Last February when we visited Australia’s Warner Bros. Movie World, I was amused at how a park themed to movies felt like a movie in and of itself. The cinema is an escape, a place where the laws of time become distorted, a place where fantasy frees the mind from the fetters of the real world. For a park where an El Loco stole the show from an Intamin launcher, whose SLC was so good* it demanded a re-ride, and whose operations were so poor that time seemed to move backwards, Warner Bros. Movie World seemed about as untethered from the normal everyday as you can get.
*relatively speaking, of course
At Movieland Park in Italy, it happened again, only this time, we didn’t get just a few isolated, unrelated surprises. We got an entire feature length story.
Movieland Park was a sweeping tale of shock, betrayal, redemption and copyright infringement.
There was joy.
There was pain.
There was an Intamin first generation freefall.
And it came with an ending that no one, no one, saw coming.
So I invite you to pop some popcorn, make yourself comfortable, and prepare to escape from whatever real world task you’re avoiding as you read this. If your procrastination-via-Internet quota is high today, then hey, there’s still time for a Coke!
Of course, it wouldn’t be an authentic cinematic experience if there weren’t a few previews, would it? Please enjoy these introductory snippets of Movieland before our feature presentation begins.
In an industry that has Universal Studios Florida…
Universal Studios Hollywood…
Universal Studios Japan…
Universal Studios Singapore…
Disney’s Hollywood Studios…
Disney California Adventure…
Movie Park Germany…
Warner Bros. Movie World…
Warner Bros. Movie World Mad—jeeze, how many of these are there?
This is getting ridic…oh! Okay, so, ahem: …is another movie themed park that you know is a movie themed park…
…because its name is written in an art deco style font.
A movie themed park that will inspire you to dream and imagine…
A movie themed park that will mystify and bewilder you…
A movie themed park that will keep you guessing and leave you wondering:
How in the hell is this place still open?
Welcome to Italy’s Movieland Park, a place that seems to have taken an awful lot of liberties regarding the use of intellectual property.
Nestled against the picturesque beauty of Lake Garda is a bizarre little gathering of characters and franchises whose likelihood of being officially licensed seems highly implausible, yet somehow manages to evade litigation.
The result is a collision of corporate universes that is as suspicious as it is amusing:
Here, a DeLorean and a Top Spin themed to Tomb Raider are next door neighbors.
Here, Alfred Hitchcock Presents…
…Matthew McConaughey as Lieutenant Andrew Tyler.
It’s a world where the Flintstones rub elbows…
A world where the dress code at Cyberdyne Systems…
…is tolerant of Daisy Duke shorts.
And you may just feel as though you’ve entered the Twilight Zone when you encounter the Hollywood Tower…
…next to Pepsi logos and an earless water tower.
How do they get away with it? No one knows.
This isn’t just a couple of fairground rides decorated with airbrushed Disney and Pixar characters. This isn’t China, where trying to control Western copyright infringement would be about as effective as enforcing prohibition among the Irish.
This is an entire European park where the brainchildren of Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, Hanna-Barbera and goodness knows who else all hang out together, but it’s unclear if their parents gave them permission.
There’s nothing out there to suggest Movieland Park has fallen afoul of such a lawsuit, and I’m not accusing them of such a thing because for all I know it could actually be legitimate, but to seamlessly incorporate so many competing studios into one place—studios that often have their own exclusively branded theme parks already—seems possible only by deliberately avoiding the reams upon reams of red tape it would take to obtain the licenses legally. That is, if they were granted at all.
So is it only a matter of time before this ship sinks? Perhaps. Then again, does anyone actually care enough to do something? You’ll spend your whole visit forever questioning, forever pondering.
But hark! We must cease these wayward thoughts!
Aye, let there be fire!
Let there be fancy water stunts!
Let there be the token movie set ride that combines fire and fancy water stunts!
We must not let any lawyers lop off the creative hands that built this charming and possibly pirated cinematic hodgepodge!
And sitting on a park bench, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL your park visits for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell those lawyers that they may try to leave us one venue short in which to display our shameless ineptitude for “normal” pursuits, but they’ll never take…
MOVIELAND PER SEMPRE! MOVIELAND PER SEMPRE! MOVIELAND PER SEMP—
I mean, ahem.
“What do you think of these new nails, girls?”
Not Chris Pratt, unfortunately. Really, really unfortunately.
The John Rambo Show at Movieland is not a particularly bad show, nor is it a particularly good show. In fact, you could say it’s good for little other than sitting down for half an hour in the shade. But it is a half hour of throbbing and pulsating masculinity, a half hour in which its seemingly calm waters will steam, gurgle and roil with testosterone to communicate the awesome power (and fragility) of Extreme Manly Manliness.
