x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Avatar set for Disney ride treatment

Disney to contruct Avatar theme park in Orlando, Florida.

The movie Avatar is the latest to be adapted as a Disney theme park ride.
The movie Avatar is the latest to be adapted as a Disney theme park ride.

As Sam Worthington leapt and dived through Pandora's lush tropical forests via his virtual reality suit, Avatar often felt more like a theme park ride than a coherent film. Just two years after the most successful movie ever was made, most people would struggle to explain the plot, but they could probably remember how it looked in groundbreaking 3D.

Not that such spectacularly odd storytelling - technology developed by a mining company helps one man fall in love with a 10ft alien and take on that same company - prevented James Cameron's eco-action film becoming the highest grossing film of all time. There will be two more instalments, we learnt this time last year. There is already a video game, even a set of French stamps. And so it came as little surprise when Walt Disney Company announced last week that it, too, intend to cash in on our strange interest in the lives of oppressed blue humanoids from outer space by constructing the first Avatar theme park in Orlando, Florida.

Precious little details of the attraction have been released at this stage - we presume that the US$400m (Dh1.5bn) project will offer visitors slightly more than a trip around verdant treetops while someone in a 10ft blue costume babbles unintelligible Na'vi in the background. For his part, Cameron said in a statement that the goal was to "go beyond current boundaries of technical innovation and experiential storytelling, and give park-goers the chance to see, hear and touch the world of Avatar with an unprecedented sense of reality".

All of which means, well, very little really. Except we presume we won't actually be seeing the world of Avatar - since that was a studio with a massive motion capture stage and very powerful computers.

Disney, meanwhile, preferred business-speak. "We think we can clearly leverage the global interest in this property," said the chief executive, Bob Iger, at the launch.

All of which means we can probably expect Avatarland to be rolled out in Disney parks across the world. And it's the moneymaking potential of the "property" which is important here. Major new theme parks or attractions are rarely proposed these days without the backing of a big name. Sometimes this is a book - witness the staggering success of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal Studios resort in Orlando. It can be a car company, in the case of Ferrari World right on our doorstep. It might even be a plastic building brick beloved of children in the case of Legoland. But most of all, it's the blockbuster movie that dominates the theme park experience in the 21st century.

Of course, this is hardly a new phenomenon: Disneyland, a theme park featuring Walt Disney film characters, opened in California in 1955. But confirmation that film fans would flock to experience their favourite movies first hand came with the development of Universal Studios Hollywood into a major tourist attraction.

It had been open to the public for decades, but by 1991 had turned from a simple tram-ride around some of their famous film sets into a ride-filled pleasureland promising a trip into the worlds of ET and Jaws.

And yet these rides can't possibly hope to recreate those films. Visiting Universal Studios some time ago, Back to the Future: The Ride felt exactly what it was: a slightly jerky motion simulator with a creaky plot. It was actually more interesting to see some of the actual props - including the famous Delorean car - parked outside. Jurassic Park, in theme park world, became a log flume ride with some pretty mechanical-looking dinosaurs. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter did actually promise something more akin to life as a Hogwarts student. But some of the magic was taken away by the choking queues.

Perhaps it's a little churlish to be so critical - these are, after all, throwaway pieces of entertainment aimed squarely at children. The delight in a young Harry Potter fan's eyes when a wand "chooses" them in The Wizarding World is something to behold - although their parents are likely to be less impressed when ushered towards the shop to purchase said wand for $30. Would those same parents really be excited by theme parks based on more mature films? Of course not - although a ride based on the recent Oscar winner The Hurt Locker might set pulses racing just a little.

So it'll be interesting to see what Disney and James Cameron come up with for Avatar, particularly when Cameron is promising "an unprecedented sense of reality". That's some log flume ride.