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The Borg Invade ... But Leave a Lot to Be Desired

The Borg Invade ... But Leave a Lot to Be Desired

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"Star Trek: The Experience" at the Las Vegas Hilton has long been one of my favorite filmed attractions. It has everything one could expect: innovative effects that take the guest aboard the Enterprise-D, a visit to the ship's bridge, a dangerous trip on a turbolift, and a harrowing escape on a shuttle -- or is it nothing more than a motion simulator ride, as the attraction's ending may suggest? I consider the original attraction (now renamed "Klingon Encounter") to be the third best filmed attraction in operation today, right behind Universal's "Terminator 2: 3D" and "The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman." And judging filmed attractions is no easy task -- I tend to be quite critical as I've been in the industry for over ten years and currently edit a trade publication on the subject.

Before continuing, it's important to define what a filmed attraction is. Quite simply, it's an attraction where at least 50% of the experience is presented in film or video images. By this definition, Epcot's "Rio del Tiempo" is considered a filmed attraction. The most common of these utilize either motion simulators or 3D film (and sometimes both). The biggest trend currently is 4D films -- 3D films that incorporate in-theater effects, such as lighting, animatronics, hydraulic seat and floor movement, and live actors. So when "Star Trek: The Experience" opened their second attraction, "Borg Invasion 4D," last month, I couldn't hold my excitement.

Reading the press material, I didn't quite know what to expect. Based on their descriptions of tight, claustrophobic corridors, I anticipated a cross between the movie Aliens and the Magic Kingdom's "ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter." I knew the 3D film portion of the attraction had to be beyond compare, based on the successful execution of Paramount Parks' last filmed attraction, "Spongebob Squarepants 3D." And judging by the level of immersion of the "Klingon Encounter," I knew this would be an attraction like no other. I was only partially correct.

"Borg Invasion 4D" starts off with a bang. Unlike the "Klingon Encounter," where a magical effect transports you from the queue for a motion simulator to the transporter pad of the Enterprise-D, in the new attraction, one walks straight onto Copernicus Station. It doesn't take too long for you to feel that you're actually in a briefing room on a space station at the far side of the known galaxy. Not much happens in this room, where a brief interaction between a live Starfleet officer in the room with you and "Star Trek: Voyager"'s Doctor, played by Robert Picardo, on a video screen give you a brief orientation. Then the Borg attack. It's all done on the video screen, with lighting in the room going from bright to red alert to dark as the screen turns to static and the Borg advise you that "Resistance is Futile."

This is when the attraction gets good. The next five minutes are on a par with the best haunted houses that Universal Orlando and Knott's Berry Farm have to offer. The adventure becomes claustrophobic as another station officer comes through the door. You turn right, because if you look to your left, you'll notice the corridor is in shambles with debris everywhere. And it's not an easy exit from the briefing room. This is not the organized escape of "Klingon Encounter." This is rushed. Fifty people rushing through a small door will get your nerves started. Your orientation officer runs up to a control console, to try and make sure your escape route is secure. Suddenly, a Borg comes around the corner. He's not interested in your group, for he's about to execute the best effect in the entire attraction.

This Borg walks up to the console, touches the screen (not the console, but the screen itself), and it changes from a Star Fleet display to Borg writing. The lighting in the corridor turns green as the Borg begin to take over the Station. The entire group turns around and runs the opposite way down the corridor. The Borg are in the catwalks above you, a crewmember is carried up into the rafters, the door to the shuttle bay starts to open, but gets jammed. The Borg are now coming at you from behind, assimilating crewmembers as they approach. Another crewmember shoots the door's control panel with his phaser, causing the door to open. You rush through the door and suddenly the feel of the attraction changes completely.

The first sign that things have changed are the metal cases holding 3D glasses at the entrance to the theater -- I mean escape shuttle. "Make sure to pick up your safety goggles," the station's staff tell you. Safety goggles? Haven't I heard that one at "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" and "T2: 3D," among other attractions? This left me with a number of questions -- why were we only now being given safety goggles, when we've been running through a space station under attack for the past five minutes? Why did we need safety goggles inside such a clean, undamaged ship? How come we're wearing goggles and don't have seatbelts, like on the "Klingon Encounter"? And how come our two live pilots aren't wearing safety goggles? Once inside the large, comfortable shuttle, you look out the door as one of the Borg grabs a crewmember and another comes towards you as the door to the shuttle closes. The problem is that the theater is so big and comfortable that the claustrophobic experience of the Borg attacking you from the space station's corridors no longer feels threatening. It's as if you're watching this scene on a television.

