Nearly every single adult face standing in line for a ticket to Universal Studios looked solemn this Tuesday afternoon. Sure, the kids were bouncing about happy as could be. But the Parents appeared as though that $67 ticket price was wearing heavy on their soul. That's quite a bit of change for a family of four, and in these cruel economic times, it's nearly impossible to have a fun outing without feeling the cruel belly-pinch of your angry, anorexic wallet. For its price, is a day at this park all its cracked up to be? Well, Universal Studios hopes so, as they've gone out of their way to draw customers with two bright and shiny new attractions that may or may not be worth your time (and hard earned cash).
The Simpsons Ride opened on May 19th of last year, so I will get to that in a minute. The big news today is that Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical is about to set the world famous studio lot ablaze with its Broadway like showmanship and rocking tunes. If you've been to the park before, you'll obviously want to check out this new attraction first. Is it worth the wait in line? Does it demand a return visit to this nominal, ride-sparse amusement park? Will it be the final push for those last few remaining citizens that have never experienced the back lot before? That's a tough call. The 25-minute live show is certainly amazing to look at. And for fans of stage musicals, it offers plenty of tawdry jokes and original songs. In replacing the old Fear Factor live show, it is the perfect permanent park attraction. It certainly settles in nicely with the other Universal Monsters on display here. You'll be pleasantly surprised by its wit and buoyancy. Seen standing alone? No. You wouldn't want to pony up nearly $70 bucks a head for it. But if you've been holding off checking out the new Simpsons Ride, the Creature show is a great excuse to finally experience that doozy of a simulated coaster.
I hadn't been to the lot in nearly four years. Not much has changed in that time. There's a new Fast & Furious stage show. And you can drink beer on the Tram, making it one of the better amusement parks in Southern California. If you're lucky, you might even run into Conan O'Brien taping a segment for his show. That didn't happen to me, as I was wrangled in front of the giant "living aquarium" where The Creature was about to make his world debut appearance. Very little fanfare welcomed the dreadlocked sea beast into his new home as he was pulled onto the lot in a giant rust iron containment cube on the back of a truck. The rascally critter managed to escape, and terrorized the small audience of news reporters in front of the auditorium before heading off for his first performance.
Ushering the show into existence was actress Julie Adams, who you may remember as Kaye from the original 1954 film. She was escorted onto the neon green stage, which was wrapped in blinking seaweed. She waved to the small group of reporters that had gathered in the front row, smiling and happy to be there. She then sat directly behind me. I was worried that she couldn't see around my enormous melon the entire time. I could feel her breathing on my neck; my only thought being, "So, this is what's going to happen to Megan Fox in 55 years, when Universal Studios premieres its rockin' Broadway production of Transformers: The Musical." I will take my grandkids, and point at her, and tell them how hot she used to be. They will groan, and not care, and play on their futuristic media devices just as the kids in attendance here did today.
The show began with a taped segment reminiscent of this summer's Land of the Lost. Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira are on the TODAY Show set, offering coverage of a recent geology expedition into the Amazon that has uncovered the mythical giant lizard known as The Creature from the Black Lagoon. This goofy bit of fun segues onto the stage, where a full sized steamboat is pulled forth full of dancing scientists, a sexy ichthyologist, and a voodoo priestess. The entire plot of the film is squeezed and concentrated into this twenty-minute set piece. There are quite a few PG rated jokes that walk the line of tawdriness. Shirts are ripped off, a bathing suit is revealed, and two musical numbers are well underway before we ever get to see our most elusive living fossil.
There is a great underwater scene that sees the show's hot and bothered ichthyologist "swimming" with the creature. This is made possible by stringing the two performers up from the ceiling on wires, and then having them simulate the experience of deep sea diving in the air above us. Soon, The Creature is wooing and nearly dating raping the curvaceous minx in his underwater cave, which comes complete with its own wet bar. The Creature is a pretty good singer, and he gets off this bawdy bit of dialogue, "I'm hung! Yes, I'm hung---Ry!" Trust me, it will go right over the top of most four year old heads. And its less disturbing than the numerous Bruno billboards that litter the back lot (that's for sure).
There is plenty of simulated gore when The Creature jumps aboard the steamboat and starts ripping off limbs. (Don't worry; it's all red streamers.) The climax finds him growing into a two story tall giant Lagoon creature. He even eats his former lover after waxing her with his greasy tongue. When all is said and done, you sort of want to see it again (kinda). But you wouldn't be too disappoint if that never happened. Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical is a lot better than some of the recent stage musicals based on existing horror films that have popped up. That has a lot to do with its budget. They spent a lot of money on this thing, and it looks great. Though, I can't imagine the Hell these performers have to go through, living this life and these songs over and over again for the next ten years. Showbiz. Aint it grand?
After watching The Creature make an off-Broadway star out of himself, I headed over to
The Simpsons Ride, shock to find that Doc Brown's Chicken Shack still existed. I figured they would have burned it to the ground, just like his mansion, once they excavated the long standing Back to The Future ride. Universal has basically gutted Marty McFly's home for the past fifteen years and retrofitted it with Simpsons paraphernalia. There is a Kwik-E-Mart where you can buy all of your overpriced Simpsons souvenirs. There is a long line where you can wait to have your photo professionally taken with The Simpsons family (actually, just actors in suits). And then there is the attraction itself, which has been made to look like Krustyland. As there weren't too many people in the park today, the line wait was only ten minutes. All throughout the que, there were plenty of HD video monitors playing "Best Of" moments from The Simpsons. Though short, this made my time in line a little more tolerable. As we got closer to the actual ride itself, a storyline started to play itself out on the monitors. It seems that Sideshow Bob is on the loose, and looking to kill. That's phase one. Phase two comes when Grandpa (because of his heart condition) has to wait outside the attraction with Maggie. She wanders off into a closet full of radioactive material and becomes a huge giant baby. Both of these things will come into play during the ride.
Speaking of which, this is nothing more than the Back to The Future ride done up in Matt Groening's famous animation. It is a simulated "Star Tours" type roller coaster situated in front of a giant IMAX screen. Old hat if you've been to an Amusement Park before (the simulated roller coaster at Dollywood is still my favorite). For three minutes, we are whisked off the rails of a rickety old wooden coaster and flung about the far stretching landscape of Krustyland (then eventually into Springfield). Objects knock into us with serious force, as we accompany Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa through one of the sickest short films ever rendered (why isn't this sucker in 3-D?). All the while, Sideshow Bob is trying to kill us. It's pretty darn neat, and ends with us nearly being plunged deep into the bowels of Hell. Again, its debatable if this is worth nearly three hundred dollars (not counting food, beverages, and T-shirts), but it's definitely the best ride in the park at the moment. And at three minutes, it is more worthwhile than the 25 minute Black Lagoon stage show could ever hope to be.
Both attractions will be up and running this Friday, July 1st. As far as pricing and thrills go, Six Flags would still be my first choice if I were picking out an amusement park for my vacation. Disneyland would be my second choice. Even with Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical and The Simpsons Ride, Universal Studios hasn't climbed very high up on my list of Southern Californian attractions to check out. Still, it's currently beating Knotts' Berry Farm. If you can hit all three parks this summer, great! If you can only afford one, consider that kids get easily bored. If they're not consumed by movies and the backstage shenanigans that go along with them, it's a safe bet that they will not appreciate your hard earned dollars going to this family outing. I saw one father, and he looked like he wanted to smack the snot out of his teenage daughter for texting during the tram tour of the back lot. Stifle the anger. Consider your decision, and make a wise choice. $67 a person is a lot of money to waist. Especially on a guy in a wetsuit singing about his appetite for love.