Part 6 of a continuing series examining the original proposal for Universal Studios Florida’s Islands of Adventure theme park.
Welcome back, dear reader, to the greatest park that never was. I hope you enjoyed the ride concepts discussed here last time. You’d think that after the dizzying displays last article that we’d be drawing to a close here, but there are still a few sights to take in before we jump into our cars and head home. We’ve explored, dined, shopped, and enjoyed some out-of-this-world ride concepts all centered around Batman and his Rogue’s Gallery with a small dollop of the Man of Steel thrown in for good measure. What else could there possibly be to see in Gotham City? Well, how about two of the biggest, most ambitious theme park shows ever conceived? That’s right, in addition to immersing yourself in the sights and sounds of Batman himself, this theme park proposal also gives you a chance to see up close and personal what it is that the ol’ Caped Crusader does best: fight crime! And these aren’t just any show concepts, they’re certainly not the lame type of show you’d see at Six Flags where a “Director” sets up a stunt scene and runs the actors through their paces only to show you how the magic of Hollywood makes them come to life on the big screen. No, these shows feature all the elements that make Batman so successful in comics and movies — they have a story! Imagine that! A theme-park show with a coherent story that has a beginning, middle and an exciting end! Since most of the superhero theme park shows we’ve been subjected to have simply been cut-and-paste snippets of the movies (or worse yet, the nearly unwatchable “Spider-Man Rocks” at Universal Studios) these ambitious concepts will boggle your mind with their linear storytelling and exciting resolutions.
First up is a show that went through many, many name changes such as:
The Superfriends in The Theatre of Death
Batman’s Super Crime Theatre
Death of the Dynamic Duo
The Amazing Opera of Crime
The Superhero’s Shadow of Death
A Heist at the Opera
The All-Star Opera Battle
There are other titles suggested, but in the end the decision was made to name the show:
TERRIBLE TRAPS AND FANTASTIC ESCAPES
(It’s not the best of titles since they’ve eliminated Batman completely from the name, but I guess they figured that since you were immersed in Gotham City, you would just assume that Batman would make an appearance.)
The “Terrible Traps and Fantastic Escapes” show takes place in the Gotham Opera House. (Hence the reason that Opera shows up in so many of the name suggestions, but I’m sure they had to know that any show with the word opera in the title would be a major turnoff to kids and some adults. One does not associate action and adventure with the term opera!) The Opera House is a very nice structure that would really place the audience into the context of the show.
You see tonight is a special show reopening the once-shuttered building with a show that will benefit the Gotham/Metropolis Orphanage Foundation (Metropolis being shoehorned in to explain the presence of the Big Blue Boy Scout a little later. In fact, “World’s Finest” would have been great had they included it in the title as the show will feature Batman, Superman and most of their ancillary characters.)
You enter The Opera House through the richly refurbished lobby (the notes indicate that the “facility will require extraordinary art direction in order to be affordable.” They’re going for a classic opera house with all the trimmings — luxuries not normally built for a theme-park attraction.). You’ll wind through the queue and into the ornate theatre. Overhead enormous crystal chandeliers hang from the ornate ceiling and a giant velvet drape frames the magnificent stage. You find your seat (and depending on which portion of the proposal, you may or may not see a lap bar. Knowing what’s coming up, I understand why it’s there from a practical standpoint but it would have detracted immensely from the overall theme.) Once you’re seated and the lights dim, the curtain rises to reveal Commissioner Gordon who welcomes us and introduces the sponsors of tonight’s show: Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, who join Gordon on the stage. Covering the gala event are members of the press Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson from the Daily Planet! (There is some discussion about having our heroes appear in their everyday guises. Would seeing Bruce Wayne detract from Batman’s appearance in the show? What about Clark Kent? Will the audience cheer and applaud Superman if we know he’s already in the building? In this show the audience is part of the act — we’re literally playing the part of the audience so if we don’t buy the concept the show will fizzle. Personally, I’m torn. I like the novelty of seeing Bruce, Dick and Clark but some part of me knows that the audience will lose part of their suspension of disbelief if they see the characters too soon. We know that Bruce Wayne is Batman. We know that Clark Kent is Superman. We’re not the oblivious citizens of Gotham — we’re in the know and it may be hard to slip into our character. Having Bruce or Clark show up after the fact is something different since we’ll get that surprise dramatic entrance and cheer Batman or Superman’s first appearance and chuckle knowingly at the arrival of their alter ego at the end of the show. There is also some talk of casting issues since they’ll have to cast real look-alikes who have to be convincing without the cowl or bright red “S”).
