Back to the Future: The Ride
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Back to the Future: The Ride is a simulator ride at Universal Studios Japan. It is based on and inspired by the Back to the Future film series and is a mini-sequel to 1990's Back to the Future Part III. The ride was previously located at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood, where it has since been replaced by The Simpsons Ride.
The ride story centers on a first-person adventure through time, in pursuit of Biff Tannen, the trilogy's villain. Steven Spielberg, executive producer of the movie series served as creative consultant for the ride. It is the only project in the Back to the Future franchise to star Christopher Lloyd's character, Dr. Emmett L. Brown, as the main protagonist.
Development and opening
The idea of a Back to the Future–based ride was first discussed in a 1986 meeting between Steven Spielberg and MCA Planning and Development's Peter N. Alexander on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot on the eve of the debut of the King Kong Encounter scene for the park's Studio Tour. Spielberg recalled how his friend George Lucas had just taken him for a ride on Lucas' Star Tours ride at Disneyland, telling Spielberg that "Universal could never create rides as good as Disney can". Spielberg requested that Alexander see what he can do with Back to the Future. At the time, the proposed concept of the Universal Studios Florida project was put on hold and considered to be dead, and, according to Alexander, Spielberg's suggestion helped to bring the project back to life.
Initial planning for the ride began in 1988. A roller coaster was the original concept for a Back to the Future ride, however, the designers realised it would be too hard to effectively tell a story due to the fast motion. The second concept of a simulator ride utlimately came to fruition. Riders would board motion-based vehicles modelled after the DeLorean DMC-12 featured in the films, and watch a film projected onto a large, dome-shaped IMAX screen. During the development of the ride, the designers travelled with foam models of the DeLorean to the Expo Centre in Vancouver, Canada, where an OMNIMAX theatre was the setting for trial runs of the ride's film. Intamin was eventually contracted to develop the ride system for the attraction.
Back to the Future: The Ride was first publicly announced in February 1989 as one of the many rides being added as part of the new Universal Studios Florida theme park, scheduled for opening in mid-1990. In July 1989, the ride was announced as a 1991 addition to Universal Studios Hollywood. Construction problems caused the attractions at both parks to have delayed openings. The attraction at Universal Studios Florida officially opened on May 2, 1991, costing $40 million. Foundation issues for the Universal Studios Hollywood attraction delayed the ride's opening to June 12, 1993, resulting in the total cost of the Hollywood attraction being put at $60 million.
The buildings for Florida and California had completely different layouts. In Florida the two arenas were back to back. Designers found that this led to some operational problems so the California building was designed so that the arenas were on opposite ends of the building with the queue and pre-show in between them. The California building was also built upon huge rollers as opposed to being anchored into the ground as a precaution for earthquakes.
In mid 2006, first rumors surfaced that Universal Studios Florida would be closing Back to the Future: The Ride. Several reports indicated it would be replaced by an attraction based on either The Simpsons TV series or The Fast and the Furious film franchise. On September 7, 2006, Universal Studios Florida officially confirmed the closure of Back to the Future: The Ride. According to a Universal spokesman, the park had not formalized any plans for a replacement but decided to close one half of the attraction immediately to "explore possibilities for future rides". The full attraction's closure was initially suggested by media to be as early as October 2006, however, it wasn't until March 30, 2007, that the ride closed for good.
The Hollywood ride publicly closed on Labor Day, September 3, 2007. In commemoration of its final month of operation, a special event was held with Christopher Lloyd and Bob Gale beginning the countdown to the ride's closure in early August 2007. Additionally, a contest was announced with the grand prize winner receiving a classic 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 vehicle.
A new attraction based on the animated sitcom The Simpsons, known officially as The Simpsons Ride, replaced the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios Florida on May 15, 2008 and at Universal Studios Hollywood on May 19, 2008. In homage to the attraction, on the previous construction walls of The Simpsons Ride, the Comic Book Guy wore Marty's futuristic jacket from 2015 from Back to the Future Part II. Also, in the line satirical video for the new ride, an animated Doc Brown (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) attempts to borrow money from a loan office to save the Institute of Future Technology. However, Professor Frink crashes back in time in a DeLorean and crushes the banker, and Doc is upset that he must "sell the Institute of Future Technology to that mercenary clown!".
About two years after the ride opened, one of the ride employees recorded the entire ride projector footage, in-car footage, and pre-ride line footage from the master laser discs to a VHS tape and sold bootleg copies of it. Copies can still be found in online auctions, and some footage has been posted on YouTube. As a result, in February 2009, Universal included all of the queue, pre-show and ride footage on the 2009 DVD rerelease of Back to the Future as part of a second bonus disc. The DVD release includes some minor edits in the queue video portions.