The story begins with a rigid line of erect soldiers holding their shafts. There is a lot of talking and yelling at first. A lot of it. Like the first ten minutes of what is supposed to be an action show are talking, none of which I understood because it was all in Italian, but seeing as the Rambo films star Sylvester Stallone, the level of comprehensible speech between the two was probably about the same. So, I might be wrong here, but here’s how I think the story goes:
“We must stand with our legs spread to display dominance, for dominance is manly and we must show we are MEN!” they yell. “But we are bad men, so we wear masks to show that. BLACK MASKS. Our masks are as black as our bottles of Dove for Men body wash because black is a manly color!”
“We like to do MANLY THINGS like ride motorcycles. We like to rev them continuously because the louder the sound, the bigger our penises! Now Sean, get the camera ready and make sure you make my bike look really big for my Tinder photo so that women will have no right to turn me down.”
Then, after some more virtual masturbation in the form of engine revving and shooting their weapons’ loads, Plot finally happened.
“You have an assignment!” yelled the commander. “We have taken these WHORES hostage because they dared to DISTRACT US by wearing revealing clothing! Boys, they had THE NERVE to wear skirts that only came down to ten centimeters above their knees! Obviously their intention was to distract us from our important manly tasks because we all know women choose their clothes and wear makeup solely for our benefit. We must teach them a lesson about what it means to be respectable! We must PUT THEM IN THEIR PLACE. They will wear these pajamas of shame until they learn some self worth!”
“But Sir!” cried a soldier. “What about the dude?”
“He was with them at a marriage equality support rally, so obviously he’s one of them homosexuals. Remember, we find them frightening! We don’t know him personally but obviously, his sexuality is entirely our business, so turn ’em straight, boys, so we don’t catch the gayness ourselves! You ain’t a REAL MAN if you’re a queer!”
“Oh no, quick, set something on fire so he doesn’t contaminate us! Fire is MANLY!”
The hostages were marched away.
“Sir, what about their footwear? Must that be removed, too?”
“Yes. I order them to wear high heels. Women aren’t trying hard enough if their shoes don’t give their feet bloody blisters so that their buttocks may be pushed out provocatively for our enjoyment. But you can let the one keep her pink sneakers. You have no use for pink sneakers because you are a man and pink is only for girls.”
“But sir, aren’t we supposed to be punishing them for distracting us with their, erm, feminine assets?”
“Private, such logic has no room here.”
“Sir, may I command her to remove the pink shoes herself? I don’t want anyone seeing me handling pink shoes. They might think I’m a girl.”
“Yes. Order her around. That’s your God-given right. Just because a woman gave you life doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated as equals.”
Then there was more rejoicing in masculinity, or at least that’s what I took from it because there was more engine revving and gun shooting and some other guys showed up and there were overly enthusiastic punching sound effects.
“TURNING AIMLESS CIRCLES AND FIRE AND YELLING! LOOK AT HOW THIS FIRE MAKES MY PECS GLISTEN! MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!”
It’s Rambo! You know he’s the good guy because he’s not wearing a shirt.
“LOOK AT MY BIG GUN!!!”
“Quick, men! Even though he’s got this zippy little raft speedboat thing, let’s hop onto this big, lumbering airboat!”
“Now let us proceed to kick up some mad spray so these pointless circles we’re turning will look cool!”
“Okay captain, I’ve got him in my sights! He’s not paying any attention because he’s too busy thrusting his shirtless chest out and yelling in a manly fashion. Permission to fire, sir?”
“Naw, man, not yet. Lemme show off my cool skull mask to the audience first. Got free two day shipping on this thing, you know. Amazon Prime. Worth trying if you haven’t.”
“But captain, he’s getting away—”
“Shut up. I look like such a bad ass in this thing.”
“Look at these clowns. There’s not even anyone here guarding us because they’re all too busy out there comparing dicks, including our supposed rescuer.”
“Typical incompetent men. Can’t even orchestrate your basic, run of the mill hostage/rescue situation. Ooooh, you know what, I’m gonna tweet that. Hashtag I need feminism because…”
“Careful how you word that, Sabrina. Feminism isn’t about us being better than men, it’s about equality. We get a bad rep because there’s too many women out there who miss that point entirely.”
“Jenna. He’s wearing a fucking skull mask.”
“Be that as it may, we’re never going to be taken seriously if we try to act superior—”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Now they have Jet Skis.”
“I give up.”
“When I ride my Jet Ski, the splashing water mixes with my natural man juices to give me an extra manly sheen.”
“Cool story bro. But we’ve been dispatched to go find the plot because it seems we’ve lost it.”
