Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cutting a line...

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney MGM in Orlando is a masterpiece of imagineering, bringing the best technology, theming and visual storytelling to the table. And it all starts when you hop in line.

Moss covered oaks, fog shrouded hillsides, ornate columns suffocated by vine growth, a bone dry fountain cracked at its foundation. And somewhere in the distance, perhaps only in our imagination, the haunting sounds of a 1930's ballroom orchestra echo through the courtyard. Before we even enter the decrepit sad remains of The Hollywood Tower Hotel a powerful mood has been masterfully created.

So when the faltering California Adventure ordered up its own version of this attraction you'd have thought that at the very least this Tower of Terror would live up to the original.

And you would have been wrong.

Gone the ornate pre-show entry, gone the ethereal music and even worse, gone the jaw dropping ride OUT of the elevator shaft and into the surreal fifth dimension setpiece, a moment so genuinely unexpected and seemingly impossible that the effect threatens to make the actual freefall an anti-climax.

Don't believe me? Well, go ahead, get in line.

Imagineers are almost always afforded the opportunity to re-jigger and plus attractions that are ordered up at other parks and often the results are spectacular. Later editions of Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Star Tours, Big Thunder and arguably Pirates in Disneyland Paris are all superior versions of the originals. But cost-cutting and corporate greed made sure that any blue sky aspirations current imagineers had for spinning California's own Tower of Terror to an even higher level of showmanship remained forever in the Twilight Zone.


Anonymous said...

The pre-show of Tower of Terror in Orlando was probably my favorite part of the ride. Sure, the ride itself was fun and exciting but the detail put into the hotel environment was outstanding. Even the Twilight Zone trinkets in the little holding area were clever and well researched. That depth of storytelling and care is one of the things I've always loved about Disneyland and Disney World. But then again, things like the rain storm outside the windows in the Enchanted Tiki Room have always held a special place for me.

Love the blog. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

What? You don't think the hot asphalt, cheap rope seperators, and swaying palm trees evoke a bygone era of haunted plantations? Are you MAD?

Even designing how the audience waits in line should be important--especially since on the busiest of days it's what most folks do! It can be designed as a resting area--and as entertainment. As a prep for the ride ahead, and to help build anticipation for the ride. It matters, dammit. Otherwise, all you end up is a big carnival.

GREAT SITE! Keep up the terrific work.

Anonymous said...

What are the differences between the two?

When you say "gone the jaw dropping ride OUT of the elevator shaft and into the surreal fifth dimension setpiece that defies explanation." Does that mean the elevator does not leave the first shaft and into the main shaft?

Anonymous said...

There is no Splash Mountain at DLRP and we're also getting the California ToT...

Anonymous said...

Great! Now that we know what the problem is and how to fix it. Do it!

Personally I see no reason to build a duplicate of an existing ride. Wouldn't it have been better to build an entirely unique one-of-a-kind ride in its place?

Anonymous said...

Just rode this last week (the DCA version) and I have to agree with you 100%. You're right that they've scrimped on the most mind blowing part of the attraction. My friends and I had ridden the Florida version a few years ago and all we could talk about was that incredible lateral move through the building! Without that treat the ride is just a runaway elevator. Big drop. Big deal.

Anonymous said...

lol, I'd like to point out that we don't have a Splash Mountain at DLRP...

I remember reading a quote in From Sketch to Reality.
When the Imagineers were building DLRP, they decided that each new park that would receive an elder ride, it should be different and improved than it's original one.

Oh and by the way, DLRP is getting the California version of ToT, in the middle of the park, without any kind of Hollywood Boulevard or anything like that.

NotesfromtheBarn said...

You forget to mention the CA version has the worst loading system ever designed.. And a corridor that takes you out of the themed magic before you ever board the elevator.. However the DLP quotes are incorrect in some repects.. DLP will get a ride that for cultural european reasons will probably be themed differently and may not even involve the Twilight Zone motif and theme (similar to the Tokyo planning.. Unfortuantely it does look like the multilevel loading (which at certain times negates the whole point of fast pass) and straight pushback to the shaft will be included a la CA

Anonymous said...

