Video/Editing by grahamstonejohnson.com
April 21, 2015
by Jake Thomas
“Ride the movies.”
What a concept. Imagine the most thrilling moments captured on screen and put yourself in the characters' shoes, even beyond what the actors experienced on set.
I was seven years old in December of 1991 when I first got to “ride the movies” in that Mecca of move fandom -- Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. My family drove south for two days to go and spend Christmas with our family in Naples. The electronic Christmas carols of Mannheim Steamroller blasted from our car while we gradually shed winter coats for t-shirts and shorts.
I had no knowledge of Universal Studios. It was going to be a fun distraction before Christmas. When we arrived, a large, white gate loomed behind a circling, metal, spinning globe. Its arms opened wide in welcome. The Marx Brothers greeted us. The streets inside were lined with shops and boutiques that celebrated Hollywood, movie making, and movie stars. Near the large lagoon in the center of the park, we saw a short line for the first ride of the day -- a tall warehouse labeled “Institute of Future Technology” beckoned us to enjoy what really lied beneath:
Back to the Future: The Ride.
I had already seen the first movie, though I don’t remember when. At some point, I watched the third and second movies (in that order -- not recommended), and it may have been after our Christmas trip. Whatever the reason, I knew Doc Brown, DeLoreans, Biff Tannen, eighty-eight miles per hour, and Hill Valley, but I did not know what awaited me at the end of that line.
“What is this going to be?” I asked my parents.
“It’s like a roller coaster,” they said.
Uh-oh. I feared roller coasters. Heights. Big drops. Stomach knots. At least it was indoors -- even though the warehouse behind the line was massive, it couldn’t be a very tall drop at the start of the ride. I imagined something like “Disaster Transport” at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. You’ve never heard of “Disaster Transport.” I know you’ve never heard of it, because it’s a dainty roller coaster that wobbles through the dark. Hopefully, this ride would be just as tame.
First, the TV screens suspended above the queue showed us videos of Christopher Lloyd’s Doc explaining time travel and Thomas Wilson’s Biff running amok in the nearby hallways. They told a story, a story whose stakes suddenly rose at an alarming rate when Biff stole the DeLorean and locked Doc Brown in his own laboratory. There was no one to stop Biff from destroying the space-time continuum -- no one but us, the Time Travel Volunteers. It was our job to get behind the wheel of the brand new, eight-passenger DeLorean, catch up to Biff, and bump him in mid-flight. Believe me, when Doc Brown told this seven year old that the fate of the universe depended upon him, this seven year old listened.
We loaded into a dark arena, and there before us were the familiar twin rear engines of the time machine. The doors flew up to the side. We squeezed into the front row. Cold smoke wafted in from the darkness beyond. The whole scenario puzzled me. Where was the track? Where was the drop? There was no roller coaster inside.
What was going on?
The console screen before us popped to life. Doc Brown told us to hold on. He was revving engines up to eighty-eight in order to activate the flux capacitor.
The speed meter climbed to sixty. Flashing lights blinked around us.
Seventy. Eighty. I felt the car rise.
My worst fears were realized: these crazy ride attendants were going to throw us through the wall and into the lagoon! And, my parents let me board this ride!
Why did I agree to this? I thought. Stupid! Jane, get me off this crazy thing!
Flash! Suddenly, we were indeed flying -- through a movie. The Hill Valley town square lay below, and Biff’s time machine dodged through flying car traffic while we chased after him.
Great Scott! How is this possible? How are we RIDING THE MOVIE?
Another smash through the Hill Valley clock tower sent us hurtling back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. A Tyrannosaurus Rex swallowed us whole and spit us back out. Biff evaded us to the very bottom of a volcano, where the heat killed his engines. Our car swerved through bubbling lava and rammed his bumper. He boomeranged right back to the institute.
Just like that, the ride was over. But, in a way, I’ve never gotten off.
It was life changing. Being a part of the movies, teaming with the characters and joining them on their journeys led me to pursue filmmaking and production. Of course, children copy everything they see, so I made my own movie ride at home with the help of my parents’ VHS camera and my own Jurassic Park action figures. Before the Jurassic Park River Adventure became a Universal Studios staple, I decorated my bedroom with electrified fences and taped a first-person ride in which a T-rex attacked the viewer. Any “Jurassic Recruits” I coaxed onto my ride enjoyed being seated in an office chair before a TV screen and feeling my feeble arms shake the chair as they escaped from danger.
Riding the movies became a motivator for moving to Los Angeles. It’s why I work at a studio today. There were other rides that entertained us that December 1991 in Orlando, but only one that we made sure to ride twice.
Back to the Future. The Ride.
About Jake Thomas
Jake Thomas is a writer living in Los Angeles, CA. His action-fantasy film, Hotwire, premiered this March at the Oscar-qualifying Cleveland International Film Festival and will soon play in festivals around the world. See the trailer at www.hotwirethemovie.com.