Tuesday, November 14, 2017

YouTube Tuesday #19: The Greatest...Thrill Rides

Now we’re getting serious. In week two of our three week roller coaster not-exactly-holiday-themed marathon, we present one of the classic roller coaster documentaries of all time. “The Greatest…” was a very popular (for TLC) series of “best of” documentaries at a time when people just loved them some cable documentaries. In this installment, we get to see the roller coaster installment of the series, since we knew for darn sure we were going to get one.

The Greatest Thrill Rides is an all-time classic coaster doc. It is very much the “thrill ride” version of the all-time classic Funhouse. Like its dark ride compatriot, this doc seeks to comprehensively take the viewer on a journey of discovery (…and awareness?...) though the past, present, and future of thrill rides. Like the best cable docs, watching a show like The Greatest Thrill Rides is like adventuring through a thrill ride museum, studying the best of the history and excitement of thrill rides the world over. It’s one of those features that you would show someone if you could only pick one thrill ride show, because it covers all the bases in the limited time it has to thrill you (blah blah blah!).

The past is covered through the occasional references to Russian ice slides and switchback railways. The present is explored through a whirlwind “best of” tour of the greatest thrill rides on the planet circa late-1990s. To be fair, the top of the lists are pretty bad (I won’t spoil them for you, but woof), but of course they cover all the late-1990s crazes, from inverted coasters to woodies to stand-up to hyper. Each one is given a quick feature and an obligatory post-ride interview with the Ric Turners of the world.

The next segment is focused on the creation of the coasters, and the construction. These features will be familiar with those of you who have been keeping up with our weekly YouTube output.

And then halfway through, the show does a complete 180. Because it’s not about roller coasters anymore. We’re going to the malls and arcades, and to the Vegas strip, and to Universal. Because we’re going to talk about the thrilling simulators which are just the bees knees these days (how many times do you think I can use the words “thrill” or “thrilling” in this article? I think at least a few more times). These, we are reminded, are called “immersive thrill rides.” Cue the Gary Goddard cameo appearance.

What’s cool about this segment is I have absolutely no idea what most of these rides are, or were. Were these simulators in malls or traveling exhibits? The narrator says there are more than 70 of these exhibits around the country…I don’t even remember this being a thing. Was this a feature at large malls like South Coast Plaza or the Irvine Spectrum back in the day? Did they have changing movies? If so, how often did they change? Did you get to choose your adventure like that enormous POS basement bench simulator at the Excalibur in Vegas? Over the course of a few seconds, we see simulator movies of: riding Revolution at SFMM, traveling through a collapsing mine, driving down a Mad Max-style desert road, a haunted cavern, a funhouse, a giant roller derby obstacle course thing (I don’t even know how to describe that one except to say it looks like a first-person view of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time sewer level), a trench, a large building, a pleasant Calabasas side road, a “street race,” a mountain, a pre-Spider-Man drop off a building, and Days of Thunder at Kings Island.

But when we get introduced to simulators, of course we have to explore the 1990s Vegas simulators! That’s right, for the first time on a theme park doc, we get an extended sequence featuring In Search of the Obelisk, Race for Atlantis, and Star Trek: The Experience! This has to be my favorite segment of the show, since I love love love me some Vegas simulators. My brother and I spent many a vacation visiting these rides constantly, since we weren’t yet old enough to gamble this was the next best thing. And we actually get to see some behind-the-scenes action! The IMAX camera for In Search of the Obelisk, some real 3D models and a feature for the HUGE 3D glasses for Atlantis (with an interview with Rhythm & Hues!), and a tour of the bridge and the simulator cabins for Star Trek! This makes me happy, since Star Trek: The Experience was one of the most mind-blowing attractions anywhere in the world when it opened in 1998, Disney or otherwise. I always wished they could have moved it to Universal after it closed. It’s that cool. And the Star Trek museum! Absolutely fantastic. The Transporter Room to this day is one of the greatest-ever pre-shows of all time.

And lastly of course, we get the future. And the future is not only Universal Studios but video games. And I’m not just talking about Sega Rally Championship or another one of those you’ve seen a million times. Ladies and gentlemen, I present….Vertical Reality. That’s right. Vertical Reality. At 43:12.

How many of you remember this one? It’s a 25 foot-tall freefall tower in front of a giant shooter game. When you shoot someone else, you go up. When you get shot, you drop. WHERE HAS THIS BEEN?! What happened to this idea besides the predictable number of lawsuits?

We end the show with an exploration of what this show considers the “ultimate thrill ride.” I don’t know what TLC’s obsession is of going out into the real world and saying the “future of thrill rides” is something we’ve been able to do for decades (like bungee-jumping and sky-diving). But anyway, this particular show’s idea of the ultimate thrill ride is Air Combat USA, a really for-real Top Gun simulation where participants actually get to shoot at each other. In real planes. Driven by Air Force pilots. That’s cool. I wonder if it’s still around? *Does a quick Google search* Hey it’s still around! And it’s in FULLERTON??!! How did I not know this when I was living in Anaheim? And it’s only…$1,700! And you save $50 when you book two people! That’s so cool!

And FYI, Alan Schilke (the guy who always interviews with Arrow D) just wants to throw out there at 51:30 that the “ultimate thrill ride” or roller coaster is one that can turn you independently in the car in any position at any time along the track. Direct quote: “if you can change the rider’s position relative to the car, it’s almost like a fourth dimension.” These words are actually said. In 1997. Isn’t that spooky? Nay, isn’t that…thrilling? (ha! I did it!)

Tune in next week for the conclusion of our three-week roller coaster fest, and one of my favorite all-time thrill ride specials!

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