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SPOTLIGHT : VERY INDIANA : A Stone's Throw--or a Boulder's Roll--From New Orleans Square, the Possibilities Are Very Nearly Endless

February 23, 1995|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a member of the Times Orange County Edition staff.

What a difference 28 years makes.

Pirates of the Caribbean, which opened in 1967, starts with a languorous, mood-setting float through a bayou complete with fake fireflies, where the only sounds are the chirping of insects and the slow plucking of a banjo. From there, guests ride through underground treasure chambers and a haunted pirate's lair before meeting a crew of swashbucklers in the audio-animatronic flesh, lustily singing, pillaging and wenching.

Aside from a couple of brief waterfall plunges, the chills are mostly atmospheric. And passengers have time to take them all in--the ride is just under 15 minutes long, a mini-eternity by Disney attraction standards.

From Pirates, it's only a short stroll to the newest measure of state-of-the-art Disney Imagineering.

The Indiana Jones Adventure, due to open March 3, is much more of an in-your-face experience, a jolting 3 1/2-minute journey in which passengers are beset by the kinds of hazards all in a day's work for the movie archeologist: snakes, scorpions, flames, falling rubble, poisonous darts and, of course, a giant rolling boulder.

In some ways, the new ride is Disneyland's first true heir to Pirates, both in scope and in the way it strives to immerse guests in a self-contained world. In approach, however, there are differences galore. In '90s parlance, Pirates is a "passive" attraction--guests sit quietly in their boats and watch.

The scenes unfold as they would in a musical--no accident, according to Tony Baxter, who led the design team on the Indiana Jones Adventure. In 1967, the movie musical was still a viable force, and it was natural for Pirates to take cues from the form.

Audiences in the '90s aren't content to just watch, said Baxter during a recent preview tour of the new ride. Disney's biggest opening in years--and, at least in terms of size, its biggest attraction--the ride based on the George Lucas-produced film trilogy puts the latest Disney technology to work making guests feel as though they've stepped into a remote corner of 1935 India.

In the biggest innovation, designers have factored in an almost endless series of variations, so that the journey is slightly different every time a guest steps aboard an ersatz-vintage troop transport for a hazardous trip through the ruins of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye.

The transports take slightly different paths through the ruins or may "break down" in different areas--the Rat Cave, perhaps, or the Bug Room. Hazards can also vary, from exploding fireballs to the fall of cadaverous mummies.

Visitors still don't have true control over the outcome of events--it's not truly interactive. But designers hope that by throwing the element of chance into the attractions, visitors would be inspired to return again and again.

Also, unlike most of the mayhem in Pirates, passengers in the Indiana Jones Adventure are made to feel as if they are directly imperiled by all of the goings-on--right down to the finale, where the cars are nearly squashed (seemingly) by the infamous rolling boulder from the opening of the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

All of this requires a technological complexity not possible before. The computer aboard each vehicle is more sophisticated than the single computer that runs all of Space Mountain, Baxter said.

Because of variables built into the ride, each vehicle must be able to communicate with, and keep track of, all the other transports on the route (up to 15 at a time).

Although the transports are electric, they make the sound of gasoline engines. And while the ride's track is relatively smooth, complex hydraulics make the vehicles buck and rattle violently, turning the attraction into what Baxter calls an "off-road adventure."

Also, the recent Disney design trend to make long waits in line more enjoyable reaches a new peak with the Indiana Jones Adventure (and a good thing, too--waits during the March 3 opening will be an estimated two to three hours).

The entrance for the attraction in Adventureland has been wedged between the revamped Jungle Cruise and the Swiss Family Treehouse.

From there, guests walk one-eighth of a mile back to where the ride proper has been built on what was a piece of the parking lot.

The start of the line is marked by a vintage truck (the actual one used in filming the climactic chase scene in "Raiders") and quickly moves into a four-story temple structure.

Here, visitors get their first look at a depiction of Mara, the goddess to whom the Temple of the Forbidden Eye is dedicated.

As guests wind through the re-creation of a '30s-era archeological dig, they will be tempted into setting a series of incidents into motion.

Move a bamboo pole in one place, and a spike-studded ceiling begins to descend, a la "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," the second film in the trilogy. Pull on a rope in another section and hear a dig worker fall off somewhere below. Guests can try to decipher warnings written in an entirely new alphabet designed by Disney.

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