“Okay, just gimme a second. These bad guy costumes don’t allow exposure of my bulging, ripply man muscles and I don’t want anyone to think I’m merely riding this man ski to get from point A to point B. I must waste time and perform frivolous stunts and tricks. That way everyone will be so impressed and then my manhood will be validated. Here, I’ll just use this plank that happens to be conveniently placed here…”
“…ah crap…I mean, look at that killer wave I just made! Totally deliberate.”
“Hostages, my name is Sarah. Although my only notable part in the show so far was removing my hat and shaking my hair loose so that my subordinate role as a sex object could be asserted and thereby uphold this draconian patriarchy, I have nonetheless released you because I am the only one who seems aware of the existence of a plot.”
“Fucking finally. But wait…isn’t this called the John Rambo Show?”
“So then what the fuck is the titular character of this show doing while you’re rescuing us?”
“He’s standing on that rooftop over there with his legs spread to prove he’s a big, dominant man.”
“UUUNNNNNHHHH! WOULD YOU LOOK AT THESE GLORIOUS ABS OF MINE!”
“Woman. I now claim you because I did physical feats and physical feats make me horny. I did nothing to aid these hostages, but I will take all the credit and get paid more for it than you would because I am a man. Furthermore, I am oozing Axe body spray, and according to the commercials, this means you will fall to my feet and stroke my masculinity.”
And fall to his feet she did.
“WHO DARES SHOOT MY CONQUEST TO DEATH?!?”
“I shall employ the use of this crossbow I just conveniently happen to have and exact my revenge in a manner that would incite accusations of bitchy, bossy, unladylike behavior were a woman to do it but will baste layers and layers of praise and adulation upon my reputation as a STRONG, MACHO AND INCONTESTABLE HERO OF MEN: I WILL FIGHT VIOLENCE WITH MORE VIOLENCE.”
“THIS TOTALLY CREDIBLE REACTION TO MY ATHLETIC PROWESS IGNITES MY MANHOOD WITH GLORY! VIRILE, RED BLOODED, MANLY GLORY!”
MORE YELLING AND DRAMATIC MUSIC AND EXAGGERATED GESTURES
And that’s the John Rambo Show.
Last August, a group of 40+ coaster enthusiasts descended on a small, unsuspecting place called Movieland Park on the shores of Lake Garda. It was the kickoff of a two week coaster holiday that would later cause raised eyebrows and amusement when the answer to the inevitable “So where did you go when you were in Italy?” question would be “Um, well, everywhere.” Energy levels were high, moods exuberant. For me, Movieland Park was to be my initiation to Italian parks and coasters, and I was excited to get started.
But our story doesn’t begin that day. Or that month, or even that year for that matter.
No, our story begins thirteen years earlier on a sweltering August afternoon at a jolly little hellhole outside Washington, D.C. known as Six Flags America.
SCENE: Fifteen year old me is standing on shadeless tarmac facing parents who are at the end of their rope. It is late afternoon and the heat, humidity and clientele of Six Flags America have left us all weary and disgusted, but there are still three more coasters to tackle. One look at my parents’ faces and I know a sacrifice must be made. I weigh my options carefully. The Great Chase kiddie coaster is an easy write-off. I am left with Batwing, the Vekoma Flying Dutchman and Two Face: The Flip Side, the Vekoma Invertigo.
MY MOM: There’s not anything else here you want to ride, is there? Are you ready to go? Can we go?
ME: Well…there’s still two coasters.
MY DAD: No. I’m not staying here for two more coasters. This park is awful.
ME: Yeah, it is…but…how about if I just ride one?
Though there is silence, my parents’ expressions indicate I am playing with fire. Still, I am determined to push further. Before they can say anything:
ME: Please? [turning to my dad, my ever loyal riding companion who got me onto coasters in the first place and who is no doubt regretting his every action that has led to this moment] You don’t have to ride with me. I’ll go by myself if you just want to sit in the shade with Mom.
DAD: Oh, you’re damn right I’m not riding. I just want to leave.
It’s at this point I know he’s hit his limit. This is the first time he’s ever refused to ride a coaster with me. (This is what Six Flags America does to people.)
ME: Pleeeeease? Just one. Only one. I promise we can go after one.
A few tense seconds follow. My mom is the first to capitulate. Well, I’d say she’s the only one who would have capitulated because I’m fairly sure my dad, left to his own devices, would have been halfway back to the hotel by now.
MOM: Fine. ONE. But that’s it.
Though victorious in my negotiations, there was still a decision to make. Batwing or Two Face? I’d ridden Boomerangs, but never an Invertigo, so Two Face had the novelty aspect going for it…but in terms of novelty, I’d be hard pressed to beat a flying coaster (remember, this was 2002).
And so in the end, Batwing won out. I mean, SFA wasn’t that far away from home, so I reasoned that someday I’d be back and I’d ride the Invertigo then.