As a result of the editing, the music played during the queue videos has been removed, and a section when Brown asks volunteers if they have seen Biff has also been removed. The pre-time travel systems check section of the pre-flight video has also been removed. In the main ride portion on the DVD release, the DeLorean based vehicle and ride cabin is virtually re-created (not totally accurate to the ride's dashboard). The time travel coordinates bear May 2, 1991 as the starting date in the beginning of the portion, which was the opening of the Florida attraction as well as the fictional opening of the Institute within the ride. All of the pre-show and ride footage have been included as a special feature on the 2010 Blu-ray release.
Following the events of Back to the Future Part III and Back to the Future: The Game, Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown and his family Clara, Jules, Verne and Einstein have moved to the present time in Hill Valley where, in 1991, Doc founded the Institute of Future Technology, a scientific Institute specializing in his "futuristic" inventions. On May 2, 1991, Doc invites tourists into the Institute as "volunteers" in order to test out his newest invention, the eight-passenger DeLorean time machine, by traveling one day into the future.
Meanwhile, Doc travels to 2015 in the original DeLorean to make sure the space time continuum is back to normal after the events of his previous time traveling adventures, while his other Institute scientists travel to 1885 and 1955. However, in 1955, Biff Tannen stows away on the IFT scientists time machine, hitching a ride back to the present-day Institute, which sets up the ride's main storyline.
Visitors to the Institute wait outside the facility. The queue video features clips from the Back to the Future trilogy, as well as new footage featuring Dr. Brown. It features diagrams for other innovations, ostensibly created by Brown; newsreel footage of Doc with Albert Einstein and other historical figures; and a "live" video feed from 2015 in which Brown explains the experiment.
Riders enter the ride as "volunteers" for a time travel experiment at the Institute of Future Technology. Doc explains that the plan is for them to travel one day into the future, but that caution must be exercised as Biff, who was graduated from the Hill Valley High School in 1955, has escaped his time period and is now running amok in the space-time continuum. Once inside, Doc reveals some of the inventions he has been working on, including his "crowning achievement" - an 8-passenger DeLorean DMC-12 time machine (also a convertible), which is what the riders will be using in the experiment. Unknown to Doc, Biff has infiltrated the Institute - he appears to the riders, asking for assistance in finding Doc's time machine. Heather then announces that the pre-flight system checks are in progress and informs the visitors to stand by for an announcement from Doc.
Biff traps Doc in his office, and it is revealed when one of the time traveling teams was conducting an experiment back in 1955; Biff stowed away. He takes the DeLorean and vanishes into time. Doc frantically pleads with the visitors to assist him and says that the only way to bring Biff back to the present day is to accelerate to 88 miles per hour and bump him (which will open a time vortex that will send both time vehicles back to their original point of departure); they enter the 8-passenger time vehicle, led by one of Doc's assistants, after going over final safety instructions. Doc then informs the passengers with some helpful advice saying that the time vehicle Biff had stolen has a sub-ether time-tracking scanner; that way whatever time period Biff may be, the 8-passenger vehicle will pin-point to that exact location. They then follow Biff into time.
When the doors of the time machine close, Doc uses his remote control to control the time machine, hovers it, and accelerates to 88 miles per hour (with electric sparks coming from the time machine and speeding through the open door and blasting through the wormhole) and the ride begins. First, Biff leads the riders to Hill Valley in 2015 where they chase him through town. They smash into neon signs, flying over neighborhoods and the town square, the chase culminating at the iconic clock tower. He then departs for the ice age. The riders follow, and slowly lower into the icy caverns of the ice age. Biff honks his horn, causing an avalanche that damages the riders' vehicle. Flying out of the caverns, the car sees Biff shoot away into time, but their own engine has failed, and begins to plummet down a waterfall. Doc manages to restart the vehicle, accelerating backward and through time into the Cretaceous Period.
Upon arriving, the clock display on the DeLorean's dashboard blinks 12:00, as a reference to a videocassette recorder that has lost power. The riders follow Biff's vehicle into a dormant volcano in which a Tyrannosaurus is discovered. Tannen goads it into attacking the riders, who barely escape. The dinosaur strikes Tannen's car, sending it flying out of control; the dinosaur then swallows the riders' car, but spits it out mere seconds later. The riders then drop down onto a lava river to see Biff's DeLorean, now damaged and unable to maneuver, moving down an active lava flow toward the edge of a cliff, with Biff pleading help from Doc. As both vehicles plunge over the edge, the riders' car accelerates to time travel speed and bumps Tannen's, sending both of them back through the vortex to the original point of departure - the present, at the Institute of Future Technology (in which they crash through the big neon sign in front), where Biff gets out, thanks the riders and Doc for saving his life, but is soon grabbed by security and taken away. Riders exit the vehicle, as Doc thanks them and reminds them that "the future is what you make it!". An animated logo of Institute of Future Technology flashes up on the screen with the words "Please lift lap bar and exit" and after a few seconds Doc warns "Hurry up! Get out! Before you meet yourself coming in!" As guests leave, the song "Back in Time" plays.
