Part 5 of a continuing series examining the original proposal for Universal Studios Florida’s Islands of Adventure theme park.
Welcome back to Gotham City, where we’re finally going to pull back the curtain on what the designers dreamed up for ol’ Batsy back when Universal was planning on going all-out for a Batman portion of Islands of Adventure. Keep in mind that these ideas came out of brainstorming sessions and due to the vagueness of the project as a whole and the fact that the designers were given free rein to come up with whatever they wanted, there’s bound to be some ideas that weave in and out of attractions. The designers weren’t afraid to move ideas around to better suit the overall project. That being said, the first attraction in the proposal is the blandly titled “Batcar Interactive Adventure Ride,” which is subtitled as a “Dark Ride/Coaster Combination.” If you refer back to the map drawing in my first installment, you’ll see this attraction just to the right of the giant Batman cape. It looks to be a fast-paced ride that literally puts you into the driver’s seat of the Batcar. (Why the designers insist on calling one of the most famous vehicles in pop culture the Batcar is beyond me. Surely, these guys are aware that Batman has driven the Batmobile since 1941 and it’s as much a part of his lexicon as Alfred or the Batcave! If not, they had to be living under a rock to avoid the 1989 Tim Burton film where the car was as famous as the driver!) Regardless of the lame attraction name, the ride is an interesting concept of a fast-moving ride combined with an arcade interactive target game. The boat ride mentioned last time hinted at this technology but this attraction really puts it to use. Your job as a rider is to assist Batman by searching for traps that the Joker has hidden throughout Gotham City. By hitting the traps, you disarm them and gather points while saving the city. But fire quickly because some of the targeted elements can sense you approaching and fire defense systems that will sap energy and points from you. The target shooting aspect seems obvious today, but back then it was real cutting-edge stuff — and the added threat of your gun disabling and point loss makes it even more interactive, if a little difficult to play! At the end of your ride the highest score in the Batcar (Batmobile) wins! Your score is also compared with other players in Gotham City and probably proudly displayed if you’re good enough. (This sounds like a really fun ride concept and the map drawing really makes it look exciting. The entire area would have a real sense of energy with guests in Batmobiles zooming around firing at interactive targets. Surely, it would have included some indoor dark portions with special lighting and fog effects.)
Another tantalizing ride concept is the “Race with the Joker.” This is a motion simulator where you board a Batman-themed ride vehicle (it varies between the Batcar and the Batjet depending on the date of the proposal) and assist Batman in apprehending the Joker. In this version of the ride, Batman locks your Batvehicle coordinates onto the Joker’s and with a blast of speed out of the Batcave, you’re on your way through a dizzying journey of Gotham City.
This concept also goes by the title “Joker’s Wild” (a title which is used again when the proposal gets trimmed down. Again, bear in mind this is a huge proposal and things are constantly being redrafted. One portion even mentions a monorail around the city but budget constraints have made the designers a bit more realistic. Still, it’s an interesting vision of things to come when you see the major part a monorail played in 2005’s BATMAN BEGINS). In “Joker’s Wild: Pilot the Batcar on the Adventure of a Lifetime” (another simulator attraction) guests enter Wayne Manor and are invited to look around the mansion that Bruce Wayne calls home. (Wayne Manor would make an excellent theme for a ride queue and I assume this is what the designers had in mind. Again, remember the year is 1992 and themed queues are not the norm. Disneyland’s INDIANA JONES ADVENTURE is still 3 years away and was arguably the first ride to have a fully immersive queue that provided entertainment while you wait. DUELING DRAGONS at Islands of Adventure is a perfect example of this and is usually what comes to mind when talk turns to themed queues (It could happen! It depends on your circle of friends!)) After you line up into smaller groups, Alfred appears and opens a secret passageway into the Batcave. (Not sure of this part of the attraction. It’s hard to believe they would try to staff the ride with numerous older gents to portray the butler. Most likely it would be a video screen utilizing a pre-recorded video. Michael Gough would have probably been up for it and at the time he was Alfred in the film series.)
