Did you know that tomorrow is Revenge of the Mummy’s 12th birthday? And did you know that the ride is a not-to-be-missed attraction at Universal Studios Florida? (This second one is easy to overlook, given all the glitz and attention that the park’s newer entries, such as Transformers: The Ride 3D, Springfield, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley all generate.) There are no two better reasons to celebrate one of the most fun stops you can possibly have at all of Universal Orlando Resort – especially when they’re added together! – and, well, we just love our thrill rides to death here at OI HQ, anyway.
Let’s simply call the whole thing a birthday party and start with the revelin’ and the shoutin’.
#5 – A little dab of filmmaking with the thrills
Call this more a historical vestige than anything else, but the fact remains it helps to make Revenge of the Mummy unique amongst the ever-changing nature of Universal Florida Studios’s guard: the ride still has something to do with that mysterious, wonderful thing called filmmaking, which was, if you’ll recall, the original point to the entire park’s existence some 26 years ago.
Actually, to get way too nerdy and in-depth on the subject, Mummy falls into a type of interstitial category, halfway between Universal’s original desire to educate the general public about the ins and outs of film production and the current modus operandi of simply making USF into a standard, Disneyland-esque park (hence the recent arrivals of entire lands themed to just one property, just like you’d find at any other self-respecting theme park).
In Revenge of the Mummy’s case, specifically, the ride experience itself is fully thrill-based, but its premise and the unfolding of its story in the queue (and its payoff at the end, of course) all still revolve around Hollywood to some degree or another: the cast and crew of the (terrible but, at the time, commercially triumphant) Mummy film series is busy shooting the next installment in the franchise on location at an archaeological dig. Reggie, the bumbling production assistant, has lost a necklace that, tradition holds, keeps the vengeful spirit of Imhotep at bay. Soon after, Reggie himself goes missing. Being part of a group that has been granted special dispensation to tour the on-location shoot, you keep your eyes peeled for the hapless PA while descending into the catacombs below… where you discover that the curse of Imhotep is very, frighteningly real.
Sure, it isn’t much in the way of Hollywood lore, but it more than does its multi-faceted job of establishing backstory, building intrigue, and holding a candle to Universal Studios’s illustrious history. That’s not too shabby at all.
#4 – Psych!
When Universal Creative sat down to design this initial version of Revenge of the Mummy (the two subsequent clones, in Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Singapore, feature different experiences, whether in the story or in the actual track layout), it knew that it wanted to include a hefty number of various elements, ranging from traditional dark-ride scenes to 50-degree-angled descents to cameo appearances by the films’ cast (or, at least, just Brendan Fraser). While all of these are quite noticeable – especially the descents – one grouping of these pieces-parts tends to slip right past most guests, though I’m guessing it certainly affects nearly every single one of them: phobias.
When Mummy first opened in 2004, it was initially hailed by Universal PR as a “psychological thrill ride,” thanks to the many different phobias that it touches upon, whether the fears be centered on spiders (arachnophobia), beetles (entomophobia), darkness (lygophobia), speed (tachophobia), corpses (necrophobia), or, my personal favorite, fraserphobia. While the ride doesn’t particularly focus on any one specific condition – the company doesn’t want its guests to have to be whisked out of the park to the hospital, after all – the desire to create a little creepy potpourri is certainly appreciated, as it speaks to Universal Creative’s attention to detail and helps add a little extra distinguished flavor that is certainly lacking from most, if not all, of the resort’s other attractions.
#3 – The theming
There are few items as important to a ride’s overall immersion as its theming (this is a theme park, after all), and Revenge of the Mummy doesn’t disappoint here. It starts, of course, with the exterior of the massive six-story building, an impressive façade that is meant to be the fictitious New York Museum of Natural Antiquities (a hold-over from the earlier Kongfrontation days, when the building was a recreation of the famous Pennsylvania Station from the early 20th century).
