D23 Expo Highlights: Star Wars, MCU, Theme Parks & More

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Disney had their own version of Comic-Con this past weekend with their D23 Expo held in Anaheim. As can be guessed, the convention was related to all things under the Disney umbrella and what’s coming up. The highlights from D23 Expo dealt with exciting theme park and genre film developments.

Star Wars

Many fans were disappointed that there wasn’t a new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but were titillated with the reveal of a Drew Struzan movie poster for the film and an official cast photo for the first Star Wars Anthology film Star Wars: Rogue One. There was also confirmation that Colin Trevorrow, the director of the mammoth hit Jurassic World, will direct Star Wars Episode IX. But the juiciest revelations had to do with the expected and highly anticipated Star Wars Land to be built in Disneyland Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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Ever since Disney bought Lucasfilm and all of its intellectual property from George Lucas a few years ago, fans have impatiently waited for some kind of expansion of Star Wars in the Disney parks beyond Star Tours. Yes, the famous simulator ride had been updated with new, random scenes recently, but aside from Jedi Training Academy and the popular Star Wars Weekends, it seemed as if Disney hadn’t really paid a lot of love to its newest IP acquisition. Meanwhile, its rival Universal Studios Orlando stunned and dazzled Harry Potter fans with its meticulously developed Harry Potter lands in their parks.

That all changed with the announcement. Finally, Disney will have a worthy answer to Harry Potter with an equally revered IP. The Star Wars Land (note: it wasn’t called that in the announcement) will be 14 acres, which will feature a cantina and an immersive Star Wars environment on a new planet similar to what Universal did with Diagon Alley and Hogswart. There will be two new E-ticket rides, one will allow visitors to pilot the Millennium Falcon (most likely some kind of simulator ride), while the other will be based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There will be another update to Star Tours that will include a destination from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an updating of Jedi Training Academy, and an interactive experience called Star Wars Launch Bay. This attraction will be in pavilions in both parks that will feature meet and greets, exhibits and stores, of course. The only drawback to these ambitious plans is that when it came to the time table for all of this the only answer was “coming soon”. Just thinking out loud here, but Disney should take heed on how quickly Universal builds its new attractions. Some of us would like to have something open before this decade ends!

Marvel Cinematic Universe

strangeThe two items that are keeping fans salivating had to do with Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange. With the latter, Marvel Studios guru Kevin Feige introduced concept art (Doctor Strange begins filming later this fall) that featured a classic look for the sorcerer that includes his red cape and Eye of Agamotto. A trailer for Captain America: Civil War was unveiled, which, of course, no one that didn’t attend D23 Expo could see. There are tons of fake “leaked” trailers out now on YouTube and the smattering of legit ones are taken down too fast to bother linking to, but rest assured as soon as its released to the masses, you can see it here. Based on the descriptions, it sounds like an awesome film and it could be part of the reason why DC/Warner Bros. moved their own superhero civil war flick to another date.

Theme Park News

The other major announcement regarding the Disney theme parks was that Disney’s Hollywood Studios will build a Toy Story Land for the young and young at heart. At 11 acres, this land will have two new rides (a spinner ride and a family coaster), expand Toy Story Mania, which is probably the best news because the wait times for that attraction is beyond ridiculous (and frankly not worth the wait). No time frame was given as to when this will happen. But based on the other big construction needed for Star Wars Land, Disney might as well shut down Disney’s Hollywood Studios until all of this is finished. They may finish ahead of schedule that way, make fans even happier, who will more likely spend money sooner.

toy story land

Speaking of slow construction, the Avatar Land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is still chugging along. At least with this expansion we have an actual opening date (2017). For anyone that doesn’t know, there will be two attractions based on Avatar, one is similar to the popular Soarin’ ride and will allow visitors to fly over the skies of Pandora, and the other attraction will be a boat ride.

iron man ride

Here’s some news that will rankle North American Marvel fans, Hong Kong Disneyland will have an Iron Man ride. Similar to Star Tours, the Iron Man Experience will feature the Golden Avenger facing off against the forces of Hydra in Hong Kong. Sounds great for anyone who has an updated passport and the money and time to burn. Look, we understand that there can’t be any Marvel rides in Walt Disney World, but couldn’t they have this slotted for Disneyland? That agreement between Disney and Universal only applies to rides east of the Mississippi.

