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Roller Coasters: A Mystery Mine Movie, Part 1

The DVD “The Business of Fun” is the first offering by Forrester Media in a series of “The Business of [fill in the blank]” videos that will cover various sectors of the business world.  It deals with the development, from conception and design through to manufacture and installation of a roller coaster, specifically the Mystery Mine Roller Coaster at Herschend Family Entertainment‘s Dollywood Theme Park.

Since I can’t visit theme parks anywhere near as often as I’d like (every day would suit me just fine), watching video entertainment devoted to them helps to quench the hunger. So when the opportunity came to review “The Business of Fun, ” a DVD that promises a close-up look at the making of Dollywood’s Mystery Mine coaster/dark ride hybrid, I happily took it.

By Rob Coker.

(See also John Hogg‘s review of the same film here: Roller Coasters: A Mystery Mine Movie Part 2)

As an unabashed theme park geek, I was eager to get a rare look at the entire process of how a major attraction went from the first “what if?” discussion to opening day. And Mystery Mine is an excellent subject for such a study: a top-quality themed experience with serious roller coaster hardware. Very appetizing indeed.

“The Business of Fun” is aimed at a broad audience, the average park attendee who can name their favorite coaster, but has no idea who designed it. For that audience, I believe the program will be a solid, satisfying hit. But, as a fairly hardcore geek, I wanted more, more!

The opening segment provides a quick look at the popularity of modern theme parks (with over $20 billion generated worldwide annually) and offers some history, featuring Coney Island and its legendary Cyclone roller coaster. There’s not much new information here to anyone familiar with the subject, but it’s engrossing enough.
mystery mine roller coaster at Dollywood
Take a (seven mile) hike

The second segment follows Anthony Esparza, the Mystery Mine’s design director, and several members of the Herschend Family Entertainment group (co-owners of Dollywood) as they walk the titanic halls of IAAPA’s November trade show. Most of the general public are likely not aware of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, nor do they know that its primary annual convention is a “one-stop-shopping” showcase of everything from multi-million dollar rides to kewpie dolls. I think most will be fascinated by IAAPA, and by the gaudy cornucopia of stuff available for purchase (Dancing Fountains! Virtual Bowling! Gator Bites!). I was impressed to learn that you’ll take a seven-mile hike if you want to pass by every booth.

We see that the team is also looking for snowmaking equipment for their Stone Mountain property, a tall order given the park’s Atlanta, Georgia location. Talking with the folks at “Unlimited Snow, ” a company that offers 100 types of real and fabricated flakes, they find their supplier.

Finally, they arrive at the Gerstlauer stand and the decision to purchase the roller coaster is made. What were the factors that led to this decision? Why Gerstlauer and not another supplier? Was a “vertical drop” coaster always part of the Mystery Mine’s design development? These are questions I would love to have seen addressed.

We move right on to the construction phase, and we do get some great footage of the ride’s unfinished interiors, interviews with the hardhat crew explaining some of the coaster’s mechanicals, shots of the water-filled test dummies in action, and more.

Paper models and G force delights

Last, we’re treated to snippets of the ride’s grand opening ceremony, as Ms. Parton greets several “first ride” eBay auction winners (over $35, 000.00 was raised for her charities – nice!) and get some rider reactions from the day, all of them extremely positive. (One amusing unintended moment: just as the narration describes the many happy faces of the crowd, there’s a shot of a returning “mine car” with one very unhappy-looking little girl in the first row.)
There’s also a brief coda: the first snowmaking efforts at Stone Mountain are a success, too.

Sprinkled throughout are tantalizing shots of paper models, drawings and segments of the computer animation developed to pre-visualize the attraction. And there’s but a quick mention of the many creatives involved: artists, engineers, even the composer of the ride’s “score.” Granted, with a running time of less than 40 minutes, there is only so much ground that can be covered. That said, I wish we’d spent less time on the trade show floor, and more time looking at what was clearly a lengthy conceptual development process. That’s the magic I was hoping to see more fully revealed.

Another really tiny gripe: The American Coaster Enthusiasts gets a well-deserved shout-out early on, but Justin Garvanovic, the man behind the European Coaster Enthusiasts is an interviewee, yet his fine organization is not given particular mention.

However, I certainly won’t argue with the editorial choice to include lots of POV footage and off-ride shots of the Mystery Mine’s many high-G-force delights. As a way to experience this outstanding-looking ride from thousands of miles away, this DVD is a real treat. Part of me is sorry that some of the ride’s surprises aren’t surprises anymore, but no matter; I’m as eager as ever to try it out in person.

Among the extra features, we get to watch both animations of the raw coaster layout (from several angles, no less) and the full Mystery Mine pre-viz: delicious geek-candy! The complete on-ride POV footage of Six Flags Over Georgia’s Goliath coaster, parts of which are used during the program, is also included, as well as the full interview with Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project. Given the current tumult surrounding Coney’s next phase, it’s truly disheartening to be reminded of how glorious it had once been. The Mystery Mine augurs well for the future of the theme park industry; let’s hope its legacy isn’t further destroyed.

The Business of Fun, Forrester Media 2008, Simon Temperton and Mike Forrester; Available through amazon.com, $12.95 (US)


Robert Cok
robert coker theme park and coaster enthusiaster is a lifelong theme park enthusiast who began writing about his love for roller coasters in 1995, crafting a small web site called “Rollercoaster!, ” which was listed in the “World Wide Web Top 1000” book, published in 1996. That same year, he launched ThrillRide! (www.thrillride.com), which has been online continuously since then.

The popularity of ThrillRide led to the publication of his book “Roller Coasters – A Thrill Seeker’s Guide to the Ultimate Scream Machines” in 2002. It received a "Five Star" customer rating at both Amazon.com and BN.com, and for a short time, held the number one spot on Amazon’s "Travel Books Best Sellers" list. There have been three subsequent reprints, the latest in 2006 with updated content from Barnes & Noble Publishing.

He has also written roller coaster and amusement park-related articles for AOL.com, SMOKE magazine and amusement industry trade publications, and advertising and promotional copy for D.H. Morgan Manufacturing.

See also:
First Multiple Zip-Line at a Theme Park Debuts at Dollywood 
Amusement Parks: Dollywood’s Polar Express Creates "4D" Viewer Experience
Life in the Theme Park Business: An Interview with Dollywood GM Barbara Joines
Dollywood wins Third Consecutive International Heartbeat Award
Dollywood was excited to announce Adventure Mountain for 2009

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