Once inside the Batcave, Batman himself appears on a monitor speaking from inside his Batjet which you can see parked above. He needs your help in locating the Joker, who is preparing to unleash poison gas on the citizens of Gotham once he launches in his Jokerjet (Jokerjet?) Batman directs you into the Batcar, where you’re strapped in and ready to go. Batman will keep in radio contact the whole time in case there’s trouble. The Batcave opens up and the Batcar blasts through a long tunnel with signs pointing the way to Gotham City. The Batcar emerges onto the streets of Gotham and moves wildly through traffic, dodging cars and structures. Suddenly Joker Taxi Cabs appear, armed with large guns. Batshields go up just as the guns fire on you. Guns pop up from the hood of the Batcar and fire back, blowing the Taxi Cabs to bits. Before the last enemy is vanquished the Batcar takes a hit and careens out of control, crashing through a construction site and back onto the roadway in time to see the lone Taxi Cab make its way onto a freeway on-ramp. The Batcar gives chase and weaves in and out of the busy traffic at an accelerated speed. The Joker Taxi Cab runs up the guardrail and flies over into oncoming traffic!
The Batcar follows and in a scene right out of TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (The chase scene in the film is fantastic, look it up), you chase the last taxi. Up ahead you can see through the Batshield that the freeway is unfinished! You’ve got the car cornered! But wait — the Joker Taxi Cab crashes through the “Road Ends Here” sign and suddenly sprouts wings and jet engines! The Joker Taxi Cab has transformed into the Jokerjet! If you can stay close to the madman, Batman can home in on the position and save the day. The Batcar goes through its own transformation as guide wings move up along the hood and a bubble shield envelopes all around. Jet engines whine, and with a massive thrust, you zoom over the ends of the freeway and into the sky after the Jokerjet! An aerial dogfight ensues as you chase the Jokerjet through the skyscraper canyons of Gotham City.
Hurtling past giant towers, the Jokerjet heads for a massive steel foundry and crashes through an ornate window, sending shards of glass everywhere; the Batcar emerges from the shower of glass and into a maze of machinery and molten steel pouring into giant vats. Through the steel foundry, you race after the Joker only to have him outwit you at every turn. The Joker smashes through another window and tries to mask his escape with a cloud of toxic green gas. Raising your bubble shield, you follow and chase the Joker outside towards a giant skyscraper. Up and over the massive building, you race just in time to see the Jokerjet race downward into the mouth of a large sewage pipe. Into the darkness you follow and find yourself in the realm of The Penguin. The Jokerjet plunges into the dark twisting tunnels and raw sewage of the Gotham City underworld.
Suddenly the Penguin Car from Batman Returns appears and fires torpedoes at us! The Batcar tilts and weaves to avoid the oncoming projectiles. You return fire with a concussion torpedo that knocks the Penguin Car out of the way. Catching sight of the Jokerjet, you follow the Clown Prince of Crime out of the sewer pipe and into the open ocean where it empties. The Joker drops depth charges that you swerve to avoid and continue the chase towards an oncoming island. In the moonlight the island’s tallest mountain appears to be shaped like a cat! The Jokerjet races into the mouth of the giant stone cat, and when you attempt to follow the cat shoots a giant blast of fire straight towards you! The Batcar reverses direction and raises the heat shield as it races into the flames! A blinding flash and suddenly the Batcar is inside a giant cavern inside the stone cat. This is the lair of the Catwoman and she has left a series of traps to thwart you. Dodging them, you resume your chase of the Jokerjet but soon find the killer clown has the upper hand. He’s headed straight for you! All seems lost but at the last second Batman swoops down in the Batjet and captures the Jokerjet in his cargo bay. With a hearty thanks Batman banks past the moon in a scene straight out of the 1989 movie and dips his wing to you. The Batcar turns sharply and in one final thrilling moment flies you right back into the Batcave where you started.
