Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Look Back At MGM Grand Adventures Part 3

Editor's note: This is the third part in a series looking back at MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park. If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, read those first!

The Asian Village section of MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park was small, made of a few facades really. It contained two rides and one food location, Hamada Orient Express, but it just so happens that the two rides were some of the park's most elaborate and unique.

© Mike Brister

Deep Earth Exploration is best described as a ride that was considerably ahead of its time. So ahead in fact that it didn't open with the rest of the park - you can see the "coming soon" banner hanging above the entrance in the photo above.

I really like the ride description from an old Employee manual: "All aboard Gopher 1, the futuristic motion base simulator on a fantastic voyage deep into the earth's core. Join the nuclear test site expedition and prepare yourself for all the thrills and excitement you can handle. Deep Earth Exploration features high-tech audio visual effects combined with state-of-the-art animation. But, beware of the hidden dangers that surround you -- instantaneous rock slides and cavern gorges, the crystallized frozen lake where only the most menacing creatures can survive, and the searing heat of a molten lava bed. Hold on for dear life as Gopher 1 heads straight for and erupting volcano!"

Why was the ride ahead of its time? Well before The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman at Islands of Adventure, or the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland, Deep Earth Exploration combined a motion based simulator that moved through a building passing physical sets and incorporated video as well.

© Mike Brister

Here's one newspaper photo that shows the Gopher 1 motion base ride vehicle sitting atop it's track with sets on either side.

© Mike Brister

And another similar shot. The vehicles had a video screen in the front of them, and windows on each side that would open when it arrived at a new physical set for guests to see. The timing of all these elements were problematic from the start, and I'm not sure they ever eased up much. There's a nice write up on the ride located here that explains more of the efforts that went into creating Deep Earth.

© Mike Brister

Here we see the covered vehicle for Deep Earth Exploration back stage. On the lower left of the vehicle sits a trolly that ended up containing the laser disc player for the onboard video - the photo's owner described that it had to be moved outside the main cabin because the bumpy motion made it skip!

TDS Entertainment was one of the leads on the project, with AVG, Inc. doing a lot of the sets, special effects, and animations. The screen caps above are from a video on AVG's webpage (which sadly is offline now), showing off interiors of Deep Earth Exploration.

The ride systems itself was actually done by Intamin. Above is a snip from one of their ride catalogues where they show that they offer a "Dynamic Motion Cabin." This also serves as a nice clear view of Deep Earth's vehicle setup.

Sadly when MGM Grand Adventures was reduced in size (I believe sometime in 1996) Deep Earth Exploration was removed.

© Mike Brister

The other major ride in the Asian Village section was the Backlot River Tour.

Guests entered the queue for the attraction at the end of an alley and under those arches seen above. The queue then wound around a tropical landscape until passengers arrived at the loading dock.

At the core, the Backlot River Tour was like taking Jaws at Universal Studios Florida and merging it with the Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios, only using fictitious movie titles instead of specific films.

Six 30 passenger boats departed the station to pass by elaborate sets that were intended to show off a little of how movie magic was done during the six and half minute tour.

© Mike Brister

It's not easy to find information or photos from this attraction, which only makes sense because I've always been most interested in it! Above we can see a view of one of the scenes from the backstage area... at this point we can only here stories of what took place in there!

Lucky for us I have heard stories about the ride, and found other clues here and there, like the one above. These two shots come from this video, which actually features some video from on the ride! It's brief, but I'll take what I can get.

Once boats departed from the "River Trader" jungle port themed station there were four major "filming" scenes during the ride:

• Bayou Country was a mist filled lagoon which treated guests to a visit from mean looking Swamp Creatures
• A Civil War era set where an ironclad warship attacks a confederate fortress

 © Mark de Jong

• The Temple of Gloom, and indoor set where volcanic disaster strikes all around

© Mark de Jong

• "Jungle Storm," a film set where boats get caught in an intense helicopter attack

R&R Creative Amusement Designs did the theming of the ride from top to bottom. Back before the ride even opened the above two pieces of concept art were released. The top shows the boats entering the Temple of Gloom, and the bottom is of that helicopter attack scene.

R&R Creative has a product reel on their website that shows off many of the great attractions they've designed, and blended in there are some shots of the Backlot River Tour, from which I grabbed the above stills. Like I said, it's hard to find images from on the ride, so this was like a jackpot.

Also, take note of the concept art for the entrance to the Temple of Gloom and the finished product - I love to be able to see both to compare!

 © Tabbicus Polydactyl Domesticus

This photo, even though it had to be cropped quite a bit, really shows off the level of detail that was involved in the helicopter scene.  

© Roadsidepictures via Flickr

© Tabbicus Domesticus

Finally, here's a couple of gems, one of which I bumped into on Flickr and the other reader submitted, a close up of the Swamp Creature that was found in the Bayou Country scene. The designers even had one of them pop up on either side of the boat so everyone got a good view.

One last interesting note - when the park was reduced in size and Deep Earth Exploration and Backlot River Tour were removed one of the first things MGM did with the land was build a massive pool complex. Guess what they named the 1,000 ft. long lazy river they put in? Yep - the Backlot River.

I want more!  See part 4 of the series.


Tubeman said...

I visited the park when it first opened and enjoyed the experience. As a former WDW Cast Member I always like going through theme parks. The street scenes were very well done. Great themeing and good production values. However, the attractions were quite small. As mentioned the first version of the roller coaster barely lasted longer that 40 seconds. The river ride had great detailing but the river itself was very narrow and there was no transitions between scenes. This made it hard to get the suspension of belief going and made the attraction feel very crowded. The under the earth sequence suffered due to lack of effort. The animation in the ride simulator looked very fake and was not well coordinated with the movie. The actual black box sequences looked really fake and had no story elements. Actually what I though the park did best was the live action parts. There was a 3 Stooges homage that was well done, but not appreciated by the audience. The pirate stunt show was very well done, and the stage/ice show was memorable. Overall, the park suffered from trying to do to much it would have been bettered served by having a fewer larger attractions and or concentrating more on the live action aspects.