If this doesn’t get you excited about going to amusement parks, nothing will.
This is my favorite of the Discovery Channel’s Extreme Rides/Wild Rides series. It’s the one I always come back to when I want to get excited about the upcoming summer season. Back in the late-1990s/early-2000s, Discovery Channel (and its Travel Channel and TLC counterparts) became obsessed with amusement parks and roller coasters. Every Memorial Day there would be a “Thrills, Chills, and Spills” marathon, where there would be several new roller coaster and amusement parks shows. There was always a new “Top 10 Coasters” type show, which would mostly be touting the newer coasters that debuted the previous year (funny how the list of Top 10 coasters seemed to move around every year. I remember The Beast would jump in and out of the Top 10 on an alternate basis…was turnover for Discovery Channel writers really that high?). There would also be a new highlighted theme or amusement park. You’ve already seen our entries (listed on the bottom of this column) for Disneyland Paris, Magic Mountain, and Busch Gardens, but there are quite a few more that will be upcoming.
But my favorite ongoing series was always the Extreme Rides series. This series would feature the most cutting-edge rides from the past year, with interviews with the ride designers and the ride’s biggest fans. This would of course follow (most of the time) with an on-ride POV. There would be stories of the park the ride’s featured in and the background of how the introduction of the ride came to be. And of course, at the end of the show, there would be a preview of the extreme rides of the upcoming year.
Extreme Rides 2000 is the “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan” of the series. The features are fun, the interviews are great (with some special guest stars), it runs the gamut from coasters to amusement rides to themed rides. If the Discovery Channel just made an Extreme Rides show every year, that’s all I would ask of them. I wouldn’t need anything else.
And Extreme Rides 2000 came at such an interesting time in the amusement park timeline. B&M had just exhausted its creativity throughout the 1990s with inverted and stand-up coasters, eventually culminating with the debut of Alpengeist and Riddler’s Revenge, respectively. So, they decided to branch out again and start innovating with floorless coasters (Medusa, featured) and hyper coasters (Raging Bull and Apollo’s Chariot). And as B&M and others began to go into the hyper-space, Magic Mountain and Cedar Point decided to test the limits of how high coasters can go with Goliath and Millennium Force, respectively. What we forget that’s mind-blowing is Goliath and Millennium Force both set coaster height records, and they opened within three months of each other.
Along with B&M’s forays, there were other coaster design companies that decided to really test how extreme coaster vehicles can get. Featured in the coming attractions portion of the video is the dawn of the flying coaster (which, we must remember, in the era of the Vekoma models, were originally called “lay-down coasters”), which is so new the preview is shown in CGI, and Stan Checketts’ bat-crazy what-the-hell-just-happened Thrust Air 2000, which in a few years would become Hypersonic XLC at Kings Dominion, and then a few years later, nothing. In this era, coasters were becoming bigger, faster, and stranger every year (those were the days).
This was when wooden coasters were suddenly making a comeback. After the Dinn Corporation made a few behemoths in the early-1990s (Texas Giant, Mean Streak, etc.), wooden coasters became smaller and more unique, thanks to Great Coasters (GCI) and Custom Coasters (CCI). When CCI designed The Raven for Holiday World in 1995, they sent a clear message that not only were wooden coasters on their way back, but they didn’t have to be 200 feet tall to pack a real punch. A real renaissance for wooden coasters ensued, and featured in this video is one of the weirdest of the bunch (and that’s an understatement): the ultra out-and-back that is Shivering Timbers at Michigan’s Adventure. At the time it was built, it opened a lot of eyes as to just how weird wooden coasters can get.
As I stated in my last article feature, the launched coaster really changed the game in the theme park world. No longer restricted by space constraints (the bigger the lift hill, the more land is needed), now coasters could go 70+ miles an hour without the need of a single lift hill. Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris begat Flight of Fear here in the U.S., which begat the incredible 100 mph/400 foot tall Superman: The Escape (hard to believe something like that was created as far back as 1996. Remember when they had to literally rewrite the coaster height record rules so Superman would be its own separate category, and not included in the “continuous” coaster records?). Superman begat Batman and Robin: The Chiller, which eventually begat Volcano: the world’s first inverted launched coaster. And its weirdness, in my opinion, has never been matched. With two distinct launches, and the second sending you upwards through a fiery volcano? That takes some creativity.
And finally, there are quite a few non-coaster features in this video. The first is the Katanga Skyscraper in Orlando, the extreme amusement flat ride from the makers of every bungee-jumping Sky Coaster and catapult-flinging monstrosity you see in amusement parks these days. Themed rides are featured here too. Journey to Atlantis from SeaWorld Orlando is here. It was inevitable that Splash Mountain’s infamous double-dip would lead to the firing of a hundred imaginations about what else a standard log flume track could do. The next logical step was to combine the log flume with a coaster track, giving the flume the ability to turn and even rise back up in the middle of a splashdown hill. And looking at the video, it’s admirable how SeaWorld was able to theme this ride while Disney’s popularity was booming. SeaWorld (back then) obviously was determined to try to bridge the gap between it and Disney in any way it could.
And speaking of bridging the gap, what ride encapsulated that concept better than Spider-Man? That’s right, Spider-Man’s here too. IOA had just opened the year before, and Discovery Channel wasn’t going to let that go without highlighting the most mind-blowing ride at the park. And also, think about how commendable that was. In a park with Dueling Dragons, Hulk, and Jurassic Park, on a show called Extreme Rides 2000 Discovery Channel thought best to showcase the hell out of Spider-Man. Damn good work, that. Jolly good show.
This time in amusement park history was very similar to what we saw with Hollywood movies also. Since Star Wars was released in 1977, and then once Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park introduced CGI to the masses, the race was on every year to make bigger, better, more expensive, and more sophisticated movies every summer. It was expected that each summer’s movies would be bigger than the last. That’s exactly what was going on with amusement parks. Can we honestly say there was more innovation in the amusement park space in any decade more than the 1990s? With the amount of coasters created, with the creativity of each, and the ingenuity?
Certainly the ride designers would tell you the 1990s were a golden age of amusement park designer creativity. Luckily, Extreme Rides 2000 has an all-star lineup of quality guest stars from all spokes of the park industry wheel. Starting with the usual Discovery Channel rolodex interviews with Steve Urbanowicz, Allen Ambrosini, and Paul Ruben, Extreme Rides 2000 also has quite a few white whales as guest stars: at 5:10 Walter Bolliger (of B&M…yeah, that Bolliger) discusses B&M’s thought process in transitioning from inverted to floorless coasters, at 10:10 and 11:12 Peter Kockelman of Gravity Works (of Sky Coaster fame) talks about creating the Katanga Skyscraper after their Ejection Seat model, at 17:32 Denise Dinn-Larrick (President of CCI) discusses the impetus behind Shivering Timbers, at 27:40 Sandor Kernacs (President of Intamin) explains how difficult it was to translate the LSM technology to inverted coasters, and at 31:42 Stan Checketts explains just how crazy he is. Oh, and don’t forget the Spider-Man behind-the-scenes walkthrough with Scott Trowbridge starting at 36:25.
So I dare you to watch this and not immediately run to your car and drive to your local park. In fact, I’ve been typing this whole article while driving at the same time. Okay, not really. Also, I’m pretty sure the seasonal parks aren’t open until Friday this week. But it’s still exciting, darn it. By the end of the show, we’re also promised the following future ideas:
1. An S&S that goes 100 mph and rises up 350 feet (this was 4 years before Dragster)
2. Log flumes that do loops
3. Wooden coasters that go underwater
More, please. Now excuse me, I need to go to my car immediately. I love extreme rides!
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