Where ‘Jaws,’ the Ride, Lives Forever


When Robb Alvey, an amusement park fanatic, heard that Universal Studios Orlando was shuttering its beloved “Jaws”-themed ride in 2012, he made sure to grab a front-row seat for the closing day.

Using a hand-held digital camera, he filmed the six-minute boat ride: from the skipper Jacob welcoming passengers; to the “mayday” distress call; to the first sighting of the prosthetic shark; to the grenade launchers and exploding fireballs; and, finally, to the “high-voltage” cable that fries the animatronic beast.

Mr. Alvey, 49, who lives in Orlando, Fla., and runs a website called Theme Park Review, uploaded the footage to YouTube. Seven years later, the video has been viewed more than 160 million times.

“This was better than the actual movie,” one of the thousands of commenters wrote. Another recalled thinking the mechanical monster was real as a child. “It’s sad this ride is gone,” another lamented.

Thanks to park archivists like Mr. Alvey, no theme park truly disappears anymore. The “Jaws” clip is just one in the thriving genre of “last-ride” videos, in which the final moments of amusement park attractions are chronicled for posterity.

Thrill seekers can ride shotgun on a raft and dodge a roaring T. rex on Universal Hollywood’s “Jurassic Park”: The Ride. Or see a simulated tornado destroy an Oklahoma town at Universal Florida’s “Twister” … Ride It Out. Or journey past recreated movie sets from “Alien” and “The Wizard of Oz” at The Great Movie Ride, which operated for almost three decades at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

All of these attractions, and dozens more, are still running — at least virtually — in this alternate universe of last-ride videos.

Roland Betancourt, an associate professor of art history at the University of California, Irvine, said that theme parks offer a kind of parallel universe that is rich with lore and fantasy. “Theme parks are a unique cultural space,” said Mr. Betancourt, who teaches classes about Disneyland’s design and history. “They aim for utopias that are never quite fully present. They represent a continued desire to unsettle time and space through art and architecture, to produce a sense of place that is never quite fully realized.”



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