It goes to show that with money WDI can do some very good things - just look at Tokyo's ToT, it's breathtaking.

I have yet to ride ToT in DCA, and to be honest I am afraid to!! It looks horrible.

Love the blog, Thank you!!!

Anonymous said...

Danny and Jackie:
The Twilight Zone theming has been confirmed by Eurodisney SCA & the Imagineers. The two libraries will play the Rod Sterling video, one in English and one dubbed in French.

I also want to point out that Tokyo is getting the same actual ride as at California, except in a package that fits the American Waterfront better.

NotesfromtheBarn said...

I have to say one thing though just to re afirm that this blog is not all about negativity.. The DCA ToT has a stunning view when you are at the peak of the shaft, looking out as it does over the magic kingdom station entry and mainstreet.. Its even more beautiful a view at night... The view from florida as you can see in my blog is like a view over the top of several shopping malls.

Anonymous said...

DCA stands for DISNEY's CRAPPIST ATTRACTIONS. Okay that waasn't nice, but eveything in DCA is a letdown. Mainly because it's a Disney park. If it were anyone elses park, in another state, it would be better. Not much, but not constantly having to live up to Disneyland. I always said that putting in the TOWER was a bad idea. DCA already has a drop ride. DCA is in serious need of it own original knock your socks off E-TICKET. Something that shows everyone how it's done. And this is something that Disney has lately left to everyone else. They need to get up and lead once more.

Anonymous said...

This is my wife's favorite attraction, and my daughter's least (she calls it the "scary elevator ride"), and we've had the opportunity to ride both. I can appreciate the benefits of not just duplicating an attraction, each should be able to stand on their own and be unique in their own way. Soarin' is cool, but do we need to have the exact same show in Florida? It's the chance to take a great attraction, and make something that may look like the orignal, but takes your guests on a completely different journey.

Anonymous said...

Having been able to ride both versions of the ride multiple times, I most definitely agree that the original Flordia version is a much, much better ride overall. When the elevator moves through the Twilight Zone is truly the climax to the entire show. I have rode and rerode the Flordia version time and time again just to experience how perfect and surreal this portion of the ride is.

By comparison, the removal of this in the DCA version as well as the strange-looking hallway (I'm boarding an elevator through an elevator doorway into a hallway?) completely kill some of the most incredible parts of the ride, and make it so that it isn't that much different than the drop ride across the park, or the one in Knotts for that matter. In fact, without the little extras, the Disney one is a shorter version of the Knott's ride with some more bouncing.

Is it a good ride? Absolutely. But it becomes a complimentary ride and not a true attraction because of these changes.

A true quality story-driven thrill ride should give everyone at least one "how did they do that?!" moment. The Tower in Flordia does this by the horizontal movement. Indiana Jones in DL does this with the rolling ball (and then keeps you coming back time and time again with the minor storyline tweaks). Expedition Everest does this through the use of the forward and backwards sections of the ride.

Tower in California fails to do this, and takes away a lot of the thrill of the ride because you're just dropping in a shaft in the dark. A quick fix for it -- turn on more of the lights in the shaft so the people in the car can see how fast they are going. It isn't perfect, but it will help.

As for the line, I don't think it is realistic to ask for a space-starved location like DCA to be able to make as intricate of a queue line as the one in Flordia. While the queue for the ride could definitely use some plussing, it really isn't that far off what you would expect a hotel to look like in the Hollywood area -- tall and near the road because the land costs so much money.

Anonymous said...

I'm a long time Disney fanatic. For that mater my first birthday was spent at Disneyland during that first year of operation in 1955.

My first exposure to The Tower of Terror was this last summer in Florida, And I LOVED it. Rode it as many times as I could and saw new detail each time.

I had avoided the Tower at DCA until then, but after having had such a great time in Florida, thought I should give it a try.

