Lights, Camera, MotionGate! A Look into Dubai’s Newest Theme Park

Dubai_Parks_mapWhile the themed entertainment industry continues to explode with new lands and attractions at the US’ biggest players, the luxury destination Dubai, UAE is throwing its hat into the ring. MotionGate may just be the competition that Disney and Universal were not expecting. Primarily including intellectual property (IP) from Sony Pictures, LionsGate, and DreamWorks Animation (now owned by Comcast), MotionGate will boast some of the most advanced attractions in the world. Starting out the gate with 27 attractions and shows based on some of the most well-known IP from the worlds of cinema and television, this brings the total attraction numbers to more than 100 when added to the existing offerings at Dubai Parks and Resorts (a government owned themed entertainment holdings company).

motiongate_image.fw_Unlike the public-private partnership of the parks in China, the government of UAE is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the wealth of the nation. That allure and wealth has driven millions of tourists from around the world to their nation as it is; factor in a world-class leading theme park, and those numbers will increase exponentially. This influx of revenue may actually pave the way for the non-wealthy classes of people to be able to enjoy the Dubai Parks and Resorts as additional flights, hotels, and transportation methods will be added. One of the biggest advantages that MotionGate has over its Disney and Universal competitors (Fox will soon be added to that as well) is that it is being constructed amidst digital, wireless, and multimedia technologies. Whereas the big boys have to modify existing technologies in attractions as they change, these parks are built with the latest technology which directly impacts efficiency of operation.  This same idea of being late to the game but a quickly asserted leader can be seen in nations like South Korea who only recently, relatively speaking, have had access to wireless internet technologies. As they did not have to adapt or modify existing legacy infrastructure, they built on current communications technologies and have a much faster, reliable, cheaper, and efficient ‘internet of things’ than the United States.

MotionGate_DubaiIn the vein of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, Dubai Parks and Resorts is a themed entertainment complex featuring separately themed parks. Specifically, MotionGate bares a striking design modeled after Magic Kingdom in that it is ONE theme park that contains five distinctly different themed lands that all center in and around the concept of motion pictures, filmmaking, and live entertainment. Each land, much like the ones at Magic Kingdom, has its own gateway, themed rides, restaurants, shows, and landmarks. Also, keeping with the Magic Kingdom layout, MotionGate contains the hub and spoke system. Unlike Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld, or Busch Gardens, MotionGate employs the hub-and-spoke system in order to make maneuvering the park user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. This provides opportunities for centralized entertainment offerings and landmarks. Prepare for the glitz, glamour, nostalgia, and excitement of the lands: Studio Central, LionsGate, DreamWorks, Sony Pictures, and the Smurfs’ Village. What makes this concept additionally interesting is the fact that MotionGate includes IP from different studios that are self-contained. Instead of taking the IP from the different companies and integrating them in more generically themed lands, each IP is contained within its respective land.

sony-motiongateOne cannot help but notice that the concept of Dubai Parks and Resort’s flagship theme park MotionGate resembles the original Universal Studios Florida or to a lesser extent Disney-MGM Studios. How so? If you are not familiar, both Universal Studios Florida and then Disney-MGM Studios were theme parks inspired by the idea of “what lies beyond the fifth dimension” (Tower of Terror, Disney); moreover, the story that exists outside of the frame–beyond mise en scene. In addition to attractions and shows inspired by filmmaking or theatre, both parks were also east coast counterparts to the Hollywood stages. Universal/Nickelodeon and Disney produced major motion pictures and television shows in the sound stages that are all but gone (or turn into conventional  attractions) in the 1980s and mid to late 90s. By 2000, most filmmaking and television production operations ceased because it was cheaper to move operations back to Hollywood and to other places like North Carolina and now Georgia. MotionGate goes back to the drawing board to resurrect a dying idea of turning filmmaking into an attraction. It truly holds up Geoff King’s studies and theories of “the cinema of attractions.” Universal founder Carl Leammle knew there was more to filmmaking than making movies. That’s why he opened his movie making ranch outside of Los Angeles to day guests to be entertained by special effects and stunt shows as well as watching the magic behind the camera.

20thCenFoxWorldIt is an exciting time for the themed entertainment and motion picture industries. For the longest time, Disney and Universal (Comcast) were the kings of cinema and TV based theme parks. Now, Dubai is becoming a heavy hitter and once MotionGate opens in October, the landscape has the potential to shift drastically. Now, the parks in the US will not only be competing against each other, but against heavy competition on the other side of the world in an area with much deeper pockets. All the while the word is focussed on the Word of Pandora, The Reign of Kong, Cobra’s Curse, Mako, Star Wars Land, Toy Story Land, and the unnamed new theme park under construction for Universal’s third park (not counting the forthcoming water park), MotionGate will open and create a whole new atmosphere of innovation amongst the chief players. In addition to the parks in Dubai, Fox is also entering into the game with their 20th Century Fox World opening in Malaysia in 2017. Also on the books is the 20th Century Fox World expansion to Zoo Miami AND another indoor Sony theme park in Wisconsin. With all these parks opening, there are more and more opportunities for careers in either cinema or themed entertainment. Or, a career that spans both (which is what yours truly is trying to do). I just love all the new completion because it will drive continued innovation. However, it’s also nice to see that we have a new park that is getting back to the roots of what started it all: motion pictures.

