Back to the Future: The Ride
Back to the Future: The Ride was a simulator ride at Universal Studios theme parks. It was 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. It was previously located at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood, where it has since been replaced by The Simpsons Ride, and at Universal Studios Japan where it will be replaced by Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem.
The ride's story centered on a first-person adventure through time, in pursuit of Biff Tannen. Steven Spielberg, executive producer of the films, served as creative consultant for it. It was the only project in the Back to the Future franchise to star Christopher Lloyd's character, Dr. Emmett L. Brown, as the lead 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 do a Star Tours". 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 realized it would be too hard to effectively tell a story due to the fast motion. The second concept of a simulator ride ultimately came to fruition. Riders would board motion-based vehicles modeled 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 traveled with foam models of the DeLorean to the Expo Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, 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.
The ride was first publicly announced in February 1989 as one of the many ones being added as part of the new Universal Studios Florida theme park, scheduled for opening in mid-1990. In July 1989, it was announced as a 1991 addition to Universal Studios Hollywood. Construction problems caused the attractions at both parks to have delayed openings. The one at Universal Studios Florida officially opened on May 2, 1991, costing $40 million. Foundation issues for the Universal Studios Hollywood attraction delayed its opening to June 12, 1993, resulting in the total cost of it 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 2015, The Back to the Future gift shop in Universal Studios Japan was replaced by Minion Mart, a Despicable Me 2-themed store.
In mid 2006, first rumors surfaced that Universal Studios Florida would be closing 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 ride's closure. According to a Universal spokesman, the park had not formalized any plans for a replacement but decided to close one half of it immediately to "explore possibilities for future rides". The full ride's closure was initially suggested by media to be as early as October 2006, however, it wasn't until March 30, 2007, that it closed for good.
The California 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 ride at Universal Studios Florida on May 15, 2008 and at Universal Studios Hollywood on May 19, 2008. In homage to it, on the previous construction walls of The Simpsons Ride, the Comic Book Guy wore Marty's futuristic jacket from Back to the Future Part II. Also, in the line satirical video, 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!".
In 2016, it was officially announced that the Japan ride would close on May 31, 2016. On June 20, 2016, the park announced that it would be replaced by Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and will open in 2017. The third Despicable Me Minion Mayhem will be based on Despicable Me 2 instead of Despicable Me.
About two years after the ride opened, one of its 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 re-release 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 Doc 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 ride as well as the fictional opening of the Institute within it. All of the pre-show and ride footage have been included as a special feature on the 2010 Blu-ray release.
The ride footage available on the DVD and Blu-ray is identical in quality. The resolution of the footage available on the discs is 852x480 6000kbit/s at 29.97fps, which is well below the quality capable of IMAX film and Blu-ray media. The original IMAX film reel scanned in 2002 was massively cropped to about 20% of the original size. Several areas of the footage with important elements are cropped from view that would be seen during the ride. A 2d computer generated image of a DeLorean dashboard was also superimposed over the footage to reduce the viewing area to 60% of the 4:3 frame. The reel was also slightly damaged and has visible flicker during an end scene involving a volcano, as well as a frame jump during a scene with a prehistoric ice version of Hill Valley.
It is currently unknown why the footage was cut down heavily from the original.
Following the events of Back to the Future Part III, Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown and his family, Clara, Jules, Verne, and Einstein, had moved to the present in Hill Valley where, in 1991, he founded the Institute of Future Technology, a scientific Institute specializing in his "futuristic" inventions. On May 2, 1991, he invited tourists into there 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 traveled to 2015 in the original DeLorean (a new time machine being built out of another 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 traveled to 1885 and 1955. However, in 1955, Biff Tannen stowed away on the IFT scientists time machine, hitching a ride back to the present-day Institute, which set up the ride's main storyline.
Visitors to the Institute waited outside the facility. The queue video featured clips from the Back to the Future trilogy, as well as new footage featuring Doc, diagrams for other innovations, ostensibly created by him, newsreel footage of him with Albert Einstein and other historical figures, and a "live" video feed from 2015 in which he explained the experiment.
Riders entered the ride as "volunteers" for a time travel experiment at the Institute of Future Technology. Doc explained that the plan was for them to travel one day into the future, but that caution must be exercised as Biff, who graduated from Hill Valley High School in 1955, has escaped his time period and is now running amok in the space-time continuum. Once inside, Doc revealed some of the inventions he had been working on, including his "crowning achievement" - an 8-passenger DeLorean DMC-12 time machine (also a convertible), which is what the riders would be using in the experiment. Unknown to Doc, Biff had infiltrated the Institute - he appeared to the riders, asking for assistance in finding Doc's time machine. Heather then announced that the pre-flight system checks were in progress and informed the riders to stand by for an announcement from Doc.