All I can say is as enthralled as I was in Florida, I was disapointed with our "home" version.

I realize DCA needs work to bring it up to the standards of a Disney Park, but as my experience in Florida shows the potential is there if we can just get the corprate support

Alex said...

I think you're being a bit harsh in certain ways. I agree with you all on the whole, that WDI has a lot of work to do to "Return to Glory" so to speak -- but there's also something to be said about how much they were able to accomplish with limited means and support. Yeah, the queue in LA is pretty weak, but they made it as good as they could. Similarly, the interior and lobby of the hotel is nearly as good as its counterpart in Florida as is the boiler room.

It's not like everyone at WDI at the time was like, 'Hey everyone, let's build some shitty attractions that are ugly and non-compelling!' They were being forced to adhere to ridiculous budgets and concepts from the top, and sometimes you just do what you have to do.

That said, really enjoying your blog so far and keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

The pre-show of Tower of Terror in Orlando was probably my favorite part of the ride. Sure, the ride itself was fun and exciting but the detail put into the hotel environment was outstanding. Even the Twilight Zone props and curios in the little holding area were clever and well researched. That depth of storytelling and care is one of the things I've always loved about Disneyland and Disney World. But then again, things like the rain storm outside the windows in the Enchanted Tiki Room have always held a special place for me.

Love the blog. Keep up the good work.

Will Robison said...

One thing that sets Disney parks apart from other parks are the lines. They have great lines - even the older attractions like Peter Pan where you are just going back and forth allows you to see the boats flying off to Neverland. Some of my favorite lines are: Indy - especially when the spike room was still working, Star Tours, Big Thunder, ToT, Dinosaur (liked it much better when it was Countdown to Extinction - why did they ever have to change it?), HM, PotC (in both parks), and Snow White. In terms of lines that are better than the attractions themselves, well, the king is the Tree of Life/Bug's Life movie at AK. I tell people to get in the line, look at all the carvings, and then exit before the movie starts. ;)

Anonymous said...

Well, the line is a big part of the show. It's the first step into the environment of the attraction. Any well planned ride has a great line. Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Carribean, Indiana Jones, It builds anticipation. It's the main reason I rarely did FastPass (Autopia has a boring line - sorry).

What the lawyers and calculator dweebs don't get is that the line is the road into the story. Without a great line you have Magic Mountain - BORING. This is what seperated Disneyland from the lesser parks. The lines created a magical atmosphere. No, not the tacky "magic" that the marketeers love so much and cram down our throats, but the magic of being transported to a Submarine port, a Mighty Microscope, Endor Station or to the Congo.

If the lawyers and calculator dweebs went to art school and learned how to design and harvest their creativity and not lose touch with their inner child maybe they would actually get it. Creativity and the Bottom Line are two seperate entities and should never come into play when creating real magic.

Anonymous said...

How come when you board the DCA version, you are supposetly in the basement of the hotel - yet the basement is two stories, and they are both "B" on the elevator? And then, when your elevator doors open, you walk through a hallway and then get into an elevator? Bad idea.

The entire design of the original attraction was more or less based around the fact that they had invented a way for the elevator cab to be "sucked" out of the shaft, pass through the twilight zone, and then enter a shaft that is no longer there - allowing you to relive the experience of the hotel guests the disappeared.

I guess this all went to shit in DCA.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the anonymous poster who claimed that the line is part of the experience of an attraction that fastpasses make disappear . . . but for me to harp on fastpass here would be unfair.

Having had the opportunity to ride both rides, I agree that the moment the room faded away into the dark corridor with stars and moved FORWARD was the most chilling and imaginative part of the Florida ride. Talking about my trip later, I compared it to what it must have felt like to be on the riverboat from the old Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie with the strange scary sights. In fact, on repeated rides I closed my eyes for that part, but was fine for the actual drops.

The one in DCA strikes me as just another thrill ride. The one in Florida scared me to bits. It seems a lost opportunity.

~ JC

Anonymous said...