Upcoming Films

Disney had presentations for its upcoming film slate and the announcements were fast and heavy. New animated films include Gigantic, Moana, Zootopia, live-action versions of Beauty and the Beast, Ghost in the Shell, and The Jungle Book, a remake of Pete’s Dragon, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Alice Through The Looking Glass. Part of the presentation focused on Pixar, which showcased The Good Dinosaur and announcements for Cars 3, The Incredibles 2, Finding Dory, Coco (based on the Dia de los Muertos festival), and Toy Story 4. This fourth film in the franchise will be more of a love story and will be about Woody looking for his lost love Bo Peep. The Pixar stuff is exciting except for the third go around with Cars. But marketing types at Disney would disagree with that!

release schedule

All these announcements and presentations at D23 Expo confirm that Disney isn’t resting on its laurels. The next few years will be exciting times for fans, at least when it comes to films. The theme park components will pay off at a much later date.

 

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Top 10 Sci-Fi Theme Park Rides & Attractions

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The highlight of any visit to a theme park for sci-fi fans are the sci-fi based rides and attractions. Whether derived from popular movies and TV shows or original creations, these rides and attractions feature top-notch effects and thrills and bring these fantastic worlds to life.

There has been some exciting developments regarding theme park attractions; notably Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise. Rumors are rampant that there will be a major expansion devoted to Star Wars in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Meanwhile Universal Studios is celebrating their latest sci-fi attraction, Transformers The Ride–3D.

It may be thrilling to contemplate tomorrow’s attractions, but many memorable rides have stood the test of t10000time despite featuring outdated technology. What made them classics were how well they were executed or captured the mood of a film or TV show. This list celebrates past and current rides and attractions that fire up the imagination.

Please note, rollercoaster rides were left off the list because frankly, theming most rollercoaster rides are a waste. When riding those vomit rides, riders are zipping by so fast and hard on the tracks that no one can properly view or admire the rides’ sci-fi trappings.

10. Borg Invasion 4D (Star Trek: The Experience): This attraction was basically a 3D movie but wrapped around it was an interactive storyline where guests visited a Starbase that came under a Borg attack. Guests were then “evacuated” by Starfleet personnel into an escape shuttle, which was the movie itself.

dinosaur

9. Dinosaur (Disney’s Animal Kingdom): Originally called Countdown To Extinction, the ride’s name was changed to its current title when the film Dinosaur came out in 2000. The premise is that a time-traveling jeep goes back in time to rescue an iguanodon, while the vehicle must avoid audio-animatronic dinosaurs, meteors and other dazzling effects. The herky-jerky ride is pretty rough but the sudden chaotic moves add to the excitement and suspense.

8. The Timekeeper (Magic Kingdom): The attraction was one of those Circlevision 360 movies Disney has all over Epcot’s World Showcase where standing audiences have a film played all around them. The Timekeeper was an android (voiced by Robin Williams) who transports the audience, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells throughout time. The finale that takes place in a futuristic Paris was simply stunning and immersed guests into a futuristic world.

mspace7. Mission: Space (Epcot): According to some astronauts, this ride does a great job of recreating a rocket launch. Centrifugal forces do a number on riders enclosed in narrow, claustrophobic stations that simulate a spaceship being launched and escaping Earth’s gravity.  Riders play specific parts as team members on their way to Mars. Mission: Space is so rough that a milder version of the ride had to be introduced.

6. Horizons (EPCOT Center): This long-gone pavilion at EPCOT horizonsCenter was a nifty dark ride that showed how early visionaries viewed our future (with nods to A Voyage To The Moon). The latter part of the ride showcased families living in futuristic environments like onboard a space station. The finale allowed riders to choose from three different future environments (desert, ocean and outer space) to explore.

