Orlando, prepare for battle.
With the intergalactic war between the Autobots and Decepticons raging at Universal Studios Hollywood since last May (and in Singapore since 2011), it seems it was only a matter of time before the conflict spread to central Florida.
On Thursday, Universal executives announced that time would be summer 2013, with the opening of the blockbuster attraction Transformers: The Ride – 3D at Universal Studios Florida.
“We’ve had a great run with it in both Singapore and Hollywood,” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative. “Based on the overwhelming response, we figured why not Orlando?”
(NBC News and Universal Parks and Resorts are both owned by NBCUniversal.)
As fans of the toys, TV show and Megan Fox know, Transformers tells the tale of warring alien robots that can convert into vehicles or weapons as they battle for control of the universe. The Autobots are led by the heroic Optimus Prime; the Decepticons by the evil Megatron, with puny humans caught in the middle of the clanking, cranking action.
“At the end of the day, it’s a story of good and evil,” said Woodbury. “The visual experience of the movies is great fodder for us to take and turn into a ride experience.”
According to Woodbury, the ride itself will be identical to the ones in Hollywood and Singapore. Guests will queue through a control center, aka, the N.E.S.T., just as the Decepticons are about to attack. Donning 3D glasses and boarding motion-simulator vehicles, they’ll spend the next five minutes immersed in a series of chases, crashes and explosions delivered via elaborate sets, 14 movie screens and a 5,000-watt sound system.
Assuming they survive, they’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief as they exit through the Transformers Supply Vault, aka, the gift shop.
Meanwhile, a much larger, albeit less noisy, battle may also be in the offing. On Tuesday, executives at Disney announced the company was buying Lucasfilm, owner of the “Star Wars” franchise, for $4 billion.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the news echoed across the Internet at warp speeds, with jokes about potential new synergies — “When You Wish Upon a Death Star,” anyone — and the official announcement of a proposed “Star Wars 7” movie to be released in 2015.
Even Disney got in the action, releasing an entertaining YouTube video that asked: Darth Vader, now that you’re part of the Disney family, what will you do next? The answer, apparently, is visit Cinderella’s castle, ride the tea cups and use the Force to pull the Sword from the Stone at the King Arthur Carousel.
The potential for new rides, movie sequels and synergistic merchandising is huge — just as it is for Universal, which, of course, boasts its own franchise firepower with the likes of “Harry Potter,” “Shrek” and now “Transformers.”Humor aside, though, the Lucasfilm deal may also represent the latest front in the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of theme-park visitors. Coming on the heels of Disney’s previous purchases of Pixar (2006) and Marvel Entertainment (2009), the move means that several iconic franchises, including “Toy Story,” “Star Wars” and many (but not all) Marvel characters, are now under the Disney umbrella.
“It’s all about capitalizing on a good franchise,” said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based theme park consulting company. “They’re competing on the intellectual-property stage, looking for products that will appeal to the mass public — not only for now but for decades to come.”
Prepare for battle, indeed.
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.