An interesting point about how Disney has lost the fundamentals of the "show."

In fact, one of the biggest problems with most new Disney attractions is the lack of a good, solid pre-show (and sometimes post-show). For example, as good as Mickey's Philharmagic is, in my humble opinion it suffers from a lack of a proper pre-show. I never really get the feeling of entering a famous theatre where Mickey and the gang have done many performances. I just line up, with little more than a few pictures on the wall and a few character voices over the loudspeakers. Immersion, it is not.

Also, theming has suffered as well. If you look at DCA (any of it), you just don't feel the distinctiveness of each "land." It all seems to just run together. Luckily, this problem at DCA already seems to be getting some attention. Now, if only that progress spreads to other neglected rides/lands at all the other Disney parks...

Anonymous said...

While I love TOT in WDW, I do have to say that the drop sequence has become, over time, the focus of the attraction instead of a thrilling finale to a great ride. Proof of this is the constant regiggering of the drop sequences, making them longer and longer, so that you are (almost) riding a yo-yo. Theoretically, Disney interviewed a lot of guests, and the 5th Dimension room was one of the lower rated things in the ride. Not my experience, and not that of anyone I know, but that's what they say.

If the yo-yo is what the public wants, they certainly gave it to them at DCA.

And by eliminating a "powered" vehicle at DCA (it is pushed and pulled into the drop tower, as opposed to a vehicle that moves under it's own power, as it is at WDW's TOT) Disney saved a boatload of cash, both on the maufacturing and maintenance side.
I've heard that maintaining the WDW TOT vehicles costs twice what was originally projected.

But if TOT was supposed to fix the attendance problems at DCA, I figure that they should have spent twice the money that was spent on the WDW version, not half. Add more show scenes and dark ride elements. Maybe tilt the cars or seats in the drop sequence so that on the last drop, you are facing the ceiling. Something, anything, to keep your new E Ticket from being considered "TOT Lite".
If they had created a mind blowing, state of the art MUST RIDE attraction, such as Indy was a decade ago, people would have come.

Also, 1 new ride is not going to fix DCA. But 5 or 6 killer E-Ticket rides would do a lot more than fixing "Placemaking", whatever that is. I believe that while flawed, the DCA decor is less of a problem that a lack of attractions that people will drop $60 to ride.


Anonymous said...

Macheath's comment on the rainstorm in the tiki room is dead on. That effect is pure magic. I literally tune out the show, (under new management is lame) turn around and just stare at it because for some reason it transports me. It's like the lighting storm outside the window of the ToT library.

Tokyo's ToT apparently is not getting the Twilight Zone story, that is correct, but the story is centered around a man who also owns another attraction in the same land - this actually seems alot stronger to me. It is a shame that the beautiful ToT there will not get the forward motion of the elevator. What a waste.

Anonymous said...

