How Universal’s failed ‘jaw race’ terrorized (and frustrated) guests
In July 1990, Universal Studios’ slogan “Ride the Movies” became too real for Anthony Salamone. The 39-year-old New Jersey bank agent visited the Florida theme park with his family, but found their ride options limited. Although the park, which had only been open for a month, featured attractions built around big name names like King Kong and Marty and Doc from Back to the futurehe had been in trouble from day one. the Jaws the journey in particular had become particularly inconvenient, as Salamone would soon find out.
Salamone and her family boarded a pontoon boat that took them around a lagoon surrounded by New England-inspired landscapes. After leaving the dock, it was almost possible to imagine that they had been transported from Orlando to the fictional island town of Amity since Jaws. Then something went wrong: a railing broke and Salamone suddenly found herself in the water with the most terrifying shark in pop culture.
The animatronic animal was not thirsty for blood, but it has been known for its erratic behavior. And as Salamona quickly realized, it was coming to him. “The shark is going to eat daddy!” one of his children would have shouted. All that was missing from the scene was the iconic score by John Williams.
Salamone managed to get out of the water with minor scrapes and bruises – he even received a round of applause from other guests who thought he was part of the entertainment – but the ride star no did not do so well. Much like the mechanical shark used in the 1975 Steven Spielberg film, Jaws the ride was plagued by problems.
A monster of a challenge
When Universal was selecting films to capture as rides in its new Florida park, Jaws seemed like a no-brainer. The original blockbuster was one of the studio’s flagship titles, and the suspenseful adventure story translated perfectly into a thrilling adventure. Additionally, the film featured a life-size animatronic shark that would look just as fierce in a theme park as it does on screen.
At least that was hope. The designers of Jaws ride ignored the lesson Spielberg learned from making the film: Water and animatronics don’t mix. After many special effects experts called the task of designing a 25-foot seaworthy mechanical shark for the film impossible, Hollywood legend Bob Mattey finally agreed to come out of retirement to do the job.
Mattey managed to design three huge robotic sharks (all named Bruce, after Spielberg’s lawyer), but their seaworthiness was questionable. The movie shot in the real seas around the island of Martha’s Vineyard, and the salt water eroded the animatronic electric motors after just a week – so it had to be replaced with a pneumatic tube system. Even when animatronics were functioning properly, they had to be emptied, cleaned and repainted daily. Using the puppets as intended was just not feasible.
Spielberg got around his technical difficulties by hiding the shark in plain sight for much of the film – a narrative choice that has since been hailed as a brilliant storytelling tool and has been copied by countless monster films since. But smart camera work was not an option for the designers of the Jaws drive. For the ride to work, the shark would have to perform regularly several times a day each day.
Such an attraction was not without precedent. The ride’s designers were inspired by the Universal Studios Backlot Hollywood tour, which passes a mechanical Bruce rushing out of the water on tram conductors. But while this experience lasts about a minute, the Jaws riding would do a lot more – or try to do it, at least.
Death in the water
Under ideal conditions, the Jaws the ride was a spectacular sight. Guests boarded a pontoon boat with a live skipper ready to take them on a leisurely tour of Amity Island. As the ride progressed, it became clear that a shark was terrorizing the city. At one point, the three-ton man-eater was swimming up to the boat and biting into it. Customers who looked closely may have noticed a mouth fitted with real shark teeth.
As a tribute to the film, the ride ended with the skipper firing a grenade into the shark’s mouth, causing it to “explode” after sinking out of sight below the surface. Pieces of dummy shark flesh dyed blood red in water sold the effect.
Unfortunately for the passengers – and the company that had spent $ 30 million on the ride – it was not the typical experience. Getting a giant robot to move around in the water was more complicated than anyone imagined. And his movements often did not match those of the boat, giving the impression that he was not attacking anything. Sometimes the climate explosion did not happen. Because the machinery that powered the arena was located 20 feet underwater, maintenance was a nightmare. Customers who had to endure technical difficulties had the chance to experience the ride; the attraction was known to never run.
Universal quickly realized that the problems with the Jaws wrinkle could not be solved with a quick fix. Then Salamona fell into the water with the shark. Although the incident was not related to technical issues, it did not bode well for the future of the race. Salamone sued the theme park for $ 1 million, citing poor maintenance and neglect. Universal in turn sued MCA, the designers of the ride, for alleged poor-quality engineering and manufacturing flaws. In August 1990, two months after its opening, the park accepted that Jaws was dead in the water. They decided to remove the attraction completely and rebuild it from scratch.
Jaws: the Ride – the sequel
After pushing back the reopening date several times, Universal Studios Orlando has finally launched its new and improved Jaws roll in 1993. This version did not end with Jaws explode into small pieces. Instead, the designers took inspiration from the sequel and electrocuted the shark at the end of the show.
The guests did not seem embarrassed by the change: Jaws The Ride 2.0 has been running for almost two decades, and a lot of the people who rode it had no idea it wasn’t the original concept.
New Jaws ride has outlived its predecessor several times, but it’s not without its problems. It required large amounts of fuel and was extremely expensive to maintain. After the success of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios took the opportunity to close Jaws– permanently this time – to make room for a new Potter-themed country. In 2012, the robotic shark stalked its last group of horsemen.
Although some theme park guests are teaming up Jaws the ride with frustration and the stench of gasoline, others view it with nostalgia. Almost 225 million people watched a round of the final Jaws roll on YouTube since it closed. Tributes to the attraction can also be found in the park. In the area that housed the Jaws tower, guests can still pose for photos with a large giant white statue. It’s not as exciting as the mechanical version, but technical malfunctions will never be a problem.