5. Back To The Future: The Ride (Universal Studios): Possibly the greatest old-style simulator ride of all time before innovations like 3D were added to these types of rides. Visitors at Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) Institute of Future Technology had to ride a modified time-traveling DeLorean to chase down another DeLorean driven by Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Huge IMAX screens and especially rough rides added to the illusion that the vehicles were time-traveling to different eras.

4. Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time (Universal Studios Florida): The 3D effects in this attraction still hold up today and the pre-show presentation is fun to watch. What is interesting is that it is the final time that director James Cameron worked with the stars from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong and Robert Patrick.  In the attraction, a Cyberdyne Systems demonstration of their new primitive T-70 robots are interrupted by Sarah and John Connor, as well as the T-1000. Fortunately, the heroic T-800 Terminator comes to the rescue as the attraction seamlessly blends live-action and 3D effects.

spider ride3. The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man (Islands Of Adventure): This ride uses different technologies (3D, pyro effects, simulators, etc.) to create one of the most exciting rides ever. Riders board a news vehicle and encounter Spider-Man as he battles Doctor Octopus, Hobgoblin, Electro and others throughout New York City.  Riders are literally thrown into the dizzying, aerobatic action when Doctor Octopus uses an anti-gravity rifle to elevate the ride vehicle over skyscrapers, as he and his cohorts battle Spider-Man. It’s all a  wondrous blending of different effects that throws riders into the action. The way Spidey lands on the vehicle is still thrilling after multiple rides. The Spider-Man ride recently underwent an HD upgrade that adds even more eye-popping depth to the experience.

2. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (Disney’s Hollywood Studios/Disneyland): This update of the vader 3doriginal Star Tours keeps the simulator ride refreshing by offering several different scenarios. The premise is largely the same, riders visit the Star Tours station and board a Starspeeder vehicle. This time, the droid C-3P0 accidently becomes the pilot of the vehicle that captures the interest of imperial forces, who are looking for a Rebel spy onboard the vehicle. Sometimes Darth Vader himself tries to seize the vessel using the Force The Starspeeder narrowly escapes and takes off to safely deliver the Rebel spy through random locations. They range from the ice planet Hoth to the desert planet Tatooine. Another bonus is that the ride is in 3D, but Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is so great that it doesn’t need the gimmick.

1. Klingon Encounter (Star Trek: The Experience): It really is a star trek expshame that Star Trek: The Experience closed because not all fans were able to go to Las Vegas to experience the Klingon Encounter ride/attraction. Guests were seemingly transported onboard the Enterprise D as it comes under attack by rogue Klingons. Thanks to the faithfully recreated details of the ship, including the bridge, guests were made to feel as if they were actually onboard Captain Picard’s ship. The actors who interacted with guests as Enterprise officers helped sell this illusion, as well as the shuttle ride that concluded the attraction. No other ride or attraction went to this level to immerse a guest and make him or her feel as if they’re part of the storyline. Paramount or CBS should really try to bring this encounter back somehow–but they should pick someplace more compatible instead of Vegas.

Honorable Mentions: The original Star Tours (Disneyland), Body Wars (EPCOT Center), The ExtarTERRORestrial Alien buzzEncounter (Magic Kingdom), E.T. Adventure (Universal Studios), Jurassic Park: The Ride (Universal Studios Hollywood), Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (Magic Kingdom), Transformers The Ride–3D (Universal Studios Hollywood), Honey, I Shrunk The Audience! (Epcot), and Men In Black: Alien Attack (Universal Studios Florida)

José Soto

The Future Of Star Wars

With the purchase of the Star Wars franchise and Lucasfilm by The Walt Disney Company, there has been much speculation as to what will happen now with the franchise. Here are some ideas that I have as to what will happen and what should happen.

