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Roar or Soar : * Universal Studios and Magic Mountain do battle with two new attractions: Jurassic Park exhibit and Batman coaster.

March 25, 1994|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Batman versus Tyrannosaurus Rex.

A clash of the titans? A script only Hollywood could love?

No, a pair of attractions at Magic Mountain and Universal Studios, both of which are based on popular movies, both of which debut this Saturday.

Call it: "The super-hero and the dinosaur grapple for tourist dollars."

In the foothills of Valencia, Magic Mountain has erected its most expensive coaster yet, the Batman ride, a twisting contraption that features a high-speed, suspended design. That means riders are strapped in from above with their feet dangling as they embark on a dizzying succession of loops, corkscrews and turns.

"You can feel the blood draining from your head," said Bill Kern, an Anaheim coaster fan who took a preview ride and found this experience enjoyable. "You can't really relate this to any other coaster. It's amazing the things they can do with the technology."

The same might be said at Universal, where the tour celebrates its 30th anniversary with Jurassic Park--Behind the Scenes. Steven Spielberg has donated his private collection of notes, models and gadgetry for an extensive peek at the Oscar-winning visual and sound effects that went into this box-office monster.

The exhibit runs through May and serves as a precursor for yet another film-based attraction, a Flintstones stage show that starts in June.

As an opening act, Jurassic Park packs enough to entertain even industry-savvy locals. Housed in sound stage 29, where much of the movie was filmed, it begins with the towering park gate. Smoky air and a rumbling score re-create the feel of the movie, while overhead lighting grids remind guests that this is a chance to look beyond the screen.

"We worked with Spielberg as far as which tricks he wanted to reveal," said Don Burgess, who produced the attraction. Such "tricks" garnered three technical Oscars earlier this week. "Steven loaned us just about everything in his warehouse."

That includes storyboards and continuation scripts, the blueprints for the film. Video monitors show everything from selected scenes--with commentary--to a discussion between the director and "Jurassic Park" author Michael Crichton.

Even more impressive are the creatures themselves. A full-size velociraptor stands overhead. A brachiosaur pokes its immense head through a wall of brush. A triceratops lies on its side, breathing slowly. Later we learn that Buster, a pet dog, provided the breathing sounds for the film.

*

There is also a wardrobe display and a section on computer animation. In the control room, guests sit at interactive computer panels and pretend to check the dinosaur park's perimeter fences and weather forecasts.

"We want people to get a feel for this," Burgess said, "to understand how movies are made."

The Batman ride, by contrast, seeks to extend the myth of the film. Magic Mountain is undergoing a multiyear renovation, dividing itself into themed areas. So the new coaster is surrounded by six acres of rusted mock factories and sooty tenement facades.

"It's the grime and decay, the greed and avarice of Gotham City," said Kevin Barbee, a park designer. "It's a darker vision, something I don't think Disneyland would do."

Guests file through a storm drain. Twists of industrial-gray track rise above this bleak landscape.

From close proximity, the coaster's most noticeable features are its ski lift-style chairs. This configuration allows for greater G-forces as the ride clatters at 50 m.p.h. through two outside loops--traveling outside rather than inside the looped track--and something called a "heartline spin."

"We flip you 360 degrees while your heart stays at relatively the same point. You feel as if you're floating," said Jim Seay, the coaster's engineer. "So, during the loop you're hitting 4 Gs and then you come into a 0-G spin."

With no surrounding car and no floor, Batman offers a sensation of flight that is particularly vibrant for riders in the front seats. It is a surprisingly smooth, if not disorienting, journey.

And it is over in a blurry two minutes as riders burst through a wall of steam into Batman's cave.

That's the big ending that Hollywood craves.

LIAISON: WHERE AND WHEN

Location: Magic Mountain, Valencia.

Hours: Opens at 10 a.m. daily. Closing hours vary.

Price: $28 for general admission, $18 for seniors, $15 for children under 48 inches tall. Free for children 2 and younger. Parking is $5.

Call: (818) 367-5965.

Location: Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City Plaza, Universal City.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Price: $29.95 for general admission, $23.95 for seniors and children 3-11. Parking is $6.

Call: (818) 508-9600.

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