The hugely popular Transformers 3D ride that makes passengers feel like they've been dropped into the middle of a long, loud movie chase scene at Universal Studios in Hollywood is being replicated in Orlando, opening in June, the park announced Thursday.
The innovative attraction, estimated to cost about $100 million by industry analysts, has been declared a game changer in the theme park business and credited with elevating Universal's revenues with higher attendance. It makes use of 3-D and flight simulator technologies to immerse passengers in an intense story line — a chase with Megatron where they feel wind, heat and water and smell smoke as they swerve and soar through downtown Chicago.
Los Angeles Times reviewer Brady MacDonald ranked the "state-of-the-art marvel" as one of the three best rides in the world (behind the Harry Potter ride at No. 1 and then Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure). He compared it to Disney's Star Wars-themed Star Tours ride, but found Transformers to be "far more immersive and engaging."
By making an identical ride three times, the Florida version, which is now under construction, will be finished in just a year, compared to the three years it took in California and Singapore, said Thierry Coup, senior vice president of the Universal's Creative Studio, in a phone interview Wednesday.
Like the successful Harry Potter minipark at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, visitors feel as if they've been dropped into a movie. But the ride adds the other senses and trickery to the mix.
With wait times of 60 to 90 minutes at the California ride, reviewers have praised Universal for its engaging interactive queue, which they call a pre-show. The park also offers express passes that start at $19.99 to skip the line.
Using 3D images to create a tangible foreground, curved screens and other effects mask the distance between the rider and the props. There's even a trick of the mind where the riders have no idea they've just gone up an elevator to the second floor.
"(In California) our big challenge was it was a tight footprint so we needed 60,000 square feet but only had 30,000, so we didn't want guests to know they are going up in an elevator," Coup said. "They are going up but think they are going forward racing down the street with Optimus Prime."
The Transformers ride could easily increase attendance by 10 to 12 percent, said Dennis Speigel, theme park expert and president of Cincinnati-based International Theme Park Services Inc. That's three times the normal jump theme parks get from a new ride, he said.
The estimated $90 million to $110 million price tag puts the ride at the high end of theme park rides, but not unheard of, Spiegel said. The new Snow White-themed ride in the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion is estimated at $50 million and the featured ride in Disneyland's lauded Cars Land expansion cost more than $100 million, he said.
Parent company Comcast Corp. said in August in a report on companywide second-quarter earnings that revenue at Universal Parks & Resorts climbed 3.4 percent and operating cash flow — a measure of profitability — rose 4.2 percent to $235 million. Comcast said the increase came largely from its theme parks. Universal Orlando, the company's largest and most profitable resort, continues to benefit from interest in its 2-year-old Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And attendance also jumped at Universal Studios Hollywood, fueled by the May opening of Transformers.
Universal worked closely with Michael Bay, the director of the Tranformers film series as the ride's creative consultant.
Like Bay's movies, the ride has the metal-crunching slow-motion whirl of explosive action at key points, along with his tendency to amp up the mayhem using lifelike high-definition 3-D technology.
The Transformers toy line began in 1984 along with a TV cartoon series and Marvel comic book series about two warring alien robot factions — the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons — that can disguise themselves by transforming into cars, weapons and beasts.
The film series, begun in 2007, is the fourth highest-grossing per-film series, behind the The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.
The ride is near the New York City alleys of the park, next to the lagoon at what was previously Soundstage 44, which housed several shows over the years and was used for Halloween Horror Nights in recent years.
The ride is expected to be a huge boost for Universal Studios, which has been overshadowed by its sister park Islands of Adventure, home to Harry Potter and the popular Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk roller coasters.
"They need some dynamics on that side of the park," said Speigel. The analyst noted that theme parks are in a virtual arms race to wow visitors these days.
"Where they used to put in just one ride, now they are spending more money, taking up a larger area, giving guests a greater experience and having more to market," Speigel said.
For the consumer "it may cost them more money but it gives them a better, more well-rounded product."
Coup, who is a filmmaker by trade before his career of creating theme park attractions for Universal, is best known for pushing the envelope in the design of the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride and as the creator of Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey.
"As filmmakers, we are always frustrated that we can't take our viewers right into the film," Coup said. "We think about the camera all the time. In this, your guests become the camera. You've placed yourself in the movie."