Why Transformers: The Ride 3D Is Awesome

Review of the Universal Studios Attraction

TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D at Universal Parks
••• Universal Orlando Resort

The fate of the planet is at stake, and you are along for the ride in the incredibly immersive, larger-than-life battle to the finish between the Decepticons and the Autobots. It's another in-your-face, rock-em, sock-em, sensory-oveload attraction from Universal (really, do they make them any other way?) that will leave you breathless and wondering, "What the heck just happened?" I'll tell you what just happened: Universal rocked and knocked your socks off -- yet again.

Up-Front Info

  • Could you handle the ride?
    Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 3.5
    Relatively mild motion simulator thrills. Those who are susceptible to motion sickness might experience some discomfort (but closing your eyes should alleviate most queasiness). There are loud and thrilling scenes depicted that could frighten younger children, but the action is mostly an illusion. The vehicles never actually move all that quickly. It is essentially a dark ride with a vehicle that moves in sync with the action projected on movie screens.
  • Location: Lower Lot at Universal Studios Hollywood, Production Central at Universal Studios Florida, part of Universal Orlando, and Universal Studios Singapore.
  • Reviewed in March 2013.
  • Height requirement: 40 inches
  • What is a 4-D Movie?
  • Universal Studios Hollywood tickets overview
  • Transformers is one of the 12 best rides at Universal Orlando.

Join N.E.S.T. See the World (almost Blow Up).

To be perfectly blunt, I'm not a fan of the Transformers film and toy franchise.

Sure, my kids played with the shape-shifting figures when they were younger, but mostly I thought the whole concept was weird. Sports cars that change into gun-toting robots? SUVs that morph into robots...with giant hammers? Bizarre, but whatever. Despite my personal indifference, the Michael Bay Transformers movies clearly catapulted the toy characters even more into the zeitgeist and made them prime candidates for a theme park attraction -- particularly the Universal Studios brand of let's-blow-everything-up-and-go-nuts attraction design.

The ride has something to do with us mortals being recruited by the quasi-military N.E.S.T. agency to aid and abet the good-guy Autobots alien robots in their epic battle against the bad-guy Decepticons robots. Not to put too much pressure on us, but should we fail, all mankind will be annihilated and earth will be blown to smithereens. With that cheery premise, guests make their way through the N.E.S.T. facility and board the ride.

One of the clever conceits of the attraction is that the ride vehicle itself is a transformed robot known as Evac. In addition to transporting us on a mission to retrieve the AllSpark (it beats me what that is, but by securing it we can somehow save the world), Evac is a sentient being that can talk. He communicates with the N.E.S.T. commanders, relays information to the passengers, and acts as sort of a narrator for the journey.

An Enveloping and Immersive Experience

Like Universal's landmark Spider-Man ride, the Evac vehicles are roving motion bases. As in a traditional dark ride, they travel through an indoor environment tricked out with physical sets. But they also move in tandem with media projected onto a series of screens embedded throughout the ride.

The filmed sequences are rendered in ultra-high-definition 3D (yup, glasses are required).

Unlike Spider-Man's comic book-style animation, the imagery is in the photorealistic style of the Transformers films. And instead of Peter Parker's human-size superhero, the characters, including Optimus Prime, stand as high as 30 feet tall. The screens and sets are consequently enormous and enveloping. All of the elements combine to create an engrossing and wholly immersive experience.

In one of the standout scenes, Evac races forward through a cityscape. Although the ride vehicle actually remains tethered (in fact, it slowly moves up; more on that in a moment) in front of a screen, the effect is surprisingly realistic and has passengers hanging on for dear life. Another scene heightens the dramatic tension in typical Michael Bay, big-budget action film fashion by rendering it in slow motion.

Because this is a motion simulator ride however, the vehicle and passengers move in slo-mo as well, which is a strange and giddy sensation. It is also impressive when one of Evac's appendages comes into view on screen, because it serves to seamlessly blend the physical vehicle with the projected imagery. The entire attraction, actually, is a convincing and impressive display of breaking down the barrier between the virtual and reality.

One of Parkdom's Greatest Achievements

While the ride purports to whisk us away into a fantasy world, Universal has to deal with the real-world problems of limited space in its parks. It was able to create a roomy 60,000-square-foot show building for the ride on a 30,000-square-foot plot of land by going vertical and making it two levels. Having a second floor requires moving the vehicles up and down in elevators that, amazingly, remain completely undetected by passengers. The perceived sensations from the motion base and the film overpower the ascent and descent of the elevators.

Transformers is undoubtedly one of parkdom's greatest achievements and rightfully occupies a spot on my best theme park rides list. I also rank it among Universal's most thrilling rides. But I can't quite bestow a perfect 5-star rating. Perhaps I'm just too jaded -- maybe spoiled by the advances in theme park storytelling and technology is a better way to describe it -- but there is a sense of been-there, done-that with the essentially similar Spider-Man ride system, and that dampens the wow factor. Perhaps those who have not experienced Spider-Man may find themselves sufficiently wowed by Transformers and slightly disappointed by Spidey if they subsequently get to ride that.

Also, although I really try to follow along, I find the story a bit muddled. Does it matter that I am not a fan and am unfamiliar with the Transformers mythology? Not really. Does it ruin the ride that the story gets a tad lost amid the hyperactive action and chaos? No, but it does knock it down a notch.

So, it is not a groundbreaking and, um, transformative attraction. But it is a rich and satisfying park experience and another winner for the wizards at Universal.