Anyhoo, so Bruce and Dick accept their applause and just before Gordon can open the actual opera show something ominous happens … a telephone booth lowers mysteriously from the ceiling and lands square on the stage (Really, I’m not making this up). The door is open, the booth is empty. Suddenly a dial tone sounds out, a phone number is dialed in and a 911 operator picks up the phone and asks what the emergency is. A maniacal voice rings through the Opera House. It’s the Joker and he informs the operator that he’s taken the Opera House and the audience hostage! The doors to the telephone booth slam shut, the clear glass frosts over as the entire booth is illuminated with brilliant white light. The silhouette of the Joker holding the phone receiver lowers down just as the glass turns clear to reveal the Crown Prince of Crime himself! He hangs up the phone and steps out of the booth declaring, “You are all now my prisoners! Your only hope is to be rescued by Bat-Brain and Boy Blunder!”
The Joker’s Henchmen appear all around, slamming and locking all of the doors (This is where that lap bar would slam down and lock you into your seat). Suddenly, the entire Opera House undergoes a transformation! Giant distorted funhouse mirrors flip into view — each one features a hideous reflection of the Joker, whose cruel laugher echoes through the building. Purple streamers appear on stage as The Joker proclaims, “Tonight will be the final curtain for the Dynamic Duo!” More of the Joker’s Henchmen spring from trap doors on the stage and encircle our heroes. The Henchmen grab them and imprison each of them into a diabolical instrument of death:
Commissioner Gordon is locked into a steel cage and a roaring flame is set underneath!
Clark Kent is imprisoned in the phone booth (naturally) and stacks of dynamite are wired around the rim of the booth.
Jimmy Olsen’s head and feet stick out of a box while a bed of lethal spikes dangle overhead.
Lois Lane is strapped to a table under a giant circular saw.
Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are knocked unconscious. Their hands bound, they are covered in black sacks and dragged up a flight of stairs to an ominous set of gallows where nooses are placed around their necks (dark stuff for a theme-park show!).
The Joker announces that he has invited some special guests to assist in the mayhem and with a flourish The Riddler, The Penguin, and Catwoman appear and menace the heroes. Things look bleak for not only the heroes on stage but everyone in the audience as well as the villains seem poised to kill everyone! The Joker readies everyone to activate their devices to rid the world of good forever — all is lost!
Not so fast!
Batman and Robin appear overhead on the balcony. Batman demands a release of the hostages. The Joker replies, “Your life for theirs, Batsy!” Batman and Robin agree and using their Batcables they swing over the audience and onto the stage. They land and turn to face The Joker but before they can apprehend the madman a ring of spikes rises up and surround the Dynamic Duo! They quickly jump to safety and take out a handful of Henchmen using their fists. Batman and Robin turn their attention to The Joker, who races up the gallows and grabs the drop lever. “One more step and they’re history,” he sneers as he threatens to kill Bruce and Dick. Batman and Robin rush to the gallows just as The Joker pulls the lever. The black sacks containing Bruce and Dick plummet to the ground and the nooses tighten. Batman and Robin grab the black sacks and pull them way to reveal that Bruce and Dick have vanished! (This is an odd part of the show. It would be hard to build any kind of tension by threatening Bruce and Dick since we as audience members already know that they are Batman and Robin, and they can’t possibly be in any danger since they’re already in hero mode on the stage! Plus, since the actors portraying Batman and Robin are masked, it would be hard to convince the audience that they are the same actors who played Bruce and Dick. This weird set of circumstances would have needed further rewrites to iron out the bugs and make the danger a bit more real.)
