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The Parks, They Are A-Changin' - Universal Studios and The Closing Of Jaws

After 21 years, Universal Studios closes its signature Jaws ride - but how will this affect the reputation of the hugely popular theme park ?

the closing of the infamous 'Jaws' ride at Universal Studios Florida. For over 20 years, the aquatic attraction - based on Steven Spielberg€™s 1975 classic - has been an iconic staple of the theme park, also notable for being one of the few rides which was built for the opening of the theme park in 1990. To this day, it continues to pull in crowds of both movie fans and theme park fanatics and has become a signature ride of the park. It's hardly surprising that the announcement has caused something of an uproar, with many fans expressing their anger on Twitter, as well as Universal's PR department becoming inundated with swathes of complaints. Jaws wasn't simply just a ride - it managed to continue the legacy of the classic film, allowing it to live on for decades after the release of the film (and its horrendous sequels) even enlightening uninitiated guests, and perhaps inspiring them to discover why Jaws is such an important film in Universal€™s history. What€™s more, the sheer amount of Jaws themed gifts and branded goods available at the attraction, charmingly harked back to the merchandising frenzy that surrounded the theatrical release in €˜75. It seemed fitting that Jaws would be forever granted a home at Universal Studios, as it€™s entirely plausible that the future of Universal itself and a young Spielberg could have been very different had it not been for that single movie. With the Jaws ride and its surrounding façade of Amity Island (complete with carnival games and saltwater taffy stalls), it seemed like Jaws was always relevant, always important and always something for Universal to be proud of€ Despite the hokey looking rubber shark named Bruce. Alas, after 21 years of Universal Studios Florida being the true home of Jaws, the ride will make its final voyage on the 2nd of January 2012, with an abrupt announcement which fails to give fans of the ride a decent amount of time to make a final visit - especially those of us who have the Atlantic Ocean blocking our path. It might seem strange to mourn a ride which admittedly is showing its age - and has a history of expensive breakdowns and failures - but with Jaws leaving Universal Studios, the park slips further away from its initial reputation as a celebration of Universal€™s rich history - ranging from some of its earliest classics, to more recent fare. It€™s becoming increasingly about simply celebrating the latest blockbusters (recent attractions have included 'The Wizarding World of Harry Potter' and the upcoming 'Despicable Me 3-D') and throwing the older movie classics to the scrapheap. Of course, it€™s not the first time that Universal have upset fans, as the closing of Jaws is the sad continuation of what started almost 10 years ago, with the shock announcement that the park would be closing its King Kong attraction 'Kongfrontation' in 2002. For those lucky enough to have ridden the ride, it boasted an elaborate recreation of New York€™s Roosevelt Island tram system and had visitors going face to face with a staggering animatronic version of King Kong - which even had a slight whiff of Banana on its breath. It was difficult news to accept, but if they needed to close one of their signature rides, it might as well be the one which was the most prone to breaking down. Sadly it was just the beginning of many classic rides being closed down, as both 'Back To The Future: The Ride' and 'Earthquake: The Big One' followed in 2007, with Back To The Future gaining particular media attention following the angry outcry of fans. Going further back, Universal caused similar controversy by scrapping Nickelodeon Studios in 2005 and demolishing a stunning Bates Motel theatrical set - used for the filming of Psycho IV - and replacing it with a kids playground based on Curious George in 1995. All of these closures were sad moments in the history of Universal Studios, but never before has a closure brought such a sense of change - for better or worse - as that of Jaws. I€™m lucky enough to have visited the park back in 1994 and again in 1999 - both years which many consider to be part of the golden era of Universal Studios Florida. While I was only young when I visited, the park left a momentous impression on me. It wasn't just another theme park, it was a living and breathing celebration of cinema, with the rides and atmosphere of the park managing to celebrate classic films as diverse as 'The Blues Brothers', 'Frankenstein' and 'Terminator 2'. Having grown up religiously watching the films of Steven Spielberg, visiting Universal and seeing the rides based on films like E.T and Jaws was the closest you could come to experiencing them in real life - or as the park coined as its slogan €˜Ride The Movies€˜. For many kids, it was undoubtedly Disney theme parks which celebrated the films which they loved, but for me it was the Universal Studios of the 1990's. With the closure of Jaws in two weeks, only 'E.T Adventure', 'Universal's Horror Make-Up Show' and 'Lucy: A Tribute' remain as attractions which have been with the park since its opening on June 7th, 1990. One of the problems is that Universal seems to think that these films are no longer relevant, and that films like €˜Back To The Future€™ and €˜Jaws€™ hold no appeal over the younger generations of today. While it€™s fair to say that excitable kiddies would sooner jump at a queue for a ride based on the colourful €˜Despicable Me€™ rather than one based on a 36 year old shark thriller, it€™s not a guarantee that they€™ll remember the experience as fondly. Likewise, films like Jaws and Back To The Future remain firm family favourites even years after their release, unlike many of the rides which Universal are bringing to the park - and if rumors are to be true, Jaws' replacement could be based on the risible Transformers movies, or an expansion to the existing Harry Potter world. Disney haven€™t closed €˜Jungle Cruise€™ €˜It€™s A Small World€™ or €˜Pirates Of The Caribbean€˜, and €˜Jaws€™ and €˜Back To The Future€™ are as definably integral aspects of Universal Studios as those rides are to Disneyland. It€™d be ignorant to think that these rides can live on forever, with every theme park needing to evolve and change with the times - but with every single signature attraction fading away, the park runs a serious risk of losing its unique identity. Why not simply revamp or redesign some of the staples of the park ? Scrap the old Jaws ride to re-open a brand new experience - much like Disney€™s approach to one of their own beloved fan favourite rides - the Star Wars based €˜Star Tours€™. Disney were clearly aware that closing such an iconic attraction completely would be madness. I€™ll always love the experience that Universal€™s theme parks offer to film fans, and hope that I€™ll get to visit again one day. Sadly, by throwing out all traces of Universal€™s history to keep things overly modern, it's becoming less of an exciting prospect. Truth be told, Jaws was most certainly showing its age and it had a great run, but if Universal Studios continues to turn away from its classic franchises, it runs the risk of neglecting its heritage and promoting a park which is as mechanical as Bruce himself. _____________ Jaws: The Ride closes on the 2nd of January 2012 and is located at Universal Studios Florida.

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Cult horror enthusiast and obsessive videogame fanatic. Stephen considers Jaws to be the single greatest film of all-time and is still pining over the demise of Sega's Dreamcast. As well regularly writing articles for WhatCulture, Stephen also contributes reviews and features to Ginx TV.