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What's your favorite format for theme park movie attractions?

May 11, 2017, 10:49 AM · Screen media provide such a powerful and flexible tool for theme park storytelling that they're not going away anytime soon. I have a theory that the current online backlash against screen media in theme parks started as a campaign by Disney fans to discredit what they saw as a medium used more by arch rival Universal than by Disney. (That's why attractions such as Kong and Fallon drew immediate complaints from those fans, but stuff such as the new Soarin' and Flight of Passage generally got a pass.)

But I don't think that all complaints about screen media can be dismissed as Disney fanboy bluster. Many theme park fans simply can't see 3D media as its creators designed. And many other fans are nauseated by the disconnect between the physical motion on a ride and the action they are watching on its screen, which too often does not sync perfectly. That's one of the reasons why I was so enthusiastic about virtual reality on roller coasters, because synching the VR action with the coaster track forces filmmakers to obey the laws of physics with the camera's POV in a way that they often don't on simulator, 4D, and even traditional theater films.

So while I think any campaign to purge screen media from theme parks is silly, I do agree that people have legit beef with certain formats of screen media and the way that they are employed within theme park attractions. In my Orange County Register column this week, I make a case for why I prefer 4K media over 3D films in theme park attractions. The high definition of 4K allows filmmakers to create more convincing and engaging visual environments, supporting more robust storytelling, while 3D too often is used as a gimmick to hurl junk at a screen. The 3D glasses often darken and narrow what riders see... if they can see the 3D come together properly at all.

I'm especially over 4D theaters, which too often ignore narrative to employ the full litany of 3D gimmicks, while assaulting the audience with wind, water and shaking elements that were surprising the first time we experienced them, but grew stale faster than a collection of Dad jokes.

That said, some people love 3D, otherwise parks wouldn't keep running those shows. And for kids who've never been in a 4D theater before, it's amazing. So I recognize that mine is just one person's opinion, and that others can differ.

What's your take on theme park screen media? What's the format you most like to see?


What's your favorite (or least favorite) theme park screen show or ride?

Read Robert's column:

Replies (22)

May 11, 2017 at 11:19 AM · When a 3D screen is implemented well, in a ride, it works brilliantly, but a ride should never rely solely on that tech. I don't count 4D, as it's now an experience that you can have at your local cinema. I've yet to see 4K, so I can't really comment on that. So, 3D would be my pick. As for favourite show or ride, well it's a predictable one, but I have to say Spider-Man for all of the reasons that any fan will already know.
May 11, 2017 at 11:56 AM · I'm not against the use of screens in rides. The use of them is amazing in rides like Mummy, or the Harry Potter ones. My problem is with rides that use too many screens, and no other elements. Like 'Kong', for example. I think it'd be a much better ride if they had mixed plants and other elements with the screens.
May 11, 2017 at 11:50 AM · 3D doesn't work for me. My eyes can never come to focus. I usually see two of every object. I would say 3D has definitely improved over the years, however I still see double images. I personally would hope 4K gets utilized more since everyone can enjoy the attraction. 3D based rides push out at least a small percentage of riders.
May 11, 2017 at 12:31 PM · I am so over putting on those 3D glasses!
May 11, 2017 at 12:55 PM · There is no automatic cutoff of the type of screen based attraction. It seems like the traditional 3D attractions are less interesting and are slowly being replaced. California Adventure replaced Bug's Life and Muppets for 3D movie previews while Disney World still shows the original 3D films. Soarin' is doing quite well with digital 4K projection. Pairing a ride with screens seem to have a better result with more repeatability. As for whether a ride should have 4K versus 3D, again it depends on how well both turn out. Frankly, I do think Indiana Jones Adventure can benefit from screens. IJA doesn't really hold up so well. It needs more visual scares.
May 11, 2017 at 1:04 PM · I didn't vote. I don't think it's preferring a type of media above another but how it's incorporated. Spiderman is, for me, the best dark ride in the world. It uses 3D screens and 4D effects but there is so much more that is in perfect sync. The same goes for Gringotts. Even Terminator, as a show, does a great job. But I hate Minions. That shouldn't have been a 3D simulator. Non human characters are best done practical. The 4D movies at all the Disney parks are another lackluster affair. I'd love to see the muppets for real and not on a screen. That sad Captain EO was perfect (for it's time).
So it's not the projection but what the ride wants you to experience and how everything (not just the screen) is used.
May 11, 2017 at 1:14 PM · This is really a loaded question. 4K is a resolution, while 3D and "4D" are presentation techniques. You can have all three in the same presentation with 4K projectors providing 3D images with 4D effects. I think all parks should consider upgrading their projection technology to 4K, because it is vastly superior, particularly on larger screens. What's the worst is when an attraction has 4K projectors mixed in with older HD projectors that are so obviously inferior.
May 11, 2017 at 4:36 PM · None of the above. I prefer real sets where the narrative can be supported by the judicious use of screens. For screen watching in a theater or mostly stationary ride vehicle, I can go to the local cinema. In a theme park, an attraction full of screens is usually a crutch for cheap and lazy design.