Stepping inside, guests are then treated to a moody, atmospheric queue that exudes the right mixture of anticipation and creepiness – and which actually features some of the best sound effects and music of any themed attraction in Orlando, if not the world. Check it out for yourself (we dare you to play it while reading the rest of the article!):
The queue may not be quite an attraction unto itself, as in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, but given that it predates that ride by six years, we can both forgive Mummy and appreciate its important rung in the evolutionary ladder that Universal has found itself on within the past decade-and-a-half. The presence of hieroglyphics, statues, and impressive stonework all combine to create the illusion that you truly are in ancient Egypt while simultaneously oozing suspense. It’s masterfully done. (One of the best little touches: an Easter egg pointing to the space’s King Kong heritage, which depicts hieroglyphics of ancient Egyptian warriors brandishing bananas as weapons.)
Not to be outdone, the ride itself is packed with even more details and flourishes, creating one of the most immersive environments available at Universal Orlando; the second scene, for instance, is a grand temple filled with beautiful treasures, gorgeous lighting, and, even, pyrotechnic displays (not to mention a golden monkey statue – yet another homage to the fallen Kongfrontation), rivaling any special-effects-laden movie set. One has the very real sense that he could spend hours in the room, soaking in all the craftsmanship – if it weren’t for that pesky Imhotep and the ride vehicle that shoots you up to 45 mph in a mere matter of seconds in order to escape him.
Speaking of which…
#2 – A delicate balancing act
The fact that Revenge of the Mummy provides more than its fair share of thrills helps make the ride so beloved by Florida locals and themed connoisseurs alike – backward drops, spirals in complete darkness, and scarab beetles pouring out of a wall tend to make an impression. But what truly makes the thrilling moments so memorable is the context they’re placed in; the sheer number of quieter – or, at least, more slowly-moving – beats grounds the entire experience in a balancing act that was just as delicate to establish by Universal Creative as it is profound in its effect upon guests. That riders, say, have the opportunity to take their time through that aforementioned treasure room, soaking in the narrative and the aesthetics both, only make the subsequent fleeing from Imhotep all the more exciting – and effective.
That scene also looms large in another intricate balancing act the ride is constantly maintaining: the usage of physical sets (replete with practical effects) alongside the deployment of digital sequences. This is far more elaborate – and subtle – than what one finds in, say, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man or Transformers, in which the occasional physical prop punctuates the large projection screens that make up the bulk of a scene; fog, pyrotechnics, and, even, audio-animatronic figures all help to make the ancient catacombs feel like a real, living world, while the video screens – such as the female ride attendant who meets an unfortunate end behind a glass partition – accomplish those sequences that would otherwise be impossible to pull off in the really-real world.
It’s the perfect marriage between dark and thrill ride, traditional and modern themed design – and it’s practically non-existent elsewhere in the parks.
#1 – Ceiling of fire
Picture this: you’ve fled from Imhotep by plunging through darkness (replete with the occasional lighting and fog effect) and have arrived at what you momentarily think is the end of the ride. Relieved, you let your guard down – until the ride attendant behind the glass is zapped by the wrathful Egyptian spirit, and you realize that you’re not quite out of the woods just yet. Trying one last time to entrap you, your adversary lights up the ceiling above you – literally: flames lick across its surface, unfolding almost like a wave of liquid fire.
Don’t imagine it – watch it (the scene in question arrives at 2:18):
Let’s get the nitpicky stuff out of the way first. Yes, this is just one specific effect in an attraction laden with them. Yes, it’s just one tiny sliver of just one scene, lasting only a mere handful of seconds in a three-minute-long ride experience. And, yes, I might just be a late-blooming pyromaniac, discovering my inner obsession with fire only while on vacation.
But all that doesn’t take away from the ceiling of fire’s beauty, from the behind-the-scenes mastery it takes to pull it off, or from its grandeur as, essentially, Revenge of the Mummy’s grand finale (or, at least, the beginning of the finale). It’s a pitch-perfect moment, a compelling experience that only a theme park can bring you – and something that can’t be found even in the likes of Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which is a top-notch attraction in and of itself.
In short: the entire ride – yes, including any and all line that you might have to slough through – is worth it for jus this one five-second scene.