A Look Back At Back To The Future: The Ride

The current rides and attractions at theme parks based on popular IP are quite popular, but there are many extinct rides that are sorely missed. One of the most beloved is Back to the Future: The Ride which was at Universal Studios Orlando, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan.

Back to the Future: The Ride opened first at Universal Studios Orlando in May 1991 and later at the Hollywood location in June 1993 and finally at the Japan park in March 2001. For anyone who does not know the attraction was a POV simulator ride that used dome-shaped IMAX screens. It served as a mini-sequel of sorts to Back to the Future, Part III, although whether or not it should be considered canon is up for debate.

The premise was that Emmett “Doc” Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd, reprising his role from the films) founded the Institute of Future Technology, and opened the scientific institution for tours of his facility and inventions. Doc Brown’s prized invention is a fleet of modified DeLorean cars which can fit eight passengers, plus the driver, and travel through time. The actual building where the Institute of Future Technology is located houses the 70-foot OMNIMAX dome screen and 24 ride vehicles.

At some point, Biff Tannen (reprised by Thomas F. Wilson) from 1955 stows away in one of the DeLoreans and arrives in the present. At the institute, Biff steals one of the DeLoreans and takes off into the timestream while trapping Doc in his office at the institute. Unable to escape, Doc implores you, as one of the tourists, to take a modified DeLorean that he will remote control, and catch up to Biff. Riders see this entire short film on overhead monitors as they wait in the queue.

From there, riders enter a small room that featured many props from the Back to the Future films such as newspaper clips, photos and the pink hoverboard. Doc Brown comes on a screen and provides instructions; when they find Biff’s car the riders are to accelerate their car to 88 miles per hour and bump their own car into Biff’s. Doing so creates a temporal vortex which brings both vehicles back to the present.

The modified DeLorean was a stunning replica of the car featured in the films only larger. Even the front panels looked just as it appeared in film with the flux capacitor and a dashboard display that showed current time, destination time and previous time.

After the gull-wing doors closed the vehicles “lifted” off since they had the hover technology and accelerated to 88 miles per hour. The first destination was Hill Valley in 2015, which was the same fantastic future showcased in Back to the Future, Part II with a chaotic traffic of hover cars and floating signs. Biff can be spotted in his DeLorean as he taunts the riders (he also pops up in small monitors in the riders’ car, as well as Doc). Biff escapes in time after a chase and the riders wind up in the ice age barely keeping up with Biff. The final destination is the Cretaceous period where both cars run into an angry tyrannosaurus rex. After literally escaping from the dinosaur’s maw, the riders rescue Biff, whose car is damaged and trapped in a lava flow, by bumping his car and sending both vehicles back to the future.

Back at the institute, Biff is captured by Doc’s workers and all is well. This sequence was actually cut short as it originally ended with Biff being showered with manure as was his fate in the films. However, Doc Brown warns riders from the PA speakers to quickly exit the ride or else they would run into other versions of themselves and risked disrupting the time continuum! Unlike most rides today, this one did not exit directly into a gift shop, although one was located nearby the main building, which sold nifty souvenirs. These included replicas of the DeLorean (see picture) of various sizes, license plates with OUTATIME, and T-shirts.

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Celebrating The 40th Anniversary Of The Empire Strikes Back

Today marks the 40th anniversary of what is widely considered to be one of the best if not the best film sequels of all time, The Empire Strikes Back. What was known as the second Star Wars movie before it was released and is now Episode V of the Skywalker Saga. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back it should be noted this film is iconic and highly regarded both as a followup to George Lucas’ wildly successful first Star Wars film and also, on its own. a sci-fi classic. It also demonstrated, both in its story and ideas, how to make a successful follow up in contrast to other “part 2s” that merely regurgitated what came before.

The story picks up three years after the destruction of the Death Star in the first film and has the Rebels hiding on the ice world of Hoth, and Luke Skywalker continuing his training as a Jedi Knight. The epic ground battle that ensued between the Rebels and the Galactic Empire on Hoth was a highlight and something unique in action films where a climactic battle happened near the beginning of a movie. This is something that sets The Empire Strikes Back apart from other films, and also lets the audience know that Lucas was doing something different.

Rather than just make a carbon copy of A New Hope, George Lucas was building a universe and telling a long-form story; The Empire Strikes Back was the second act or a larger tale, not just your typical sequel. This was shown further when our heroes Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca escaped to the cloud world of Bespin and meeting Han’s old smuggling buddy Lando Calrissian. They then encountered danger and despair at the hands of legendary villain Darth Vader, who carried out his search for Luke and showcased his sinister dark side powers to the extreme. Meanwhile, Luke journeys to the swamp world of Dagobah and meets the now-famous Jedi Master Yoda, who deepened Luke’s training and understanding of the Force. Eventually the protagonists met up on Bespin, but still found defeat and uncertainty at the film’s conclusion.

