Finally, we come to the end of our historical walk through the history of one of the greatest theme park experiences of all time – Jaws, at Universal Studios Orlando.

In Part I, we explored how the movie led to a showcase on the Universal Studios backlot tour and how studio ambition pushed them to go further.

In Part II, we detailed how this effort was ultimately doomed and looked at the reasons why.

In Part III, we talked about the engineering problems and how the ride was brought back to life by extensive re-engineering and a complete reworking of the ride plot.

Why do we think this is the greatest theme park experience of all time? Two words: Ambition and Scale. The sheer balls of Universal for the undertaking full water effects, a daylight ride with a dark portion, pyrotechnics, animatronics, and a robot shark meeting its end every 80 seconds.

Jaws-Ride

2,000 miles of wire. 1,140 feet of track. 5 million gallons of water.  A lagoon covering 7 acres of park.  All churning 2,700 guests an hour with live, acting hosts as part of the show all day, every day bringing a new plot woven into Jaws lore to life.

If you got that as a project brief today, you would probably walk away saying it couldn’t be done. Many said it couldn’t. Even a legendary Disney Imagineer turned down the mission. But it could be done. They did it! Eventually. For all Disney’s exquisite imagineering and seamless theming in their parks, something about Jaws: The Ride just stands out and stands tall.

Without this level of ambition, and eventually managing to deliver something on this scale, many current theme park attractions, such as the Harry Potter experiences and Jurassic Park, would never have come into being. This paved the way for movie-themed thrill delivery in the most epic way.

The Show Must Go On

After all the issues, the show was back on the road. Jaws took its place as one of the premium experiences at Universal’s Park and business was booming. All was right with the world for a decade. However, storm clouds were gathering.

The name Jaws itself was losing its luster. Not only had three sequels of rapidly declining quality affected the brand name, but a series of knock-offs and cheap imitations of the movie had continued, unanswered.

By 2005 the movie was already 30 years old. Sure, anyone of a certain age and a certain movie going vintage would always appreciate Jaws, with its epic tension, amazing score, incredible script propelling the tightest of tight plots. We knew and understood how magnificently written and acted the characters were, reacting in credible ways to incredible circumstances. We appreciate the sheer movie-making art on display across the board.

However, a new breed of theme park guests were appearing on the scene. These were people born after 1990. We know, surely nothing on Earth can be that recent? Surely these people are simply still just a foetus? But, Outposters, we promise you they do exist.

Jaws-Ride

Gen-Z….. uuurrrgggh.

 

To these uneducated whippersnappers one of the greatest movies of all time is simply:

“That goofy old movie with the plastic shark?”

This is what happens when you make it illegal to beat pupils in schools. We tried to warn them this would happen.

With the movie underpinning the theme park experience beginning to fade from the public consciousness, how long could seven acres of prime park real estate continue to be given over to such a sprawling ride?

Further Headwinds

Through 2004 and 2005 the worldwide price of oil and gas climbed steadily. Jaws used a LOT of power to drive it, and huge amounts of gas for the pyrotechnic effects. Against this backdrop in September 2005 Jaws went down to “seasonal” status and only operated during the busy, prime weeks. This is a classic theme park phase that comes before an aging ride is sunsetted for replacement.

In February 2007 the cries of disappointment had grown too loud and Universal relented. Jaws went back on full-time duty. Yet another reprieve.

For the reopening, the ride was improved. The queue had been cleaned and reworked to make it more efficient, the boats had been repainted, and the sharks thrashed around more and were bloodied up and repainted to make them feel much more realistic. However, the fire effects were significantly reduced.

Jaws-Ride

Just around the corner was yet another shock. In 2008 the worldwide financial crisis was another hard knock. Investment income tumbled and wages stagnated. A trip out to a theme park or a sunshine holiday to the vacation state of Florida was one of the luxury items in family life that soon got cut off.

Theme parks required something new to get families to choose them over competitors. A must-see attraction in order to get a hard up family to decide the out-lay was worth it.

In June 2010 the final seeds of the destruction of Jaws were sown. Only it was not faulty engineering, or fuel costs, or even lawyers that planted that seed.

It was a boy wizard.

Harry Bloody Potter!

While Jaws had been operating at Universal Studios, Orlando, the company had opened a second theme park next door, Universal Islands Of Adventure.

Islands-Of-Adventure

In 2007 it made a decision to re-theme one of its “Islands” completely and entered a deal with Warner Bros. for the theme park rights to Harry Potter.

Over the next few years, the plans were finalised and designs were completed. The Duelling Dragons rollercoaster was to be re-themed, as was the entire Forbidden Kingdom area of the park. This was transformed into Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. When the crash happened, this became more important. This was Universal’s secret weapon in the war against Disney for post-financial crash dollars, and it was a nuke!

When it opened in 2010 the Wizarding World was a phenomenal success and an enormous jolt to the entire resort, while giving Disney a smack in the mouth.

By year’s end, Universal Orlando had broken a slew of internal records including both net and operating profit. Attendance soared seventeen percent from January to December.

Merchandise sales more than doubled. In just seven months the Wizarding World had served more than a million mugs of Butterbeer.

Wizarding-World

The message was clear.  The world wanted more Potter in its theme parks, and Potter had a lot of settings, adventures, and experiences to give. There as just one problem. They needed space to expand.

Right behind Hogwarts Castle at Islands Of Adventure was a huge staff car park… and directly across that? Nestling right at the back of Universal Studios, the sister park, taking up 7 whole acres of prime theme park territory, was the Jaws Ride. It’s days were numbered by the expansion of a speccy teenaged wizard attraction and being practically next door.

Universal Orlando officially announced the Jaws ride’s closure on the morning of December 2, 2011. Absolutely no time was wasted. By January 2, 2012 it was ended.

That was the final day of operation for the ride. The final ever boat trip into the lagoon with the final ever skipper was an emotional experience for all those involved.

And then, just like that, it was all over.

Boards went up the next day and bulldozers moved in straight after that. It was to be the site of the massive expansion of Harry Potter. The two parks would be linked by the Hogwarts Express. This would be a London Kings Cross and Diagon Alley recreation. It would fill the entire 7 acres of Jaws. The lagoon was filled. The shark pits too. Tracks were ripped up. Robotic sharks were scrapped.

Jaws Ride

The new area opened on July 8th, 2014 and was an instant success.

But…when you walk the streets surrounding the Universal version of London’s Kings Cross, when you queue for the Hogwarts Express to take you from London to Hogsmeade, when you stroll up Diagon Alley on your way to Gringott’s Bank, take a moment to stop, look down and pay respects to what is there underneath your feet.

Buried under tons of concrete are the remains of a lagoon, deep shark pits, whatever is left of poor old Gordon on Amity 3, and the rest of the Greatest Theme Park Experience Of All Time!

The End

Missed any of our Jaws Season here at Last Movie Outpost? Get caught up right now. We talked about the lost John Hancock version of Jaws 2, and what might have been. We examined Jaws The Revenge, and what went wrong. We looked into Jaws 3D and gave you a potentially unpopular opinion about it. We also looked in depth at those notorious special FX, too. To start it all off, we went back to Spielberg’s almost-perfect original movie and explained why we think it still stands up so effortlessly.

Check back every day for movie news and reviews at the Last Movie Outpost

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