‘What does this look like to you?’ asks Angela Bak, the PR person of Motiongate, the flagship theme park at Dubai Parks and Resorts. The imposing brick entrance looks vaguely familiar. ‘It’s the fire hall in Ghostbusters, the 1984 Hollywood blockbuster,’ she trills. I remember reading that a brand-new reboot is coming out in July.
She then gives an overview of the amazing structure coming up in Jebel Ali, in Dubai, and one can visualise the scene when the gates open in October this year: sirens wailing as huge, shiny, Eighties’ ambulances screech to halt before a brick façade of a New York building. Visitors are invited to participate in a live zapping game. Togged in a Ghostbusters suit, with a proton backpack and a zap gun in hand, you’ll tread through darkened hallways where ghosts pop out suddenly and take you by surprise. Your mission: to zap them.
‘It’s all very digital, multimedia and very interactive,’ says Angela. ‘You’ll be on trackless vehicles so you won’t see which direction you are going in. There will be a lot of sharp turns and quick getaways!’
Then, a large scoreboard will announce the number of ghosts you zapped.
Fun? You bet, especially for those who grew up loving the blockbuster. ‘But also fun for anybody who has a child within!’ points out Raquel Lopez, marketing director of Motiongate, one of the six theme parks coming up at Dubai Parks and Resorts.
This, obviously, is just the beginning. The Dh10.5 billion project is being built in Dubai’s new growth corridor in Jebel Ali. It’s lies midway between Dubai International Airport (63km) and Abu Dhabi International Airport (68km), and only 20km from the new Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai.
‘Motiongate will be the largest Hollywood-inspired theme park in the Middle East when it opens its doors,’ says Guido Zucchi, general manager of Motiongate.
‘Phase one of the development will cover 1.9 million sq ft, and when it’s fully functional, there will be four million sq ft of pure entertainment.’
(Clockwise from top left) Construction is on in full swing at the Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, The Smurfs and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs zones
The development – built in collaboration with Sony Pictures Studios, DreamWorks Pictures and Lionsgate – will feature 27 thrilling key rides and attractions inspired by 13 Hollywood blockbusters, including action and animated films. These include The Hunger Games, The Green Hornet, Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Zombieland, The Smurfs, How To Train Your Dragon, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and Underworld.
‘While other parks may be clearly for children, or biased towards adults, Motiongate offers something for everyone,’ says Guido, who’s managed seven theme parks over 20 years in Europe.
‘There will be a diversity of rides and attractions, including five thrilling roller coasters, a drop tower, a water ride, interactive play labs, 3D motion simulators, live stage shows and much more.’ Keeping in mind the region’s weather conditions, Motiongate has been designed as a year-round destination, with 21 of its key attractions completely indoors, along with dedicated cooling areas and smart landscaping, which will provide shade throughout the park.
As we continue on a guided tour, we sidle cautiously around busy workers and stumble upon an astonishing sight – a building with ice cream cones, pizzas and burgers, seemingly sliding off the roof! It looks like a scene from – you guessed it – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. ‘That’s the theme restaurant in this zone,’ says Angela.
Part of the attraction is a huge lagoon that’s under construction. ‘It will be the only white water ride in the park based on Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, with rapids throughout,’ she adds. ‘There will also be another ride based on the movie.’
Motiongate’s road map will appeal to every child and adult, taking them through the scintillating world of animation and blockbusters
For younger children, the zone will feature Flint’s Imagination Lab, where kids will be allowed to experiment, climb, jump and play on whimsical science-themed slides, explore the soft play area built with larger-than-life food and including a laboratory maze. ‘It will be very interactive for children,’ says Angela.
The Sony Pictures Studios zone has seven such attractions. We are now at a very twisty roller coaster. ‘It is called the Green Hornet High Speed Chase – a zippy roller coaster with sharp turns and zips,’ says the spokesperson. ‘One of the special things we’re getting is a prop from the original movie that will be installed here. We are working closely with the studio to bring the DNA of the film to life.’
A few metres away, we come across a kind of gothic structure. ‘That’s Hotel Transylvania, the world’s first hotel for monsters,’ says Raquel. ‘We’ve recreated the façade of the castle in the movie, it is 42 metres tall.’
It certainly looks dark and imposing. The attractions boast several rides, including ‘a dark ride on a trackless vehicle on which you’ll go through several scenes replete with monsters from the film. You can meet characters like Count Dracula and his daughter, a mummy, werewolf, etc.’ And if you’d like to dine with monsters, there will be a restaurant themed around the film as well.
Further ahead, between two large buildings, is a small structure with a triangular roof, straight out of Zombieland. ‘We are recreating the iconic final scene from the movie set in an amusement park where Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin go up this ride to escape the zombies,’ says Angela. ‘We have a classic drop tower with a twist – it will drop you down, but also blast you up! It’s a thrilling ride, 58 metres high!’
Next to that is the Underworld experience, based on the franchise peopled by vampires and werewolves. It promises to be a 4D adventure with multiple stimuli such as sound, smell and sight.
