Amid the initial negative response to Universal Studios Florida’s 2018 addition, Fast & Furious: Supercharged, one theme park consultant had a markedly different take.
“It’s a home run,” Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, told Orlando Rising in May 2018.
A year later, he’s making a change on his scorecard.
“I think it’s a double,” Speigel said in a recent phone interview.
That’s more charitable than many others in theme park world. Orlando Weekly called it “Universal’s biggest misstep of the decade.” A review from Orlando Park Pass praised the queue, but called the animation “awful” and entire experience “lackluster.” Reader surveys on Touring Plans gave the ride three out of five stars, with the site’s description saying the “dialogue and visual effects are shockingly cheesy (even by theme park standards).”
Speigel thinks it didn’t live up to its publicity or deliver on the high octane excitement fans of the films expected. Fans also noticed how similar the ride experience was to 2016’s Skull Island: Reign of Kong, another attraction adapted from parts of Universal Hollywood’s Studio Tour.
“When you have something like this, that you spent tens and tens of millions of dollars on, it makes you think that just because we have a great film franchise, unless we deliver it to the guests in a manner that excites them and that they expect, it may not be good,” Speigel said. “It’s like a movie. You can have all the best actors in the world, if you have a lousy script, it just doesn’t work.”
With a year of steady operation to examine, Universal is certainly aware if guests aren’t satisfied with the ride. For guests unfamiliar with Universal’s new offerings, their travel agents aren’t exactly singing its praises either.
“I think it’s the worst ride ever personally, but I leave my clients to decide their opinion for themselves,” Michelle Fletcher Bulmer, co-owner of Mouse & Muggle Travel Company, told Orlando Rising. “If asked my opinion, I say skip it if you’re short on time.”
Publicly, Universal has not mentioned any plans to change the attraction.
“Many of our guests have told us they are excited by the story, the characters, the authenticity and the chance for their family to join the Fast family and crew,” Universal Orlando spokesperson Tom Schroeder told Orlando Rising. “That speaks for itself.”
No easy fix
Despite its public statement of confidence, there have been rumblings that Universal has technology to enhance the ride. A recent story from Richard Bilbao of the Orlando Business Journal suggested a recent Universal patent to simulate higher speeds via projections when a ride vehicle is actually slowing down or changing course could be applied to Fast 7 Furious: Supercharged — or future Nintendo attractions like Mario Kart.
Otherwise, Universal’s options are limited. Once guests are on the ride vehicles, the footage seen is largely the same as what was debuted on Universal Hollywood’s Studio Tour version in 2015. Shooting new scenes with actors like Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson would likely be prohibitively expensive.
With the financial and creative resources needed to create an attraction in a Universal or Disney park, there are few instances where rides are such flops that they’re substantially altered within their first year of operation.
One exception from Universal’s past is the original version of Poseidon’s Fury at the neighboring Islands of Adventure, which underwent major story changes after its first year. Even then, Universal went with the cost-effective fix, maintaining the original show’s effects while altering the script and reshooting scenes for the attraction’s climactic battle.
Possibly the only modern theme park ride to permanently close in less than a year was Superstar Limo, an opening day attraction at Disney California Adventure which lasted from February 2001 to January 2002. While Fast & Furious: Supercharged isn’t in such dire straits, its issues aren’t easily remedied.
“When you’re dealing with the kinds of mechanisms, like film, that they’re dealing with, it’s not just something they can go in and tweak,” Speigel said. “It’s conceptual, not just content.”
Speigel made the comparison to SeaWorld Orlando’s Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins attraction, saying despite its similarly mixed reception, the ride is still operating. Because of Universal’s stature as a destination resort, one bad attraction “won’t ruin the day” for guests or have the impact on annual attendance like it could for a regional theme park like those in the Six Flags chain.
That dynamic, along with the cost of development and existing pipeline of new attractions, means Fast & Furious isn’t in any immediate danger — but it may be heading to the scrap heap sooner than Universal hoped.
“They’ll put up with it for a while,” Speigel said, “but after a few years, as they’ve done with other rides, they’ll come in and know what they have to change out. It could be on the list in the future to be replaced.”
So long to screens?
A common complaint about Universal is its reliance on screen-based attractions. In the decade prior to Fast & Furious: Supercharged, nine of the 11 rides added to Universal Orlando prominently featured screens (the two exceptions being 2009’s Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster and the Kang & Kods Twirl ‘n’ Hurl spinner).
To be fair, Disney World has its fair share of screen-based rides, like Star Tours, Soarin’, Avatar Flight of Passage, Toy Story Mania and the upcoming Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. Using screens is part of the theme park designers’ toolbox now, and Speigel doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
“With screen-oriented attractions, we’re still seeing the great success that Disney is having” with film-based rides like the updated version of Soarin’ that debuted in Shanghai, Anaheim and at Epcot in 2016,” Speigel said.
What Universal may avoid in the near future, Speigel acknowledged, is adapting parts of its Hollywood tram tour into standalone attractions in Orlando.
Universal’s next addition, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, appears to be moving in a different direction.
While screens could be still utilized on the storytelling roller coaster, Universal’s promotion has focused on the variety of animatronic Wizarding World creatures to be featured on the ride, from Fluffy the three-headed dog to Hagrid himself, which will be capable of “24 different body movements and facial expressions.”
Rather than spelling doom for future screen-based projects at Universal, Speigel thinks the creative team just decided this mix of elements was a better fit for the Wizarding World.
“All of those components are part of the Harry Potter presentation,” he said. “Fast & Furious, it’s not magical, it’s not whimsical, it’s about adrenaline and speed.”
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