With due respect, I think y'all are being a bit hard on the adaptation of the TOT to DCA. Having been a voracious rider of the FL one several times a year for for more than a decade, and the CA one during two visits, I don't think the forward movement of the elevator was a big loss, particularly with addition of the "ghosting" effect in the mirror--that I truly had to run around and get on again to see what happened to "me." Two things always pierced the fantasy world and the sweet anticipation of the elevator gone wrong in FL: First,l the unavoidable fact that the doors open and there are rows of SEATS--which screams thrillride; Secondly, when the elevator starts moving forward I thought "what a cool ride vehicle" -- but again, at that moment, it felt like anything BUT an elevator. Those two little skinpricks came to mind in reading the blog about that moment being so pivotal...luckily, the ride soon diverts one from you are repositioned in what is obviously another elevator shaft. I had the distinct feeling that the ride vehicle needs to leave the shaft to enter a special one where the drop can take least that's what I was thinking as NON-Engineer (far from it obviously). The decor elements it seemed to me were identical at DCA and the loading area, I honestly don't remember.
More importantly, I think someone needs to mention that more often the cost-driven streamlining seemed to flow FROM Disneyland and to Florida, where the versions of the Haunted Mansion, where the ceiling moves up instead of the floor moving down, a distinctly cheaper engineering feat, I imagine, and most painfully, Pirates, makeme pine for Disneyland everytime I'm at WDW. There, you reach the climax of the ride with all the gunfire and suddenly turn to look forward and your abruptly getting out of the ride! The pull up the hill at the end of Disneyland's version is so absent, for me it is like waking up in the middle of a plot, there's no "return" from this fantasy, just a sudden unplugging of it.
Later, as an adult, reading about the construction of WDW I realized these probably had to do with the Florida waterbasin and inability to go far underground, but even so, guests are cheated with such simpifications. (And I say this despite the primal stress experience of being stuck with my family on that final hill due to a breakdown and missing, or nearly missing a flight at LAX!) And need I mention the whole environment of Blue Bayou, etc.
In my opinion, WDW in general,including the MK has this wide paved boulevard effect that you find in DCA, that feels as impersonal as Vegas Strip attrations...what
Fjeldman in "Vinyl Leaves" referred to as "Corporate Disney" as opposed to Walt's original concepts. DCA feels very much like all those Florida parks...very Corporate Disney, with miles and miles of them, so I wouldn't stress over the current state of DCA so much...with the intimacy of Disneyland so near, it won't take much to give it the same "magic," whatever it is that will accomplish the change. The smallness of it may turn out to be an asset when applying a "fix" to make it more like its sister park. You should all spend more time in Florida and you will feel that the mass production feeling is far more manifest and these vast concret landscapes don't speak to your inner child. Comparatively, DCA won't take much to "fix."

Anonymous said...

Tower was my hands-down favorite attraction in WDW when I visited in 1996. The impact has never left me, and when I heard that DCA was getting Tower, I was excited that finally, we would get something to justify the existence of this park. I rode DCA’s Tower during a cast member preview, and I have never been so completely and horribly disappointed in a Disney attraction. In a location with expansive parking lot to build into, gone was the long, winding garden queue. The shoehorned it into a tiny footprint, when so much was available. Gone is the “old” look of the building. Although the theming is beautiful inside, you experience it without ever “leaving” DCA. Unlike the Florida queue, this one doesn’t transport you to a time long gone. You step through the doors and you’re suddenly there. So many little things were lost. The lightening on the walls is not nearly as good in DCA…an effect that really “wowed” me in Florida. And worst of all, no 5th Dimension room. With improved technology, that room really could have been something.

There are a lot of film attractions in DCA, where you sit there and don’t go anywhere. I like horizontal movement in attractions. I like to feel you’ve actually gone somewhere. In this Tower though, it feels like you’re in another simulator just watching a series of films.

Disney had one chance to build this; one chance to do it right. They completely blew it and built an attraction that isn’t even close to as magical as the original.

pariartspaul said...

Just thought I'd clarify a point here - the reason DCA got the tower it did was no fault of the designer(s). I know for a fact that the designer(s) pleaded, struggled and argued with management every step of the way during that project to get it designed and built the way it should have. Management won out of course. But the designer(s) persisted and gave you the best they could with what they were allowed to work with.

I'm not going to critique the attraction here at DCA, I never rode it. I did ride the one in Florida and it IS great.

Mr Banks said...

I hope I made it clear enough in the blog that the sub-par version of the DCA Tower had nothing to do with the Imagineers and all to do with the cost cutting managerial decisions.

Anonymous said...

I have every belief that if WDI was able to do with DCA's Tower what they wanted to do with it, we would have had the most amazing, up-to-date attraction anywhere in the Resort. What's most upsetting is that the management team who most likely towed the financial line on Tower is most likely completely out of the picture and onto jobs at other companies. How nice of them to leave their mark like this, then have the ability to change jobs and essentially fall of the face of the Disney earth. :(

Anonymous said...