Except that didn’t happen for two reasons: 1) I’m smarter than that and 2) Two-Face decided not to wait for me. In 2007, it staged its cunning great escape from SFA by spraying hydraulic fluid over its riders. It wasn’t long before it was dismantled, and for several years it seemed to disappear from the radar altogether.
And then last year, I got wind of its traveling to Italy…and then we signed up for the ECC trip…and then I realized I was finally going to get this credit. This was going to be a redemption mission.
Thirteen years. You eluded me for thirteen years, love.
And while the compulsive credit ticker part of me rejoices in finally meeting face to face and filling in the blank, the rational thinker in me greets you hesitantly. See, I’ve had experiences with others of your kind and they have been…less than flattering.
“Well it sure as hell ain’t butter smooth…lots of thumping side to side…could even see riders’ heads bouncing and jiggling from the queue,” was my verdict on Dorney Park’s Stinger.
Kings Island’s Invertigo could be summarized far more succinctly: “This sucked, absolutely sucked.”
Alright, yeah, I think it’s pretty clear that I don’t have very high expectations for you. Besides, you’re competing with that pretty little Schwarzkopf City Jet down the way, so, like, I don’t want to come right out and say that I’m just humoring you, but, like, I kind of am.
But I’ll at least admit you do clean up well. That crisp dark blue goes really well with the red ride sign. Actually, the way the sign is perfectly centered on top of the spikes is quite eye catching…you know, without the SFA backdrop, you’re actually pretty attract—
uhhh, I mean, you can polish a turd but the wheels still won’t all touch the track, right? Right. Of course.
Awww, but look at you trying to be clever. How cute.
And so was my internal monologue as we entered the station.
We selected seats somewhere in the middle of the train, which I insisted on because by luck of queue position, my two previous Invertigo experiences had been at the end of the train, where the face to face feature was absent. I also insisted on a seat where I could undertake the first half facing backwards because again, my prior experiences had been otherwise. Richard kindly obliged because of course he did; unless it’s a Gerstlauer four across deal where we’ll go all Hunger Games on each other to get the inside seat, we don’t bat an eye when one of us fixates on a certain seat like a child playing musical chairs (I love him, I really do).
Buried within that unpleasantly heavy restraint, the thick protruding side fins the unmistakable Vekoma symbol for “ears lol,” I sighed as the train began ascending the first spike.
Except my ears became aware of something else: onboard audio.
And my eyes took in the sight of how precariously steep that climb seemed as I watched Richard, who was sitting across from me, leaning farther and farther forward into his restraint until his entire weight was pushed against it.
And my thoughts went into instinctual survival mode at the idea of being trapped high above ground with the weight of all those people crashing down on me, which, to summarize, went something like this: Shit.
But the visual and auditory novelties were just the beginning because Diabolik had one more surprise up its sleeve:
It was fun.
We dropped and my eyes stayed glued to Richard because instead of my previous Invertigo experiences where I could only listen to a recitation of Urban Dictionary: Vekoma Edition, this time it was like reading the illustrated version. As we negotiated the elements, I was treated to a performance of the entire catalog of Vekoma facial expressions, including such favorites as:
- The Oh Why God Why grimace
- The Look At Those Upstop Wheels Go Spin Spin Spinny Spin Spin But Never Once Touch The Track helpless gaze
- The I’m Probably Losing More Brain Cells Riding This Than I Would Listening To A Republican Debate frown
- The I’ll Need To Learn Another Language Or Six To Supply My Vocabulary With Enough Profanities To Adequately Describe This Experience wince
- The I Didn’t Even Need This Credit What The Hell Is Wrong With Me sulk
- The On A Scale Of One To Fail This Is On Par With Taking A Dump In A Squat Toilet And Then Discovering There’s No Toilet Paper whimper
- The Oh Well, It Could Be Worse—I Could Be At La Feria forlorn look of resignation
Such top quality entertainment naturally deserved a display of audience appreciation, so I made sure to show my support for Richard’s distress by giggling uncontrollably at it.
Now, he swears I was instead engaged in my own exhibition of the above repertoire. I recall no such thing, but I do know that there was one look he modeled more than all the rest, and that look lent substance to the revelation that was slowly registering behind my laughter: the Wait, Whoa, Okay, This Isn’t As Bad As I Thought It Would Be raised eyebrows of disbe-relief.
Because here’s the thing. I was enjoying Richard’s facial expressions so much that I forgot to adopt standard Vekoma bracing position, yet I didn’t get hurt.
And in the absence of the ear bashing and the neck snapping and the headaches and the regret that have always been the defining features of an Invertigo, I was noticing for the first time what excellent pacing it had. I noticed how it seemed like the train picked up this surprise boost of acceleration as it entered the loop following the drop from the second spike, as though some giant set of invisible hands were giving it a playful shove. I noticed how the freshness of the dark blue track only served to amplify the ride’s already unprecedented fluidity and smoothness. And, of course, I finally got the chance to experience the fun of face to face seating.