Having been thwarted, The Joker moves to the phone booth where he pushes a plunger down and sets off the dynamite. There is a large explosion and the telephone booth rockets up and out of sight into the rafters and smashes through the ceiling of the Opera House! “So much for Clark Kent,” laughs The Joker as he commands the other villains to activate their traps! Batman and Robin won’t be able to save everyone at once!
The Riddler moves to the spikes hanging over Jimmy Olsen and turns over an hourglass. The spikes rumble to life and advance down on the helpless photographer. Catwoman turns up the heat on Commissioner Gordon and purrs as the flames ignite and leap up towards him. The Penguin waddles over and throws the switch on the buzzsaw, causing it to glide closer and closer to Lois Lane.
Batman and Robin split up and join the fray. Batman slams two of the Joker’s Henchmen together and faces off against the Riddler. Using his keen fighting skills he frees Jimmy and turns the tables on the Riddler by locking him in the cabinet that once held Jimmy. The spikes slam into the cabinet and tear it apart revealing that the Riddler has vanished into thin air! Jimmy uses the moment of confusion to jump off the stage to safety. Robin meanwhile dispatches two Henchmen near Gordon’s deathtrap. Catwoman attacks Robin who manages to free Gordon from the flame-engulfed cage. Gordon tries to get away but Catwoman leaps to the top of the cage and tries to push him back in! Batman swings over on one of the Joker’s purple streamers. Robin pulls Gordon to safety just as Batman swings into the cage and knocks it over and onto Catwoman, trapping her inside. She grabs the cage bars and screams in fury as Batman leaps to safety. The flames roar up and engulf the cage! Catwoman screams in pain and when the flames subside she has been transformed into a large black cat (the notes do not say if the cat is a house cat or a large panther but with the sky’s-the-limit budget, I would guess the latter). Gordon leaps to safety as Batman and Robin turn their attentions to helping Lois Lane as the buzzsaw threatens to cut her in two! Sawdust flies all over as the saw makes contact! The Penguin cackles as he orders the last two Henchmen to attack the Caped Crusaders. Batman and Robin engage the enemy who are ready for them and hold them off as the saw cuts closer to Lois. Finally dispatching the Henchmen, Batman and Robin come face to face with The Penguin as the saw cuts into Lois! The Penguin opens his famous umbrella which spins like a helicopter and propels the foul fowl upward allowing him to escape into the sky. Meanwhile, all of the Joker’s Henchmen have recovered and surround Batman and Robin. They advance and gain the upper hand by sheer numbers. Holding Batman and Robin they force them to watch as the saw passes through Lois who screams in pain! The Joker rushes over and with a sickening finality pulls the two halves of Lois clean apart! “The real messy business always gets left to the professionals!” cackles The Joker who motions for his Henchmen to wheel away the two halves of Lois who is still very much alive and screaming in pain!
“You’ve gone too far!” proclaims Batman.
“Not at all Bat-breath, you see I do value a good relationship with the press!” The Joker counters as he demonstrates his twisted mercy by rejoining the two halves of Lois who emerges from the boxes in one piece! “You spell that J-O-K-E-R my dear!” The Joker taunts as Lois runs for the theatre wings only to be caught on the arm by the evil clown. “Where are you off to? The show is not over and you’ve not seen the grand finale! I’ve saved the big surprise for the ending!”
The Henchmen knock Robin out and bind him into a sack which is stuffed into a packing crate and locked with steel chains and padlocks. The crate is then attached to a large crane that lifts it high into the air and over the audience. Batman is strapped to a large revolving wheel and watches helplessly as The Joker pulls out a handful of gleaming knives. The wheel is spun and with a smile The Joker throws the silver knives directly at Batman! The knives sever the ropes binding Batman and he uses his one free arm to take a gas pellet out of his utility belt which he throws to the floor. Smoke envelops the wheel of death just as The Joker throws the last two knives directly at the center. The smoke dissipates and Batman is gone! One of the Joker’s Henchmen is strapped to the wheel with the two knives buried deep in his chest (another very dark moment for a theme-park show).
