The Forgotten Story Behind Jurassic Park: The Ride
This summer sees the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth film in the Jurassic Park series, that universe in which people continue to stubbornly clone dinosaurs, no matter how many times that works out horribly for them. It's probably because their appetite for all things dino-related was never satiated by Jurassic Park, which sadly doesn't exist in their reality.
While there's obviously a lot of internet buzz and marketing money behind Fallen Kingdom, it's easy to forget how mammoth the hype for the original Jurassic Park was. Not only were there billboards, action figures, and T-shirts -- even packets of beef jerky were branded with the JP logo. McDonald's introduced a new "Dino Size" option (later changed to "Super Size"). It was the fast food equivalent of a lowering a sedated cow on a flimsy harness for you to devour.
Bizarrely, the most expensive Jurassic Park project of all time isn't the movie or any of its sequels; it's actually one of the many corporate tie-ins. Adjusting for inflation, it was even pricier than Jurassic World. We refer, of course, to Jurassic Park: The Ride at Universal Studios, which cost a whopping $110 million. That's almost twice the price tag of the first movie, which was literally about a guy who couldn't stop bragging about how much money he spent on a theme park.
The ride is now set to be scrapped in favor of a Jurassic World-themed attraction, which will presumably update the experience with newer dinosaurs and mandatory high heels. But allow us to momentarily whisk you back in time to the 1990s, when the Jurassic Park ride was like the goddamn Beatles, if the Beatles were animatronic monsters who spat water at you.
Looking back, it's entirely possible that the only reason they produced Jurassic Park in the first place was to make a kickass theme park ride based on it. Seriously. Steven Spielberg once admitted that he "had the idea to do a ride even before we shot the movie," and work on the ride began well before the movie did, to the point where plans from the ride were included as props in the film itself.
But why would Spielberg want to make a blockbuster to help sell a big-budget theme park attraction? Well, in 2009, we learned that he serves as a "creative consultant" for Universal Studios, a lucrative deal he struck up in the '80s. Thanks to the side gig, Spielberg collects 2 percent of the gross profits from Universal's Florida park, annually and "in perpetuity," which currently amounts to "about $30 million per year." That buys a hell of a lot of baseball caps and beard-trimmers.
In any case, the ride was in production while the movie was yet to be filmed, which explains the aquatic theme. For those who haven't been to Universal Studios (or went but spent the whole time guzzling butter-flavored 7-Up in a magical boarding school), the ride loads passengers on a raft, then sends them down a lazy dino-filled river ride. But since Jurassic Park, not unlike Chipotle, is prone to one disaster after another, soon the dinosaurs escape! The ride culminates with a T-Rex head popping out as your boat plunges down an 80-foot drop! It's exactly like ... nothing that happens in any of the movies.
This is a direct reference to something that was supposed to be in the film -- a rafting sequence in which Grant and the kids narrowly escape a T-Rex attack. It was even storyboarded before ultimately being cut out and replaced with more coverage of Jeff Goldblum's glistening torso.
Universal Studios built a shit-ton of animatronic dinosaurs for the ride, and even hired Sir Richard Attenborough to reprise his role of John Hammond for the introductory video. Though, unfortunately, he writes off all the dino-murders in Costa Rica as a "wee problem" due to "sabotage"-- meaning that he was apparently faking that whole "Playing God is a bad thing" epiphany he had at the end of the movie.
When the ride finally finished in 1996, it was a big-ass deal, complete with a TV commercial that made it look like a horrifying journey into the bowels of Hell itself, rather than a slow boat ride surrounded by unconvincing reptiles.
This one guy looks like he's orgasmed while watching the Ring video:
The ride's opening was commemorated with a lavish ceremony that found Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum lighting a ceremonial torch, as if enduring the nightmare of taking your family to a theme park was an Olympic sport.
And it was all documented in multiple TV specials, including one hosted by television's smarmiest Highlander, Ryan Seacrest.
There was a goddamn hour-long special on the E! Network, mostly comprised of interviews with celebrities who were in line for the ride, such as noted mustache enthusiast Sam Elliott.
And noted bathing suit and talking car enthusiast David Hasselhoff.
Proving that the event was put together through some kind of drunken celebrity Mad Libs, Spielberg showed up alongside Gulf War commander "Stormin'" Norman Schwarzkopf. Presumably this is where the misguided plan to militarize velociraptors originated.
And of course Goldblum pops by to describe the ride in the Goldblum-iest way possible.
It wasn't long before a version of the ride opened in Orlando -- which, again, is where Spielberg gets a cut of the money. The Florida version had not just the ride, but also an entire Discovery Center, featuring fossils, a baby dinosaur nursery, and live appearances from a drifter who murdered John Hammond and stole his identity.
Maybe we should be glad to have gotten a Jurassic Park park attraction at all, since the source material is all about a theme park where multiple guests are violently killed. To paraphrase the world's greatest shirtless mathematician: Capitalism finds a way.
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