For 46 years, Six Flags Magic Mountain has been afraid to build an immersive dark ride attraction for fear of inviting unflattering comparisons to Southern California theme park rivals Disney and Universal — until now.
The Justice League: Battle for Metropolis 3-D dark ride set to debut this spring at the Valencia amusement park will combine motion-platform ride vehicles with a shoot-'em-up video game.
I visited Magic Mountain this week to tour the 24,000-square-foot building with officials from Florida-based ride-maker Sally Corp. Forklifts and cranes were busy as crews on cherry-pickers worked in the rafters of the warehouse-like building in advance of the arrival of scenic show materials and ride vehicles.
"We wanted a thrilling dark ride," CEO John Wood said during the tour. "One that was dynamic enough to be compared to anything Disney or Universal could do."
Themed to the crime-fighting team of DC Comics superheroes, the Justice League ride will feature animatronic figures, special effects and laser-gun game play.
Six Flags has rolled out similar versions of the Justice League ride at parks in Texas, Missouri, Illinois and Mexico with additional clones on tap this year in New Jersey and Georgia.
The new Magic Mountain attraction will inevitably be compared to dark rides at Disneyland (Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters), Disney California Adventure (Toy Story Midway Mania), Universal Studios Hollywood (Transformers 3-D), Knott's Berry Farm (Voyage to the Iron Reef) and Legoland (Lost Kingdom Adventure).
Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal's Islands of Adventure in Florida are home to what is widely considered to be the best dark ride in the world: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Prior to the Potter ride, the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Islands of Adventure reigned for years as the king of dark rides.
Sally Corp. believes the Justice League ride, which combines interactive gaming with a motion-platform ride vehicle for the first time, is better than the Spider-Man ride. And Magic Mountain is betting the new dark ride is worthy of standing up to the best Disney and Universal have to offer.
"Spider-Man was really our bar," spokeswoman Lauren Wood Weaver said. "That was always where we strived to be. If that was the best dark ride in the industry, we needed to reach that bar. And Justice League has exceeded it."
The new ride's back story finds Lex Luthor, the Joker and Harley Quinn teaming up to kidnap the Justice League superheroes and unleash a sinister laughing gas on the unsuspecting citizens of Metropolis.
After hacking into a computer, the super-villains uncover weaknesses in the Justice League's defenses and kidnap Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern and Supergirl.
The mission: Rescue the Justice League and save Metropolis from destruction. Along the way, visitors will encounter plenty of gunfire, cannon blasts and explosions along with a pair of chase scenes. The digital scenes will play out on multiple 3-D screens that are as wide as 44 feet, nearly the width of a basketball court.
The new Justice League attraction replaces the former Batman stunt show arena. The Magic Mountain version of the ride will feature three scenes not found at other Six Flags parks.
Oceaneering Advanced Technologies will supply the six-passenger motion-platform vehicles that tilt forward, backward and side-to-side based on the action inside the ride. The Maryland-based company built the ride systems for Universal's Transformers and Spider-Man attractions.
Belgium-based Alterface will handle interactive gaming elements and show controls for the new attraction. Riders wearing 3-D glasses and armed with laser guns will be able to watch as projectiles fly through the air and into video screens at virtual targets.
The Justice League ride will anchor a new Metropolis-themed land next-door to the existing DC Universe land. Shops and restaurants will be re-themed, and the Riddler's Revenge stand-up roller coaster will get a fresh paint job to fit into the new land.
Sally Corp. has been trying for decades to persuade Magic Mountain to install a dark ride. A proposal to bring a clone of the Challenge of Tutankhamon dark ride at Walibi Belgium to Magic Mountain was billed as an opportunity to go head-to-head with the Revenge of the Mummy indoor roller coaster at Universal Studios Hollywood.
"This ride will take them to the cleaners," John Wood promised at the time to no avail.
Magic Mountain officials also passed on a pitch to build a Scooby Doo's Haunted Mansion dark ride that went into Six Flags St. Louis and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
"They were always conscious of the fact that the big boys with the big bucks were down the street," Wood said. "It was going to take something really special. Fortunately we found it."
Sally Corp. is also working with Dreamworks on a Casper's Birthday Blast dark ride that is expected to open this year at the new Movie Animation Studio Park in Malaysia. The ride-maker is also in talks with an overseas theme park to build its first dark ride based on "The Walking Dead" television show.