Sound pretty thrilling, huh? It’s pretty good, but it’s still just a simulator and as good as STAR TOURS, is the INDIANA JONES ADVENTURE is still better in my opinion. Simulators are fun, but there’s no substitute for a real hands-on authentic experience. Giant sets and real-life fire and fog really put you into the action in a way that simulators can’t. Which is why the next proposal is so much more interesting – it has all of that and more. This version of “Joker’s Wild” is a hanging roller coaster similar to NINJA at Six Flags. This time you’ll enter through a warehouse located in the heart of Gotham City far from Wayne Manor. The outside is weather-beaten and run down; a sharp contrast to the ultra modern inside that’s full of laboratory equipment and state-of-the-art crimefighting equipment. This is Batman’s secret base in the city, an extension of the Batcave, if you will. You’ve arrived just in time – The Joker has escaped from Arkham and Batman needs your help! (That sounds familiar) Batman informs you that The Joker is running amuck in the city and Batman can’t be everywhere at once to find him – that’s where you come in. You’ll board one of the sleek Batwing Gliders and canvas the city in aid of the Dark Knight! (These are the Batwing vehicles that appear in that map drawing from my first installment – they add a real energy to the whole area. Not to mention that when Batman asks you to save the citizens of Gotham City, you’ll find that he means the other guests in the actual theme park you’re in, not a simulated version on a screen. This adds a reality to the entire affair that can’t be beat.) Once you’re safely locked into your Batwing Glider you’ll blast out into the skies of Gotham City and through a series of narrow buildings and streets emerging into the theme park itself.
People shop and dine while you zoom overhead keeping them safe! In and out of buildings, the Batwing Gliders race around hairpin turns and narrowly miss obstacles.
The danger is real and there’s no sign of the Joker! Suddenly you round a corner to find a large gaping Joker head dead ahead as the sound of his maniacal laughter fills the air. Up ahead two giant trick flowers squirt you just as you zoom into the mouth of the large cutout Joker! A sign reads “Welcome to Jokerland!” (This is the dark-ride portion of the attraction and it’s really nicely themed. At the time of this proposal there weren’t very many coasters themed to this level. Disney’s SPACE MOUNTAIN is the only attraction that compares to this timeframe. In the ensuing years, some nicely themed coasters have emerged such as THE MUMMY’S REVENGE and EXPEDITION EVEREST, but back in 1992 this was very cutting-edge.) Entering Jokerland, you find yourself in a strange, bizarre world that only the twisted mind of the Joker could create. The entire area is made to look as if it upside down! (The conceptual drawing for this by Neal Adams confused the heck out of me initially. I turned it this way and that before I realized what they were aiming for. I can only imagine how stellar it would have been at the actual park.)
Strange and surreal items float within a black void and act as distractions to the large and lethal traps that spring out of nowhere! Hideous laughter echoes all around as giant spike walls loom up and threaten to impale you! The Batwing Glider dodges and weaves to keep you out of harm’s way. Batman appears on the track above (This looks great in the drawings) and at last shows you the way out but the danger is not over … for once the harsh rays of the sun meet your eyes, you’re staring down the largest high-speed drop in the ride. You’ve entered the no-holds-barred rollercoaster portion of the attraction and it does not disappoint! Weaving in and out of dips and drops — avoiding a Gothamworks truck — until the Batwing Glider finally zooms you back into the warehouse you started in. Batman thanks you for helping him and it’s onto the souvenir photo stand, gift shop and ultimately back into the streets of Gotham where you can relive your adventure over and over while you watch the Batwing Gliders zoom all about in their never-ending quest for justice!
How’s that for a Batman rollercoaster? It sure beats the mildly themed coasters at the Six Flags parks. With elaborate theming, a coherent storyline and a chance to actually help Batman fight crime, these rides had it all. It’s a shame they never saw the light of day, and an even bigger shame that they’ve spent the last 16 years hiding in a stack of papers waiting to see the world.
Come back next time for a peek at the Batman-themed shows that were dreamed up for this. You won’t believe the scale of these shows — they’re truly massive in their presentation.
Jeff Tucker works in the theme park industry. His magical book series, “The Sixth Key,” is available on Amazon.com. He also hosts his own Podcast, “91 Reasons,” available on iTunes.