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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.


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…


A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.