Kevin returns to Universal Studios Hollywood to see how things are going.

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: September 22, 2004 at 9:23 PM

My last couple trips to Universal Studios Hollywood weren't the most amazing theme park trips I have ever taken. In fact, I wrote a long "Fixing USH" thread - that I can't find - that was very controversial. USH has opened two new attractions and modified a third, so off I went for a day filled with second chances.

Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula
Since Revenge of the Mummy wasn't opening until 10:30, I walked straight to this attraction. I can't remember if it had a Scorpion King or straight Mummy theme before, but they all have the same roots, so who cares? Especially considering the walkthrought wasn't all that fantastic. The "scares" were anything but until the one scare actor at the end of the attraction.

Apparently Universal learned from its mistakes and improved much when it got the Van Helsing overlay. More attempted scares from inanimate objects, but most still aren't scary. But there are more scare actors this time, which really helped. They get around this by opening the attraction periodically, so the stream of visitors is more steady. Unfortunately, with so little open at 10am, when the park opened, loads of people were in this. Meaning chances of being scared by an actual living being were low.

Still, the scares increase nearer the end of the "maze" with one really excellent one right at the end. (This one is so good, they've actually padded the wall on the opposite side!) Not great but much improved. Normally I'd give this about a 6 - Fair on the TPI scale, but that last scene is so memorable I'm giving it a 7 - Good.

Shrek 4-D
Unlike Fortress Dracula, which was Universal's second chance at scaring people in that building, Shrek 4-D was me giving USH a second chance at this attraction. I have been very vocal about my dislike of this growing 4-D trend and this was the reason why.

Not that I thought Shrek 4-D was bad, it just didn't bring anything new to the genre. It just gave us more of the same. WAY MORE. And that hasn't changed. Five friggin' squirts of water! Several blasts of air! And an absolutely hyperactive chair. I hated that chair! I didn't feel like I was allowed to enjoy the film as I was constantly being assaulted by that damn chair!

That feeling didn't change this time (which was actually my THIRD time on the attraction, not my second). The first jerk of the chair is fine, but after a while it loses its punch and gets annoying. Just not as annoying as before. The story is good and the humor is there. Otherwise you couldn't get me near this thing. I give this the same exact score I gave Fortress Dracula: a 7 - Good

Revenge of the Mummy
Okay, this one wasn't a second chance for me, but for TPI, as Robert gave the official TPI review after it opened. He said the coaster produced "a level of technical sophistication not previously seen in Southern California." He ain't kidding.

Not expecting much, I was surprised at the nice bits in the queue. The writing above the video here, which actually looks carved into the wall, will surprise when it blows away like dust. The book begging you to touch it is a nice effect too. Especially in a park that hasn't cared much about detail in its queues.

Then the ride. The first part, where the apparently dead skeleton raises his head to stare at you is very well done. But it simply cannot match the follwing scene where many more spring to life as well as a multitude of hands which reach for you from the ceiling. Creepy.

Actually, there is a little scene between those two but it feature nothing more than a projected image of that dude from the movie being devoured by scarabs. Nice setup for later, but it seems to be missing something.

As does the scene following the hands. Another projected image, with Imhotep telling us to join him and all the treasure in that room would be ours. There wasn't a scene with "warriors" dropping from the ceiling, and I was expecting it here, so this must have been taken out. (Was that here or with the scarab movie?) Everyone said that was cheesy, so maybe it is a good thing. It would be nice if they could come up with something else.

Then into the final room before the launch. More Imhotep and then ZOOM. I knew the launch was coming and I was still surprised. It isn't that fast, but it does the job nicely. Then we were off through the dark with the occasional blacklit warrior image. I don't know if this effect is exactly what they were aiming for, but it isn't the scariest thing I ever saw. But I don't know what could replace this idea, so they're fine. Not as cheesy as the warriors at the beginning, I bet.

Then we hit the scarab room. This effect just isn't done well at all. Way too computery. It would work better if it wasn't so damn bright in this room.

Anyhow, off we go backwards in another surprisingly good coaster segment. This is like a smooth Space Mountain, but faster and with more airtime (at least in the back row). Then we are in the HUH? room. We see the eclipse, Imhotep freaking out, fire effects, smoke effects, and then we are back at the station. HUH? What just happened? Were we saved? Are we Imhotep's slaves? Why couldn't they just have Brendan Fraser do a voiceover telling us he defeated Imhotep or something so we could at least know what happened. And the fake station thing just does not work here, since you have to turn around to see panels and such. Lord. Fix this!

Still, that weird ending does not take away from it being a fantastic ride. I rode it four times and would have ridden it a few more later in the day, had I stayed long enough. Yeah, it's too short. Yeah, the storyline falls apart. But it is still the best indoor coaster I have ever been on, and that deserves praise. On the TPI scale, I give it a whopping 9 - Outstanding.

Studio Tour
Okay, I have actually given this one several chances. This is one of the best attractions in the world, bar none, but I feel it has had major ups and downs since installing the monitors. I still say MORE DAMN FILMS. And someone burn the ones with the "people in the fourth car." Ugh, that crap is so stoopid.

Otherwise, there seems to be so little improvisation anymore. Our guide was good, but had the most annoying voice. But he at least stayed away from some of the lines that have haunted the ride for years. Like "One time someone dressed as Mother ran out of the house brandishing a knife and scaring passengers. That person was Jim Carrey." This person is sick of that story. Exactly what does this have to do with making movies?

Those little "tidbits" have turned the Studio Tour into an elaborate Jungle Cruise, a ride you can't do very often or you'll want to slap your guides. Mid-ride! Get these people better clips, better tidbits, and make them change it up!

Like I said, ours was actually good, annoying voice and all, and bothered to tell us stuff I hadn't heard before. At least from a Studio Tour guide. Still, one of the best. I give it an 8 - Commendable. Get thee back to 9 territory!

My two pennies... Gimme yours!

Readers' Opinions

From Jason Lester on September 23, 2004 at 3:40 PM
I might go to Universal next week, and would like to ride the Mummy. Sounds awesome.
From andrew shauer on September 23, 2004 at 4:48 PM
Did it take the whole day to do these attractions? I am curious because I will be heading to Universal Hollywood durring spring break of 05 and was wondering if i would have time to do more attractions then the ones listed above.
From Kevin Baxter on September 23, 2004 at 5:09 PM
Good question... the park opened at 10am and I did these four attractions (the Mummy four times), Jurassic Park, the Sound Effects Stages, the Lucy exhibit and ate and was still done before 3pm.

I didn't do any of the shows, Back to the Future, Backdraft or T2: 3-D. There is definitely enough there to fill out a day, if you haven't done it all recently. Otherwise, you'll get bored quickly.

Anyhow, if anyone is wondering why my Mummy score is so high, don't get all pissy. The main reason I bumped it up from an 8 is because I think the ride is extremely reridable. As much as I love the Tower of Terror (original), it's just too annoying to ride very often because of the library preshow and the first shaft. That stuff gets seriously old. No part of the Mummy lasts very long so I don't think it will keep people from jumpin on it several times. That's the mark of a good ride.

From andrew shauer on September 23, 2004 at 5:34 PM
Thanks for the response. This will be my first visit and possibly only one to Univeresal Hollywood so I'm planning on doing all I can.

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