Welcome to Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole, and this week I’ll be your emergency situation leader as we look at some of Universal Orlando’s most “dangerous” attractions.
In 1974, Universal Pictures released Earthquake. The film was one of the first blockbusters, even billing itself as an event film. At the time, blockbusters and tentpoles didn’t really exist, but Earthquake managed to pull it off, becoming the fifth highest grossing film of the year domestically.
One of the reasons that the film was so successful with its use of Sensurround. Developed specifically for the film, this sound system could provide up to 120 decibels of sound that would literally shake the entire room during the earthquake scene. I once had the chance to experience Earthquake with Sensurround, and it was pretty incredible how well they simulated the earthquake experience. But that simulation wasn’t enough for Universal, so they made a smart decision to add Earthquake to the Studio Backlot Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Via The Studio Tour
On the Studio Tour, guests entered a seemingly innocuous soundstage, but then the earth started shaking and everything went out of control with water, fire and trucks rolling from the ceiling. It was a hit with guests from its introduction, so Universal decided to build upon the attraction and produce an expanded version of it at Universal Studios Florida when it opened on June 7, 1990.
Earthquake was very similar to other opening day attractions Jaws: The Ride and Kongfrontation in that all three very adapted from the Studio Tour into full attractions in Florida. But more notably, all three didn’t work very well when Universal Studios Florida opened, with all of them going through more technical difficulties than Rise of Resistance is experiencing right now. To be fair, Earthquake went through less issues than the other two, but it is still odd that Earthquake went through problems as it was virtually identical to the California version in its execution.
Now my father raised me right and ensured that I had respect for the prominent actors of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, with Charlton Heston topping that list by a landslide. Heston starred in Earthquake, but I was still pleasantly surprised to see him appear in this attraction as the host who took guests through the attraction and showcased some of the special effects that were used. The first part of the preshow began with a demonstration with how models were used to simulate earthquake events in the film. They showed footage of a simulated earthquake that I believe was done specifically for the attraction (I looked up footage of the film, and it did not seem like the same), and Heston patiently explained what was happening and how the effect worked.
Next, guests moved to another room where they pretended to drop a guest about thirty feet. While they prepared for the stunt, Heston came back on screen to explain how matte paintings worked, sounding generally excited the entire time. It was really cool to see this esteemed Hollywood pro explain how the movies worked and really enjoy every second of the experience. He could have easily phoned it in and taken the paycheck, but he cared about teaching people about the art of moviemaking.
Now that Charlton Heston appreciation is over, the attraction itself was not my favorite I have to admit. Then again, the ride portion was virtually identical to the one in California, and I have ridden that attraction so many times over the years that a lot of its novelty has worn off. The special effects are pretty awesome, though, with both an oil truck and an errant subway car almost hitting you as well as all the fire and water that appears almost everywhere. But what is most impressive is that the entire experience can reset itself in just a couple of minutes, an astonishing fact when you consider how many moving parts are involved.
In the mid 2000s, Universal came to the realization that no one really knew what Earthquake the film was anymore, so it was time to update the story while keeping many of the same elements of the actual attraction. On November 5, 2007, Earthquake closed, reopening two months later on January 17, 2008 as Disaster!
Disaster kept the idea of the original attraction around, with most of the changes coming to the story, especially in the preshow. Charlton Heston sadly no longer appeared in the attraction, but now we got Christopher Walken, so at least there was another really fun actor to help take us through the story. Walken played the head of Disaster Studios, Frank Kincaid, who needed some of the guests to help him out and perform as extras in his new film Mutha Nature.
As much as I enjoyed the preshow to Earthquake, I think Disaster’s was even better, with a couple of really cool ideas presented in it, starting with Frank Kincaid appearing in the “flesh.”
Via Easy WDW
Similarly to Captain Jack in The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, Frank Kincaid was brought to life through projection technology. The photo above does not do the effect justice because throughout this part of the preshow, the assistant director, who is taking guests through each room, interacts with him for an entire scene. It’s as if there were two actors on stage even though one of them was completely fake.
In the next room, the volunteers that they recruited in the first room all got their chance to act their hearts out and become an even bigger part of the show. When I visited a few years ago, my dad was chosen to portray the “hunky guy” character, so he got to flail his arms in front of the green screen as a part of a three simulantaneous shot extravaganza finale to the preshow.
With the preshow over, it was time to ride the attraction itself, where pretty much nothing had changed from Earthquake. However, there was an additional postshow, where they put together footage from all of the extras’ work earlier into one trailer for Mutha Nature starring The Rock. Putting all of that together with real-time editing in about five minutes was super impressive, just adding to the list of cool things that Disaster had going for it.
I’ll be honest, when I experienced Disaster in person a few years ago, I was not very impressed, but looking at it now, I was really missing out. There were so many uses of impressive technology and a really fun story that I wish I had given it more time of day. I think I liked Disaster a bit more than Earthquake, but both of them had their merits and really blended the line between explaining filmmaking techniques and creating a thrilling experience, more so than almost any other attractions that have attempted to accomplish that.
Unfortunately, Disaster closed on September 8, 2015 to make way for another Dwayne Johnson attraction, Fast & Furious Supercharged. The fact that they closed down such a fun attraction for a truly bad attraction in Supercharged, still makes me upset to this day. Luckily, you can still experience the Earthquake portion of the attraction on the Studio Tour today, but without the fun preshows that made the original versions so great.
Well, that’s it for today as well as my last Extinct Attractions article of the year because I’ll be doing a few Rise of Skywalker articles for the next few weeks. But here’s some clues for what’s going up first in 2020.
- This show took place in a futuristic place at Walt Disney World.
- This attraction lasted less than a year in the early 90s.
- This attraction involved aliens and dinosaurs.
Thanks for reading and have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.