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THE ALTERNATIVES | THEME PARK RIDE REVIEW

It just might chill your bones

June 24, 2004|Bob Sipchen | Times Staff Writer

The Revenge of the Mummy ride at Universal Studios Hollywood is what the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland would be if hijacked by a band of hyperactive genius teen pranksters who'd spent way too much time playing dark-themed fantasy games and watching movies about cloth-wrapped corpses come to life.

Not that the Mummy -- which opens Friday -- is as horrifying as the Universal publicity machine pretends.

Step aboard one of the 16 passenger cars anticipating the face-flattening mayhem of Magic Mountain's Goliath and you'll be yawning when the safety restraints rise.

But if you enter the forbidden realm of Imhotep humming "Yo ho, yo ho, a tomb raider's life for me," you'll stumble away exhilarated and grinning.

On Father's Day, my wife, our three teenage children, their 70-something grandmother and I subjected ourselves to the ride. Again and again. That repetition proved smart if slightly sickening, as the experience unfolds at such a breakneck pace that we saw new horrors and heard new threats on each go-round.

The ride will probably go over best with folks who've seen the two movies on which it is based, though no one will miss the basic concept: You've entered the tomb of Imhotep, an Egyptian mummy turned evil incarnate. Being dead for so long has made him a most unpleasant host. He'd just as soon bring the world to a cataclysmic finale as let you poke around in his scarab beetle-infested hideout.

The ride begins and ends with a wealth of stimuli, from the rich detail that went into the reportedly authentic hieroglyphics to the sophisticated animatronics that add amusing menace to dozens of dangling skeleton arms.

The sound system booms with apocalyptic authority, and when balls of fake smoke and fire engulf the car, it's as encompassing a special effect as I've encountered in my life as a stunted adolescent.

These painstakingly detailed bookends invite close attention and seduce riders into the story. But they throw the rest of the ride into disappointing contrast. It would spoil several surprises to go into many specifics. Just understand that at the point when the Mummy begins flinging riders around in the dark a la Disney's Space Mountain, the visual embellishments are incongruously cartoonish, undermining any suspension of disbelief.

At about two and a half minutes, the ride is too short.

Still, the designers have orchestrated the action to satisfying effect. We rode on a preview day, with a highly biased insider crowd that included the ride's creative director, John Murd -- riding for the 150th time -- and his fiancee.

But the cheers at the end and the screams en route -- including my mother-in-law's -- sounded genuine.

*

Revenge of the Mummy

Where: Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City

When: Revenge of the Mummy ride opens Friday. Park opens at 10 a.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. weekends; closing hours vary.

Price: $39.75 to $49.75; discount programs available. Admission to CityWalk is free.

Info: (818) 622-3801

Riding time: 2 1/2 minutes

*

Bob Sipchen, editor of the Outdoors section, can be reached at bob.sipchen@latimes.com.

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