The Movies: The most obvious thing that will happen now is a new trilogy of films starting in 2015 (Episodes VII, VIII and IX). it will be a new story line created by George Lucas and written by Michael Arndt. Some fans wanted the Thrawn trilogy of books (written by Timothy Zahn) to be made into films but it seems the new Star Wars movies will be about the Skywalker clan taking place long after Return Of The Jedi. Lucas has said in the past that any sequels would be about this and it seems this will come to pass as it should. On a side note, the trio of stars from the original trilogy Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher have recently stated that they would be interested in appearing in the new films. If that will happen or if they will even reprise their famous roles remains to be seen. One interesting idea I heard about years ago after Revenge Of The Sith was released was a movie that takes place hundreds of years before A New Hope with a young Yoda at the center. It would be nice for Disney to make this happen after the new trilogy is done.

TV Shows: The popular Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series is in its fifth season. A sixth season is in the works, and will air on the Disney XD channel instead of the Cartoon Network. Hopefully the long-delayed, live-action show will get a green light with Disney’s backing and dollars. Something else I would like to see is another CGI animated series like The Clone Wars, but one that takes place during the original trilogy, perhaps between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. It could detail the Galactic Civil War and seems to be a ripe area for interesting Star Wars stories.

Video Games: The bounty hunter-themed game Star Wars 1313 will be released next year as planned for the PS3 and Xbox 360. As to what future games Lucasarts should tackle, many fans keep waiting for Star Wars: Battlefront 3 which has not been made yet. Maybe under new ownership this game will finally see the light of day. One series I would love to see revived is Rogue Squadron. The last game in that series was Rogue Squadron III for the Nintendo Gamecube in 2003. Flying Star Wars starfighters in scenes from the movies was thrilling and definitely should be revisited.

Disney Parks: Right now the recently updated Star Tours is in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando FL and Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. I would not be surprised to see more rides and experiences like this one expanding to more of Disney’s parks (aside from the updated Star Tours premiering next year in Tokyo Disneyland). Why not use the same ride system in Soarin’ where riders are elevated over a huge film and recreate the attack on the Death Star? Perhaps even a whole section of a park can be devoted to Star Wars. This is something I would like to see happen. Or even an entire Star Wars-themed park, with each section named after the different planets of the saga. Instead of Main Street USA, how about Coruscant Central? Having lunch at the Mos Eisley Cantina, or visiting the Jedi Temple all seem like really neat experiences and would absolutely be a big hit with tourists and fans.

Regardless of what happens, having Star Wars under the Disney umbrella does present  several new opportunities for the franchise. Hopefully whoever makes the decisions will do right by Star Wars and not dilute the brand or over saturate it. Either way, this is a very interesting and exciting time for Star Wars fans.

C.S. Link

Theme Park Wars: Star Trek Vs. Star Wars

  

Theme parks are in a constantly competing with each other with new rides and attractions. Some of the most successful ones are those based on popular science fiction properties. As fans know, Star Wars and Star Trek have taken part in these so-called theme park wars.

Star Tours Past & Present

One of Disney’s greatest rides is Star Tours based on the Star Wars films. It is located in Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland. It was recently given a major facelift by adding new 3D adventures and is now open in the first three parks.

The original Star Tours took place in the Star Wars Universe shortly after the events of Return Of The Jedi. Star Tours was a galactic tour company that offered rides with their fleet of StarSpeeder 3000s. Riders entered a building whose architecture resembled one from the Star Wars films. Inside was a large queue area/spaceport that featured a full-scale mockup of a StarSpeeder 3000. R2-D2 was mounted on top of the vessel and an audio-animatronic version of C-3PO could also be seen in this area. The audio-animatronics of these robots were very well done and looked authentic.

The trip was supposed to take riders to Endor’s moon. However, once onboard the craft, which was a simulator, the pilot droid RX-24 (voiced by Paul Reubens) overshot the moon. The ship and riders wound up in a couple of cosmic misadventures, culminating in a crossfire between Rebel X-Wing fighters and TIE fighters around another Death Star.

