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Universal's Great Movie Escape is next step in escape room evolution, says show director
SYFY WIRE sits down with one of the masterminds behind the Back to the Future and Jurassic World-inspired experiences.
Nathan Stevenson doesn't think the term "escape room" fully encapsulates what Universal Orlando has accomplished with its Great Movie Escape, which offers park visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the worlds of Back to the Future and Jurassic World.
"They're more like 'escape adventures.' They’re not your average, everyday escape room where they stick you in a room and you're trying to get out. With these, you’re gonna go through the entire experience, you're gonna experience the entire story," the show director and veteran member of Universal Orlando's Creative Development Group tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. "They let us write stories with a beginning, middle, and end. These stories fall within canon for both film franchises, which is really cool. They even let us make our own characters that are part of canon now."
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Now in operation at Universal CityWalk, the escape adventures were developed over a period of two years alongside Universal Pictures and the principal filmmakers behind each property, including Bob Gale and Colin Trevorrow.
"Jurassic World is very technical, which means a lot of screens and tech-y stuff," Stevenson adds. "And then Back to the Future is all about cool sets and is very prop-based and practical. So it made for two really different experiences. It’s not like you’re doing two escape rooms that have a bunch of computers in them. It really helped us diversify what people were going to see in each experience."
Set at the Institute of Future Technology (a nod to the now-defunct and fan favorite BTTF ride that closed down in 2007), Back to the Future: OUTATIME takes place in 1993, four decades after Marty went back in time to steal the sports almanac from a young Biff in 1955.
"The idea is that this Biff, who went through time and didn't know exactly what happened, comes into this museum where he sees all of the time travel information and realizes, ‘Oh, the cards are stacked against me. I see what happened!’ And now he's gonna go wreak havoc again," Stevenson explains.
OUTATIME players are guided through the narrative by a new character named Nico and the white-haired mad genius himself, Doctor Emmett Brown, who is once again played by the great Christopher Lloyd.
"He was incredible to work with, just a consummate professional," Stevenson adds. "Every once in a while, one of these things comes up and you're just like, ‘Whoa, wait — what?! I get to do what?!’ Just writing lines for Doc Brown was one thing, but when Christopher Lloyd decided he was going to come and he was going to reprise the role, that was just dream come true stuff for me."
Jurassic World: Escape, meanwhile, drops contestants into an off-site cloning lab on Isla Nublar during the events of the 2015 film (just like the first season of Camp Cretaceous). "It hits the same beats, which is really cool for people who know the film," Stevenson notes. "Because that way, they understand those beats, they remember when the Indominus Rex escapes and things like that. And they go 'Oh, yeah!’ That really made it more immersive."
The new character here is a lead geneticist and "she's just there to run us through the paces," he continues. "But then everything starts to go wrong and so she — along with us — helps save guests in the park and, eventually, ourselves."
In addition to randomized programming that allows for repeat visits, both rooms can also be adjusted for party size and level of difficulty. This eye toward customization ended up yielding "hundreds of contingencies," Stevenson reveals, going on to explain that he and his team needed to write "three separate scripts" to capture the sheer amount of possibilities for each adventure.
"If you’re completing things quickly, then you'll be given more more stages to the challenges and be given more difficult things to do. If you're not really into escape rooms and you're just there to do the baseline storyline, then you wouldn't reach those higher levels of the challenge, but you'd still get all the story intact."
The Great Movie Escape lobby employs the famous Art Deco aesthetic that was so popular in the 1920s and '30s. Per Stevenson, this was a nod to the early days of Universal when the studio's pioneering founder, Carl Laemmle, would invite the masses to come watch the filming of silent movies on the site where Universal Studios Hollywood now sits.
"He would set up stands and they would actually say stuff to the actors and interact with the actors while they they were shooting these films. From the very beginning, that was a cutting edge idea and a brand-new way that people had never been able to interact with film before. They were actually able to be on the set and watch these things, interact with these things ... And so, we really wanted to pay homage to this incredible history that we have here at Universal and what we've done over this past century."
And if patrons don't feel like taking part in the experiences, they still have the option to unwind in the space itself, which features historical photography, trivia, two bars, and a sizable balcony overlooking all of Universal CityWalk.
"I don't think a lot of people know this, you can come and just hang out and play the trivia and drink drinks and sit on the balcony," concludes the show director. "You don't have to buy tickets to the thing to come to the lobby. I think as people start to learn that, it's going to be a really neat place just when you come to CityWalk to hang out for a while before you go do whatever you're doing."
Click here to book tickets for Universal's Great Movie Escape.
Jonesing for more of that old-school Amblin Magic? Head over to Peacock for Jurassic World, The Making of Jurassic World Velocicoaster, and the Back to the Future-centric documentary, Back in Time.