For the first time, I was enjoying an Invertigo as it was meant to be enjoyed. As it should be enjoyed.
I mean, whoa. Who would have thought?
Back in the station as we gathered our loose items, I looked at my fellow enthusiasts, people who understood all too well the “talents” of a Vekoma Invertigo and whose opinions about this were almost a foregone conclusion. “Not to be unpopular,” I ventured, “but I really liked that.”
Well, I can’t say my enthusiasm was shared by everyone. The warmest accolade I heard came from someone who claimed they’d been on worse.
But you, Diabolik. You’re alright, kid. Just such a shame that there’s a Schwarzkopf about to steal the show, ya know?
But the Schwarzkopf wasn’t about to pop the Vekoma bubble just yet. I may have held an unpopular opinion regarding Diabolik but it wasn’t nearly as disfavored as the next request laid upon us.
Meet Ben. Ben is one of those guys you could take home to your mom and the next day you’d find that your email address had been mysteriously added to the David’s Bridal e-newsletter.
But Ben was not what he seemed. It quickly became evident that he had certain…curiosities. Certain…desires. The kinds of things that raise warning flags and ring alarm bells.
I’m talking, of course, about his frightening eagerness to ride an Intamin first generation freefall.
Now, in his defense, he’d never ridden one and was curious. But there was a time when we’d all never ridden one, and then we took the dropkick to the head that is the hallmark of these rides and lost our innocence forever.
“But Ben,” we tried to warn him. “No! Don’t defile yourself like this. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into!”
But he persisted.
“But don’t you see these cold, unforgiving metal cages? Do you not value your spine?”
But he persisted.
“But don’t you see this empty concrete pad whose queue switchbacks have long since been removed due to disuse? Shouldn’t that be a frigging clue?”
But he persisted.
“Ah well, if you insist, then go ride,” said Richard smugly. “But I’ll sit it out. I’d hate to be injured on the first day of a two week coaster holiday.”
I took a deep breath. “I volunteer as trib—I mean, I’ll go with you,” I offered.
Okay, so the above conversation may be an eentsy weentsy bit exaggerated. To be honest, I would have eventually pushed for Ben’s cause myself. It’s the plight of the enthusiast—here’s a ride that’s almost guaranteed to rough you up, but there aren’t many left. Best to enjoy them—well, “enjoy” might be a strong word; let’s use “experience” them—while you still can. Richard came around, too, and so, leaving one very intelligent James Salter to observe our ordeal from the comfort of a bench, the three of us boarded a car with me sitting on an edge because I was the only one short enough to avoid taking some skin off my knees thanks to the presence of a metal fin that, as far as I can tell, serves no other purpose besides potentially explaining why three of the six of these that are left are located in Japan.
We rolled backwards to the ascent tower.
Ben was excited.
Richard was impassive.
And I, as we reached the top and moved into position with about as much grace as a ghost train car banging and clattering through a door to its next scene, was admiring how well these movements represented my inner equilibrium at that moment.
The Twilight Zone music played, the letters dropped and shook, there was a fog effect, Rod Serling told us we were about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension…wait, no, that last one didn’t happen…hmmm…where could I be pulling that one from…? I guess there’s a similarly themed attraction like this somewhere, but damned if I can recall where…
And then from the deepest, darkest corners of my imagination came my repressed memories of these things, and as we dropped I half closed my eyes, already contorting my face into the inevitable grimace.
The thing about these rides, for those who haven’t ridden one, is that the few seconds of freefall are not the scary bit. I mean, sure, there’s a truly wicked stomach in your throat feeling, but it’s the fact that you bottom out lying on your back that makes these rides as unsettling as they are unique. Unlike normal drop towers where you remain upright and facing forward, on a first gen freefall you suddenly find your feet yanked out from under you. You’re no longer able to land upright. Even though you know it’s just a ride, all the logical reasoning in the world is not going to halt your instincts from going oh fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck when they think that your back is about to take the brunt of impact, and millions of years of evolution have programmed us to realize that it’s generally not a good idea to put your spinal column in situations that risk permanent paralysis.
Besides, have you ever landed really, really hard on your back and had the wind knocked out of you?
I don’t know about other people, but I’ve found I can never leave my eyes fully open on these, and I think it’s because my brain has resorted to fight or flight. There’s nothing to fight, so I’m pretty much left with flight. The result? Well, have you ever been in so much pain that you black out, where your brain pretty much just nopes itself on out of there to avoid the situation? I think closing my eyes is my brain’s futile means of trying to remove myself from what it perceives as an unavoidable, perilous situation.
