Update on the Universal Orlando/Transformers rumors
Published: June 18, 2012 at 10:00 AM
- Universal appears to be demolishing Soundstage 44 at Universal Studios Florida, the former home of the Xena and Murder, She Wrote attractions. Sources on the ground in Orlando report having seen height-test balloons on that site last week, rising to or above the height of the tallest New York area facades.
- Universal has filed multiple building permits for a new attraction facility in the Universal Studios Florida theme park, apparently on the Soundstage 44 site.
- Whatever this project is, it has happened *fast*, with a swift selection of contractor and a fast-track mandate from Universal.
- Halloween Horror Nights had planned to use Soundstage 44, and would have to change its designs at this late date if Soundstage 44 were unavailable, as it looks to be.
- The size of the Soundstage 44 lot in Universal Studios Florida, at the heights flown by the test balloons, appears to roughly match the dimensions of the Transformers building at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Singapore.
- Universal Creative's Thierry Coup last December in Singapore denied plans to bring Transformers to Orlando, saying that Orlando already had a motion-base ride in Spider-Man, and that Universal wanted to build different types of experiences with new rides at each resort, not duplicative ones.
- Universal just launched an high-def upgrade to the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction, using the same project system as on Transformers.
I offer the next two facts as potentially relevant context:
- Disney had a huge, huge hit with Avengers, and is accelerating plans to get attractions based on Marvel characters in its theme parks.
- Disney can't use Marvel characters inside the Walt Disney World theme parks - its most popular, flagship resort - due to Universal owning the exclusive theme park rights to the Marvel characters within several hundred miles of Central Florida.
And now, please keep your hands and arms inside the blog post at all times, and buckle your seat belts, because we're going for a ride through the Wonderful World of Speculation.
The situation with Halloween Horror Nights convinces me that something big happened here very suddenly. If Universal had had plans to tear down Soundstage 44 this summer, it never would have green-lit a HHN facility in that space. That suggests that the decision to do something else with 44 came after HHN had been given the go-ahead to use it.
I'm fully aware that theme park designers and spokespersons can be, shall we say, less than forthcoming about their theme parks' future plans. But Coup's didn't simply dodge the question about Transformers in Orlando. He offered a well-reasoned explanation why they wouldn't do that.
So I'm going to assume that, as of last December, Universal really didn't have any plans to bring Transformers to Orlando. And that it was planning to have Spider-Man be its motion-base ride in Orlando for years to come, investing in a big upgrade. And that, as of last fall, Universal didn't have any plans to tear down Soundstage 44, either.
Setting aside Transformers for a moment, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume that whatever Universal's planning for the 44 space, it's facing a hard deadline to get it built, one that pre-empts the need to use the space for HHN. And that that hard deadline was set recently, perhaps within the last few weeks and certainly within the last few months.
What could have happened to create this hard deadline so suddenly? That's the interesting question I want to explore.
Rereading what Coup told me from another perspective, I see a heartfelt argument for including a motion-base 3D ride at each of Universal's theme park resorts. Orlando and Japan had Spier-Man. So Singapore and Hollywood needed one, too, and got Transformers. But what if something were to happen that would force Universal to remove one of those rides? Coup just spoke of how important they were. Wouldn't Universal want to replace it?
Fans long have speculated that if Universal were to sell the Marvel theme park rights to Disney, it would simply convert Spider-Man to Transformers. But Transformers plays in a much different show building than Spider-Man. And a replacement would require an extended downtime, especially considering the need to reconstruct the show building to fit Transformers' vertical orientation. Universal wouldn't want to be without its signature ride system at its flagship resort for more than a year, possibly two, while that changeover took place.
So if Universal ever were to bring Transformers to Orlando, it wouldn't go in Spider-Man's place. It would go in someplace else at the resort. And if Transformers were to replace Spider-Man, instead of just supplementing it, Universal would want Transformers open before Spider-Man closed.
At this point, based on what I've seen from multiple sources, I believe that Transformers *is* coming to Orlando. But why the rush?
Here's where I'm much less confident, but see an explanation that makes logical sense. What if Disney, flush with cash from Avengers and desperate to bring Marvel into its Orlando theme parks, made Universal a massive offer - so large that Universal couldn't afford to refuse? Universal would want Transformers at the Universal Orlando Resort to replace Spider-Man ASAP, even if that meant blowing up existing operational plans.
Disney executives have said that they are accelerating plans to get Marvel in their theme parks. Universal is rushing now to build something that sure looks like Transformers in Orlando.
Maybe there's another explanation for Universal's haste on the Soundstage 44 project. As I said, while I believe Transformers is coming to Orlando, I'm less confident about the Disney/Marvel angle. The apparent decision to put Transformers in USF instead of IOA could suggest that Universal intends Transformers as a supplement to Spider-Man in the other park. But if that's the case, why the rush? Why not wait until November to begin construction, after HHN and the busy summer season? I don't have explanation for that. Maybe someone else will.
The confluence of events here fits together so well logically that I think it's worth bringing up for discussion, in the hope that knowledgeable sources on the ground in Orlando might see fit to show/tell/leak us some additional information that provides us a definitive explanation.