This is another unique aspect of The Empire Strikes Back, in that it concluded with a cliffhanger ending and a shocking plot twist with Vader revealing that he was Luke’s father, all of which is well known now, but at the time was very risky for Lucas to do. Sequels usually just retell the same story but add a few extra things. This Star Wars sequel really changed all of that and broadened the scope of the mythology of Star Wars and led to pretty much everything that Star Wars is known for. From John Williams’ iconic Imperial March theme, to the towering AT-AT walkers on Hoth, to Master Yoda, as well as other fan favorites like bounty hunter Boba Fett and the aforementioned Lando.

All of these events and people in this film now define the franchise and continue to influence Star Wars films and TV shows. Rey’s journey to Jedi Knighthood in the sequel trilogy echoes Luke’s which really jumped into high gear in The Empire Strikes Back. The success of The Mandalorian TV series obviously is due to the big appeal of Boba Fett and his mysterious nature, which again got started in The Empire Strikes Back. Also, Lando’s return in The Rise of Skywalker was a treat to see, since it harkened back to his introduction in the very first Star Wars sequel.

Overall, the appeal and influence of The Empire Strikes Back is massive and long lasting seeing as how it is just as beloved now 40 years later as ever. It is now commonly considered as the best Star Wars film and will probably continue to claim that mantle for the foreseeable future. There are many reasons why the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back is being commemorated. This is a character driven film that also has exciting set pieces, as well as interesting and thoughtful ideas. The Empire Strikes Back paved the way for other Star Wars and genre films, and set the bar incredibly high for all sequels to follow.

C.S. Link

A Brief Look At Stephen King’s Cell

Stephen King’s Cell was written in the post-9/11 world and published in 2006. At the same time was a tribute to the horror sub-genre of lone survivors coping in a world overrun by maniacs, monsters and other terrors. Oddly enough the novel has some new relevance in today’s world in showing how society has abruptly been turned upside down by a “virus”. In the book’s case this virus is not biological but technological with devastating results.

On the surface, one might want to compare this to a flesh-eating zombie movie and the book’s dedication to George Romero (and Richard Matheson who wrote the classic post-apocalyptic thriller I Am Legend) adds to that comparison. But that isn’t necessarily the case, it follows the spirit of those zombie films but there aren’t any zombies in Cell. Rather it’s more comparable to Romero’s film The Crazies or 28 Days Later where civilized society is turned upside down when formerly normal people become raving murderous lunatics. Meanwhile, complete strangers band together to deal with a suddenly dangerous world. Note, although the film adaptation was not as terrible as most critics claimed, the less said about Cell (2016), the better.

The novel begins in Boston with Clay Riddell, a struggling freelance comic book artist who just caught his big break by landing for a graphic novel. He is on his way home to Maine, eager to break the news to his estranged wife and son Johnny when the Pulse hits. A signal goes out instantly over all cell phones everywhere that scrambles the brain of anyone who happens to be using a cell phone. Within seconds, anyone affected by the Pulse is turned into an insane murderer without any reason or intelligence. Clay witnesses to his horror seemingly normal people viciously attacking each other and those who weren’t affected by the Pulse. The sequences described are quite horrific and brings to mind the chaos and sense of being overwhelmed that the nation experienced during 9/11. People are running everywhere as explosions rock the city and no one can understand what is exactly going on.

As Clay evades the “phoners” (the people who turned into maniacs during the Pulse) he meets Tom McCourt and Alice Maxwell. They decide to get out of Boston,  and avoid any cities since the chaos is intensified in the urban landscapes. Eventually they reach Tom’s residence just outside of the city and discover after the chaos dies down that the phoners have developed a sort of hive mind. The phoners are seen migrating toward an unknown destination.  Clay’s own goal is to reach his hometown and find his wife and child. The other two decide to join him so they gather supplies and guns hike up north.

Along their journey, the group meets other survivors and battles more phoners  as the novel’s pessimistic mood gets even deeper. The reader is made to feel discouraged and broken by the characters’ hopeless plight as the phoners consolidate their grip on the world. They reach Clay’s hometown and discover his wife became a phoner during the Pulse but his son did not and fled further up north to Kashwak. Apparently the phoners are psychically herding all normal people up to this place by suggesting that it is a safe haven. During this trek, Clay and the others have had shared dreams that they were rounded up in a carnival-like arena surrounded by hordes of phoners. Despite knowing that Kashwak is a trap, Clay decides to go anyway in the slim hope of finding his son.

