Dates: 1991 – January 2012
The Jaws attraction at Universal Orlando closed in January 2012. Although it’s a classic, it required a lot of maintenance and took up a large section of real estate, which has been earmarked for an expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter into Universal Studios Florida, including Diagon Alley, and a Hogwarts Express train to take visitors into the existing Wizarding World at the Islands of Adventure park.
Disney’s Jungle Cruise with teeth; join the skippers under Captain Jake of Amity Boat Tours – the shark’s dead, right? – as we visit some of the sites made famous by Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic JAWS.
Taking it’s cue from the Jaws attraction which is part of the Studio Tour tram ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, this was one of the opening attractions at Universal Studios Florida in 1990, and was initially plagued by technical problems. It was redesigned between 1991 and 1993, and reopened with new ride mechanisms in 1994.
Behind the Scenes
Peter Alexander, a former college roommate of Steven Spielberg’s, created the original ride and the initial concept for the refurbishment. From an exclusive interview with Scott Weller at AmityIsland.net, Peter gives us an insight into how the ride originally came about:
“Originally, I wanted to make Jaws just one scene in a longer water ride, but my boss, Jay Stein, figured the movie was worth a whole ride (I actually had Bill Martin, who designed the castles for Disneyland and Disneyworld, lay out my longer water ride).
So I came up with an ‘all Jaws’ design, including the ‘shark bites boat’ scene. I asked my friend Tom Reidenbach to lay out the action for what went on inside the boathouse (which is still the same today). At first, like most of the rides we did, the design was only represented by me telling the story-line (live) and a bunch of story boards. Later I had two guys named Rick and Rick write the script (it was my live “pitch” word for word) and they went on to become theme park designers just based on that… or maybe based on a little elaboration of their actual role. As the design progressed, we designed the set in-house, and then had ‘Ride and Show Engineering’ build the sharks and ride, but they mis-specced some of the underwater parts and the ride proved unreliable.
After we opened, everything else seemed like such a big hit that we felt we didn’t need to re-engineer the ‘shark bites boat’ or ‘meat machine’ to make them more reliable, so I came up with the simpler ‘Shark bites wire, catches fire’ bit. After that, I left Universal and a guy named Adam Bezark took it from there.”
Show Director Adam Bezark continues our story:
“I was brought in during the production phase, after the new sharks/boats had been designed and were already in construction. My role was to bring the whole thing together: fine-tune the script, program the boats and sharks, work out the effects timings and lighting, oversee the new soundtrack and train the performers, etc.
One of my favourite tasks was to program the fire sequence. I sat in a rowboat which was anchored in the spot where the show boats would go. Ron Griffin, the fire effects guy, sat in the control room behind the dock, setting off the sequence again and again, while we adjusted the height and duration of the flames. I wanted to make it intense and scary, but not dangerous; so I kept making Ron turn the fire up higher and higher. When it got to the point where the heat was actually painful, we dialled it back just a bit. So the impact on the audience was amazing: some people thought they were actually getting burned, but I knew from personal experience that it was safe, even for prolonged exposure. (Of course, some people with sunburns are more sensitive to heat, so they might be more uncomfortable.)
I also spent many happy (and long) nights in the JAWS lagoon, programming the complex passenger boats with technical sorcerer Marc Plogstedt. A show control system regulates their speed precisely, and provides the rolling effects that (hopefully) feel like they’re being created by the shark swimming by or under the boat. Programming the boats was an incredibly tedious process; there was no way to back the boats up, so if we wanted to change a roll effect in, say, scene one, we’d have to ride the entire six-minute ride all the way around the lagoon before we could see the results of the change. This meant literally hundreds of cycles, always taking place in the dead of night (so the other crews could work during the day.) Marc and I were alone in the programming boat, slowly losing our marbles.”
The 1990 Ride
In 1991, Universal were planning on spending big bucks to have the ride fixed for the 1992 season and had lots of signs on the ride building that said so (coming 1992). But in 1992, the ride was boarded up and had no signs what-so-ever. The ride was deemed totally un-usable and the design was completely flawed. Universal had successfully sued the company that has designed the ride and was spending the money to hire another company to build it again.
