amusement park

Amusement Park, Rides & Attractions, and Immersive Cinematic Experience

You Wu

Who doesn’t like amusement park? Indeed, amusement park is like a paradise for people to escape from everyday life pressure. People who enjoy going to amusement park seek fun and excitement there. Disneyland and Universal Studios are two top theme park brands among all the amusement parks, and they together attract enormous amount of children, parents, movie fans, and tourists from all over the world everyday. What makes them stand out from other amusement parks like Six Flags? The answer is cinema. Disneyland and Universal Studios comprise of attractions and rides based on global blockbusters. The common genres of these blockbusters are science fiction, fantasy, and animation. Basically, they are genres based on imagination, and they are hard to experience in real life. However, in amusement parks, people can fly with Superman in the sky, play a quidditch game along with Harry Potter, fight aliens with Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toys Story, and so many more. Quoting from Casetti, I consider amusement park as a kind of “relocation of cinema”; the cinematic experience “circulates and is reactivated in sites other than its canonical location such as the traditional darkened theater,” and the experience itself expands from the original content. The rides and attractions share the basic concept and characteristic from the film, and from there, their creators design interactive experiences so that people can interact with characters from the film or be part of the narrative. Generally, there are two kinds of such interactive cinematic experience. One is similar to the traditional theatre viewing experience; however, it enhances viewer’s senses in as many dimensions as possible. The other is that viewers get to be situated in a car-like space and take a ride in it along with the story.

The first kind has the space of a movie theatre, and the overall experience is similar to watching a 3D, IMAX, 4DX, or D-BOX in a traditional movie theatre, which is pretty common these days. However, when cinematic viewing is experience in a space like amusement park, it feels different. It is like a combination of all kinds of special format of seeing a film. The screen is as big as, or even bigger than an IMAX screen. The seat moves like 4DX and D-BOX with higher degree of interaction. Since the experience usually lasts less than 10 minutes in amusement park, the seat actually moves much more drastically compared to a feature length film in a traditional theatre. In addition, viewers sometimes are able to smell and taste what characters in the film would experience, as well as feel the water splashing towards you if it is raining in the film. Apart from that, this kind of experience is different from a traditional movie theater because it is composed of two parts. The first part is preparation. Since there is always a line for a popular attraction in an amusement park, the designers try to incorporate waiting in line to be part of the experience. For instance, below is a series of pictures of the ride Minions Mayhem in Universal Studios.

Viewers first enter a couple of rooms like the left picture. In each room, viewers are presented with a short video in a space like a scene from the film. Basically, each of room is part of the overall narrative. If compared to the narrative structure of a Hollywood film, these brief introduction videos are like the “setup and development”. Not only that, it also gives viewers expectation and makes them look forward to the “climax” of the experience, and indeed when they enter the main screening room like the center picture, they know they have come to encounter the climax. Overall, this second part of the experience is like the right picture, and after it completes the story with an epilogue in the gift shop full of Minions products. In other words, I argue that the whole experience of an attraction is correspondent to the classical Hollywood narrative structure comprising of setup, development, climax and epilogue. Each part of the narrative is presented in an interactive way that make the viewers part of the story.

The other kind goes beyond a traditional theatre space. However, they are constructed based on the similar conception from the first kind with the addition of more immersive interaction. Below are two pictures from the Harry Potter ride in Universal Studios.

Viewers have similar experience of the “setup” and “development” parts of the narrative when they waiting in lines. What is different is that when they come to the “climax” part, they get on a “car” like the ones in the left picture; then, they move along with the trajectory the story going from one space to another, but the narrative is continuous. In this case, viewers go along with Harry Potter like the right picture and experience the story along with him. In this kind of interactive experiences, it involves movement, and the movement is motivated by the story making it highly immersive. In my opinion, I consider this similar to the “virtual voyaging” and “surrogate traveling” raised by Huhtamo. This “pre-programmed penetration into the image” makes it possible for viewers to embrace the story, or as the IMAX slogan goes “see a movie, or be part of one,” it provides this possibility to be truly part of the narrative when riding on these moving cars. When riding on the cars, the viewers are entering the movie world as the reality space. They have their own position in the narrative, as Harry Potter would sometimes talk to “you” about what to do, or simply asks you to follow him. This continuous interaction makes viewers continuously residing in the story. Apart from that, there is another version of the second kind involving active interaction. Below is a picture from the Toys Story Mania! ride in Disneyland.

6 In this ride, viewers are put in a moving car, but in addition, they are equipped with a gun where they can actively shoot at areas prompted by the red light. They also get a score of their performance in the end of the ride. Similarly, they move along with the narrative in the moving car; yet, this kind of ride adds a competitive interaction. Viewers get to actually shoot at the aliens from the Toys Story and they will compare their scores with their family and friends in the end. Also quoting from Huhtamo, this kind of “virtual mobility” and the interactive control over the story enable the overall experience to enter an even higher degree of immersion.

In conclusion, I’d like to add an industry view of this kind of interactive experience. As mentioned before, the rides are based on blockbusters that are popular and successful, which means that they have a group of loyal fans that would be attracted to the rides. This is like a circular profitable chain. People are attracted to the park because they love the film; vice versa, after people experience the rides, they will remain their attention on this film franchise for any subsequent production. Thus, the entertainment product chain remains alive and thriving. From the interactive cinema view, it explores various capabilities of immersive experiences. It is a great platform to testing multiple theories regarding interactive cinema, as well as a place to further advance this area’s future development.