The Joker has lost what little patience he had and orders the remaining Henchmen to open fire on the dangling crate containing the Boy Wonder. The crate collapses under the hail of bullets and reveals no sign of Robin. He has vanished! Instantly, one of the Henchmen pulls off his costume to reveal that he is actually Robin! Grabbing a machine gun, Robin uses the weapon as a club to smash two of the Henchmen into the orchestra pit. Two other Henchmen get the drop of Robin and grab his arms pulling him like a sick game of tug-of-war. Just in time Batman swings in on a cable from backstage and kicks the two Henchmen down into the orchestra pit to join their fallen comrades. Batman continues to swing out and over the heads of the audience and then back to the stage where he joins Robin to face off at last against the now-alone Joker.
Undefeated, The Joker laughs hysterically and reveals his big surprise: a large colorful lever that sits center stage on a raised platform. Standing triumphantly on the platform, the Joker pulls back the lever and activates his final act of madness. Mechanical sounds echo throughout the Opera House as somewhere giant cogs are turning. The Joker directs everyone to look up to the ceiling just as giant spikes emerge and move slowly down towards the audience! (Now you see why those lap bars were proposed! You’re trapped and helpless as the spikes inch closer and closer!) Hideous creaks mix with the sound of grinding metal as the spikes continue their journey down. Batman and Robin surround The Joker. Cornered by the Caped Crusaders, The Joker wrenches the colorful lever free of the platform amid an explosive shower of sparks. The lever is rendered useless and there’s no way to stop the spikes! You await your doom knowing that the Dynamic Duo did their best but The Joker has finally gotten the upper hand. Ominously, the floor begins to vibrate. Could the building be poised to collapse under the weight of those hideous spikes?
The vibrations increase and as the spikes draw near an immense roar sounds out from below the theatre. The floor shakes violently until a powerful force bursts through. A red and blue blur races upward holding a massive steel girder. It’s Superman! He bursts through the floor and pins the goliath girder under the ceiling stopping the spikes! He flies up and up driving the spikes back to their beginning position! Suddenly, the sound of metal straining against metal sounds out and the entire building shakes violently! Before Superman can react the entire floor of the theatre gives out and drops the audience a few feet (this sounds awesome!). Just as everyone recovers from the shock, Batman and Robin capture The Joker in a cage that lowers from the ceiling. Superman joins them onstage and Lois and Jimmy appear from backstage. Commissioner Gordon rushes onstage with a battalion of Gotham City police officers to restore order to the theatre. Gordon inquires about the fate of Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson and Superman assures them that all is well and that they are all safe and sound. Why Clark Kent is already back at the Daily Planet filing a story on the fantastic heroics witnessed here tonight. Lois, sensing a scoop, joins Superman and they fly up and out of the theatre back to Metropolis.
Commissioner Gordon orders the caged Joker returned to Arkham, but just as the cage lifts off into the air The Joker cries out, “You haven’t seen the last of me yet, Batman!” The cage erupts in a flash of flame of sparks and collapses as The Joker vanishes into thin air. “Until next time, Bat-brain,” The Joker taunts from the great beyond as his laughter echoes throughout the Opera House. Batman and Robin stand heroically on the stage as the lights go out plunging the theatre into darkness. When the lights come back on, the theatre has been restored to its former glory and the lap bars release everyone to head back out into Gotham City.
Sounds pretty cool, huh? This part of the proposal is very thick and it’s obvious from the many rewrites that this is a show the designers felt very strongly about and wanted to flesh out as much as possible. It’s very ambitious and would have been quite the sight. As I’ve said before it’s certainly more ambitious than anything that Six Flags has ever offered starring the Dark Knight. It’s too bad the curtain will never rise on the Gotham Opera House … I would have been there, guaranteed.
Come back next time for a special article detailing a superhero journey that literally invades your mind! After that we’ll take one last trip to Gotham to witness the biggest show ever conceived for a theme park (really — it’s so big you won’t believe it!).
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.