We are now cutting through to what Raquel says is her favourite area, the Smurfs Zone. ‘This is quite special because we are collaborating with the creators of The Smurfs in Belgium. This will be the largest Smurf Zone ever in terms of a theme park. In other parks, there may be a single Smurfs attraction, but here, we are recreating an entire village!’
When complete, you will see the village surrounded by lush vegetation, a train called Smurfs’ Village Express, roller coaster, an outdoor play area for children, and a whole set of mushroom houses, which will be the façade of The Dark Ride. ‘The story is that The Smurfs are creating a movie and you are invited behind the scenes to watch the production,’ says Raquel.
The roller coaster here is the first of its kind for small kids – a lot gentler, and not crazy, says a brochure. There’s a Smurfs’ Factory too, as well as a Smurfs-themed restaurant called Very Berry Smurfy Café!
As we wander along, the woods turn dark and foreboding. Yes, now, we are in the land of Shrek.
‘This is the first time that DreamWorks has allowed Shrek’s swamp to be recreated,’ says Angela. The attention to detail is astounding. Two rides form part of the attractions here, along with the jungle-themed Candy Apple, a full-service restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating.
The main attraction, though, will be Shrek’s merry fairy-tale journey. ‘You’ll climb into a trackless vehicle to relive the original story of Shrek and Fiona, right from the first movie,’ says Angela. ‘It’s more than seven minutes long, and completely immersive.’
There will even be a Swamp Celebration where the triplets’ birthday will be in full swing and younger children are invited.
Some distance away, we come across a large fountain under construction. It’s the Fountain of Dreams – an interactive multimedia attraction that will be the centrepiece of the development. When complete, it’s lighting and water features will be enhanced by characters from Shrek and Madagascar who will interact with visitors.
Hop on to Mr Ping’s Noodle Fling and go round as fast as you want, or lose yourself in Shrek’s fantasyland complete with wizards and swamps
Cut across to Kung Fu Panda zone, which, although not complete, looks like the original movie’s set. The three rides here include Kung Fu Panda Unstoppable, an interactive 3D motion simulator ride. Once you strap in, you’ll be seated amid a massive wraparound screen, where you can be a part of the Furious Five battling evil. Another ride, Mr Ping’s Noodle Fling, is a teacup ride with noodle cups substituting teacups. These will rotate, and kids can turn their cups as fast as they want. There’s also a Kung Fu Panda Academy, where children can learn kung fu from Po and his cohorts. And, in keeping with the spirit of the project, an Asian eatery called Mr Ping’s Noodle Shop awaits too.
Some of the larger attractions at the park will be the Madagascar Mad Pursuit, dominated by sharp turns; the suspended roller coaster of How To Train Your Dragon – Dragon Gliders – and the Capitol Bullet Train, based on The Hunger Games.
‘My favourite ride is the Dragon Gliders,’ says Daniel Cuffe, director of park operations, Motiongate. ‘It’s one of a kind – a suspended roller coaster where you can come closest to flying with the dragons.’
Despite the thrills, there’s nothing to worry about in terms of safety at any of these attractions, assures Daniel. ‘Safety is number one on our tick box,’ he says. ‘We never cut corners.’
Elaine Hinds, the director of entertainment, agrees. ‘The scale on which we are building this is something not attempted before. Look at Po, the panda; he’s a big boy, more than seven feet tall! Toothless the dragon is 15 feet long – it was shown at Arabian Travel Mart and at the premiere of the film.
‘Plus, there will be photo opportunities with all the characters.’
Apart from the rides, there will be other attractions such as an elaborately choreographed song and dance routine featuring the Ghostbusters characters, says Guido. ‘Additionally, there will be appearances by all five characters from Hotel Transylvania, and Celine from Underworld, apart from all the other characters from the other movies, so the photo ops are unlimited.’
For the human roles, Guido and Elaine have already auditioned more than 400 actors from Australia, England, the US, Morocco, India, Egypt and Lebanon.
For a production based on the Step Up franchise, a director and choreographer from New York have been hired. ‘We are hiring professional actors in all roles,’ says Elaine, who was an actress once upon a time.
To demonstrate the level of skill and talent they’re targeting, she adds: ‘One actor turned down our offer because at that point he would be working on a Broadway show.’
Costume designing is now underway and rehearsals will begin in the first week of August, Elaine says. In addition to all this, Step Up will have an indigenous storyline that takes place in Jebel Ali and features characters from this region.
As Motiongate readies itself for its assuredly sensational debut, annual passes (Dh865) are available for purchase on their website. Why would someone want to buy an annual pass, even if the initial offer available until 2017 gives a complimentary 15-month entry?
‘The USP of Motiongate will be its ever-evolving shows and attractions,’ says Guido. ‘We will have seasonal events and keep offering so much more that you will have to keep coming back. For that, an annual pass is absolutely necessary!’
As we leave, we traverse through the dark fantasyland of Shrek. The huge swamp that is being recreated gives us distinctly creepy but palpably excited feeling. We shiver slightly as we hurry out. If this is the effect it has even while being built, how it will be when it is up and running is up to your imagination.