Despite being mostly annoyed when being forced to travel to California — or more specifically Southern California, it’s just not easy to get to — the one thing that pushed me into making the trek out west this year for BotCon 2013 was the potential of being close enough to visit Universal Studios Hollywood and ride Transformers: The Ride 3-D.
I’m just going to get straight to the “what I thought” part:
Yeah, it was mostly like that. It was easily the most amount of thrill you could compress into 4 minutes and change. Easily. A jaw-dropping (sometimes literally), jarring, swirling, swerving, assault of pure action joy. With Transformers.
Perhaps it was because it is, as Andrew Tarantola of Gizmodo put it, “without a doubt the most technically advanced ride that Universal Studios has ever done”. Or perhaps it was because this was the first time I have ever ridden a “3D Dark Ride“. Whatever the reason, I was not prepared for the actual ride. I’m not sure what I was expecting. I knew it couldn’t be like a standard amusement park ride because there would need to be some level of interaction that you wouldn’t find in a regular roller coaster. I didn’t know that interaction would come courtesy of 4,000 x 4,000 resolution (translation: four times the resolution of a standard 3D movie) projected through custom 3D lenses by an array of 34 Christie projectors. Add in the rest of the specifications and the immersion is intense.
This next part has spoilers (I guess?) for the movie part of the ride. Jump down to “END OF SPOILERS” to avoid them.
You and your fellow N.E.S.T. recruits ride in three rows of four in a recreation of the alt mode of new Autobot rookie, Evac (confusingly enough, this movie-verse Evac is not the movie Evac that already received two different helicopter alt mode toys in 2007 and 2010).
Character confusion aside, the movie itself can be summed up as “keep the Allspark shard away from the Decepticons”.
Shown on 14 different movie screens, some curved and 60-feet high, you move through the action along 2,000 feet of track on two levels listening to a 5,000-watt, 14-channel sound system. With all the digital effects, there’s still some good ol’ fashioned practical effects as well. When Megatron breaks a pipe you get sprayed with water.
This scene, where Megatron breaks from his fight with Optimus long enough to fire a missile straight at your face, is a particularly cool combination of the 3-D and practical effects. You can move left, right, up, and down in your seat but the missile stays on track to blow you personally to smithereens. Evac swerves at the last moment and “smoke” (fog) and a blast of hot air comes from the explosion just off to the right of you.
Along with appearances by Sideways, Grindor, Sideswipe (yaaay!), and Bonecrusher, there’s a near-miss escape from Devastator followed by a second encounter that has Evac turn on his shields as he travels straight through the giant’s gaping, rotating, bladed Vortex Grinder and out the other side. At this point Evac is grabbed by Starscream’s grapple hook. Starscream transforms and flies through the city, slamming Evac into and through buildings, and finally flinging him into a construction site.
This all culminates on top of the construction site where, taking a note from Sam Witwicky, Evac pushes the shard into Megatron’s chest. Megatron stumbles back and falls from the building, grasping around he pulls Evac over the edge with him. For a ride that is only two levels, I’m not entirely sure how they achieve the next effect; the very, very, verrrry real sensation of falling at least 20 floors to the street below. Megatron ends up non-functional as he faceplants on the street, but Evac is saved by the timely intervention of Bumblebee. Catching him at the bottom, they both crash through to a level below. Optimus thanks you for your service and Evac turns to deliver you back to the main area to disembark. One thing I didn’t notice the first time around, but caught the second, was that you then pass under Megatron’s sparking, deactivated head poking through the rubble from the street above you.
END OF SPOILERS
Outside of the ride itself, there’s never any doubt which corner of Universal Studios you’ve wandered into.
As you walk through the main entrance there are artifacts affixed to the walls.
One thing we learned pretty fast is that the “Single Rider” line is the way to go. As long as you don’t mind sitting in a different car than the rest of your party, it cut our wait time from 30 minutes down to less than 10 the first go through and from 50 down to 15 the second. The walls have N.E.S.T. emblems everywhere and the attendants are all dressed in military uniforms.
Mostly the place is meant to evoke the feeling of descending into a dark, secret military bunker.
After the ride, there are three other Transformers-related areas to visit; the Recharging Station, the character stages, and the Vault. I didn’t partake of the Recharging Station. Along with some foodstuffs with Transformers names, they also had an “Energon” energy drink. “The preferred fuel of Transformers and exclusive only at Universal Studios Hollywood”, my friend, Michael, had one and wrote, “The Energon drink provided, is little more than creme soda, with a color-changing ice cube inserted inside.” So much for exclusivity, I guess?