The technical complication of the shark attacking the boat was a big factor in why the ride eventually was shut down and re-designed… “You can imagine how complex it must be to get one giant mechanical watercraft to swim up and bite another giant mechanical watercraft — which is MOVING — with absolute precision, hundreds of times per day.” Said Show Director Adam Bezark.
The only tracks and such were scrapped and the ride was recreated all over again, while trying to use the same layout and some of the same sets and gimmicks when applicable. Between the original construction and that overhaul, Universal may have spent US$70 million (approx. £34.5 million), outside industry sources estimated.
In the final scene the shark is blown up into tiny meaty pieces, an underwater explosion effect simulator is used. This includes a submerged shooter for shooting props (shark flesh) and red dye-coloured water through the water surface. The following describes how the special effect works
A compressed air source is linked to the shooter to drive the charge of water from the shooter during the explosion sequence. Shark flesh pieces are ejected from the shooter into the air above the water, and then fall back into the water and are guided back into a submerged collector substantially surrounding the shooter. The collector is moved using an underwater winching system from a collect position to a lower funnel position wherein the shark flesh falls under gravity back into the shooter. The shooter extends from a loading position below the collector to a shooting position close to the water surface.
In this version the death of the shark is based on JAWS 2 (electrocution). Originally the 1990 version had a demise similar to the story line of JAWS (explosion). The ride takes place in 1976 two years after the shark attacks, you board an Amity Boat Tours vessel… “Hello folks. I’ll be your skipper today as we visit the actual spots where back in 1974 that bad old shark Jaws, devoured those poor innocent islanders”.
The ORCA was originally docked outside Quint’s Boathouse in the first version; Quint’s Boathouse is now called ‘Stevens Cannery’ and was named after Greg Stevens, one of the members of the 1993 show team. Several of the team have their names worked into the ride. The second version had the ORCA moved outside ‘The Boathouse’ originally ‘Jay’s Boathouse’ (after Jay Stein) in the first version – confusing? This is the boathouse that you travel through to hide from the shark.
While the ORCA works reasonably well as a background atmosphere piece, it is also mostly inaccurate and very small. According to the website Operation Orca (site dedicated to rebuilding the Orca), the boat was based on an existing hull but was treated to differing levels of refitment. The photo animation on the left shows Quint’s Boathouse as it looked in 1990 compared with how it looks today.
In September 2005, JAWS went down to “seasonal” status, operating only during busy weeks. This was due to the rising costs of fuel and the attraction uses a lot of gas for fire effects.
Universal reopened the attraction on February 4th 2007 due to numerous complaints of its part time closure. A complete closure would be devasting to the park, it’s valuable to Universal because its capacity, reported at 2,500 people an hour; that’s phenomenal by thrill-ride standards. A typical major ride at most theme parks would do well to handle 1,800 people an hour.
For the reopening the ride has been improved, the queue has been cleaned, the boats have been repainted, the sharks now thrash around and have been bloodied up and repainted to make them feel much more realistic. However the fire effects have been reduced.
Captain Jakes Amity Boat Tours Dock:
BASE: Uh, this is Base… you’re cleared for departure Amity 6……Have a good trip.
Skipper: 10-4, Well time to start our voyage. Wave goodbye to the happy landlubbers (“our happy deckhand”, if no guests are in line)….and we’re off.”..::
Pulling Out Of The Base:
Skipper: Well good afternoon everybody and welcome aboard Captain Jake’s Amity Boat Tours…THE BEST!!!…and only scenic cruise on the island. My name is Mike, and I’ll be your skipper today as we visit the actual spots where back in 1974 that bad old shark Jaws, DEVOURED!!! those poor innocent islanders.
Now our first item of interest on your port side is the home of our very own Chief of Police Martin Brody. Well, Brody really did blow up that shark and became a legend in his own time. Roy Scheider played him in the movie they made of our little shark episode.
How many of you seen the film JAWS? Lucky you, you got to watch the film…..we had to live it.
