Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Tower of Terror: Disney Immersion

By Terry Mulcahy

EB prepares to take on The Tower of Terror
A haunting melody echoes from unseen speakers nestled in the foliage. A pair of gloves lie haphazardly on a chair, covered in dust. A statue is choked with Ivy that has gone unclipped for decades. That’s immersion. That’s Disney.

It’s that addictive feeling that you have left your world behind, even if only for a few seconds. For us theme park fans, we know that it’s what Disney does best. In few places is this more evident than on The Tower of Terror.

Mike and EB recently asked listeners to clue-in a puzzled fan on what it is that the Disney parks have that others do not, and for most people it was attention to detail. This one attraction is so densely packed with detail that it is the perfect case study for imagineering as an art form. So carefully does it ratchets up tension and so dramatically does it instill a sense of place that the experience begins long before the ride, before the line even. It begins with the first glimpse of The Hollywood Tower Hotel dominating the Disney’s Hollywood Studios skyline.

The ride itself is spectacular; the sensation of falling and rising as the elevator goes through its tricks is less intense than many first-timers might imagine, but twice as fun. What really gets the pulse-pounding though is the eerie buildup, the narrative that is told through visual clues and audio tie-ins.

The Hollywood Tower Hotel might be the most breathtaking thing in a Disney park (at least at Walt Disney World, Disney’s California Adventure and Disneyland Paris are simpler takes on the theme and Disney TokyoSea is completely different). That’s not to say it’s pretty per se; it’s crumbling, menacing and dusty, but in a way that The Haunted Mansion is not. It feels real, to a point. It feels sad.

A game of Mahjong is set up with painstaking accuracy in such a way that it suggests the game was left in a hurry. A menacing eagle statue plays host to cobwebs and grime and outside, the grounds are peppered with broken garden furniture and ornaments, hidden under layers of green. Even the carpet, though worn and threadbare, suggests the glamor and luxury that the hotel supposedly once lay claim to.

The details are everywhere, and they captivate long before guests enter the library (which is equally mind-boggling in its details, especially as the time spent in here is mostly in darkness). Being there for the first time, frightened and excited, is pure magic. Perhaps it is not something that can be explained, it is something that needs to be experienced.

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