Universal Studios Hollywood Shifts Up a Gear with 'Fast & Furious: Supercharged'
June 15, 2015, 12:01 AM ·
Universal Studios Hollywood wraps up the 2015 attraction debut season this month with "Fast & Furious: Supercharged," the latest addition to its historic Studio Tour.
The entrance to "Fast & Furious: Supercharged."
Fast & Furious is the first new set piece on the tour since "King Kong 360/3D" debuted in 2010. Like Kong, Fast & Furious is a screen-based attraction, and you'll use the same stereoscopic 3D glasses for this experience that you'll wear for the Kong encounter earlier on the tour. Beyond that, though, F&F very much plays like "Kong 2.0," the next version of what Universal can do with 3D on its Studio Tour.
Fast & Furious' nearly-400-foot screens are about twice the length of Kong's, making them the world's longest 3D screens, according to the park. F&F also throws in a 200-foot-long motion-based platform, with additional wind and water effects, to simulate a 120-mph chase through downtown Los Angeles.
In getting us to that chase, though, Universal shifts the focus of the Studio Tour from deconstructing the movies to reconstructing one. Up until this point, most of the Studio Tour has shown you the stories behind the movies and television shows shot on Universal's sound stages and backlot. Even the other set pieces on the tour — Earthquake, Jaws, and Kong — finish with a "reveal," where the tour guide casts aside any pretense of the encounter being a real moment to talk about how the "movie magic" was created.
As the tour nears its end, we see Dominic Toretto's iconic 1970 Dodge Charger from the Fast & Furious films parked on the backlot. But instead of playing it off as a show car from the films, our guide treats plays it straight, calling in a suspicious vehicle to park security. Moments later, a security guard interrupts the tour to report that Toretto is on the backlot and the FBI is on its way to look for him. Instead of learning about the making of the Fast & Furious films, we've driven into one.
In a twist that will be familiar to anyone who's ridden Disney's "Star Tours: The Adventures Continue," Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) next appears on screen to tell us that he's taken control of the operation from the FBI since there's a "high value witness" on our tram who must be taken to safety. We're then driven into Sullivan's garage to hide from arch-villain Owen Shaw, who's after the witness.
Here, Fast & Furious exceeds Kong once again. Both attractions need a transition to allow our eyes to adjust from the daylight in which most riders experience the tour. But while Kong just leaves us in a darkened tunnel to watch a video introduction from director Peter Jackson, Fast & Furious drives us through a practical recreation of the crew's shop, allowing us to see familiar vehicles from the films, including Hobbs' assault truck.
Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) and Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) appear on-screen to welcome us to the shop, but what's that sound in the background, and those lights we see up on the wall? As we drive into the next room we discover that, yep, there's a dance party going on — one that's immediately broken up by the arrival of the FBI.
This second scene plays on a scrim using a Pepper's Ghost-style effect to give the illusion that the stars of the movies are in the same room with us. Universal uses the same sort of technique to bring the stars of the Harry Potter films into the queue on "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," but F&F employs it on a much larger and more impressive scale.
But, of course, Fast & Furious didn't become Universal's most valuable film franchise because of its stars standing around talking. It's time to "cut to the chase," and we soon do, driving onto that motion base and between those massive 3D screens for our climatic battle with Shaw (Luke Evans).
Unlike Kong, there's no obvious focal point here, as there are so many heroes to follow in this chase. Dom (Vin Diesel) is slamming his Charger into Shaw's truck on one side of the screen, while Roman's engaging Shaw's henchmen on the other. Soon, Roman and Letty are hooking our tram up to their trucks, and helicopters are firing missiles at us from both sides.
Like "Disneyland Forever," Fast & Furious immerses you in so much visual information, from so many angles, that you'll need to ride it multiple times to take in it all. (I rode once during a media preview on Friday afternoon, and again for an annual passholder preview on Saturday morning.)
If there's a knock to be made on this show, it's probably Universal's decision to set it during daytime. Yes, that provides continuity with the rest of the Studio Tour, which plays to almost all its guests during daylight hours. (Universal has started testing a nighttime version of the tour, which will have a limited run this summer.) But daylight is not always CGI's friend. On Fast & Furious: Supercharged, we're not watching a live-action stunt sequence shot in downtown LA — a 3D version of the sort of set piece we'd see in one of the films. We're watching a CGI version of a chase, which the actors played in front of a green screen.
Kong looks realistic because we're watching characters we know only as CGI creations, fighting in a dimly lit jungle setting. But a CGI version of the familiar real-life stars and cars of Fast & Furious, in bright daylight, takes us a step toward video game territory, visually. A darker, nighttime setting might have hidden some of CGI's limitations in creating more convincingly realistic imagery.
Ultimately, though, Fast & Furious: Supercharged delivers one helluva ride. Packed with fast cars, big wrecks, and even bigger explosions, this Fast & Furious delivers exactly what fans love about the movies that inspired it. Sure, it's fun to learn the stories behind the movies. But with Fast & Furious: Supercharged, Universal shows us that it's even more fun to become part of the story within one.
Here's one of the better on-ride videos of Fast & Furious: Supercharged that we've seen:
Universal Studios Hollywood will hold a red carpet ceremony for Fast & Furious: Supercharged on June 23, followed by its official opening to the public on June 25.
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