It was a fun ride and an instant hit when it opened in Disneyland in 1987. However as with all rides, it grew stale for many veteran riders. Other more elaborate simulator rides came out afterwards that amped up the thrills and effects. Still this ride remained a popular mainstay in the parks.

Eventually George Lucas and Disney decided to upgrade the rides. The storyline was changed and new films were produced in 3D. The new version called Star Tours: The Adventures Continue  (unofficially called Star Tours 2.0) emphasized the fact that it now features several different scenarios for riders. It made its debut in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on May 2011 and opened a bit later in the other parks. This ride now takes place in between Episodes III and IV.  While R2-D2 plays the same role in the new version, C-3PO has a larger role as an accidental pilot inside the spaceship. The queue area remains largely the same but is enhanced with large video screens featuring shots of different worlds seen in the Star Wars films. Plus, the re-named StarSpeeder 1000 is now painted with red highlights. RX-24 can also be spotted in the queue as a defective droid.

In the new plotline, Imperial stormtroopers, sometimes led by Darth Vader, attempt to board the StarSpeeder 1000 because one of the riders (randomly chosen and shown on a monitor) is actually a Rebel spy. After escaping, riders go onto two distinct destinations and receive a holographic message from either Admiral Ackbar, Yoda or Princess Leia to deliver the spy to safety.

Destinations include Tatooine, Kashyyyk, and Hoth. What riders experience is completely random and each ride feels new. All in all, there are about 54 different scenarios that can be experienced. This is a great innovation since it keeps the ride fresh and the effects are pure, jaw-dropping eye candy. Even the Naboo scenes with the Gungans and Jar Jar Binks are entertaining.. The new version was an immediate hit. Excited fans rode it over and over again and is building a solid following.

Trek Encounters

Open from 1998 to 2008, Star Trek: The Experience operated in the Las Vegas Hilton as a mini-theme park inside the hotel. The signature attraction there was Klingon Encounter. Saying it was the only ride in the Experience before BORG Invasion 4D opened in 2004 was inaccurate because guests could still enjoy the Star Trek museum (part of the queue line before the ride) and cavorting at Quark’s Bar. Those were attractions in their own right.

The Klingon Encounter ride started off as any typical simulator ride. Guests would line up in rows behind closed doors and received boarding instructions via video. But the ride took things a step further and fully immersed guests into the Star Trek Universe. A power blackout plunged the room into darkness. Before anyone could react, strobe lights pierced the pitch blackness and then the lights came back on, revealing a transporter room of the Enterprise D complete with uniformed Starfleet personnel! The dumbfounded guests were led to an elevator which took them to a perfect recreation of the starship’s iconic bridge. The consoles and stations had the same exact Okudagrams that eagle-eye viewers noticed on DVDs. Commander Riker then appeared on the bridge’s main viewscreen and informed guests that they were transported into the future because some renegade Klingons wanted to capture one of the guests who is related to a certain starship captain. Then the guests left for the Enterprise’s hangar bay and boarded a Starfleet shuttle piloted by Geordi La Forge. The shuttle was the simulator ride. Onboard, riders faced off against pursuing Klingon Birds of Prey before traveling back to Las Vegas.

The entire ride was captivating, helped by the flawless recreation of the starship’s interiors and the actors who stayed in character throughout their performances. It all helped sell the illusion that modern-day guests time traveled into the future.

BORG Invasion 4D did a similar immersion but it wasn’t as involved or shocking as the Klingon Encounter. This time, guests simply visited a Starfleet science station with actors portraying Starfleet officers. The station’s monitors featured the holographic doctor from Star Trek: Voyager. Before long, the station comes under attack by the Borg (with an actual Borg drone invading the station) and guests were evacuated to a theater that doubled as an escape craft. The vessel’s 3D viewscreen showed an immense Borg Cube that captured the vessel. Inside the Cube, the Borg Queen appeared and attempted to assimilate the guests. At this point, effects like wind, fog and tactile sensations were used to create the impression of a Borg attack. Luckily the Voyager commanded by Kathryn Janeway showed up (seen on side monitors) to save the day. Continue reading