by Paul Ruben
Two trends of late have me either smiling or scratching my head. I’m talking about the practice of re-theming and re-introducing existing rides and adding soundtracks to the ride experience.
Let’s talk about soundtracks first. I believe the first example was introduced on Space Mountain at California’s Disneyland. Speakers in each car produced the sound of space travel, or what might sound like space travel if the absence of air in space could transmit sound.
It can’t. Disney went on to add in-car sound to Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster rides in Florida and Paris, featuring the rock group Aerosmith.
When Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach introduced the Led Zeppelin coaster in 2008 it was fitted with speakers that played the Zeppelin’s brand of head-banging music. Six Flags has tried it on its Bizarro coasters in New Jersey and New England, and on X2 and Terminator Salvation at Magic Mountain, while Universal Studios Orlando added a music soundtrack to Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. All these are OK but they drown out the screams of the riders, which is music to my ears.
I was originally sceptical of re-theming existing rides: Can parks re-promote an existing ride enough to recover their investment? That scepticism has vanished. In 2009 Six Flags renovated and reinvigorated its old Monster Plantation, re-introducing it as Monster Mansion. The improvement was dramatic as I fell in love with the dark ride all over again.
Six Flags also re-themed two existing coasters. Medusa at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, the first-ever floorless coaster, was introduced in 1999. In 2009 it was themed as Bizarro, the fictional comic book super-villain who is the exact opposite of Superman. With new theming and speakers, the coaster has a new lease on life. The speakers? Rather than blasting unintelligible drama in my ears I would have preferred recorded screams. Real screams would be better yet.
The second coaster to be themed became the biggest beneficiary of all. The 2000-built Superman coaster at Six Flags New England was reincarnated as Bizarro with new theming, speakers and new trains. I was so impressed that I wanted to be Bizarro myself. Bought myself a Bizarro cape and, as you can see in the photo, imagined I could fly like Luap (Bizarro-speak for Paul).
Bizarro’s theming includes stage sets and fire eruptions tightly placed near the passing train. This is brilliant, and doubly effective at night when illuminated. Like riding a wood coaster, this picket fence effect enhances the riders’ sense of speed and adds a new dimension to the ride experience. The new Intamin trains are much more comfortable than the previous ones, a huge improvement. They whisk riders through what I still consider the world’s most thrilling, best-paced coaster.
From the moment you drop off the lift hill until you return to the relative serenity of the loading platform there is never a moment to regain your composure. Let me be clear. Bizarro is now and again the Number One Coaster on the Planet. With or without the speakers, it’s music to my ears.