Gordon (Amity 3): Mayday! Mayday! Amity 3 Something’s out there! I don’t know…GOOD LORD!…HUGE!…ITS GOING UNDER THE UGH! AHHH! AHHHH! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Passing Around The Lighthouse:
Skipper: Amity 6 to base, did you copy that transmission? It sounded like Gordon on Amity 3…Over
BASE: 10-4, we copy he can’t be too far he was heading back in. Uh…we’re,…we’re picking up his distress signal now, keep an eye out for him I’ll call Chief Brody……Base Clear.
Skipper: (Surprised) I can’t believe this……what happened! Amity 6 to Base, Amity 3 is sinking out by the lighthouse, and…. I don’t see any survivors. I don’t know could have done this…except…a shark?!.
(JAWS Pops Up On The Left)
BASE: (Confused) Uh, Amity 6 uh, repeat that.
Skipper: (Shocked & Scared) SHARK!!!! THE BIGGEST ONE I EVER.. OH MY GOSH! OH MY GOSH! OH MY GOSH! HE’S GOING UNDER THE BOAT!!! Base what should we do?
BASE: Uh, try the grenade launcher…over. (JAWS Pops Up On The Right)
Skipper: (Worried) Wait…?? You mean these things are …loaded?
Skipper: (Firing the grenade launcher) Shoot!….Missed Again! , come on let’s get outta here. This is Amity 6, tell Chief Brody we’re going to wait in the boat house until he gets here, okay!?
Inside The Boat House:
Skipper: (Concerned) Hello? Is Anyone Here?….DID YOU HEAR SOMETHING?
(Boats fall in the back of the boat house)
Skipper: (Scared) That’s him we got to go! OH NO! IT WON’T DROP INTO GEAR! COME ON MAN THIS ISN’T FUNNY!! COME ON!!!
(Buckets of Chum Tip Over On Platform)
I got it, hang on we’re out of here.
(JAWS Pops Up On The Right)
The Gas Dock:
Chief Brody: Amity 6, This is Chief Brody I’m on my way and I’ll be there in 10 minutes.
Skipper: (Shocked) 10 Minutes? We’ll be shark bait in 10 Minutes.
Skipper: (Looking for JAWS) Where is he? I don’t see him.
(JAWS Pops Up On The Left, The Skipper Fires At Him As The Gas Dock Explodes Into A Huge Fire Ball)
Skipper: uh oh…oh no….This is BAD!………….This is VERY BAD!
Skipper: We gotta go for it.
The High Voltage Barge/Boat Dock
Skipper: (Happy) Yes! We made it, ok…hang on everybody, we should be ok. We’re going to try and get off at that old fishing dock. we’ll unload one row at a time………and watch that High Voltage Barge,
Please stay seated with your arms inside the boat and I think we can…
Skipper: OH NO…Look!!
(Pulling Up To The Dock The Boat Stops, Directly To The Left Is The High Voltage Barge. JAWS Pops Up On The Left And Tries To Grab The Boat But Instead Grabs An Electrical Wire. Skipper Fires And Re-Docks Sparks And Steam Begin To Fill The Boat.)
Skipper: (Skipper Yells) Eat this (Then Shoots Again)
(The Burnt Remains Of JAWS Float Up In Front Of The Boat On The Left.)
Skipper: WOO! Boy that thing is disgusting, we really roasted him.
(JAWS Make A Lunge At The Boat As The Skipper Shoots It At Close Range Finally Killing Him)
Pulling Into The Dock
BASE: Amity 6, What was that? Where the heck are you?
Chief Brody: This is Brody are you alright?
Skipper: Base, Chief, This is Amity 6, call off the Marines, WE ARE COMING HOME!
Skipper: Ladies and Gentleman I really want to thank you for your incredible bravery out there today. But hey… You know… we probably shouldn’t tell anyone what went on out there. I mean…if word of this little fish episode were to leak out that would be it for Captain Jake and all the other businesses around here, so just keep it to yourselves, alright. After all we did get him didn’t we?
1995 Promotional Video
Video – the full Jaws ride with Skipper Bradley Kaplan
Video – the full Jaws ride with Skipper Ian Percival from the UK
Video – Jaws Ride as Art
A remarkably beautiful slow-motion study of the Jaws ride. Poetry in motion!