Psychologically—for me, at least—the Intamin first generation freefall is fucking brilliant.
But once that initial instinctual reaction passes, rationality finds its voice again. For anyone who’s ridden one of these before, that voice is saying: Oh fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. And that’s because in order to return the car to an upright position, Intamin designed a mechanism that somehow makes it feel like you’re getting dropkicked. Even worse, you can’t anticipate when it’s going to happen because you’re trapped on your back looking skyward. But eventually you whomp to a stop, begin to tilt backwards headfirst so that the rest of the car may align itself properly (which you can be assured it will do in a manner not at all unlike driving on a road that has the misfortune of falling under the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction after a particularly icy winter) before slowly slanting and righting itself.
Except this one, like Diabolik, was nowhere near as curmudgeonly as its brethren.
This was sure shaping up to be a park that didn’t play by the rules.
So then what would this be like?
Well, given that I am that asshole who once cheerfully replied that Minesweeper would be great, thank you for asking, when a scare actor asked if I wanted to play a game (please also let it be known that I am in a relationship with a guy who proposed Tetris to the same scare actor and he’d like it on the record that he supplied his smart ass answer first before I chirped in), I wasn’t expecting a high fear factor here.
But when I saw this in the queue, it reminded me of that abortion scene in Prometheus. And yes, I know the alien popping out of the chest gig isn’t from that, but Prometheus was just so ungodly awful that it was impossible not to recoil in disgust at the reminder of it.
Once inside, you’re required to hold onto the shoulders of the person in front of you, which reminded me of the conga lines of sweaty, middle aged lushes you see pathetically trying to look young in tourist cesspits like Señor Frog’s, so yeah, that was pretty horrifying.
There was a scene depicting something out of Saw, which reminded me of Thorpe Park’s Saw themed Euro-Fighter, which then reminded me of some of my recent experiences with Gerstlauers.
But all of that paled in comparison to one single prop peeking out from a shelf about halfway through:
You try going through a haunted house that has Keanu Reeves’s stiff, glazed over face in it and tell me you wouldn’t be kung fuing you way toward the chicken exit.
Alright, in all seriousness, I didn’t think House of Horrors was quite as epic as some have made it out to be but it was still worth doing. There’s lots of stuff in there—we’re talking a good ten minute walkthrough—but future travelers, beware: it has limited operating hours and, despite what the signs say to the contrary, the actors touch you.
Next up, a riddle:
What do you get when you take Universal’s Studio Tour, replace Jimmy Fallon with shouting Italians, cross it with the dearly departed BGT Rhino Rally whose driver has apparently been swapped for a Mumbai taxi driver, liberally sprinkle it with muddy splashdown effects, set it on fire every now and then, and then collect one euro from everyone who wishes to experience all the above sheathed in a garbage bag?
Magma 2.1, that’s what.
And…um, well, it’s pretty much as I just described it. So…moving on.
But not to the Schwarzkopf. Yes, we’ve been at this park for over two hours; yes, you’ve killed who knows how much time just reading up to this point, and we still haven’t reached the other coaster. For a park that only has two coasters, I realize this is unconscionable on my part. But—what? Ugh, FINE:
I am required by the Made Up Code of Persnickety Enthusiasses to show you this. This is Bront ‘O’ Ring. It is the park’s powered coaster. Powered. It does not figure into the park’s coaster count.
As in, it is not a credit for those who realize that roller coasters roll and coast via gravity, not an electrified strip and a commutator. Hence the term “roller coaster.”
We did not ride it. Now okay, we would have if it had been open because, though they may not be credits, they are still fun. Also, that dinosaur train was adorable. However, it was closed by the time we got to that end of the park. I was in no way distraught because it did not qualify as a missed credit.
Now, let’s just wait for those without a sense of humor who actually took that powered coaster bit seriously to exit…okay, so, as I was saying, I realize some of you might be getting impatient. I put it to you that we’re at a movie themed park and there are plenty of movies where you wish you could fast forward through the middle, so in the spirit of things, you can scroll ahead if you just want to see the ending. It’s cool.
But, given that we live in a society that’s supported the release of seven films about cars being driven in a fast and furious manner, here’s a kickass bit with speedboats.
KITT Superjet is Knight Rider in aquatic form—or, to put it another way, it’s the real life version of Knight Boat from the Simpsons. But rather than solving crimes with the aid of conveniently inserted canals, inlets and fjords, KITT Superjet is just a boat turning circles and kicking up spray for a five minute joyride.
If that sounds like the Rambo show if it had audience participation, it is—the boats use the same set as the show.
