ANAHEIM — The creators of Disneyland's new Indiana Jones Adventure are banking on it to do more than just take visitors deep within the Temple of the Forbidden Eye for a hair-raising encounter with Mara, deity of ancient India.
They're also hoping it holds the key to the Secret of the Eternally Changing Theme Park Audience.
So even though it doesn't open for three months, park officials on Friday gave the press an unprecedented walk-through tour of a major attraction in progress.
Why are they suddenly deviating from the secrecy that usually cloaks each new addition until the last dab of paint has dried?
To get word out early that "this is not just another ride," answered Tony Baxter, senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering and one of the key creative forces behind Star Tours, Splash Mountain and New Fantasyland.
The biggest difference between the Indiana Jones Adventure and other attractions is that this one is, in essence, a large-scale, interactive video game.
The third joint project by Disneyland and filmmaker George Lucas (the others are Star Tours and the Captain EO 3-D film), Indiana Jones is a conscious effort to woo the hands-on, participation-oriented video-game generation, Baxter said. "They're used to taking control, pushing the buttons and being part of the action.
"On Pirates of the Caribbean, for instance, the pirates are doing their thing and you just eavesdrop on them," Baxter said during an early-morning stroll through passageways that look like the walls of a catacomb. "Here, everything is happening because of you."
"Everything" will include flaming eruptions, collapsing stone ceilings, flying darts and, of course, a giant ball of rock that threatens to crush anyone attempting to escape the temple.
But thrills alone weren't considered enough for the attention span of the MTV generation. So the Indiana Jones Adventure also includes several branching points in its central portion that will, Baxter said, produce 27 variations of the journey through the temple. And, the '30s-vintage-looking vehicles that take people through will have a changing menu of mishaps that befall them. The idea is to give repeat visitors a different experience each time.
Once guests board those trucks, different paths lead to either the Chamber of Earthly Riches, the Fountain of Eternal Youth or the Chamber of Destiny. Each room represents one of the gifts that the deity Mara offers to those who adhere strictly to the rules.
Along each journey, riders will be faced with infestations of rats, snakes, bats, insects or other pests. The ride also borrows generously from the Uncle Remus "don't throw me into that brier patch" school of human motivation: Those who enter are warned sternly "not to gaze into the eyes of Mara."
Baxter said designers also acknowledged kids' tendency to touch anything marked "don't touch." Along the path that brings people into the temple (on other rides this is known as "waiting in line"), booby traps will be triggered by those who indulge their curiosity.
In fact, the line into the ride is the most elaborate of any Disneyland attraction's, incorporating several hints of what is to come, '30s-style newsreel films detailing an archeological dig and much of the equipment used.
At this point, the attraction, scheduled to open Feb. 28, will not incorporate the voice of Harrison Ford, star of the "Indiana Jones" films. "But we're still looking at that," Baxter said. "We'd sure like for him to be involved."
The ride does include the prop truck from the first "Indiana Jones" film, near the entrance. Everything else is themed to look like an archeological dig in the jungles of India in 1935, from hissing-cobra topped temple columns to a fictitious alphabet created for warning messages carved into the walls.
All this, Baxter said, takes "what at first seemed like a liability and turned it into an asset." The liability: how to fit a significant new attraction into Disneyland's already tightly packed space. Baxter said the project gave designers the opportunity to make the most of that space with multiple levels and snaking corridors that can accommodate 2,400 people per hour, the highest capacity of any thrill ride at Disneyland.
Space Mountain accommodates 1,800 people an hour; Pirates of the Caribbean, not a thrill ride, handles 2,200. A park spokesman said it will take about an hour to get from the camp entrance through the Indiana Jones Adventure.
The ride occupies territory previously part of the Jungle Cruise. A bend in the river has been rerouted to make way for the 60,000-square foot building that houses the trilevel attraction. The Jungle Cruise entrance has been revamped to be thematically more in keeping with the Indiana Jones Adventure and to accommodate more people who presumably will drawn to Adventureland because of it.
The cost of the ride has been estimated at $50 million, a figure that a park spokesman would neither confirm nor deny. He said it is the biggest attraction in Disneyland's history and that it is the focal point of the first complete face-lift for Adventureland since the park opened in 1955.