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Jaws and the changing face of movie theme parks

Jaws and the changing face of movie theme parks (photo)

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

…it kind of was.

As first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Universal Studios Florida will close their ride based on Steven Spielberg’s classic horror movie “Jaws” by January 2012. The “Jaws” ride was one of the original attractions when Universal Studios first opened in Orlando in 1990; when it shuts down next month, it leaves “E.T. Adventure,” “Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show” and “Lucy: A Tribute” as the last remaining vestiges of the original park’s lineup.

“‘Jaws’ has been an amazing attraction and an important part of our history,” Universal spokesman Tom Schroder told The Sentinel. “We know that ‘Jaws’ holds a special place in the hearts of our guests. But we always have to look to the future and dedicate ourselves to providing new, innovative entertainment experiences for our guests.”

As a child of the 1980s, I do have plenty of fond memories riding on “Jaws.” Wait, are they fond memories? Can you fondly remember getting traumatized for life? I was so terrified of “Jaws” as a kid that I purposefully sat in the middle of the boat so the shark would have to eat his way through several other people if he wanted to get to me. I rode “Jaws” for the last time three years ago, when my wife and I spent a day at Universal on our honeymoon, and this time I bravely offered to sit on the end of the row to protect my new bride (she was surprisingly nonplussed by my selfless gesture). On that cool November afternoon in 2008, Jaws was not quite as fearsome as I thought him to be at age 10. He looked a lot stiffer, his “attacks” seemed a bit less random, and the boat “captain” who lead our “tour” through “Amity” a bit more rehearsed. Sort of like this guy…

Now I could channel my desire to ensure future generations are as emotionally scarred as I was nostalgia and pretend like “Jaws” wasn’t looking creaky around the edges, but it was. Truth be told, it probably was time for an upgrade. That plastic shark represented an analog artifact in an increasingly digital movie world.

This is a topic we once discussed in depth on our old podcast: how the changing face of movie-themed amusement parks like Universal Studios represents a clear signifier that the way movies are created and consumed has changed completely over the course of my lifetime. When Steven Spielberg made “Jaws” in 1974, the titular shark was a mechanical creature, and a really bad one at that; Spielberg famously shot around the fact that “Bruce the Shark” didn’t work by keeping him off camera as long as he possibly could. Almost completely by accident, he wound up making one of the greatest suspense movies of all time. So when “Jaws” opened at Universal Florida in 1990, it was cool to get menaced by a big-ass animatronic shark because that was sort of the same technology used to menace Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss (appropriately, according to the ride’s Wikipedia page, the original “Jaws” ride was plagued with almost as many technical problems as the first Bruce and had to be shut down for more than a year while the bugs were worked out).

That was one of the things that was so great about old school Universal: they could get pretty close to the real (fake) thing. A lot of the original Universal attractions were about taking you behind-the-scenes and revealing the secrets of movie and TV making. There was a “Murder She Wrote Mystery Theater” about foley work and sound effects. At “Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies,” employees taught the tourists how Hitch shot the crashing carousel at the end of “Strangers on a Train.” Just look at how much production info was tossed out at the audience during the introduction of the “Ghostbusters Spooktacular,” which recreated the climactic battle with Gozer on an impressively accurate replica of the Central Park West rooftop.

Okay, so the show is incredibly hokey. But it really was a simpler time, not only in terms of how films were made, but how they were understood to be made. The “Ghostbusters Spooktacular” is pre-DVD and pre-the widespread proliferation of making-of special features. In 2011, you don’t need to go to Universal Studios to find out how “Ghostbusters” was made. Twenty years ago, you kind of did. Even if you wanted to go to a theme park to watch modern moviemaking in action in 2011, what would they show you? The hard drive that processed the Transformers? Green screen pingpong balls from Sam Worthington’s face? “Okay everyone, gather around! Now I’m going to record Gary’s movements in this mo-cap suit. And I’ll just feed all this data into a computer and we’ll be able to see the finished effect in… 12 to 18 months! Can everyone extend their vacations until then? Super!”

Analog moviemaking left behind all kinds of wonderful detritus that could be used to litter Universal Studios. Back in the day, the park featured a whole “Boneyard” full of old props for guests to ogle. Today, the Boneyard is gone, replaced by a rollercoaster called “Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.” There’s no behind-the-scenes info to reveal because there are no scenes to go behind; it’s just a rollercoaster. It’s not even tied to any particular film.

“Jaws” really was a relic. We’ve got CGI sharks now, and CGI-based movie rides like “The Simpsons Ride” and “Shrek 4-D.” The next attraction to open in Florida? A “Despicable Me” 3D movie. I don’t think this change is despicable; it’s just progress, and a company keeping up with its customers’ tastes and attitudes. But even if I understand it, that doesn’t mean I won’t miss the good old days. Rest in peace, Bruce. You scared the shit out of me.

What’s your favorite ride at Universal Studios? Tell us in the comments below or write to Facebook and Twitter.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.