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I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you ...

I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you ...

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We got so much great mail from you folks last week that "Jimmy Neutron's NickToon Blast" article. People writing in just to tell us how refreshing it was to have a site that usually just reports about the Walt Disney Company saying such nice things about an attraction at a competing theme park.

Well, we really try to stay balanced here at JimHillMedia.com. So when the Mouse and/or Universal does something right, we like to report that. Conversely, when Universal Studios or the Walt Disney Company does something stupid ... well, the crew at JHM isn't happy to report something like that. But we at least attempt not to needlessly bash that project.

And Universal Studios ... well, those theme parks are really on a hot streak. First with "Jimmy" opening down in Florida. And now with "Shrek 4D" in previews in Hollywood. (I'm told that this new 3D movie will finally officially open to the public out West over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. The Orlando version? I keep hearing talk of an opening date of June 12th or thereabouts.) And then -- what with the "Mummy" coaster opening up at both stateside Universal parks by Summer of 2004 -- well ... the Imagineers are really going to have their work cut out for them now through next year. Trying to figure out a way to top the crew over at Universal Creative.

But -- in my rush to praise the projects that Universal Creative is rushing to get ready to open and/or still has in the pipeline -- let's not forget the attraction that signaled the renaissance of the Universal Studios theme park chain. Industry experts have called it the best new theme park attraction to be built in North America in the past five years. A cutting edge mix of dark ride and shooting gallery. Hundreds of thousands of people have rolled through the thing in the past year, then raced around to the entrance, eager for their next chance to sample its high tech thrills.

Which ride am I talking about? Universal Studios Florida's highly acclaimed "Men in Black: Alien Attack."

By now, I'm sure that thousands of you have already ridden this USF favorite dozens of times. But how well do you really know this attraction? Are you aware of the layer upon layer of in-jokes that Universal Creative's designers managed to cram into this show?

Better still, how about the numerous gags and cool special effects that the ride's design team wanted to put in the show -- only to have USF management balk at the proposed scope or cost of what they were trying to do? Well, let me clue you in on the 10 best in-jokes and behind-the-scenes stories associated with this radical ride.

1) Where have I seen those posters before?

You're outside of the "Men in Black" show building, slowly making your way through the exterior queue. As the line plods toward the entrance, you keep passing these stylized posters that look very familiar.

Why do they look so familiar? Because "Men in Black: Alien Attack" design team wanted them to look familiar. The posters outside the show building are actually affectionate ripoffs/tributes to posters that were done for Disneyland attractions back in the late 1950s. Don't believe me? Then take another look at that poster for the Sky Lounge. Doesn't that look an awful lot like the poster Walt had made up for the Skyway back in 1956?

Better still, how about that poster for "The Universe and You?" Disneyland history fans may recall an early Tomorrowland attraction called "Space Station X-1." The poster that promotes "The Universe and You" attraction deliberately apes the graphic look and layout of that classic Disneyland poster.

And speaking of familiar things ...

2) What's the deal with the music in "Men in Black"'s fake pre-show area? I know that I've heard that stuff somewhere before ...

No you haven't. This is another of Universal Creative's affectionate jabs at Disneyland. The music you're hearing is a deliberate pastiche/parody of the music WED house composer Buddy Baker wrote for Tomorrowland back in the 1950s. To capture just the right hokey-but-optimistic tone, the lead designer on this USF project actually recruited one of Buddy's protégés -- a kid who was then just a student at Cal Arts -- to write a Baker-esque underscore for this part of the attraction. This guy delivered an authentic sounding anthem in the Buddy Baker tradition, which lulls guests into a false sense of security ...

Which is why Universal Studios Florida guests always seem so surprised when the music abruptly stops and the voice of Agent Zed (Rip Torn) urges them to hurry into the interior queue of the ride ...

But -- before we get all the way into the show building -- let's discuss the pre-show you almost got to see.

3) "Leaving on a Jet Plane ... "

Had the "Men in Black" design team gotten their way, USF guests wouldn't have been queuing up outside a retro-futuristic show building that borrowed elements from the 1964 World's Fair, Dodgers Stadium, and the St. Louis Arch. Instead, these Universal Studios visitors would have been startled to find themselves back at Orlando International Airport.

Or at least a close approximation. Guest would have wandered into a look-alike terminal building, only to be directed to board one of those automated trams. You know, those monorail-like thingies that OIA uses to get its passengers out to the really remote gates at the airport?

Well, halfway to the gate, Zed's voice would have come over the tram's speakers and congratulated the new recruits for finding the proper shuttle to take them straight to MIB training headquarters. As the tram suddenly sped up, then dove deep into the earth under the airport, Zed would have been heard to say: "Hey, great idea disguising yourselves as tourists. Like we haven't seen that one a million times before in this neck of the woods ..."

