Inside Universal's VelociCoaster: A wild ride with Jurassic World: Dominion teasers
EW exclusively previews the insane thrills, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard cameos, and Jurassic World: Dominion sneak peeks hidden in Islands of Adventure's new coaster.
As iconic as it is haunting, the Jurassic movie franchise has long conditioned the world to fear one noise above all: That piercingly pitched, spine-tingling screech of a howling Velociraptor. If you ask (well, the ghosts of) Robert Muldoon, Ray Arnold, a team of InGen mercenaries in The Lost World, Vic Hoskins, and more, screams of horror are an appropriate sonic match for the bloodcurdling call that has preceded many a death across five series films to date — which makes it entirely jarring to hear reptilian shrieks and squeals paired with fits of laughter and joyous as you approach the new VelociCoaster ride at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park, where you'll find hordes of humans running toward the chaos instead of fleeing a beastly terror when it officially opens on Thursday.
Towering 155 feet over the lush jungle foliage surrounding the area's iconic Jurassic Park welcome center, VelociCoaster — like any given entry of the franchise that birthed it — looks as beautiful as it does menacing, and it's half endearing, half intimidating that the people who brought it to life regularly reference the mountain of steel that slithers and twists through the landscape as if it's a living, breathing creature with a contorted mind of her own: "She's very photogenic," ride producer Shelby Honea tells EW in an exclusive walkthrough tour of the attraction, which took three years to conceive, largely with one goal in mind: To scare the hell out of you.
"We went back and looked at the storyboards from the Gyrosphere ride [from the films], which is such a fun piece of canon," Honea says, explaining that the ride's story is set before the events of Jurassic World, with the doomed park (eventually overrun by its killer, resurrected dinos from millennia ago) still fully functional, as operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) launches a new attraction, much to animal behavioralist Owen Grady's (Chris Pratt) skepticism: Thrust guests into a raptor paddock on a multi-launch roller coaster. "This is something that could and would happen as deleted scene of Jurassic World."
Ahead, Honea goes deep into the science-backed process of fusing theme park excellence with cinematic thrills, filming ride cameos with multiple franchise film stars, and how VelociCoaster functions both as a nostalgic callback to classic Jurassic Park thrills and — if you know where to look — an Easter egg-lined portal into where Jurassic World: Dominion will take us on the big screen in 2022.
Trek into the belly of the beast (literally)
The story begins the moment guests enter the VelociCoaster queue. After traveling down a darkened tunnel into the depths of the walls surrounding the paddock, screens overhead reintroduce you to a familiar character, Mr. DNA, who gives us an overview of the journey. Deeper into the cavernous waiting area is a launch bay, where you get a pulse-pounding glimpse at the ride's second of two launches en route to the ride's top speed of 70 miles per hour. Even if the line is moving, it's worth it to linger here and let others go ahead of you for a few minutes. And, for a cute surprise, make sure you keep your eyes on the glass after a train roars by.
Next, the pylons funnel visitors into a holding dock filled with animatronic raptors; the figures snarl and shake in their holding cells, and the creative team enhanced the experience by pumping smells of soil and earth into the air — all while video messages from Jurassic World scientist Dr. Wu (BD Wong) play overhead, ensuring that the raptors you're about to encounter on the ride are kept in top form (in other words, they're primed for a hunt).
Dig up Jurassic World: Dominion Easter eggs throughout VelociCoaster’s queue
It's in the queue area that Honea and her team wanted to intensify the immersive experience, fusing the worlds of in-person theme park with big screen magic. While the ride doesn't incorporate any props from past films, they were granted access to "production art files from the next film," she recalls, and partnered with Universal Creative, Universal Pictures, and Amblin Entertainment to recreate the raptor animatronics, paddock details, and more. There are also personal touches unique to the ride peppered throughout the queue, including asset containment gear, artifacts (including a book written by Sam Neill's Dr. Alan Grant, who's set to return for Dominion), and baby-raptor chew toys and sports balls with tiny teeth marks lining dozens of display cases.
"We do have one Easter egg that's directly from the Dominion set, and a few other nods," Honea teases. "It's the Ian Malcolm [Jeff Goldblum] book, How the World Will End. That came directly from the Dominion set."
