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Universal's High-tech 'Vice' Show

June 27, 1987|SEAN GRADY

With high-tech gunplay, speedboat rides through simulated mine fields and an aerial attack by a mock-up helicopter, "The Miami Vice Action Spectacular," the latest live stunt show at the Universal Studios Tour, is set to open next Saturday.

Tour officials call it the most complex performance they've ever attempted. In all, more than 50 computer-assisted stunts, explosions and special effects will be included in the 15-minute show, requiring Universal to take extra care that no one, either on stage or in the audience, gets hurt.

"Our industry gets a lot of publicity when things go wrong," said Paul Holehouse, the director of parent-company MCA Inc.'s corporate safety program.

To make sure that things go right, the show's designers have tried "to anticipate every possibility (of danger) to the stunt people and to the audience," he said.

The show is set in a West Indies smugglers' hide-out that is raided by Miami detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs (portrayed by stunt men look-alikes for actors Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas). The raid will be conducted as if the audience were present at an actual shooting sequence, with an on-set director guiding the six cast members through a series of actions.

Most of its effects and explosions are directed away from the grandstands, which are at least 20 feet from the action. Fly-away parts, such as the roofs of exploding shacks, will be either restrained by short cables or made of light rubber or plastic materials.

The six stunt men in each performance are protected by a series of fail-safe triggers, such as pressure-sensitive plates built into the set, which will keep them from being hurt by misfired effects.

"If everything is not 'go'--sort of like space stuff--(the computer) immediately stops things," said Alex Plasschaert, the show's director and stunt coordinator.

As an additional backup to the safety systems, the show has a technical director who is in charge of all special effects. He will supervise the performance from a control booth at the top of the grandstands, and has the power to cancel a particular effect or explosion if a stunt man is in the wrong place.

Holehouse said that the safety systems are set up to allow some of the effects to be aborted without interrupting the performance.

Phil Hettema, the exhibit's producer, said that the stunts in the show, with the fail-safe triggers and computer backups, are safer than those in the TV series.

"You don't need this advanced technology for film and television. In film you only do it once and use five cameras to make sure you get it," Hettema said.

But the nature of this performance, which will be given at least eight times a day, demands the rigorous attention to the safety of the cast, he said.

As much of the on-stage mayhem will come from sound effects as from the stunts themselves. A new sound system was installed to provide noise for the explosions, gunfire and other effects, which Holehouse compares to "safe and sane" fireworks--more flash than bang.

The capstone effect, a helicopter that rises from behind the set and is shot down by the detectives, is a full-scale mock-up, mounted on a mechanical arm that gives it the appearance of hovering in mid-air.

Sound effects will be responsible for making the audience believe, at least for a moment, that the helicopter is capable of wreaking full-scale havoc.

Hettema said that this technique is the same as that used in the production of the series. "Most of what people hear (on television) is not the sound of dynamite--it's enhanced electronically," he said. "We're giving the audience what they want to hear."

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