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Dazzling light show inaugurates WDS's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Dazzling light show inaugurates WDS's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

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April 5th saw the official press launch of Walt Disney Studios' Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. In a park not without its troubles, this attraction is being compared to Space Mountain in the adjacent Disneyland Park as its saviour. And judging by the scale of the ride and the crowds the park is attracting, it is working.

 Photo by Martin Smith

The attraction is virtually identical to the DCA version, save for a few cosmetic enhancements. And being placed in what would almost be the castle's position in regards to the Hub, TOT's looming presence really adds to the skyline -- both in the park and as a weenie from outside. Of course, WDSP was meant to get the attraction before DCA. But due to funding and a desire to inject Disney's California Adventure with much needed appeal, the US got it first.

This thrill ride may not have worked wonders in California. But in Paris, TOT is pulling them in. At 10:20 a.m., 20 minutes after opening last Sunday, Standby was at 70 minutes with FastPasses at 2:15 p.m. And the standby remained healthy all day. Only the new indoor Crush's Coaster had a consistently higher queue time, and this solid D-Ticket deserves it too!

Photo by Martin Smith

The weekend of the 4th-to-the-6th was a full-on press extravaganza, and I was fortunate enough to be invited. Hotel New York was block-booked for the press, with a special Hollywood Hotel check-in at the HNY convention center with bell hops on the doors and cast members wearing spooky makeup. Laminates were distributed and rooms assigned, with more bellhops at the real hotel elevators, Twilight Zone music & news broadcasts in the elevators as well as impromptu character & bellhop dance routines in the lobby.

Saturday night, 9 p.m. Walt Disney Studios had closed at 6 p.m. with Disneyland Park staying open later for guests. The weather was cold. But with not a cloud in the sky, it was perfect. The central gates of the studio arch were opened (normally they are just for decoration with turnstiles on either side used for entry). And in we went, passes around necks and into Studio One (Think Hollywood Boulevard at DHS but indoors).

Photo by Martin Smith

What a change! The shops and facades were dark, the air was filled with mist, and blue-and-white beams of light scanned the floor from above. The normal park audio was gone, replaced by weird, otherworldly sounds and whispers & bass rumbles. All the shop doorways had rear projections in them, with bead curtains providing a transparent screen - much like Fantasmic ! But with TOT animations and slides on them. Very well executed.

Walking onwards and outside to the "Hub," the Tower was lit in all its glory. As was the new Hollywood Boulevard by dozens of TV lights. Film crews and interviewers were everywhere, the red carpet was out for French celebs. Overall, the Studios were more studio-like than usual. A large crane was parked in front of Cinemagique for lighting, and another was visible behind the Tower. Cables ran everywhere and special effects lighting units were almost outnumbering the normal park lights.

 Photo by Martin Smith

We were guided to the rear of the park towards the Backstage Tour station, and then across the tram roadway and beyond the berm where large white domed tents had been erected. We entered through bellhop-manned revolving doors and discovered a series of interior bars with buffet inside. Here we were wined & dined along with the rest of the press event quests.

Inside of these tents, lighting trusses filled the large spaces with scanning lights. And HTH imagery were projected onto the walls and roofs. The missing family, elevator doors, boiler room pipe work and more all moved across the domed roofs.

Photo by Martin Smith

As 10:30 p.m. and showtime approached, the guests made their way outside. Since there seemed to be just a couple of thousand people, invited viewing was not an issue. Reaching the plaza front left of the Tower, I then noticed the show building was totally dark. Really spooky!

A few minutes later the tower was dressed in wrapping paper - with a 15th anniversary tag slowly swinging across the elevator doors on the front of the building. A barrage of video projectors along the roofs of the park front show buildings were projecting super bright and totally clean images on the Tower. A clock began to chime -- through the loudest, most-bass-heavy-but-totally-clear PA system I've heard -- and then the show began.

 Photo by Martin Smith

Large beetles began to crawl across the building, and a bellhop's arm swooped in & crushed one. Ugh! The arm and hand then began to "tear" at the "wrapping paper" until it "fell off" to reveal the real Tower façade beneath it. Searchlights came on, the roadway lit up, and it was October 31st, 1939. Vintage cars rolled in arrive as dozens of streetmosphere actors, dressed in 1930s costumes, began to arrive for the gala opening at the Tip Top Club (so the PA narration told us).