The film portion of "Borg Invasion" suffers from the size and cleanliness of the theater. Any damage to your shuttle is implied via the film, rather than in-theater effects. This contrasts with other filmed attractions, such as Disney's "Muppetvision 3-D," where the theater is almost completely physically destroyed via optical illusions, or Tokyo Disney Sea's "StormRider," where a harpoon penetrates your vehicle. Nothing like that happens here. The theater is just too sterile.

Sure there's a hydraulic floor which offers some nice effects, and the tensile chairs catch you by surprise as the Borg assimilate you with nanoprobes, poking you from behind and below, but these effects fail by comparison with other 4D attractions that utilize motion components, such as Universal's "Shrek 4D" and Disney's "It's Tough to Be A Bug."

It would have been great to have seatbelts. Though not necessary, it would have made me feel I was more in a shuttle, encountering danger, rather in a theater. But because more than half of the film takes place when the ship is docked inside the Borg Cube, it does feel like a film, rather than the ride it's advertised as. The film tries on a number of levels to emulate "Terminator 2: 3D." This becomes evident at the start, as the screen becomes full of Avian Drones, an obvious copy of T2's flying Mini Hunters.

There's also live action, however its integration is limited. Your ship has two copilots. One walks through a hatch on the side of the screen, shows up on screen and is captured by the Borg. This pales in comparison to "T2: 3D," where the interaction of live action and film is incomparable. One great effect, however, is when the remaining pilot fires a phaser and with perfect aim blows up an Avian Drone floating in the air in front of you. When Voyager comes to save you, Kate Mulgrew appears as Captain Janeway, stiff as ever on screen-flanking monitors reminiscent of "Star Tours."

The theater and film do have their merits. The twelve-channel sound is crisp and powerful. The picture is crystal clear, utilizing DLP's new 2K cinema projector, the first use ever in an attraction of the most powerful digital projection system in the world. The animation is stunning, especially when Alice Krige, returning in her role as the Borg Queen, floats inches from your head, her metallic spine writhing below here disembodied head. The film is noticeable in that it introduces some innovations - such as its usage of both a front and overhead 3-D screen and the first-ever live action steadicam stereo shot with real-time 3D playback on screen.

What Paramount Parks has done is to take a film created for another park, (Germany's Spacepark Bremen, where the attraction is known as "Borg Encounter") and modify it to fit the space originally occupied by an identical version of "Klingon Encounter." The corridor walkthrough (or should I say run-through) is perfectly laid out to produce an atmosphere of claustrophobia and anxiety. The theater, however, has been built into what was originally a large-format dome theater that housed two motion simulator platforms. It's way too big.

Paramount could easily make some minor changes to the theater that would lead to a more panicked, claustrophobic environment reminiscent of the attraction's walk-through portion. These include showing a damaged interior to the shuttle, adding seatbelts, lowering the ceiling of the theater, coming up with a better explanation for the 3D glasses, and even having the Borg physically enter the theater during the film. As currently presented, they seem so distanced from us as digitally projected images on the screen.

But then there's the ending. When the "Klingon Encounter" ends and you're docked back in the simulator dome, the door is opened by a maintenance man, wondering why you're sitting in a vehicle in a theater that hasn't opened to the public yet. He walks you down a maintenance hall as overhead video monitors continue the story, with news crews talking about explosions seen over the Las Vegas Strip. When "Borg Invasion" ends, the door to the shuttle opens, and a man in a "Star Trek: The Experience" polo shirt escorts you to the elevator. No surprises. It's over.

Unlike its sister, "Borg Invasion" is not an Experience. It's not even a ride. It's just a show. Is it worth visiting? Sure, after all it does include admission to the "Klingon Encounter," the true Star Trek Experience.

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