The ending itself is rather ambiguous and open-ended. Basically the reader has to decide what was the ultimate fate of the characters, although by the novel’s end the pessimistic tone seems to subside a bit to offer a glimmer of realistic hope.

Many have compared this book to Stephen King’s earlier book, The Stand, but there are diverse differences. While The Stand had an epic apocalyptic feel to it, Cell does not. Also the religious overtones and themes from The Stand are absent in Cell. Unlike his previous novel, this one focuses on a small group of survivors who are just trying to get by, whereas The Stand had a huge dramatis personae. One thing Cell has that the older book lacked are the 9/11 references, which adds a level of immediacy. And this is evident in the origin of the Pulse. Believed to be caused by terrorists, the incident represents the feeling of the world unexpectedly turned upside down.

The Pulse also shattered many illusions about our feeling of security in our civilization and the horror comes from learning how fragile our society is from how easy it falls apart. This fragility takes on an urgent relevance given our current situation. Of course, we are not on the verge of collapsing because of the coronavirus, but it has had a decided impact on how we live day to day. Despite its grim tone, the novel illustrated how human connections and relationships are key to our survival and why we will persevere in this crisis.

Arrow Hits Its Mark

“My name is Oliver Queen. I was stranded on an island with only one goal, survive. Now I will fulfill my father’s dying wish to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this I must become someone else. I must become something else.” — Oliver Queen’s opening intro to Arrow, first season

The long-running superhero TV series Arrow just aired its final episode “Fadeout” on the CW. As series finales go, “Fadeout” was surprisingly well put together and a fitting conclusion to Arrow. The series had its ups and downs during its eight-season run but generally was a solid superhero show that introduced a larger DC universe that was appropriately dubbed the Arrowverse.

When Arrow premiered on October 2012, there was some trepidation over it. Some saw it as a weak version of Batman, specifically the Christopher Nolan version because of its initial grounded feel. Others unfairly complained Arrow’s version of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow was not the one played by Justin Hartley in Smallville. Keep in mind, Smallville ended its run a year earlier and it was hoped then that some spinoff would be created from that show. Instead the character was reimagined by Arrow’s showrunners, Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg.

The Hood

However, thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of actor Stephen Amell as the title hero and the shows’ supporting cast, Arrow quickly won over many viewers. Looking back, it made sense that the show had a grittier and less fantastical feel than standard superhero fare. Amell’s Green Arrow (first called “The Hood”) was an intense, no-nonsense hero who took no quarter. This enabled the showrunners to tell solid stories about crime and corruption in Oliver Queen’s Starling City and his quest to save his city.

Establishing A Universe

In many ways the sophomore season of Arrow was among its best with its ongoing story of Oliver Queen’s confrontation with Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, who was so well played by Manu Bennett. A distinctive feature of Arrow was its use of flashbacks in most episodes that interwove or were relevant with current storylines. The flashbacks during the show’s early days focused on Oliver’s adventures when he was marooned on the island Lian Yu. This structure paid off handsomely in the second season as we saw him first meeting and befriending Wilson on the island and how the two became bitter enemies. Meanwhile, the current storyline in the second season featured the return of Deathstroke and his machinations to destroy Queen and his city.

Naturally, as the show found its footing and gained in popularity, the DC universe was introduced. To Arrow’s credit this was done organically and not rushed. It started with blink-and-you-miss-them Easter eggs and the introduction of more superhuman-related plot devices like the strength-enhancing drug mirakuru or characters like Huntress, Deathstroke and later Barry Allen/The Flash. This introduction of the larger DC universe, as well as its driving plot lines helped propel the show’s popularity late into its first season and during its second.

While the show introduced viewers to the Flash (who was soon spun off into his own series), it also featured other distinctive DC Comics characters like Black Canary, Wild Dog, Ragman Batwoman, and Supergirl, who were often introduced in series crossover events or became important supporting characters.

One outstanding character was Queen’s confidante and best friend John Diggle (David Ramsey). Although Diggle was an original character, many speculated he was a stand-in for the Green Lantern, John Stewart. The showrunners teased fans with cloy Easter eggs throughout the show’s run such as the revelation that Diggle’s stepfather’s last name was Stewart. Finally, in the last few minutes of “Fadeout” it was shown that Diggle was on his way to becoming Green Lantern to the delight of many. However, do not expect more to be made of this. Even though Greg Berlanti is developing a Green Lantern series for the upcoming streaming app HBO Max, it is doubtful Ramsey will continue to play the role or that the show will be part of the Arrowverse. The best we can hope for is that Ramsey will reprise his role as Green Lantern in other Arrowverse shows like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow. Incidentally, John Diggle is slated to appear in an upcoming episode of The Flash this season, but he won’t be Green Lantern.