Robert, please stop carrying water for Universal. Disney fans (not the derisive "fanboys" term you pejoratively use) are not trying to discredit Universal in some kind of absurd conspiracy theory. How can Disney "fanboys" be giving a pass on Pandora's Flight of the Passage when we haven't even experienced or seen the ride yet? Many theme park fans on various boards have posted they believe Universal was heading in the right direction with the Harry Potter lands, but have moved backwards with all the screen based attractions. At the same time, Disney is moving away from screen based theater-style attractions such as Muppets and HISTA. If Universal keeps down this path then they'll find themselves in the same hole as SeaWorld behind the curve of what the public wants. You can evade reality and pretend the backlash is a conspiracy, or blame the audience for not being sufficiently obeisant to screen-based attractions, or, maybe, listen to the fans.

May 11, 2017 at 10:51 PM · As the three options are not mutually exclusive, I will change the question to this: Glasses or No Glasses? For me, unless the attraction would not work without 3D or 4D effects, I much prefer regular projection even if the resolution isn't 4K. While I don't have a problem with 3D images, as soon as the glasses go on I lose the immersion of an attraction and am reminded I'm just sitting in a moving seat while staring at a screen. Plus, now that 3D projection and 4D effects have become common at regular movie theaters (and even in some home systems), the novelty just isn't there anymore. 10-15 years ago, it was worth the investment, but now I'd rather parks focus more on the overall attraction and less on how fancy the digital visual aspects are.
May 11, 2017 at 11:53 PM · Theme park attractions are much more about effect than about narrative. Walt intuitively understood that; only the Fantasyland rides had some kind of story, because they were based on his animated movies. 3D/4D creates some cool effects, and I, for one, forget all about the glasses I'm wearing. And why not convert more 3D attractions to 4K, like they did with Spiderman?

That being said, I agree with Tony Perkins above. While I enjoy many screen-based attractions, the most amazing experiences are the ones in which magic happens all around you, or somewhere in physical space.

3D can pull off some effects that are not possible in any other way. But (just to offer one example) have you seen the stunning Lumiere animatronic in Enchanted Tales with Belle? Compare that to a 3D image, even in high resolution 4K. It's no contest. There's no "how did they do that?" moment.

May 12, 2017 at 4:06 AM · Personally I blame the dislike of 3D due to the insurgence of the technology by Hollywood a few years back. You remember it well....when films were remade or "edited" just to throw the latest 3D fad at you. It saturated our local cinemas and Disney was just as guilty of making a cash grab by re-releasing classics in 3D.

I adored 3D and 4D park attractions but like the rest of the world, I tired of 3D quickly. Though I still expect a higher quality of presentation at a theme park than I do from my local cinema.

May 12, 2017 at 6:03 AM · I hear you Sarah...Hollywood went 2-3 years by doing "cheap" stereoscopic post-production conversions that were awful, and obviously just a maneuver to find a way to charge customers another $2+ for their ticket. Movies like Clash/Wrath of the Titans, Sucker Punch, Terminator: Genisys, and others gave the technology a bad name, and caused a backlash in the industry. Production studios soon learned that they simply couldn't spend a few million extra dollars on a haphazard post-production 3D conversion and watch the profits roll in. Studios are much more selective of the films that get the 3D treatment now, and effects companies that specialize in stereoscopic conversion have gotten much better. Combine that with better projection technology (4K has become pretty standard across the industry in most major markets), and the result is a much more convincing, deeper, and realistic presentation. Also, with more directors using "Red" cameras and IMAX-3D, native capture of images has significantly improved (mostly because of the success of Cameron's Avatar), meaning the post-production conversion process is much easier (usually just stereo-scoping the effects and CGI characters), and giving directors more control of how they want their works presented.

Theme parks are starting to catch onto what cinemas figured out about 5-7 years ago, and I think new attractions will reflect the dramatic improvement in projection technology. Also, as older attractions are replaced and/or upgraded, we'll see those take giant leaps as well. The Spiderman and Star Wars upgrades should be all any park operator should look at when considering the state of their ageing screen-based attractions. Any attraction not being presented in 4K should be considered a relic, and audiences should reject them, forcing park operators to replace or upgrade these outdated attractions, regardless of how old they may be.

