jurassic anymore. Slap on top the removal of one of JP’s main gates and the construction of Kong: Skull Island (which, oddly enough, is incredibly reminiscent of the scrapped Jeep Safari ride) fans were really starting to feel their paradise get smaller. No matter the fact that Kong too has dinosaurs… it’s just not Jurassic Park.

 

As it stands there are now two areas in the Jurassic Park area that currently have nothing in them. One by the Discovery Center, and the other is the entire rest of what used to be the Trike Encounter.

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While the area by the Discovery Center is seemingly small, it is feasible that something could indeed fit down there.  And where the Trike Encounter was is indeed large enough to fit something new.

I admit though that it becomes disheartening when seemingly everything else gets the attention you wish your favorite properties did. Universal Orlando is opening their Jimmy Fallon ride, Volcano Bay this summer, and their currently constructing their Fast and Furious ride. They’re also set to build and open their Nintendo Land  by 2020, and there are rumors of even more in store for Harry Potter, not to mention they also  purchased 450 acres of land to build on recently. That is all well and good, but what about Jurassic Park? When, if ever, will we see anything new?  That’s the question. I honestly think it would be unwise of Universal not to have something planned or be currently planning something. While I praise the work that Universal Creative does all around, and am thankful for the experience we already have- when compared to what Universal Japan has been doing, I don’t understand why we don’t have that here in the states.

Take a look at what is at Jurassic Park Japan:

 

 

 

The Raptor Encounter is hella cool, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we have that! But why stop there?  I am sure the reason we don’t have these things boils down to costs, but the question I reiterate is- obviously Jurassic Park has pull, so why doesn’t Universal exploit that more? The movies make ridiculous amounts of money, and the current Jurassic World traveling exhibit is doing real well! So why such an absence of anything new at the parks? Even if it’s little things like trying to fit a mold of a trike from the closed encounter on the

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Art by Joshua Malone, inspired by new research on psittacosaur and their appearance in the Jurassic Park River Adventure 

Ride as an easter egg, or updating the look of the Psittacosaurus , or having a special screening event, or… well, anything?

 

 

In 2018 we have “Jurassic World 2” on the way, and Universal just recently announced they are re-releasing Jurassic Park once again next year in honor of it’s 25th anniversary. I’ll be really curious if Universal will announce something this year or next to coincide with that films release.  And Jurassic World gave Universal a TON to play with. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t enjoy a gyrosphere ride through a jungle filled with dinosaurs! I’ve also heard a rumor that Universal has considered closing their current Jurassic Park area and opening a new one/Jurassic World area on a part of their new 450 acres.

I’m also really interested in the future of the River Adventure. It needs some major work, and these yearly referbs I feel like just aren’t getting the job fully done. It’s still an amazing ride, don’t get me wrong. I will love it until the day I die; not to be too cheesy but it’s special to me (as is Universal in general.) But something obviously needs to be done with it to fix it. Universal has spent so much time and effort in to creating this immersive world for you to experience at their parks, and when you’re on a ride where the animatronics flake out halfway through their routine… it ruins the illusion. At the Hollywood ride the car doesn’t even fall anymore.  I would love to see these rides restored to their full glory, but also acknowledge that for something like that to happen they would a.) have to be closed for a while and b.) Universal would have to feel like they’re getting out what they’re putting in.

 

The love for dinosaurs is… ahem, universal. I think the recent success of Jurassic World (despite if people think it is a good movie or not) proves that the franchise still has life in it yet, and that the general public craves more. Universal has a great opportunity here to take this franchise and run with it again- the ball is in their court. When I look at classic promotional videos like this:

It makes me incredibly nostalgic and giddy. They put so much care and pride into these rides/parks originally and I would love to see that come back.

 

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