Biff trapped Doc in his office, and it was revealed that when one of the time traveling teams were conducting an experiment back in 1955, Biff stowed away. He took the DeLorean and vanished into time. Worried about the havoc Biff would cause to the space-time continuum, Doc frantically pleaded with the riders to assist him and said that the only way to bring Biff back to the present was to accelerate to 88 miles per hour and bump him (which will open a time vortex that would send both time vehicles back to their original point of departure); they entered the 8-passenger time vehicle, led by one of Doc's assistants, after going over final safety instructions. Doc then informed them with some helpful advice saying that the time vehicle Biff had stolen had a sub-ether time-tracking scanner; that way whatever time period he may be, the riders' vehicle would pin-point to that exact location. They then followed Biff into time.
When the time machine's doors closed, Doc used his remote control to control it, hover it, and accelerate to 88 miles per hour (with electric sparks coming from it, speeding through the open door and passing through the wormhole) and the ride began. First, Biff lead the riders to Hill Valley in 2015 where they chased him through town. They smashed into neon signs, flew over neighborhoods and the town square, and the chase culminated at the iconic clock tower. He then departed for the ice age. The riders followed, and slowly lowered into the icy caverns. Biff honked his horn, causing an avalanche that damaged the riders' vehicle. Flying out of the caverns, the riders saw Biff shoot away into time, but their own engine had failed, and began to plummet down a chasm. Doc managed to restart the vehicle, accelerating backward and through time into the Cretaceous Period.
Upon arriving, the clock display on the DeLorean's dashboard blinked 12:00, as a reference to a VCR that has lost power. The riders followed Biff's vehicle into a dormant volcano in which a Tyrannosaurus was discovered. Biff goaded it into attacking the riders, who barely escaped. It struck Biff's vehicle, sending it flying out of control; the dinosaur then swallowed the riders' vehicle, but spat it out mere seconds later. It then dropped down onto a lava river to see Biff's DeLorean, then damaged and unable to maneuver, moving down an active lava flow toward the edge of a cliff, with Biff pleading for help from Doc. As both vehicles plunged over the edge, the riders' one accelerated to time travel speed and bumped Biff'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 crashed through the Back to the Future logo in front), where Biff got out and thanked the riders and Doc for saving his life, but was soon seized by security. Riders exited the vehicle, as Doc thanked them and reminded them that, "The future is what you make it!" An animated logo of the Institute of Future Technology flashed up on the screen with the words "Please lift lap bar and exit" and after a few seconds Doc warned, "Hurry up! Get out! Before you meet yourself coming in!" As guests left, the song "Back in Time" played.
The ride was a motion simulator with the DeLoreans located under a 70-foot (21.3–m) OMNIMAX Dome screen. Each of the 24 vehicles (12 per dome) were mounted on three pistons, allowing it to rise, fall, and tilt, following the motion on the screen. The vehicles were arranged on three tiers and are staggered to prevent riders from seeing the other vehicles in the theater. The front section 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 physical effects like wind, water, and smoke, combined to make the guest riders feel as if they were in a high-speed pursuit.
The ride was actually composed of two OMNIMAX Dome screens with vehicles 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 was shut down by a mechanical problem, the other ordinarily remained in service. This increased 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". They responded with a "yes". They have also commented that "it's a great ride." In addition, references were 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 it were actually very detailed miniature sets recorded in stop motion filming. The miniature sets were large, with the replica 2015 buildings as much as half a grown man, and the Tyrannosaurus model being about 7 feet tall. The Institute of Future Technology that the riders crashed into at the end of the ride was actually a model of the Florida 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 Doc Brown and Biff Tannen, respectively. Darlene Vogel starred as Heather, a receptionist for the Institute of Future Technology (IFT). Members of the production crew were 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, 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 Doc Brown and Biff Tannen, respectively. Ayako Sasaki provided the voice for Heather, 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 Doc's wife, Clara Clayton, did not appear in the ride, a picture of her with him could 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 could still be seen in the queue video, within archive footage of the films.
- The iconic clock tower had apparently been repaired between the events of Back to the Future Part II and those of the ride, as it could 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 films were on display as guests lined up. Notable items included the Hoverboards 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 ride; the DeLorean outside the Florida ride was removed on September 3, 2007, later to be seen with Doc 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 Florida 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. It has recently been relocated near the ride, and has undergone some minor restoration.
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- Back to the Future: The Ride
- Universal Studios Hollywood. Los Angeles, California
- Inside Universal | Universal Studios Hollywood Guide
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- BTTF.com - A website devoted to the movie trilogy as well as the ride
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- A video shot inside the film projection booth at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2006