This means that the attraction closes during showtimes and then its queue balloons with exiting showgoers. Having left the arena while most of the crowds were still inside participating in the “let’s clap and cheer and fawn over our muscley actors for a rather gratuitous ten minutes” component of the show, we spontaneously decided to avail of its still short queue. I think at this point I was starting to get a little antsy about putting off the other coaster for so long, especially when other ECC members informed us that it had recently shut down. I also wasn’t relishing the prospect of squidging around in wet sneakers the rest of the night. In the end, though, this was the right call, and that’s because, apart from the life vests smelling like my middle school gym uniform when I’d forget to wash it, it was bloody friggin’ awesome.
Before boarding the boat, you “practice” where you will sit in this holding area. Showcased on the wall are the attraction’s certified drivers, complete with their certifiably silly nicknames like Ice Man and Crazy Horse.
There are two fundamental components to a KITT Superjet ride:
1) The “vroom vroom” part, where the driver floors it to the point that there’s legit airtime when you hit a swell.
2) The “spinny spinny splashy splashy” part, where the driver repeatedly whips the boat into tight circles for the sole purpose of making you feel foolish for having made the effort when you boarded to carefully arrange your trash bag/poncho to avoid sitting in a puddle.
You will not escape this without getting wet.
But it’s worth it.
And as for worthwhile rides, it was finally time for the Schwarzkopf! Nothing like saving the best for last, I suppose.
My dear, you are beautiful.
Look at those gorgeous curves.
I was very much looking forward to this. Last April we rode the Schwarzkopf Jumbo Jet Tornado at Guadalajara’s Selva Mágica and it was absolutely delightful: sprightly, silky smooth, perfect pacing—it was one of those rare coasters that made me feel like I was flying. It was old school Schwarzkopf at its best.
Two years earlier, I’d had the pleasure of riding Frozen at Moscow’s Attrapark VDNKH and that also earned a respectable position in my rankings. With Brontojet being the same City Jet model as Frozen, I was expecting more of the same.
Richard and I rode together, although the unexpected presence of a lap bar on trains that are frequently restraint-free made for a cozier squeeze than we’re used to on these. Richard bent his elbows outwards so he could make room for me while still having a grip on the side bars, but this was apparently a big no-no: the ride op insisted he ride with his arms tucked fully into the car. Not one millimeter of elbow was allowed to peek out the side.
Um…okay? I mean, we did our best to shrug it off, though it sure was difficult given our limited range of movement.
Only when all renegade elbows had been dealt with did Fred Flintstone send us off with a hearty “YABBA DABBA DOO!” (or at least a recording of his voice did). Up the spiral lift we went.
We crested the drop and I was full of anticipation.
But then we dropped and it was all smash and boobs and awkwardness and ouch and please move and ow and wham.
The first drop was a careening slam that jabbed Richard’s fists directly into a delicate area of my anatomy that does not tolerate heavy pressure very well, particularly if it’s delivered in the form of a sudden punch. Owing to my physical proximity and the Elbow Vendetta, Richard might as well have been riding with his arms tied to his sides. The only thing he could use to brace himself was me. With the laterals at the bottom of that drop, there wasn’t a hope of my remaining a stable base for him. As his only means of support toppled over, we both whammed into the side of the car, things got mercilessly shaken up, and we found ourselves in a rather compromising position until we straightened out of that drop.
At that point I shoved Richard’s hands away, which accomplished nothing except briefly transferring my discomfort to him. His elbow went smacking into the bars he should have been allowed to grasp as we lurched into the next swooping descent.
There was a momentary lull as we managed to keep it together for the next few turns.
Then we came to the final corner and all bets were off.
Remember the scene in Mean Girls where Regina George gets hit by the bus? Brontojet became that bus. I was hurled to the side, crashing into the side of the car with the sort of impact that would have the word “BAM!” written above it if this were a comic book. I let out a noise between a grunt and groan. Flabbergasted, I turned my head to see how Richard had fared.
Richard was in trouble.
Richard was in some serious trouble.
His eyes were squeezed shut, his brows deeply furrowed, his lips drawn back to reveal gritted teeth that opened every few seconds to exhale a groan and then gasp in a breath. To see him like that, his face this grotesque contortion of pure, unadulterated agony, was honestly quite scary. Like, this was the kind of look that seemed more suited to, say, childbirth. And he wasn’t exaggerating.
“This is not good. This is not good,” he kept repeating. “I may have broken a rib.”
I’d hate to be injured on the first day of a two week coaster holiday, he’d said. “Seriously?” I asked.
“Martin Valt broke a rib on a Wacky Worm. It’s possible.” (Yes, that did actually happen once. I know, it’s hilarious.)