The ride was a motion simulator with the cars located under a 70-foot (21.3–m) IMAX Dome screen. Each of the 24 cars (12 per dome) was mounted on three pistons, allowing it to rise, fall and tilt, following the motion on the screen. The cars were arranged on three tiers and were staggered to prevent riders from seeing the other vehicles in the theater. The front section of the cars rose eight feet (2.4 m) out of the "garage" when "flying". The actual range of motion from the simulator base was about two feet (0.6 m) in any direction. The motion and the visual input from the screens images, as well as phsyical effects like wind, water and smoke, combined to make the riders feel as if they are in a high-speed pursuit.
The ride was actually composed of two IMAX Dome screens with cars arranged around them. The experience of both was identical, but the ride enjoyed a very reliable in-service record as a result. If one screen or "dome" is shut down by a mechanical problem, the other ordinarily remains in service. This increases wait times, but essentially eliminated a complete shutdown of the ride as a whole.
Although Back to the Future creators Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had no involvement with the ride, they were consulted as to whether they "got Doc right". The two responded with a "yes". They have also commented that "it's a great ride." In addition, references are made to a "Zemeckis-Gale diagram" and "Gale-Zemeckis Coordinates." When the ride footage was made, computer animation was not widely used, so all the special effects, sets and other things in the ride footage were actually very detailed miniature sets recorded in stop motion filming. The miniature sets were large, with the replica 2015 buildings as large as half a grown man, and the T-Rex model being about 7 feet tall. The Institute of Future Technology that the riders crash into at the end of the ride was actually a model of the Florida's version of the building.
The film produced for Universal Studios parks in the United States saw Christopher Lloyd and Thomas F. Wilson reprise their roles as Dr. Emmett L. Brown and Biff Tannen, respectively. Darlene Vogel starred as Heather, a receptionist for the Institute of Future Technology (IFT). Members of the production crew also featured in the film. Directors Douglas Trumbull and David de Vos started as IFT scientists, while Michael Klastorin who was a unit publicist for the second and third films in the trilogy was an IFT security guard in the ride's film.
Prior to the ride's debut at Universal Studios Japan, new audio was recorded in Japanese and was dubbed over the original cast. In the Japanese version, Takeshi Aono and Takashi Taniguchi voiced Dr. Emmett L. Brown and Biff Tannen, respectively. Ayako Sasaki provided the voice for Heather the receptionist, Masashi Hironaka as the IFT security guard, while Tetsuo Goto and Hironori Miyata voiced the IFT scientists.
- Ride Film Directed by: Douglas Trumbull
- Pre-Show Directed by: David deVos
- Written by: Peyton Reed
- Music Composed by: Alan Silvestri
- Executive Produced, Created and Written by: Peter Alexander
- Produced by: Craig Barr, Philip Hettema and Terry Winnick
- Production Executives: Jay Stein and Barry Upson
- Based on characters created by: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale
- Creative Consultant: Steven Spielberg
- Designed by: Universal Creative and Berkshire Ridefilm
- Distributed by: Universal Studios
- Although Brown's wife, Clara Clayton, does not appear in the ride, a picture of her with Doc can be seen in his office in the pre-show video as well as in the pre-flight briefing room.
- Michael J. Fox was asked to reprise his role as Marty McFly in the ride as Doc's personal assistant and test volunteer, but he turned it down. He can still be seen in the queue video, within archive footage of the Back to the Future movies.
- The iconic clock tower has apparently been repaired between the events of Back to the Future Part II and the events of the ride, as it can briefly be seen displaying the correct time rather than being stopped at 10:04.
In keeping with the theme of the ride, many prop-replicas from the Back to the Future films are on display as guests line up. Notable items include the hover boards from the second and third movies and letters from Doc Brown to Marty McFly. The locomotive from the third film and one of the modified DeLoreans were on display outside the rides; the DeLorean outside the Orlando ride was removed on September 3, 2007, later to be seen with the Doc Brown character driving it until it was put on display outside of Soundstage 54.
The Jules Verne time train from the third film was also on display outside the Orlando ride until it was removed on July 24, 2007. After being sighted in various prop warehouses, it is currently on display with the DeLorean in the Hollywood section of the park.
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- Powers, Scott (September 7, 2006). "End is near for Back to Future". Orlando Sentinel (Tribune Company). Retrieved 20 September 2014.
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- Christopher Lloyd, Bob Gale begin official ‘Ride’ closure countdown at Universal
- BTTF 2-Disc Special Edition DVD coming in February![dead link]
- Back to the Future: The Ride
- Universal Studios Hollywood. Los Angeles, California
- Inside Universal | Universal Studios Hollywood Guide
- Back to the Future: The Ride at the Internet Movie Database
- BTTF.com - A website devoted to the movie trilogy as well as the ride
- Back to the Future: The Ride Fan Site
- Photos and Description of Back to the Future: The Ride in Hollywood
- Back to the Future: The Ride Tribute Page
- Berkshire Ridefilm 1991 company brochure with film production photos