Sounds like a really clever way to start the show, doesn't it? Well, Universal management worried that this concept might be a little too clever. They worried that USF guests -- particularly the park's international visitors -- wouldn't get the joke. That these customers would just walk by the deliberately bland looking show building without stopping to sample the wonders to be found inside.

That's why USF management insisted that the exterior of the "Men in Black" attraction prominently feature some sort of icon/artifact that was easily recognizable from the 1997 Columbia Pictures hit film. Which is why the outside of the "Alien Attack" show building is adorned with those flying-saucer shaped towers that played such an important part in the film's finale.

Speaking of things that "Men in Black" designers *ALMOST* did ...

4) Not that song! Anything but that song!

As perhaps the wickedest Disney in-joke of all, Universal Creative originally had another name in mind for the fake show that was supposedly being staged at the USF Expo Center. Rather than "The Universe and You," the "Men in Black" design group had wanted to call the fake MIB show "It's a Small Universe After All."

Worse than that, the logo for the proposed parody attraction would have deliberately aped the look and style of the poster Disney used to promote "it's a small world" at the 1964 New York World's Fair. All in all, it would have added up to one killer joke on the Mouse.

But Universal's lawyers were concerned that this Disney joke might be one Disney joke too many. Which is why they leaned on the crew at Universal Creative to drop this particular idea. But -- if you yourself would like to see what the posters for the "It's a Small Universe After All" show would have looked at -- take a close look at the bulletin boards that you'll see inside the coffee room on the MIB queue. You'll find the concept art -- partially obscured but still visible -- pinned to one of the bulletin boards in that room.

As you continue to move along the queue, you'll find a half-scale recreation of the more familiar sets from the "Men in Black" film: the immigration office. As the extraterrestrial twins work the controls that run the room's massive main view screen, most USF guests are usually too dazzled to notice that this place seems oddly empty. As you might imagine, this is not what Universal Creative had originally intended this room to look like ...

5) Dear Mom. Guess where I spent my break-time today?

If Universal management hadn't kept shrinking the MIB budget, the immigration office area in this USF attraction would have been a real showplace for this show. It would been filled with dozens of audio-animatronic figures slaving away at their desks, typing up reports, answering phones. This place would have been a real flurry of activity.

But -- as the budget kept creeping in -- the team at Universal Creative felt it was more important that the attraction itself had lots of AA figures, rather than the show's queue area. So a decision was made to put the absolute minimum of figures in the MIB pre-show. Which meant that -- in the end -- all that guests got to see were the worms hanging out in the coffee room and the twins working the view screen controls in the immigration office.

To the opening crew for USF's "Men in Black: Alien Attack" attraction, this cut was particularly disappointing. They knew all about what Universal Creative had wanted to do in the immigration room, but ended up cutting due to financial considerations. Which is why these Universal Studios employees came up with a really intriguing way to help UC out.

At least for the first few months that the "MIB" attraction was open, these loyal USF cast members would take their breaks on stage -- seated downstairs in the immigration office. They'd read, sit with their feet up on chairs, eat their lunches. Meanwhile, the folks walking through the overhead queue would look down at these folks, totally convinced that they were Disney-quality AA figures ... until one of them got up and walk across the room.

Pretty wild, eh? And -- speaking of wild -- how about that MIB ride vehicle?

6) Maybe we can borrow a few cars from those nice Jonah Jameson fellow?

If Universal management had had its way, USF guests would have rolled through the "Men in Black: Alien Attack" show building aboard vehicles that would have been identical to the ones used in Islands of Adventure's "Amazing Spiderman" attraction. After all, the company had spent millions developing that revolutionary new ride system. Plus the public really seemed to love the "Daily Bugle" SCOOP-mobiles. So why not get these vehicles into USF ASAP?

Well, there was just one slight problem with the SCOOP-mobiles. No one seated inside one of these smoothly swirling ride vehicles could ever seem to draw an accurate bead on any of the targets. To test this theory, the team from Universal Creative actually took over IOA's "Amazing Spiderman" attraction late one night. They set up a few sample targets along the "Marvel Island" ride track.

And -- even though these guys made multiple passes through the "Spiderman" show building and that they knew exactly where the robotic figures were hidden -- none of the "MIB" design team was ever able to get a decent score on the test targets. The fluid swirling of these ride vehicles kept folks from getting an accurate bead on the targets. That's when the crew from Universal Creative decided that the "Spiderman" SCOOP-mobiles just had too much movement to make a good "MIB" ride vehicle.

Mind you, these guys did eventually end up using a ride vehicle that had originally been designed for IOA to take guests through the "Men in Black: Alien Attack" show building. But which attraction did Universal Creative opt to "borrow" its ride vehicle from? Would you believe that kiddie favorite, "The Cat in the Hat?"

And speaking of kiddies ...