It all fits into the team's vision to bridge past, present, and future into one attraction, as Honea adds: "Jurassic Park and Jurassic World is really just Jurassic, and it's this big, beautiful timeline. The more we know about the upcoming film, that really seems to [remain] the case, so we wanted to make sure this [ride] supports that vision."
Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, and BD Wong clawed back to Universal for VelociCoaster cameos
As Neill, Goldblum, and Laura Dern did before them, Howard and Pratt have taken up the mantle as the faces of the Jurassic films, so Universal Creative welcomed the Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom stars back to production to film video segments for VelociCoaster. The pair appears together in a debriefing room ahead of the boarding area. In a fitting teaser of what's to come, one of the first things you hear upon entering this area is Dearing explaining that she devised her latest invention to meet visitor demands for "more teeth" — an idea Grady (who video-chats into Dearing's broadcast) pushes against. "For the record, I think this is a terrible idea," he says of the ride, which Dearing assures guests is as safe as any other attraction at the park thanks to InGen Security measures (including the domineering watchtower from which Dearing is broadcasting, and state-of-the-art ride vehicles) keeping riders safe as they zoom through the paddock as the raptors hunt.
"We were so happy that the talent, when we explained this attraction to them, like, 'ok, it's a little crazy, there's a roller coaster in a raptor paddock,' they were both just like, 'That's it, we get it,'" Honea remembers of pitching the concept to the actors, and she subsequently facilitated a "quick" shoot on a themed set for the performers: "The Chris and Bryce banter? The hype is real. It's fantastic. We wanted to make sure, even though they're talking to each other [from separate places in the video], that they were actually talking to each other. All those banters and reactions are happening in real time. They play off each other so naturally, and have so much fun!"
Hold on to your butts; They aren't going to touch the seat much
With well-wishes from Dearing and a stern warning from Grady, riders walk up a final flight of stairs to the loading area — a remarkably bright cement pad that glistens with the steely technical sheen and corporate glint synonymous with InGen's expensive taste. In contrast to the cavernous lair guests have queued in up to this point, the boarding panel boasts floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the rocks, waterfalls, and greenery of the raptor enclosure, and was deliberately modeled exactly after the Indominus Rex overlook deck from the Jurassic World movie to capture the sense of wide-eyed awe the films are known for.
Honea wanted guests to feel at ease in the familiar feeling of marveling at larger-than-life spectacles in the films, but not comfortable enough to feel comfortable at any point. After all, the ride vehicles were designed to elicit feelings of vulnerability along the ride's course, which deliberately features multiple moments of ejector airtime and sustained periods of inverted action — including a 100-foot-long section of upside-down track travelers speed across at nearly 70 miles per hour.
"You're going into the raptor paddock, you're safe and surrounded by Ingen Security technologies, the best of the best, but still, the vulnerability is key. The fact that you're really close to raptors, even the seats are higher than expected. Your feet won't touch [the floor]," Honea explains, giggling in affirmation when asked if the sole purpose of tilting rider's seats backwards ever so slightly was to instill fear. "It's those little pieces of vulnerability. Even in this rockwork, you never know where you're going next; every next turn is obscured, and you're getting glimpses of teeth, talon, and tail. The airtime and how you experience that elevates the thrill and the story of vulnerability!"
And, yes, science went into crafting the best ride in Orlando; The team consulted "actual scientific journals" when deciding on a color scheme for the attraction. There are numerous neon-blue lights trimming the vehicles; it's a real show at night, but it's not just for aesthetics.
"There's science backing up certain frequencies of light as prompting avoidance behavior in avian and reptile animals. The idea was these are not only the lights are talking to the paddock, so when you're released into the paddock it knows where you are, it's tracking you, but it's that extra layer of safety prompting avoidance behavior from the raptors," Honea says.
But the raptors (of which there are many along the ride's course) are the least of guest concerns: On your journey, you'll hit two launches, four inversions, and maneuvers calculated to make you feel like you're going to eject from your chair — namely what Honea describes as the finale's "Mosasaurus Roll," an in-line twist approximately 15 feet above the park's central lagoon that, unlike most coaster inversions, relinquishes centrifugal force in favor of negative g's (translation: you feel like you're being hurled into the depths below instead of pushed down into your seat.)
As the franchise saying goes, "life finds a way," but VelociCoaster proves that a brush with death is just as satisfying.
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