Richard staggered down the exit ramp and eased himself onto a bench. We began to piece together why I was walking away from this mostly unscathed while his condition was eliciting an emphatic “BANNISTER IS DOWN!” from Ben. It seems that Richard was a protective cushion when I went blasting into the car’s side. As a result, what was already a brutal impact became even worse when my full body weight went colliding into him. Given our cramped quarters, he never stood a chance to protect himself. And now, here we were on the first day of the trip, wondering if Richard was going to have to call it quits.
And all this from a Schwarzkopf. Unbelievable.
Brontojet, you son of a bitch. You little shit. You were supposed to be the good one. You were supposed to be the fun one. Now I wonder: how many others have you duped into pandering to you just because you’re a Schwarzkopf? You think you can just rely on the reputation of your kind for respect? Look, there are plenty of enthusiasts out there who will fall for that. They’re the same idiots who will degrade themselves into proclaiming a crappy wooden coaster like Mean Streak is better than a B&M anything simply because it’s made of wood. But you know what? You won’t take advantage of me like that. You betrayed me. You betrayed us all. You pretty much just full on assaulted us.
Brontojet, you are the fuckboy of the coaster world.
Internal monologue still spewing invective, we decided it only seemed appropriate to find a ride suitably dreary for the purposes of licking our wounds and wallowing in disappointment.
So we did this.
This was dire.
Let’s think about Back to the Future: 1.21 gigawatts of electricity, the flux capacitor, plutonium, nuclear fusion, the magic 88 mph—basically a bunch of high tech stuff (plus a DeLorean) associated with lots of energy and speed.
So how did Movieland choose to incorporate BTTF in a ride?
They built a monorail whose trains look like they came from a toy model kit right down to the decal stickers and whose ride program reminded me of taking my extremely sociable but walker-confined grandmom to the lunchroom in her senior living facility.
Just as my grandmom would stop and talk with anyone she saw along the way, the train’s leisurely amble was punctuated by frequent stops beneath these awnings to listen to an Italian speaking Doc Brown (or in our case, to read English subtitles) expressing incredulity over some of Movieland’s rides, which, for someone who invented a fucking time machine, is a bit preposterous (even if it could be convincingly argued that the constant start/stop motion is actually a subtle statement on the DeLorean’s reliability!).
For example: “Which kind of submarine is this?” he asks, referring to the U571 simulator set atop concrete. “I do not see…the water!?!”
Yes, you singlehandedly designed and built a machine that transcended space and time, spent decades perfecting the calculations and technology that enabled it to do so, made it all work despite choosing one of the most undependable vehicles of all time, yet a submarine that’s not in water baffles you. Yeah, this is a totally believable premise.
“It cannot be me to have invented such a crazy trick,” he exclaims, looking at one of the props used on Magma 2.1. “Let’s see…a lorry with trailer…but without tractor!”
Okay, so you managed to rig up the cables and hooks needed to send a lightning bolt into the flux capacitor, were forced to think quickly in order to fix it when a tree branch fell on it, did the calculations so that Marty could hit 88mph at precisely the right location at exactly 10:04, also apparently managed to do some extensive traveling because no one in Hill Valley, California would ever call a truck a “lorry,” yet the sight of a trailer sans tractor is mind boggling.
I’d say you did, Movieland.
I mean, I get that they wanted to get all cutesy with the Back to the Future/Back to the Backstage ride name, but to pair them using a lethargic, cheap looking monorail with a theme so inconsistent with the films just does not work.
The only thing it had going for it was that it was tame enough for Richard to handle given the pain in his ribs. While his distress had subsided enough that he no longer thought his rib was broken (just bruised), he was still in a delicate state and marked himself finished with rides for the evening. That left only one thing we could still all enjoy together:
(Although even this was spoiled when I happened to look over at just the right moment to see a woman lead her daughter to a set of trash cans across the midway, behind which the poor girl immediately proceeded to dunk the contents of her stomach. So long, appetite.)
And then it was time to make our way to the exit.
I didn’t look back at Brontojet.
I did, however, harbor a vague hope there would be enough time to catch one more go on the ride that deserved it.
Oh Diabolik, I’ve been a fool. There I was singing the glories of Schwarzkopf while you were right there all along being magnificent. There I was belittling your lineage, blinded by the delusion of greener Schwarzkopf pastures. You were the dark horse I refused to believe in. I wasted my time yearning for something that was only out to hurt me and betray my trust. I rejected you years ago, I used you as nothing but a redemption credit today, but you’ve given me a revelation of what an Invertigo can be.
But I’ll appreciate you now. I’ll respect you the way you ought to be respected. You’ll see. I’ll prove it to you in one ride. Just one more ride. I’m so sorry, Diabolik, I’m so sorry! I’m gonna make it back to you for a ride, I will!
But the clock was ticking.
Darkness was falling.
I was beginning to creep out my readers into thinking I actually have internal monologues like that.
Free Mentos and the bus were waiting.
And it was too late.