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Roller Coasters: A Mystery Mine Movie, Part 2

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.

By John Hogg

(See also Rob Coker‘s review of the same film here: Roller Coasters: A Mystery Mine Movie, Part 1)

When Blooloop editor Charlie Read first asked me to review it, I somehow assumed that it was the first in a series on the business of parks and attractions. Wishful thinking. I feel that there is a paucity of business coverage about our industry in recent years and that this should be the first of a series, first, because there are plenty more potential areas to cover, and second, because Forrester Media has done a good job.
       mystery mine roller coaster at dollywood theme park
It all started when in 2005 Forrester Media owner Mike Forrester shot 60 hours of footage of the Atlanta IAAPA show with the aim of putting together a program on the business of tradeshows (and he started with IAAPA? Hmmmmm.) A big chunk of the footage was of a creative team from Herschend Entertainment. Herschend was on the floor at the IAAPA trade show to close a deal with Gerstlauer Gmbh for a roller coaster system destined for their new Mystery Mine attraction at Dollywood. By the time Mike finished shooting, he sensed that he’d a different story to tell. Enter Simon Temperton, producer at Forrester. Simon realized the story should be about the start-to-finish process of the design and construction of Mystery Mine.

The show is divided into four sections. It commences with a prelude/set-up on Mystery Mine, then goes into the almost obligatory background facts and figures of the parks business in the US and how roller coasters figure as a major guest-pullers in that business, followed by a brief history of the roller coaster.

In the second section, we’re at IAAPA, Atlanta 2005, tagging along with the Herschend team led by Anthony Esparza, Herschend’s Senior V.P. of Design, as they troll the floor for new and interesting things for their parks. Included is some side-bar commentary by Rob Norris, IAAPA Chairman, 2006, and theme park historian Tim O’Brien, giving a little IAAPA overview for the uninitiated. The section concludes with Herschend and Gerstlauer sealing the deal for the ride system for Mystery Mine. (Note to you theme park biz insiders, the more times you watch this section, the more people you may recognize in the IAAPA footage. It was kind of a hoot for me spotting people in the third viewing I hadn’t even noticed in views one and two.)

Part three covers the construction and ride system integration at Dollywood, punctuated with bits on the thematic development of Mystery Mine, plus interesting commentary from the job site by the hard-hatted Brian Dudash and Ralph Nielson, Creative Producer and Creative Director respectively. We see computer-generated footage of the ride, and later the real McCoy being tested with water-filled dummies. There is a buildup of anticipation as the attraction is readied for opening day with a kick-off by the Dollywood namesake herself.

Part Four: At the opening ceremony, Dolly Parton, all black leather-clad and sporting a miner’s lamp strapped around a lot of blonde hair explains with classic self-deprecating humor why she personally won’t be boarding the ride today. Then, in a chain of a first-day “whadidja think?” spots, the ride gets an enthusiastic review from Robert Ulrich of  American Coaster Enthusiasts, another from Justin Garvanovic of the European Coaster Club, one from Tim O’Brien, and several others from gushing guests-in-the-street. We’re then shown fairly well rendered CGI footage of the ride from start to finish, followed by wrap-up commentary from Anthony Esparza and others concluding how Mystery Mine has been a complete success. And shoot! How could it not have been, given all the excited responses from first-day riders and Herschend having only spent a frugal $17 million, all-in? Just judging from the visual video results (I have not ridden), MM looks like an almost unbelievable value for the money. The bean counters must have been mightily pleased.

At the back end of the video is an extras section with four bits including an on-board, front-row, non-narrated film taken on the Goliath Coaster at Six Flags, GA (fun, but kinda, sorta off topic); a series of three animations of Mystery Mine obviously produced by those crazy guys at Mad-Data/No Limits Coasters for Gerstlauer; a souped-up, more rendered and atmospheric version of the same animation courtesy of Herschend; and “A Conversation with Charles Denson, Coney Island History Project”, this done in-situ down on the boardwalk under the Cylcone. This bit is nice, but a little long, and would have been better saved it for another episode. Could be easily recycled though, eh?

Overall, I found “The Business of Fun, ” despite its cliché 1980’s-esque graphics and slightly stodgy presentational style to be quite interesting and well put together. It nicely distills down the lengthy process of designing and building a complex themed attraction without missing any important details. For those of us who have been directly involved in this activity, its fun to watch a project go from start to finish in front of our eyes with such pleasing results, plus that great look of satisfaction on the faces of the participants. And ain’t this the creative takeaway that made us all ignore our parents’ advice and got us all into this silly business in the first place?

I hope that Forrester decides to continue this as a series. They’ve covered a project at a level of detail I don’t think I’ve seen in a long time, and which could help lead to a renaissance in the genre of Discovery Channel type “coaster-shows.” The video is good fun and I think will be so for both us attractioneers and the just-curious theme park fanatics out there. So, as I said before Forrester, as there’s still a hell of a lot left to cover in the attractions area, forget the “Business of Whatever Else it Was You Were Thinking of Shooting, ” for now at least. Just stick to “The Business of Fun.”

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

John Hogg is a Senior Designer at Lexington Design and Fabrication where he is currently working on a theme park project he can’t talk about. His extensive resume includes set design and art direction for eight major projects for Walt Disney Imagineering at Disney World in Florida, Disneyland California, and Disneyland Resort in Paris. For Universal Studios Creative, John was involved in several major projects including Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Universal Studios Japan. John has also worked as a designer for Jeremy Railton & Associates, BRC Imagination Arts, Paramount Studios, Warner Bros., Kevin Biles Design, and David Sackeroff Designs. In addition, John holds U.S. and International patents on his innovative design for the Cantilevered Coaster System.

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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