Fast & Furious Supercharged tonight, bringing stars Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, and Ludacris on stage to christen Universal Studios Florida's newest ride.Universal Orlando threw its grand opening party for
It's the latest instance of Universal creating a stand-alone attraction around an encounter from Universal Studios Hollywood's Studio Tour, something the Florida resort has been doing since it opened in 1990. (See Jaws, Earthquake, Kongfrontation, and then Kong v2.0.) In each case, Universal plusses the experience in order to give it the entertainment weight to stand alone, and Fast & Furious Supercharged is no exception.
Here, fans walk through the garage where (Vin Diesel's) Domenic Toretto and his gang/family prep and maintain their street-racing cars before going through two pre-shows, in the family break room and (Ludacris') Tej's "war room," on their way to boarding the "party buses" that stand in for Hollywood's backlot trams.
Fast & Furious Supercharged plays in the space formerly occupied by Disaster and Earthquake in the San Francisco land of the park, so Universal has changed the setting of the attraction here to the Bay Area, from Hollywood's Los Angeles. Universal's also ditched the 3D of the Hollywood production for a brighter, high-frame rate 2D projection here, which I found superior to Hollywood's. (Here is the team from Universal Creative discussing the making of the ride, before the premiere this evening.)
Fast & Furious is one of the top 10 highest-grossing franchises in film history, trailing Marvel, Star Wars, JK Rowling's Wizarding World, DC Comics, James Bond, and JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth. (And coming in ahead of Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Hunger Games, though Jurassic Park will be reclaiming its spot in the Top 10 this summer.) But none of those franchises has so consistently given leading roles to people of color.
Yes, the Fast & Furious franchise stands for fast cars and set pieces with incomprehensible stunt driving. But a lot of movies have served that formula over the years and hadn't enjoyed the same financial success. Fast & Furious resonates because it also tells stories that some audiences weren't hearing from major studio productions — at least, not about them. Strip away the cars, and Fast & Furious is a redemption story about society's cast-offs who come together to find success as an unconventional family. For a lot of Americans who until recently haven't seen a lot of people who look like them up on the big screen, that resonates.
And, oh yeah, car chases are cool, too.
With a huge queue and multiple pre-shows to work with, Universal smartly played up the family theme here, in a way that it could not in Hollywood, where Fast & Furious Supercharged closes the Studio Tour. The first pre-show in Orlando, in the "family" break room of the garage, allows Jordana Brewster's Mia Toretto to deliver to visitors an on-screen speech about the importance of family in the Fast franchise, inviting visitors to look at the photos of the various franchise characters in the room, including the late Paul Walker's Brian O'Conner — Mia's boyfriend, Domenic's one-time adversary and later best friend, and ultimately, the father of Mia's child.
But while Fast & Furious addresses family and relationships, it never lets thinking about them stand in the way of big set piece. And so, here, we must move on to the waiting chase. Conflict drives stories such as these, and Universal has subtlety changed the precipitating conflict from the Hollywood version. There, Domenic Toretto remained the outcast "bad guy" from the early Fast films — wanted by the FBI and sighted on the Universal backlot. Here, the FBI is coming to raid the garage, but for what reason the ride never exactly makes clear.
Conflicts in the Fast universe have more layers than Shrek's onion. Yes, the FBI is after the family. But the family also serves another government agency, the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service. And the DSS is protecting a "high value" witness... who just so happens to be on our party bus. And, oh yeah, arch-nemesis Owen Shaw is after that witness and following the FBI to our location.
Which all sets up the chase. Projected on screens on either side of the ride vehicle, Fast & Furious Supercharged, like its sibling Skull Island: Reign of Kong, throws more visual detail than you possibly could take in with just one ride through the attraction. Universal uses fog and wind effects to help simulate the rush of driving more than 100 mph on the bus, which is towed by a couple of Turbo Trucks on the screens. Guns blare, cars flip, missile-armed drones fly in, and the effect of G-forces on the human body takes some time off to enjoy the spectacle with the rest of us.
Sure, it's cheesy and it's even harder to see from seats in the middle of the bus. (The best seats are on the far right side, given to the first person assigned to each row at the load platform.) But anyone wishing that Universal had taken a practical approach to Fast & Furious ought to be careful what they wish for. Remember, Supercharged is the second Fast & Furious encounter on the Hollywood Studio Tour, following a practical set inspired by the
second third Fast & Furious movie, Tokyo Drift. For that, Universal mounted two street race cars on robots arms to simulate drifting. The "dancing cars" weren't the least bit convincing as racers, and the sooner we all forget that encounter ever happened, the better we all shall be for it.
What about "real" stunt cars, you say? Disney just closed that attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Universal isn't about to invest one of its top franchises in a concept that its biggest rival couldn't make work anymore.
No, Fast & Furious needs its stars as well as its cars, and that means a screen-based attraction. Universal Creative announced tonight that Fast & Furious Supercharged will open with Universal Studios Beijing, too, so it's clearly happy with this concept.
And I am, too. Yes, I wish that Universal had put us on a roofless party bus, so we all could enjoy a better view of the action surrounding us. But Supercharged otherwise delivers the wild fun of a Fast & Furious movie... not to mention the chance to ogle some sweet machines at the start of the attraction. No, this isn't Universal's best work. But it's good work, and it provides a much-needed theme park home in Orlando to franchise that most certainly deserves that.Tweet
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