The character stages were a lot of fun. We arrived just in time for Bumblebee to take his stage. Unlike the stage shared alternately by Optimus and Megatron, Bumblebee actually had to be escorted through the crowd to get to his.
Bumblebee did his “talking in radio” thing, playing “Bad to the Bone” as my friend Ben walked up to have his photo taken with his favourite movie ‘bot. Across the way, there was an assault buggy with Sector 7 insignias next to the other stage.
Then the doors slid open and out of the fog walked Megatron.
He stood rather menacingly tall as he alternated between berating and attempting to recruit the crowd. I saw more than a couple kids refuse to go anywhere near him when it was their turn to have pictures taken. At this point it was pretty darned hot and the California sun had begun to boil my brain inside my skull so I decided against getting my picture taken with any of the ‘bots and we headed to the nice air-conditioned Vault. A transformers-y way to say “Gift Shop”, the Vault was full of everything you could possibly think to buy at an amusement park; key chains, magnets, plush dolls, t-shirts, mugs, and, of course, Transformer toys — for just under twice normal retail prices. Oof.
In the center was a cool display case with an assortment of higher-end items.
Included in these items was a really nice, really pricey replica of the Allspark prop used in the first movie.
Among the t-shirts was one that made me laugh out loud. I quickly snapped a picture of it and texted it to my wife, threatening to buy it for her.
However, over in the toys was the one section I had come here for. Almost as much as getting to ride the ride, I rerouted my California trip through LAX first so that I could pick up the one Universal Studios exclusive toy mold that can be found nowhere else at retail. The Autobot rookie himself, Evac.
Given his exclusivity, deluxe class Evac was a figure that I had pretty much resigned myself to not owning any time soon. This didn’t hit too hard, as Evac only shows up in the Ride — so I hadn’t encountered him as a character yet — and even with that, Hasbro released a legion class Cyberverse Evac at full retail in 2012.
To further soften the blow of his deluxe mold’s exclusivity, his Cyberverse release was awesome. In a year of really, really solid Cyberverse releases, he was actually my favourite of all of them, legion or commander class. He has the same alt mode, a futuristic-looking car.
However, once I had gone on the ride and been introduced to him as a character, I was more than happy to shell out the inflated prices of the gift shop for this “more than effective courier” and “frighteningly powerful warrior” with “blistering speed and lightning-fast reflexes”.
One detail I particularly like is on his legs. Adding to that super-fast messenger vibe, the pieces on his lowers legs rotate back, looking very much like the winged sandals of the Olympian god, Hermes.
Though his original prototype images showed a gun, the final version doesn’t come with one. Instead, it has two guns on a bar at his hips and a gun molded on each arm.
His head also adds to the feeling of speed, reminding me a lot of my favourite movie-verse ‘bot, Sideswipe.
His alt mode is scaled back from the twelve seat vehicle of the ride, shown here as envisioned in the concept art.
The toy has four individual seats inside his cabin instead and encloses the top with a windshield, which seems far safer anyway.
Other than that, his alt mode sticks pretty close, though with a different, slightly brighter paintjob and detailing.
In another nice touch, the guns at his robot mode hips rotate around and can be seen pointing out just below the headlights in alt mode. Both the deluxe and cyberverse class alt modes show their courier function in the great big center thruster on the back.
A great toy and a fun, smart-alecky character; just an all-round great addition to the movie-verse, wherever the heck he fits in it. The only Evac-related disappointment I had was that Universal Studios Hollywood didn’t have the big Evac statue that Universal Studios Singapore has.
As for the other toy I bought at the Vault? Let’s just say, my kid loves it (almost as much as I do.)
Near the end of a crazy-fun, whirlwind day of rides, we were walking past the character stage and heard Optimus having fun with the crowd. Two kids with souvenir cups, one shaped like Optimus Prime’s head and another like Bumblebee’s, went up for a photo and were greeted with,
“I see you’re drinking from my head. I hope my head serves you well. Oh, and you are drinking from Bumblebee’s head… don’t worry, I don’t get jealous.”
Having just been drenched by going on the Jurassic Park water ride, I decided the heat wasn’t too bad and got in line. As I walked up he said,
“I see you’ve already aligned yourself with us. It will be an honor to fight alongside you.”
Yeah, not gonna lie, it was pretty freaking awesome.