Those evil Decepticons are at it again.
In their endless quest to take over the Earth, the villainous robots from the Transformers universe are waging another intergalactic battle against the Autobots, a rival faction of transforming robots, by going after the “Allspark,” an energy life-source.
“Your planet,” rumbles Megatron, the red-eyed leader of the Decepticons, “belongs to meeeeeeeee!”
Not so fast.
This time human “recruits” can help save the world by boarding an Autobot named Evac and fighting alongside soldiers as Evac darts through the dreary streets of Chicago avoiding missiles, fiery explosions and a vehicle-sucking vortex.
Sounds like the plot for “Transformers 4,” right?
Close, but not quite.
It’s actually the storyline for Transformers: The Ride 3D, a stunning rock ‘em , sock ‘em attraction at Universal Studios Florida that opened last week and puts riders in the middle of a classic good versus evil showdown.
The four-minute ride, located on the site of a former soundstage where portions of such TV shows as “Murder, She Wrote” and “Xena, Warrior Princess” were filmed, is already operating at Universal Studios in Singapore and Hollywood.
The Orlando attraction, fast-tracked and built in just one year, couldn’t come at a better time. Attendance at Universal Studios has reportedly dropped more than 20 percent behind that of Universal’s neighboring Islands of Adventure since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened there three years ago.
To help boost those numbers, Universal recently added a ride based on the animated film “Despicable Me,” plus an evening lagoon show and a new character parade. A new Springfield section of the park, based on “The Simpsons,” is set to open this summer.
The Transformers ride is just another step in the makeover of Universal Studios Florida, owned by Comcast Corp., the Philadelphia cable TV giant.
“This means a great deal to us,” said Tom Williams, chairman and CEO of Universal Parks and Resorts. “It’ll drive incremental attendance to central Florida and to our park. Along with that attendance come merchandise sales, food sales, all of which enable us to pay back an investment of this size.”
As for the size of that investment, Universal won’t say how much the ride cost to construct. Company officials said Universal was able to build the attraction at breakneck speed because it wasn’t starting from scratch and closely followed the design features for the other Transformer rides.
Riders will quickly notice Transformers is similar to the Amazing Spider-Man, which opened in May 1999. Both use big-screen projections, flight-simulator technology, spinning platforms, water and heat features and other special effects. The scoop ride vehicles also are almost the same.
But the technological advancements — especially in 3D video and high definition — on Transformers, almost make Spider-Man look like a standard-issue merry-go-round.
“We raised the bar on the scale of this,” said Mike West, executive producer of Universal Creative, the research and development arm responsible for designing rides and attractions. “Spider-Man is an animated environment. This is a real-world environment. We had to make you believe you were on a real set, not in a cartoon.”
One of the toughest challenges of turning an uber-successful film franchise that has earned more than $2 billion worldwide into a theme park ride (a fourth Transformers movie starring Mark Wahlberg is slated to hit theaters next summer) was finding a compelling — and coherent — story to tell.
“The movie has two hours to tell the story,” West said. “We have four minutes.”
That meant keeping the story simple enough for riders to easily understand.
“We have to crystallize the essence of the story,” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative. “It’s like the highlight reel of a game or a feature film.”
The first thing riders see outside the slate gray, bunker-styled attraction is a 28-foot-tall, 9-ton Optimus Prime standing guard atop the roof like some ancient Greek God. Optimus Prime, of course, is the compassionate, but powerful, leader of the Autobots.
Before getting to the actual ride, guests walk through the elaborate control room, where characters from the movie appear on video, including the no-nonsense Gen. Morshower (played by “24” ’s Glenn Morshower), who intones such dramatic lines as, “This is the most important tactical mission that you will ever accept.”
In one of the rooms sits the last remaining shard of AllSpark, the power source the dozen riders aboard the 12,000-pound Evac have vowed to keep out of the Decepticons’ clutches.
On screen, riders nearly come face-to-face with three-story tall Autobots and Decepticons, with riders needing to crane their necks so they can see them along the 2,000-foot track.
Some scenes are done in super slow motion so recruits can fully appreciate the experience. There’s even a secret elevator that lifts the Evac from the first floor to the second as it’s surrounded by a 60-foot high screen that tricks riders into thinking they’re actually moving forward.
The result: Guests believe they’re racing down a Windy City street in hot pursuit of Megatron.
“There’s a lot of technology on this ride,” West said. “But that’s just a tool to tell the story. We don’t want you thinking about how we’re doing it while you’re on the ride because we want people to enjoy the experience.”
Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime, said he and Frank Welker, the voice of Megatron, had a blast working on the ride.
“I’m surprised they pay us because we have such a great time together,” said Cullen, who modeled Optimus Prime’s voice after his brother, a marine. Somehow, that’s fitting and makes Optimus Prime even more heroic.
Welker said he’s still blown away when he hears his voice coming out of Megatron’s mouth.
“Our voices are so big coming out of these huge characters,” he said. “I just wanted to come up with the most evil, nastiest voice I could think of.”
At last week’s red carpet grand opening that featured pyrotechnics, a specially created Transformers song by Cheap Trick, a flyover by a formation of private jets and a brief appearance by director Steven Spielberg, an executive producer of the Transformer films, rider Michelle Perrotti of Orlando said she loved the attraction.
“This is so awesome,” said Perrotti, 43. “I used to think Spider-Man was my favorite ride. Now it’s this one. You really feel like you’re in the movie.”
Issac Blum, a 10-year-old from Reston, Va., was equally impressed and couldn’t stop gushing about Transformers.
“The ride was more in-depth than the movies,” Blum said. “It had 3D, the mist, the water and the heat. I can’t wait to go on it again tomorrow.”
IF YOU GO
Attraction: Transformers: The Ride — 3D
Where: Universal Studios Florida, Orlando
Price: One-day ticket to Universal Studios, $92; $86 for ages 3-9
Info: Must be at least 40 inches tall to ride. Children 40- to 48-inches tall must be accompanied by someone who is 14 years old or older.