Preview: Fast & Furious: Supercharged brings some extra thrills to the Universal Studios Hollywood Backlot Tour

in Theme Parks, Universal Studios Hollywood

I’ve been seeing a lot of TV commercials lately for Fast & Furious: Supercharged, a new attraction opening this month at Universal Studios Hollywood. The ads feature a young couple sitting in a compact-looking ride vehicle and holding on tightly to the safety bar in front of them as they speed and wind through city streets alongside cars being driven by cast members from the Fast & Furious film franchise. The voice-over in the commercial recites the following oddly-worded monologue while the same text appears in titles on the screen: “It’s more than a movie. It’s now a ride.” Taking that commercial at face value, my assumption would be as follows: Universal Studios Hollywood must be opening a large Fast & Furious attraction similar in scale to Transformers: The Ride 3D.

But Universal’s official website reveals the following description: “Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the world-famous Studio Tour and hold on tight for the all-new grand finale, Fast & Furious: Supercharged”.

The reality is that Fast & Furious: Supercharged is actually an expansion/enhancement of the existing Studio Tour tram ride, in the tradition of Peter Jackson’s King Kong 360 3-D. The marketing message is somewhat deceptive in that it is being promoted as its own “ride.”

To help set proper expectations for this park addition, I bring you my thoughts based on a preview last week at the park.

Fast & Furious: Supercharged isn’t the first Fast and/or Furious-themed event to be featured on the Universal Studios Hollywood Backlot Tour. That honor belongs to The Fast & The Furious: Extreme Close-Up, a very short and much-maligned display of pyrotechnic and hydraulic effects which opened in 2006 and was shut down in 2013 to make way for Supercharged.

Supercharged makes its presence known during the Studio Tour long before you reach the actual show building. A handful of scripted events and pre-edited video sequences tease the attraction during the long-familiar behind-the-scenes stops on the tram ride. Your tour guide points out the Dodge Charger owned by Vin Diesel’s Fast & Furious character Dominic Toretto, parked just beyond the famous Psycho house and Bates Motel. After the guide calls in the unauthorized vehicle, an FBI agent appears on the monitor and warns us against interacting with Toretto. The transmission is then interrupted by Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Hobbs, who takes over the investigation.

Eventually the tram approaches and enters a run-down-looking warehouse, where the pre-show begins. More characters from the movie series, Roman (Tyrese Gibbons) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) pop up on the screen to bring us up to speed: they’re going to help us get away from the FBI.

The tram then pulls into the next bay, where a large warehouse party is taking place. Using similarly lifelike projections as the “Harry Potter” attractions and even Florida’s Disaster pre-show, life-sized human performers are seen amidst a practical environment, giving a surreal, almost-lifelike appearance to the characters. The partiers are ushered out of the room by the FBI agent, who then confronts Roman, Letty, Toretto, and Hobbs.

After the confrontation, the tram moves into the next area, where guests are told to put on their 3-D glasses, already handy due to the aforementioned King Kong section of the Studio Tour. And much like that attraction, the tram’s riders then find themselves surrounded on both sides by two large projection screens.

What then follows, story-and-content-wise, is about what you would expect from Fast & Furious: a big, noisy car chase with lots of wind, smoke, and water-spray effects. Of course, as with King Kong 360 3-D, the tour tram moves, bounces, and tilts along with the image to create the illusion of movement, and those elements are indeed effective – and fun.

Some of the acting and CGI effects are a little hokey, but armed with the foreknowledge of what Fast & Furious: Supercharged actually is, the only real disappointment about it may be its length. The actual “ride” portion of the experience lasts about a minute and a half, and as soon as you are able to get your bearings, the show is over as abruptly as it began.

The Universal Studios Hollywood Backlot Tour has evolved quite a bit over the fifty years it’s been operating, but the emphasis has always been on generating a cumulative experience: a collection of entertaining and informative events, rather than one single focal point.

Though Universal should receive a good slap on the wrist for its misleading marketing of this Studio Tour addition, Fast & Furious: Supercharged is in fact a fun punctuation to that experience, and in that context it works.

The addition will officially open in red carpet style on June 23.

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