Announced in 2008, Transformers: The Ride – 3D is arguably Universal Studios Hollywood’s largest attraction in the past decade – bypassing the likes of The Simpsons Ride and even King Kong 360: 3D in sheer size and theatricality. And given its occupancy in the former Backdraft/Special Effects Stage soundstage, it’s no wonder expectations were already set high by fans, given the closure of two attractions to pave way for one – all while keeping in mind Universal’s already limited list of shows and rides.
So in the end, was the tradeoff ultimately worth it, and does Transformers live up to the hype? As they always say, read on to find out!
I’ll just be frank: I was a skeptic before the ride even broke ground. Historically, Hollywood has always gotten the short end of the stick (Revenge of the Mummy, to name one), and for a ride supposedly attempting to mimic the often worshiped and praised Spiderman Ride at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Japan, I think it’s fair to say I was a pessimist by all accounts.
That’s not to say I didn’t believe Hollywood could recreate the same quality experience as Florida or Japan, it’s just that given our unique constraints – size being the primary factor, along with our reluctance to really build from the ground up – the idea of a major ride hitting Hollywood really appeared to be another tragic instance of Revenge of the Mummy: Version Two. Specifically, in this case, Hollywood would simply receive the same ride, but in smaller, more muted fashion.
But enough of initial thoughts, let’s move on to initial impressions.
See, from my perspective, for a ride attempting to mimic realistic explosions and effects, it seemed like an odd choice to paint a cartoonish background alongside the realistic depictions of Megatron and Optimus Prime in combat. But really, knowing Universal, the point of the whole façade was to get you interested and in the building as soon as possible, and in that regard, it succeeds.
Once you get in, you’re set in the headquarters of N.E.S.T., a governmental organization seeking out to defend Earth from an evil faction known as the Decepticons, with the assistance of human and Autobot forces. In this case, the Decepticons are supposedly trying to steal a vital fragment known as the the “AllSpark” – the very ‘soul’ of the Transformers universe – from N.E.S.T. headquarters for their own, misaligned use. Suffice to say, your mission – as an untrained new recruit – is to safely transport the AllSpark to safer grounds and away from the Decepticons with the assistance of EVAC, a similarly untrained Autobot designed to safely evacuate humans.
So, how’s the queue? Well, relative to Universal Studios Hollywood – it’s great. But it could have been much better. But first and foremost, let’s focus on what the queue is trying to do. The queue – like many other Universal attractions – is littered with monitors aimed at filling you in on the plot and premise for the ride. And you know what, despite what my colleague has to say, I think it really is successful.
See, I’ve never been interested in the Transformers franchise. I’ve never seen the shows, nor have I seen the movies – so to me, something like this should be completely over my head. But you know what? Universal really did an excellent job with the videos. Production value is high, and the premise is relatively easy to understand – especially to someone who’s completely unaware of the franchise as a whole. And of course, I’m sure you’ll find little details here and there from the videos that would please even the most die-hard Transformers fans.
But once we stray away from the video, that’s when things start heading downhill. Now, again, let me start by saying the queue itself is very well done, relative to Universal Studios Hollywood. It truly is unlike anything you’ve ever seen at the park, in that there’s an earnest attempt at setting up different areas and different arcs within the queue aimed at setting up a cohesive theme. And again, in that regard, it’s successful. There’s a bunch of interactive gadgets and gizmos for guests to ponder and tinker with, and there’s always something new around the corner to see.
But again, knowing Universal all too well, they could have done so much better. Writing this from a fan’s point of view, once you start riding and reriding the ride, you’ll start to notice a few details that simply don’t make sense. For one, it seems obvious (or appears so) that Universal took a few mismatching CD drives from their old office computers and simply shoved the drive casing into the wall to create a stereotypical “high tech” facility. I’m sorry to say, but the drives seem woefully out of place for anything high tech, not to mention frustratingly cheap. I mean, come on, do you really expect N.E.S.T. – a supposedly high end, technologically advanced government agency – to randomly put beige drives in the middle of the wall?
And don’t get me started on the stickers. If there’s anything I hate more, it’s stickers plastered over lights to simulate a working monitor or control panel. It’s cheap, it doesn’t work, and…it’s mind-blowingly cheap. Again, I’ll just sum it up by mentioning that there’s a tension between cartoonish elements and the effects of realism that’s evident throughout the ride. And unlike Spiderman, I think this was the result of budget constraints, not of creative discretion.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some excellent elements of the queue – such as the enclosed AllSpark fragment – that I neglected to cover in detail, but I cannot stress how the cheapness of certain effects underestimates the entire queue altogether.
The ride itself is simply amazing. I really have no complaints here (which makes this section relatively short), but if you’ve ever been on the Spiderman Ride in Florida or Japan – expect the same thing here.
For those who haven’t, think of The Simpsons Ride on wheels. Now I know I’m overly generalizing, but that really is the foundation of the ride. But don’t let my description underestimate the core technologies hidden within Transformers, because it really is something to behold. For one, it’s a seamless transition from one completely different ride element to another, combining numerous effects into one awesome experience. To give you an example, it’s really amazing that people need to climb up a flight of stairs to exit the ride – a telling sign that the ride vehicle has ventured across floors and crevices completely unbeknownst to the guest.
The 3D effects are as crisp as ever, and the picture quality in itself is really something to admire. The picture quality is that good – not to mention the ride vehicles themselves. It’s obvious that Universal built upon the core foundation of Spiderman to create something just as smooth – and dare I say smoother – than its predecessor that makes it appear as if you’re gliding effortlessly in mid-air. And of course, being Universal, the sound is superb, with riders hearing and feeling every last detail in the ride’s soundtrack.
But again (and I feel like a broken record for mentioning this), upon repeat rides, you will start to notice where things eventually start tipping off. The “monitor” within the ride vehicle is just a piece of paper placed over a light, and the simulated vehicle “headlights” are practically the same thing – “stickers over lights,” which doesn’t make sense, seeing how they also (I believe?) light up.
Honestly, in the long run, and for most guests, it’s really not that big of a big deal, but it’s an element you won’t forget once you notice it.
Honestly, I have to say, Transformers really does live up to its hype. It truly is a remarkable attraction, and it’s bound to be a new fan favorite at the park. The level of technology behind the scenes is simply remarkable, and it’s great to see that they’re able to hone in on the technology used in Spiderman to create a better experience. Simply put, it’s the best ride that Universal Studios Hollywood has to offer – bar none.
Regardless, my skepticism proved somewhat true. In the end, I’m still very conflicted. There are still elements in this attraction that make it undeniably the result of brutal budget constraints that hinder the overall experience.
But really, when faced with the decision to skimp on details or hinder the actual ride, I think it’s fair to say that the ride experience remains paramount – all other factors aside. And with that regard, Universal chose wisely. But really, it’s the small effects and attention to detail that separates a remarkable ride from one that’s truly revolutionary, and in that regard, Transformers is just a remarkable – yet formidable – creation.