7) Isn't there someone missing from "MIB"'s initial shooting gallery?

That's right, folks. If you'll remember back to this sequence in the original "Men in Black" movie, Agent Jay was the only recruit who opted to shoot sweet little Tiffany -- that suspicious looking eight year old girl who was lugging some oversized science books through in a bad neighborhood at night. So why isn't this could-be criminal cutie anywhere to be found in this otherwise exact recreation of this scene from the film?

One word explains it all: Columbine. After the infamous April 1999 shootings at the Littleton, CO. high school, Universal Creative no longer felt that it was funny for anyone to be taking a shot at a child. Even a pretend child. Which was why Tiffany ended up getting cut from this scene.

To compensate for the missing suspicious looking youngster, the "MIB" design team made sure the rest of the attraction was loaded with characters. Before you exit the ride, you'll roll past over 120 AA figures. Among the most memorable are ...

8) Hey, didn't that guy win an Academy Award?

Keep your eyes peeled for a bearded guy who's wearing a Jurassic Park baseball cap and reading a newspaper. Looks familiar, doesn't he? He should. That's "Men in Black" producer and noted filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

Of course, Universal Creative couldn't resist this opportunity to make a killer Dreamworks SKG joke. So if you shoot the Steven Spielberg figure, he lowers the newspaper to reveal a three-headed space monster. Not so coincidentally, Dreamworks SKG has three heads too: Academy Award-winning director Spielberg, former Disney Studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg, and music mogul David Geffen.

As your ride vehicle moves deeper into the pseudo-New York City setting, you can't help but be overwhelmed by the profusion of detail inside the "MIB" attraction.

9) What's the deal with all the names on the store fronts?

Ah, if you're a fan of movie and TV trivia, you're going to absolutely love the interior of "Men in Black: Alien Attack." There's gag upon gag upon gag to be found here. Among the better ones are:

The "I.M. Hotep" Jewelry Store. Fans of Universal's "The Mummy" movie might recognize this riff on that film's undead title character, Im-Ho-Tep.

"Flaming Moe's" Bar. Surely anyone who's ever watched "The Simpsons" will recall the infamous episode where Homer invented a popular new drink -- the Flaming Homer -- only to have bartender Moe take credit for his creation.

Louie's Taxi Service. Any fan of Nick at Night can recall the television show "Taxi," where the not-so-lovable Louie DePlama (played by Danny Devito) rudely rode herd on all of his employees.

From this point, you eventually encounter the Big Bug. You blast your way to freedom and then ...

10) Hey, wasn't this attraction originally supposed to have 35 different endings?

That's true, folks. You were originally supposed to see a video of Agent Jay (Will Smith) who would tell you if your score was poor, average or great. Your vehicle will then pull forward and -- if your team did poorly -- you would travel in silence and darkness back to the unload area.

If your team just did okay, this area would suddenly light up to reveal an alien AA coach figure -- who then proceed to tell you what you'd done wrong during your trip through the attraction. In his best John Madden fashion, this figure would tell USF guests "You zigged when you should have zagged. You needed more hustle. But I'm sure you'll do better next time."

But if everyone riding in your "MIB" vehicle racked up really high scores, the area on the opposite side of this corridor would suddenly light up -- revealing an alien tailor AA figure. This creature was supposedly be working on your "Men in Black" uniform, which the robotic figure promised "would be ready Tuesday."

Pretty neat idea, huh? Thanks to the various things the Will Smith video could be programmed to say, plus all the multiple scenarios the alien coach and tailor AA figures could play out, USF's "Men in Black: Alien Attack" attraction did indeed have 35 different endings.

Unfortunately, the people who performed poorly during their trip through "Alien Attack" complained bitterly that they got no interaction with AA figures before they exited the "MIB" ride. Which is why USF management eventually opted to reprogram the ending of the attraction. Which is why -- no matter how poorly you do now -- guests who ride through "Men in Black: Alien Attack" ride always get to see the AA alien coach before they climb out of their ride vehicles.

As for the AA tailor ... only USF guests who racked up really high scores get to see this figure before they exit the "MIB" attraction.

The upside of this change: Everyone gets to see an AA figure before they exit the "MIB" ride now. The downside: This means that "Alien Attack" only features 15 - 20 different endings now. Which is kind of a shame, when you think about it.

Anyway ... There you have it. The Top 10 secrets for Universal Studios Florida's high popular "Men in Black: Alien Attack" attraction.

Of course, given that the nice folks at Universal Creative don't want you JHM readers to go around blabbing about all this cool "Men in Black: Alien Attack" info you just learned about, I'm going to have to ask that you all stare into this neuralyzer that I'm holding in my hand and then ...

FLASH!

... You won't remember a single word you've read here.

Pretty neat trick, don't you think?

(Special thanks to Agent Zed for sharing all those great USF "MIB" stories.)

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