The hotel itself was bustling with life, thanks to the video projections. Windows lit up, doors opened and closed, and the missing guest wing was projected where it used to stand. Jazz musicians played across the façade to the sounds of "Sing Sing Sing," and the party was in full swing. 8:03 p.m. 8:04 p.m. Clock faces appeared on the façade as the music began to echo and the band began to shimmer.

 Photo by Martin Smith

8:05 p.m. A rooftop explosion and strobe flashes signal the lightning strike. The building turns white, black, then fills with a rainstorm. Suddenly, dozens of pyrotechnics ignite all over the façade as lightning bolts dart around the buildings features. More projected effects, rain, and a mean looking, red-eyed bat swoops across the tower, settling at the base - where he then transforms into a stone gargoyle. Menacing organ music blasts out, and the building erupts into a shower of sparks as yet more explosions pepper the façade for a good twenty seconds, with projections of elevator cables snapping and swinging wildly across the tower. So clever,you'd swear they were real cables!

"The Hollywood Tower Hotel is changed forever" booms the voiceover, as a pair of HTH keys swing across the lower building. Next, the building turns into a star field, the ToT logo is projected into it, and the familiar Twilight Zone theme begins to play. Major goose bumps! More rain, and the glowing silhouette of the girl guest begins to dance across the façade, singing a ghostly "Somewhere over the Rainbow" as a fan of coloured beams of light dance from behind the building. She fades as pipe work from the boiler room begins to grow, consuming the building, and the ghostly noise of guests begins to play, with multiple lighting and projection effects.

 Photo by Martin Smith

A TV news item tells us the building was struck by lightning, and a bell hops face appears, looming large over the park. "Welcome to the NEW Hollywood Tower Hotel" he tells us. "Drop in ... if you dare" (the advertising catchphrase in Europe). And -- with that -- presses an elevator button on the wall. Projected elevator floor dials begin to spin, and the bell hops begins to laugh manically before beginning to gasp for air. He reappears as a set of elevator doors open across the full tower to remind us and the press "the celebrations continue - big-time!" Until the entire set of projections begin to spin and twirl and finally imploding on itself as a barrage of fireworks are launched from the rooftops of the Tower. The entire evening -- and especially the presentation of The Tower -- were truly stunning. Disney at its best.

To the beat of the TOT theme, guests moved forwards towards the now reopened ride through a wall of smoke as dozens of Streetmosphere actors walked, staggered, danced and just stood in front of the Tower. The party continued way past midnight, with music, dancing and drinks in Studio One.

 Photo by Martin Smith

Suffice it to say, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is great, and is sure to continue to pull the crowds with its Europe-wide advertising campaign as summer approaches. Walt Disney Studios Park has grown up, and deserves the success it looks like it is finally getting.

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  • Nice Article Martin. Cant wait to hear more about it from you in July. Glad you had fun and nice pictures too.

  • Now that sounds like quite an awesome experience.

  • Wow, it's so good to see Disney pushing the boat out and spending a bit of cash!  This sounds incredible, I hope that they use some of the projections over at WDW.  Maybe for the ToT 13K run in October?  That would be cool.

  • This excellently written and detailed article is about the next best thing to having been there.  Martin has an eye for spectacle and captured the entire experience of the event imaginatively.  You could almost see the fireworks and hear the sound track!  Bravo!

  • Martin, tell me there's a video out there somewhere!!! I know it can't reproduce the thrill of seeing it live, but it would be great JUST to see it!

  • Wow.

    I watched those videos.

    That show was unbelievable...I can't imagine what it might have been like in person!

    They need to do something like this at DHS!  Although it looks like Disney Studios Paris gave themselves some extra room out front for the show to take place with the cars and audience.  It would probably be really cramped if they did this at the Florida park.

  • The videos of the building were incredible!  I would love to see Disney World do something like that after Space Mountain gets it's facelift.

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