In the latest episode of the podcast, Episode 59, I spoke with Chris Lanam about whether or not Jurassic Park could survive as a fully operational theme park, like Walt Disney World or Universal Studios. While the park we saw in the film was unfinished, there's still plenty to forecast about the future of the park. Here's a few things we noticed based off film canon only:
When you arrive at most theme parks, you are either dropped off at the hotel or right at the park's front door. Take Walt Disney World for instance - In many cases, you arrive by plane, take the Magical Express to the resort, and take a bus, ferry or monorail to the park. In Jurassic Park, we assume visitors would arrive by ship, unlike the helicopter the fateful group arrived on. Once on the on the island, how do you get around the island? Are they toting thousands of guest by Jeep? That doesn't seem practical. Also where are they going - the unseen hotel or the Visitors Center?
Theme parks need reliable transportation and maneuvering throughout the park, but in Jurassic Park, it seems like it's going to be an issue. Low capacity Jeeps do not hold the same appeal as large buses or monorails. Also you need one employee per Jeep and large fleet of Jeeps to account for the guest overload. We didn't see much more than a few Jeeps and 2 tour vehicles. The tour vehicle operation seems reliable, as something like this could leave every 30 minutes to an hour; that's assuming there's a large number of tour vehicles as well. John may have "spared no expense", but not in this case.
The Visitors Center
The Visitors Center is the only real building we get access to in the film and while it's certainly beautiful, it's also flawed. Capacity is something I'm going to keep referring to throughout the article, because it bears importance.
Let's start on the outside of the building. Yes, the slab concrete and thatched roof are intimidating, but it's missing many elements of today's ADA complaint theme parks. No sidewalks, no handrails, and no ramps would certainly cause a stir. The fact is, according to the film, you vacate your vehicle and walk inside. That's it. There seems to be nothing else you're allowed to admire around the Visitors Center. Yes, that pond across the way looks nice - but you're going to have to admire it from a window.
The inside of the Visitors Center is fantastic. From the museum-esque fossil lobby, to the grand staircase, and of course the amazing Cretaceous mural along the back wall, the Visitors Center is certainly a spectacle. The interior has nearly everything you could want from a theme park pit stop. The food court-restaurant was run by the culinary creative Alejandro, with an expected amount of tables to service. The gift shop was filled with amazingly retro toys, shirts, and more, all of which would fly off the shelves at any theme park today. The Inside was certainly a success and very much mirrors well off what you can see inside Universal's Islands of Adventure today.
We can't forget about the sheer size of the complex. Along with all the aforementioned details, this building also held the Showcase Theater, an operating lab, the control center, garage, and bunker. The Visitors Center always looked massive from the outside, but you could have never expected the volume it holds. Like many theme parks, the Visitors Center certainly deals with aspects of forced perspective and hides much of the complex from the visitor's wandering eyes. Behind what we see in the film must have been a massive superstructure that contained enough space for everything we see inside.
Like any running theme park, you need a perfect infrastructure to operate smoothly throughout daily business. As we mentioned earlier, the transportation was certainly a failure, but how does the rest of the infrastructure hold up?
Well, like most other aspects of the park, they certainly made a big gesture. The tour program is impressive; guiding you along a track throughout the park, along an automated program. You roll under the most impressive park gates you'd ever see, anywhere, in any theme park around them world. The park gates are just as iconic as the castle in Walt Disney World or the Globe in Universal. It was automated to open on it's own, but also contained a manual override, which is a nice touch.
The island contains many square miles of paddocks, all equipped with fences, tall and small. The electrified fences along the tour path, certainly did their job while juiced, but once the power went down, they failed massively. What about the fence around the Triceratops paddock? It was certainly easy enough to walk right into, which probably would have been a mistake at some point. As Hammond mentioned early in the film, "and the concrete moats, and the motion sensor track systems" are in place. These paddocks, like any caged section in a zoo, contain moats to separate the guests from the fierce lizards. While this was certainly in place, I think they took it to the extreme in the Tyrannosaurus paddock. That area is certainly in question among most of the fans, as the feeding area was basically the only small sliver of land available for the Rex to trounce. Speaking of the T-Rex paddock, the engineers were kind enough to add a bathroom out on the tour, but let's analyze that a bit later.
The power grid is certainly an issue as we saw in the film. With a single click, the park was taken down from the inside, causing the fences to go down and the communication to go off line. That shouldn't happen. Everything was connected, which was inopportune for the guests. If you're in Universal Studios and Harry Potter shuts down, you're still able to ride Transformers or pay for items throughout the park. Jurassic Park poorly planned their grid and communication lines, causing one and all to go down at the same time. Let's not even talk about why they placed the raptor pen next to the maintenance shed.
"None of these attractions have been finished yet. The park will open with the basic tout you're about to take, and then other rides will come on line after six or twelve months. Absolutely spectacular designs. Spared no expense"
As the above quote mentions, the park wasn't finished - and it really shows. From the film, we get a decent look at two attractions in the park, hearing even more about future attractions. No theme park opens with only two attractions, but the spectacle of dinosaurs is attraction enough in this situation. Remember when I mentioned capacity? Well, it really comes into play here.
So after you are miraculously dropped off at the visitors center, skipping over the hotel... because... well there isn't one, you'll find yourself boarding the Showcase Theater. Now, if you are familiar with the attraction at Walt Disney World, Carousel of Progress, then the lab tour theater is an easy sell. Carousel of Progress consists of six rotating theaters, focusing on an animatronic family throughout the ages. The lab tour in Jurassic Park is no different, hence why Gennaro asked if the characters are "auto-erotica". From the film, we can see there is a total of 18 seats in the theater, all holding down the visitors by a lap bar. So lets assume the rotating theater featuring Mr. DNA, also has six theaters, much like Carousel of Progress. We'd then have a capacity of 108 guests at a time. We only saw a portion of the attraction - the opening video and the lab sequence, before the guests broke the ride. That's an entirely different issue that has a real negative outlook on the future of their park safety.
Moving onto the tour de force attraction in Jurassic Park, the safari tour. Everything about the vehicles is a masterpiece, well, aside from the locking mechanisms. From interactive CD-ROMS, to the giant moon-roofs, and for being fully loaded with night-vision goggles and flares, these vehicles were the real deal. Aside from being able to easily leave the vehicles, my only other concern is viewing the dinosaurs. Take the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom for example; If you were to see no animals on that experience, you'd be very disappointed. Obviously the film showed us that it's very difficult to cultivate interactive experiences on that tour. This brings me back to the paddock issues - they're just too darn big. Any zoo you go to typically has plenty of room for the animals, but is also contained enough so you can view them at any time. People visiting Jurassic Park, spending $2,000 to $10,000 a day, may be a bit upset with the viewing experience when they don't see the tyrant lizard, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Earlier I brought up the issue surrounding the bathroom out on the vehicle tour, so let's look at it from an attraction perspective. Including a bathroom out in the middle of the tour is a big step in the failure direction. Yes, it's nice of them to include it, but that means they have to shut down the tour program and let visitors walk freely in front of the most dangerous paddock on the tour. Really? Someone apparently thought it was a good idea to let guests walk out of the vehicles and further taunt the potentially visible Rex. Remember, "Don't move. He can't see us if we don't move".
Unfortunately, with a failing verdict in three out of four categories, Jurassic Park was doomed to fail from it's inception. No amount of spectacle or wonder could save this park from it's inevitable destruction. As much as Hammond "spared no expense", he forgot to implement even the simplest of restrictions between the tour, infrastructure, and transportation. But hey, at least it was pretty.