Notes on “Indiana Jones”

“Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye”, more commonly known as just “Indy”, is an amazing attraction nestled in Adventureland, in Disneyland.  It opened officially on July 17th, 1995, as part of Disneyland’s 40th birthday “40 Years of Adventure” celebration.  It’s an amazing attraction, and one that I know far too much about.  Here’s a sampling of my trivia:

  • Each vehicle is a 2-degree of freedom (2DOF) motion simulator affixed to a motorized chassis.  The wheels stay firmly on the smooth track at all times while the fake chassis bounces around.  The vehicle is capable of turning, or ascending/descending, but never both at the same time.  The design is actually by McFadden Systems, a motion simulation manufacturer in Southern California, but Disney Imagineering took the idea and ran with it.
  • Like the Haunted Mansion before it, the queue and preshow for the attraction are within the berm (the 12-foot tall earthen wall that keeps the sights and sounds of Anaheim out of the park), but the attraction itself lies beyond the train tracks.
  • “Indy” actually shares vehicle design and track layout with “Dinosaur: The Ride” (formerly “Countdown to Extinction”) at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando.

I’ve been on the ride over fifty times, including ten or so times during the soft opening in the weeks before the official opening.  It’s an attraction that holds a special spot in my heart, because it was built and opened at a time in my life when I was going to Disneyland every week.  At that time, I was living and working just a few miles away, and had an annual pass.  More than any other attraction, I have been there since it opened, and can note how it has changed.

Here’s what I noticed on this most recent visit.

  • Along the queue, there is a room with spikes coming from the ceiling, and a lone bamboo pole placed to look as if it’s preventing the ceiling from descending.  When guests shook this pole vigorously, there was a deafening sound of an unseen trap being triggered, followed by the ceiling beginning to lower and the pole buckling under the weight of the stone ceiling.  This pole is still there, but did not work.
  • After the spike room is the sun room, a circular room through which the queue meanders past a covered shaft.  A rope descends through the cover, with a sign warning guests not to pull the rope.  From the shaft, you can hear the sounds of someone digging and excavating.  When guests did pull the rope, you could hear fragile pottery shards shattering, followed by irate complaining from an unseen archaeologist.  The decorations for the shaft had a very thick coating of dust on them that I don’t think was intended as part of the theming.  Pulling the rope no longer caused the humorous sound effects, and enough of the cover had worn away that I could easily look into the shaft and see the end of the rope connected to a “pull” sensor, and a couple of speakers.
  • The same room was also supposed to maintain the illusion that guests were in a buried temple, but one in which a single shaft of sunlight penetrated to hit the opposite wall.  That shaft of sunlight was gone.
  • When the ride first opened, there was a point where you are face-to-face across a large room, staring at Mara, the angry god.  A beam of light shoots from his eye socket and hits the ceiling in front of you, which results in a shower of shattered rocks.  When this effect worked, the rocks were merely ice with a “dirty” light pointed at them.  They fell into a pool of “lava” some twenty feet below.  The lava was (ice) cold water with lights in it to make it glow warmly.  Water would be pumped up to the ceiling and rapidly frozen: a car could come by as quickly as every 18 seconds.  This feature hasn’t worked in over a decade.  On this trip, I noticed that the lava pool was itself completely dry, holding nothing but red light bulbs.
  • After a giant snake-attack, you are caught in a mudslide during which you are confronted with a large spectral image.  It’s supposed to be of a menacing skeletal spectre, and it’s supposed to be done by turning on a light pointed at a translucent screen upon which the spook is painted.  The effect is used properly elsewhere on the ride, but here the change in lighting (for which you can still hear the audio queue on the ride) no longer happens.  The end result is, you hear a menacing whoosh as you drive by a painting of a spook.
  • The Rat Room effect, which worked poorly and intermittently during the first year of operation, is now working steadily.  A thin screen of smoke that is buoyant is emitted to drift across the vehicle’s passage.  Onto this smoke is projected the image of rats climbing across vines and beams to drop on to your car.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, WDI has put a lot of effort into refining projection technology, and this is a particularly fun bit.

Now, to put this in perspective, I know Indy better than 99.9% of the park guests.  The list of things that were working perfectly far outstrips the list of things that were simply neglected, and I still dearly love this ride even though my back can’t handle it as well as it used to.

Still, Indy serves as a useful example of something that’s prevalent in the other attractions.  I saw it on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and I saw it in Aladdin’s Oasis, and I saw it all over Tomorrowland.  Bits of attractions, and sometimes entire attractions, are dead.  And their remains are rotting right where everyone can see them.

One might argue that what people don’t know about, they cannot miss, and this would be true in some cases such as “Indy”.  The features that have been left to die are hidden in the dark.  I can, for the most part, shrug and accept that some pieces are gone.  But I also hope that in some cases, like the spike room on Indy, if something doesn’t work out, Imagineering can put something else in its place.

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2 responses to “Notes on “Indiana Jones”

  1. DONE!

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