Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Ride 'Em, Then Watch 'Em!

Universal Studios built entire theme parks around its films. Jaws the ride. Back to the Future the ride. E.T. the ride. The GhostBusters live show. Kongfrontation. Even a musical stage show featuring the studios classic movie monsters. But there was a time when few, if any, could have imagined that rides would one day become films! Of course who better than Walt Disney, with its built-in brand attractions at Disneyland and Disney World to test the waters? In 1997, Disney used it TV showcase The Wonderful World of Disney to produce The Tower of Terror, starring Steve Guttenberg. Based on the highly popular Twilight Zone Tower of Terror thrill ride at the Disney/MGM theme park in Florida, the film is faithful to the attraction's story of how The Hollywood Hotel became haunted following a tragic elevator accident during its hey day. Oddly, for its first foray into a theatrical release of an attraction-turned-movie, Disney chose a ride that had been closed for seven years. The Mission to Mars ride opened in Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World Florida on June 7, 1975, and closed on October 4, 1993, but that didn't stop it from becoming a movie in 2000 directed by none other than Brian DePalma! The film did poor boxoffice, but the famed "Les Cahiers du cinema" magazine in France chose it as one of the 10 best pictures of that year. In 2002, based on an attraction at Disneyland called "The Country Bear Jamboree," The Country Bears hit theaters, aimed squarely at the youngest of audiences. The film follows the adventures of Beary (Haley Joel Osment) as he attempts to find and reunite the members of his favorite bear band for one final concert. Despite being able to enlist the talents of Don Henley, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Brian Setzer, Don Was and Christopher Walken, the film just plods along and also did not do well at the boxoffice. For its next attempt, Disney got it right. Based on the mildly adventurous boat ride at both Disneyland and Disney World, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, in the hands of director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) is one helluva ride. With numerous references to various scenes and elements of the ride, the film is both a fun ghost story and a wildly imagined adventure. It features grandly acted performances by Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp (who received his first Oscar nomination for the portrayal of pirate Jack Sparrow). The film received a total of five Academy Award nominations. Next up from Disney was The Haunted Mansion, based the beloved attraction of the same name. The film's attempt to cash in on Eddie Murphy's new found status as a family comedy star didn't seem to work as audiences, hoping for a film that would equal their memories of the attraction itself, expected more, and stayed away in droves. So what's up next? Well, no less than two sequels to Pirates is in the works. Will any other attractions become films? How about Space Mountain: The Movie? Or, The Great Tea Cup Adventures? I can hardly wait!

Is there any evidence that these kinds of movies increase attendance at the theme park?
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