Diggle finds green lantern ring

Another notable character introduced in the show was Ray Palmer/The Atom, who was played by Brandon Routh. When Brandon Routh was first announced to portray Palmer, it seemed like stunt casting since he portrayed Superman in Superman Returns. This casting turned out to resurrect Routh’s career as he was promoted to the show lead in Legends of Tomorrow and excelled in his performance as the goofy scientist. As many know, Routh’s redemption came full circle when he reprised his role as Superman in the recent Crisis on Infinite Earths Arrowverse crossover event.

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You Are About To Enter…The Twilight Zone: 60 Years Later

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Opening narration by Rod Serling to The Twilight Zone in its first season

The Twilight Zone is celebrating its 60th anniversary and is still regarded as one of the most influential sci-fi and fantasy TV series of all time. Its combination of surreal sci-fi and fantasy storytelling and eerie plots has made its many classic episodes quite memorable for genre fans of all types. Hosted and created by the late Rod Serling, his matter-of-fact introductions led viewers to witness many memorable stories that ranged from a gremlin trying to sabotage a passenger jet seen only by one hapless man ( played brilliantly by William Shatner) in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, to a bookworm (Burgess Meredith) who shuns society and yearns for solitude, and gets his wish after a nuclear war only to meet a cruel fate in “Time Enough At Last”.

The pilot episode “Where is Everybody?” started things off 60 years ago this month with an Air Force pilot in a seemingly abandoned town, who slowly succumbs to paranoia, as things are not what they seem. The plot twist at the end of “Where Is Everybody?” would set the tone for the whole series. Countless episodes had twist endings and examples of being careful what you wish for, as well as bizarre otherworldly happenings. Notable examples include: a woman chased by her double during a solitary road trip in “Mirror Image”, “The Howling Man”, which has a man chasing the Devil across the world using the staff of truth to keep him locked up in, a woman going to the top floor of a department store with creepy mannequins in “After Hours” or even seemingly benign aliens giving humans solution to world problems until their true sinister agenda is revealed in “To Serve Man”. These are just the tip of the iceberg with The Twilight Zone.

All of these many great moments have cemented the status of The Twilight Zone and led to many other anthology shows in its wake. Serling himself had a follow-up series Night Gallery starting in 1969 that was horror focused and not as well remembered. There have been two revivals in the 1980s (a film co-directed by Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante and George Miller, and a TV show on CBS), a TV film in the 1990s based on Serling’s unused stories, a 2002 revival on the defunct UPN network, and one streaming right now on CBS All Access. Even shows like Amazing Stories, which was more fantasy based, and Tales From The Crypt can all trace their origins back to The Twilight Zone, which had all kinds of genres in its pallet.

The fact that it debuted in 1959 is also quite interesting since there was nothing like it on TV at that time. Unlike today with sci-fi being a huge industry, the era in which it came about was pre-Star Wars and Star Trek. Nevertheless, the show captivated audiences and even today it still holds up with its timeless stories and issues that it tackled. “Eye of the Beholder” dealt with body image and conforming to society’s standards of beauty and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” showed how fear of an outside force can destroy a town. The fact that The Twilight Zone was a genre-based show allowed it to talk about issues such as these in an allegorical setting whereas a more realistic show could not, especially in the the late 1950s and early 60’s. It was one of the reasons why Serling created the show. He wanted to avoid censorship issues when crafting his imaginative and thought-provoking stories. This again, paved the way for later shows like Star Trek to do the same thing with its many takes on issues like civil rights and racism masked in the sci-fi setting of starships and aliens.

The Twilight Zone still gets accolades and is always included in listings of the top TV series of all time. TV Guide ranked it at #5 in their list of 60 greatest shows of all time in 2013 and in 2016 Rolling Stone ranked it at #7 for 100 greatest shows of all time. The Twilight Zone’s impact on pop culture also expands to other areas as well with a theme park ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios park and numerous spoofs on The Simpsons. All of this for a show that was on the air when there were only three networks on TV and decades before the proliferation of science fiction, horror and fantasy in movies and television.

The power of these stories is still going strong after more than half a century and should continue to excite fans who have seen them countless times and gain new fans who will no doubt be drawn in by the iconic theme music that is still creepy to listen to even today, as well as Rod Serling’s famous words “Submitted for your approval…”

C.S. Link

*The intro shown below for The Twilight Zone is based on its first season. It’s not as famous as the iconic theme we all know of, but IMO is much eerier and more effective.