May 12, 2017 at 8:04 AM · 3D at Universal is terrible. I rode the WWHP Hogwarts ride, it was so dark and the glasses were so uncomfortable, I couldn't really tell what was going on. I have since ridden it after they removed the 3D and you can see everything. The Minions ride is dark as well. Now for some reason Disneyland's Star Tours, and their other 4D movie previews are perfection. The lighting, and motion flow are exceptional. Universal needs to send in a spy or hire the imagineers behind the Disneyland 3D, 4D attractions.
May 12, 2017 at 9:01 AM · I like the idea of screens enhancing a ride, such as Harry Potter or the Pirates ride in Shanghai Disney. While it would be awesome for everything to be physical, it would be incredibly expensive and in some cases impossible to pull off. I love me some real sets, but can also see screens pulling off effects (like plunging under the water in Pirates Shanghai) that add to the illusion. I don't like rides that are mostly or completely screens, like Minions. I had hopes of that being a ride similar to Winnie the Pooh at Tokyo Disney, wacky and lots of animatronics, would have been amazing and something different and unique for Uni.
May 12, 2017 at 11:10 AM · When I first moved to Orlando back in 1997 I was working at UO on the IOA project. I had an apartment off Conroy rd. near the park. As soon as I had my ID and before I had made a lot of friends I would frequently hop in the car and drive over to USF just to see T2-3D.
Do you remember when that show was basically the end all be all?!? Remember how much you loved it when Kimberly Duncan got hers at the hands of the T-1000. The seamless way the actors moved on and off the screen! The jaw dropping T-1000000 that moved from one side of the stage to the other, always threatening YOU with his octopus like arms! Remember that amazing LN2 Steam blast that would fill up the entire 700 person audience and how there was ALWAYS an excited round of applause at the end of each and every show?
I used to see that show at least twice a week for years when I worked at UO. People loved it. I think from something as grand and remarkable as it came something as pedestrian and common as 3-D in the local megaplex. It's a shame, because when done right, 3-D with in theater effects can tell a really kick-ass story.
May 12, 2017 at 11:42 AM · I think Escape from Gringott's is a wonderful ride that uses 3D screens to the maximum potential.
May 12, 2017 at 1:13 PM · 3D never worked for me very well, although I have found that where you sit in the theater/ride vehicle matters a lot.

My beef with 4K or other attractions touted as "very high resolution" is that they usually aren't. Screen size matters, and a resolution that looks fantastic on your computer screen or even on a 75-inch TV starts to get fuzzy when screen size gets measured in 10-foot increments. This has been helped somewhat by the movie industry moving to digital projection and driving improvements in projector technology.

But the source material resolution matters too. Just because the projector can throw 20 thousand lines of resolution on the wall doesn't mean it's going to make a VHS tape watchable. If they cheap out on the production, a giant screen is going make it worse.

May 12, 2017 at 5:35 PM · I still love 3D movies that put objects and characters right in your face, like T2:3D and Mickey's Philharmagic. When it comes to theme park 3D, gimmicky is good. It's all about the effect. The "story" is an excuse for presenting the effect.
May 15, 2017 at 10:29 AM · Shouldn't the choices in the survey be 2D, 3D or 4D, not 4K?

4K is an image resolution, thus there can be 3D and 4D projected in 4K.

May 15, 2017 at 11:06 AM · Gary Goddard here - I'm traveling at the moment so I am not going to write as long a response as I'd like to but I'm intrigued with the discussion and what's going on here. As the creator of both T2/ 3-D and the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman dark ride attractions - among others - I can tell you the following: In every case the narrative must lead -- I always worked from the story first and THEN what is the BEST medium to get across the story - technology follows the narrative . Too many attraction designers (or owners) decide on a technology first and then try to cram the characters into it. That is how you get a crappy Iron Man ride in Hong Kong that seems not to understand the lexicon of Iton Man at all,. The other thing is pacing - just like a great movie or Broadway show - there must be pacing - anyway - it's not about technology - it's about the narrative and getting that right - and then using the right technology that is best for the story and experience. If you get that right - you will not care if it's 3D or 4D or with glasses or without ---- having said all that (and as the guy that started Universal down the projection highway) --- I would have to agree they have too many projection driven attractions. Excuse typos -- I'm traveling ----
May 15, 2017 at 2:53 PM · My vote goes for 70mm like T2.
May 17, 2017 at 9:44 PM · Great to hear from you Gary!

Ultimately, my TL;DR here is this: Nail the basics before you level up.

Get the story right before anything else. Then make sure the audience can see the screen clearly, and don't bother with 3D if that will comprise the clear communication of the story and action. And then don't bother with the 4D until you've got the 3D right.

If 3D/4D doesn't add anything to the story - or worse, 3D/4D is detracting from it - ditch it.

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