Imagine if you could cram all the action of a Transformers movie into one five-minute, 3-D package. If you tried, you wouldn't do better than Transformers: The Ride….
Transformers: The Ride is, at its core, the same type of ride as [Universal Orlando's The Amazing Adventures of] Spider-Man - motion-base ride vehicles moving through a show building where you watch action heros battle bad guys on 3-D screens embedded into the show scenes.
But Transformers takes the experience to new levels - with action that's faster, wilder and more three-dimensional than Spider-Man. When I say "three-dimensional," I don't just mean in the sense of stuff popping off the screen in front of you. I mean that Transformers makes more effective use of three-dimensional space. It's not just robots moving back and forth and side-to-side. Riding Transformers, you really get a sense of height, and the vertical scale of these multi-story Autobots and Decepticons fighting in front you.
You can read the whole thing if you want more on the ride itself. And if you're looking for spoilers, look no further than my interview with the man who designed the ride (as well as Spider-Man and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey), Universal Creative's Thierry Coup.
But long-time readers of Theme Park Insider have read all that before. Let's get to the fresh question: How does Transformers: The Ride 3D fit in Universal Studios Hollywood?
Transformers essentially replaces Backdraft, a fire effects show that long ago had ceased being an effective attendance draw for the park. The Lower Lot soundstage that houses Transformers also used to be home to Special Effects Stages, but that show's found new life in a much-improved form in the Castle Theater on the Upper Lot, so the additional of Transformers to the park turned out to be a plus for that show, as well.
With Transformers, Universal Studios Hollywood now offers two of the world's best 3D attractions, joining the Studio Tour's King Kong 360:3-D. Personally, Transformers is my third-favorite ride in the world at this point, behind Harry Potter and Tokyo DisneySea's Journey to the Center of the Earth. Yes, that makes Transformers my favorite ride in Southern California right now, the first time I've said that about any ride outside the Disneyland Resort.
If there's a knock to be made on Transformers, it's that it continues USH's tradition of stranding its attractions without themed lands to "set the stage" for these shows. The fix to that problem is one of the many things I loved about Universal Studios Singapore. There, Universal created themed environments for each of its attractions: a well-themed, immersive Egypt for Revenge of the Mummy and a Far, Far Away for Shrek, in addition to full lands for Madagascar and Jurassic Park.
The Singapore Transformers calls Sci-Fi City home. That urban setting works as the hidden-in-plain-sight NEST headquarters, tucked inside the corner on a city street. In Hollywood, there's no attempt at setting the stage for this show. There's a huge soundstage at the end of the street. Walk in, and boom, you're in NEST. My son, who's a huge Transformers fan, said that even though he loved the ride, he still prefers Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey as his all-time favorite ride - simply because of the far better exterior set-up for that attraction. I agree.
Note that in Hollywood, where the ride is announced with a giant, two-dimensional mural, Universal's appended the "3D" to the title of the ride. It doesn't that extra "3D" on the sign in Singapore, where a three-dimensional Bumblebee greets visitors from atop the ride's marquee. As they say in journalism school - show, don't tell.
But that's nit-picking. That we're discussion Transformers' place among the very top rides in the world should say it all. Once you're on board, the ride's the same in both Hollywood and Singapore, and equally amazing (sorry to borrow your word, Spidey) in each. And a 20-minute drive sure beats a 20-hour flight when I want to experience it again.
So let's talk business. Universal's the third-most popular park in Southern California, trailing Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. Can Transformers help Universal close that gap?
From the time I've spent in each of the three parks, my impression is that USH relies on a higher percentage of foreign and out-of-town visitors than either of the Disney theme parks, which have a huge local base of hundreds of thousands of annual passholders. It's not the Universal hasn't tried to court locals. It's "buy a day, get the year free" plan nets Southern California residents an annual pass for just $77 - $122 less than Disney's cheapest annual pass, and with 147 fewer blockout days. (Universal's pass is good only until the end of 2012, and not for a full 12 months, but that Universal pass bought today still gets you in the park for more days than Disney's ticket.)
Universal had offered to let local bloggers in for a preview day on Transformers, but then said that it would leave preview tickets at Will Call on a day of our choosing instead. When I showed up Sunday morning, no one at Will Call knew what the heck I was talking about, so I went ahead bought the $77 annual pass tickets for me and my son instead. The ride was in "technical rehearsal" (i.e. soft opening), so we got on anyway, with no wait. And then, we went around and got on again.
The last time I bought the "buy a day, get the year free" deal, I have to fess up that I never came back for the second day. Once I'd done everything in the park on my first day, I just didn't feel the need to come back and experience anything again that year (outside of covering media events at the park, of course).
But now, with Transformers in the mix? Brian's already asking when we can come back again. And I can't wait to ride again, either. With these tickets in hand, Transformers might help make Universal Studios Hollywood the best theme park deal in Southern California.
Transformers: The Ride 3D opens officially on May 25. For more coverage of Transformers: The Ride, take a look at
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