Okay here's my 2 cents on TOT....I have ridden both versions and I enjoy both. I prefer FL, hands down. I agree with about every bloke posting comments here. The 5th dimension room is amazing and it's truely sad to see that WDI had to cut this out from DCA's version. I miss the queue. I love the moss covered trees and echo-plexed Duke Ellington music. The FL version transports me to an era of the past and into the twilight zone whereas the CA version simple lets me go into a hotel right off the street and drop in an elevator.
Now I will give props to the other scene in DCA's version. The mirror scene is pretty kewl.

I as well know some of the Imagineers who worked on this and from what I was told it had to do alot with funding and the Esiners word on what went and what stayed. The funny thing is that even cutting out the 5th dimension room and queue, they ended up spending about the same amount of money on DCA's version.

What really makes me upset is that TOT in FL was and is a bench mark in Imagineering. I feel that the creative team that brought this idea fourth captured so much of what we Disney fans came to expect from classic Disney attractions, i.e. POC & HM. That's why TOT was so successful and then suits decided to "Andy Warhol" it and mass produce it only cheaper... they trashed that bench mark so to say.

If WDI had all the funding they really needed and wanted and if the higher ups followed the teachings of Disney himself I think all of us would be in a world of wonderment when it came to the parks.

Anonymous said...

At the very least the Oriental Land Company spared no expense from what I've seen of the pictures/videos of the new Tower in Tokyo Disneysea...since the Twilight Zone isn't known there, it forced the imagineers to create a unique version of the Tower (which they placed on the NY Waterfront area). Fabulous!

Mike Murder said...

Whoa! I agree with the sentiment that this post presents rather harsh treatment of the DCA Tower. I have experienced both versions and my thoughts are as follows:

the queue - as is the case with most all attractions, the California versions are marred (or, as one poster pointed out, sometimes booned) by a general lack of wide open space. Clearly we could not expect the extensive outdoor portion of the WDW queue to be replicated in DCA. The interior pre-show remains largely identical to its Floridian cousin, with the boiler room sequence greatly enhanced in terms of scope, detail and TZ references, effectively setting the mood for the attraction to follow. Those who have been complaining about not being taken back to a different time (in the CA version) are missing the context of the ride story - we are entering a hotel in the modern age (or at least in the 60s, when TZ was broadcast) that was condemned in the 1930s and has remained untouched since. The proceedings taking place in the past is not intrinsic to the ride experience, in fact it's quite the opposite. As for the slight lapse in theme when actually boarding the elevators, even as a hardcore detail stickler I actually never noticed this and it really doesn't do anything to take away from the immersion or the enjoyment of the experience.

Mike Murder said...

the ride - the whole 5th Dimension sequence in the original actually never sat well with me. As a die hard TZ fanboy, one of the concepts that always drew me in was that the TZ (or 5th dimension or whatever you may call it) never existed as a tangible space. It was more of a state of being where the various characters in each story found themselves (metaphorically, more or less) when their own experiences began to defy conventional logic or science (phenomena also usually presented as moral metaphor within Rod Serling's world). Therefore the trip through said dimension within the ride really felt more like cruising through the Season 4 TZ intro sequence (also slightly redundant due to its inclusion within the preshow video). In a way, the sequence does clarify the fact that the maintenance elevator is traveling into another dimension, presumably where the original elevator shaft now resides, but this in itself is far more literal than most forays into the TZ and IMO the “backstory” of Tower is its biggest shortcoming (as Imagineering absolutely nailed the tone of TZ but missed the style completely).

Mike Murder said...

One final note – I read this blog often and notice a recurring theme of praising rides (particularly the oft deified HM and POTC) for having ride/loading systems that are capable of accommodating astounding numbers of riders per hour. Conversely, a few have bashed the loading system in DCA Tower which, for a ride of this type, is revolutionary in the number of riders it can get in and out. The sluggish loading sequence of the FL original is gone and so are long lines! My point is that occasionally it is okay to eschew some reality or intimacy for the sake of efficiency, as long as the balance doesn’t tip too far in the wrong direction.