“On Cinema and Theme Parks” (part 6)

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Successful movie-themed attractions (stage shows or rides) create an atmosphere that is often built upon a foundation consisting of confrontation and direct simulation rather than long, sustained narratives. Whether watching a show on a stage or experiencing a ride-like attraction, the park guest is subjected to a series of physical and/or emotional shocks throughout the abridged narrative. Physical movement is also a strong element in an effective and successful movie-themed attraction design. This creates the illusion that the audience member is not only watching the action or horror take place, but part of the story as well. Implementing the use of special effects such as lighting effect or water also improve the guest experience by bringing the narrative to life.

jurassic_park_river_adventureIn the contemporary theme park model, designers seek to create a relationship between the narrative and the audience (or park guest); this is what Geoff King (2000) refers to as “the cinema of attractions.” The park guests want to be transported from a world in which they are spectators to a world in which they are participants in the story. But, themed entertainment has come a long way from its inception into modern society. How the film theme has been fused with theme park attraction design has evolved over the decades to create the convergence and synergy that exists today. This is mostly due to the understanding of spectacle versus narrative. Although these two elements work seamlessly together in a themed attraction, they are not synonymous with one another. An excellent example of a horror/action film that is both spectacle and narrative, and furthermore, is both a film and a ride is Jurassic Park.

A similar example of the infusion of the aforementioned is Jaws. Just as the use of digital special effects (or visual effects) has evolved in film, the use has also evolved in theme parks. Digital (or visual) effects is a broad term, as it covers a range of possibilities that include computer-based or computer-generated effects (Wood, 2002). The “spectacle” of film and theme park rides possesses the ability to transform the narrative, thus adding an extra dimension to the story progression. However, ultimately within the full-spectrum of the elements that make up a film or ride based on a movie, spectacle is subordinate to narrative. Spectacle is needed to dazzle and simulate, but is essentially lifeless without the narrative. (Wood, 2002). Unlike a narrative, which can have great depth, spectacle “is often understood as a particular kind of extended special dimension…depthless, or as having an excess of surface…more image-full than mise-en-scene (meeze-on-syn) everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement, composition, blocking, and lighting] as it accumulates ever more details” (Wood, 2002, 373).

mise en sceneSpectacle should never be relied upon to carry a narrative, but should be considered a useful tool in enhancing the visceral experience of the narrative. Spectacle possesses the ability to be used to create a dynamic time and space through which the narrative expands and can sometimes be manipulated (Wood, 2002). Digital effects can be used to advance the story or comment on the relationship between characters and their respective environments. In terms of theme park attractions, specifically those based on movies, adding spectacle to the narrative of the ride serves to enhance the overall experience of the park guest. The use of spectacle enables the settings, events, and characters to come to life for the park guests experiencing the live movie-based narrative. Effectively used, the guests should feel as though they get transported from the real world to the world of the movie. Theme parks offer escapes from reality; this is also true of most movies. So, by utilizing the tangible benefits of both narrative and spectacle, the designers are successful in creating the illusion that the guest is either witnessing or part of the story.

University of Central Florida professor Andy Milman (2001) further explores this relationship between cinema and theme parks in his writings in the Journal of Tourism (2001). Exploring the infrastructure of the movies, theme parks, and the convergence of the two is a complex research area that is increasingly becoming more important as the movie studios turn to theme parks for revenue, and the theme parks depend on the movie studios for creative direction and expansive guest experiences. In the article Movie Induced Tourism, authors Roger Riley, Dwayne Baker, and Carlton S. Van Doren (1998) explain that movies provide both the objective and subjective material that capture peoples’ gaze and influence them to travel to the places depicted in movies.  The concept of traveling to locations where movies were made has a direct relationship with the concept of designing theme parks based on movies and showcasing the magic behind the movies (Riley et al, 1998). This concept can be seen in some of the most visited parks in the world. One of the goals of a studio like Warner Bros. is to get the fans of the Harry Potter books and movies to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida; and, by way of the flip side of the coin, one of the goals of the theme parks (mainly Disney and Universal) is to turn park guests into movie audience patrons (Milman, 2001).

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