- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

DOSWELL, Va. - The legacy of Eidos Interactive’s 9-year-old Tomb Raider video game has evolved from pixilated universe to a pair of successful movies starring Angelina Jolie and now a new attraction at Paramount’s Kings Dominion theme park.

Legendary explorer Lara Croft does not star in the latest adventure; instead, 38 park-goers flip and dangle from an 80-ton machine called Tomb Raider: Firefall, which mixes Hollywood effects with the East Coast’s only top spin ride.

David Reitterer, director of entertainment technologies for Paramount Parks, already has given thrill-seekers a taste of Lara’s life in Ohio and Canada over the past few years and believes Virginia’s park-goers should also take part in the fun.

“The [Tomb Raider] brand is very rich in imagery and architecture, and we were very excited to create another framework around it,” he says.

Located near the Congo area of the park, the attraction centers on the first scene of the 2001 movie, using actual props and molds of props culled from the original film productions.

It places a 60-foot-tall ancient-looking piece of machinery in front of a large temple guarded by a pair of gargoyles and behind a pair of pools containing ruins, urns and the fallen head of a stone goddess.

As the ride-loading process begins, a layer of mist seeps under a suspended gondola as guests walk along a platform to take their seats.

Once the platform begins moving, the action — which feels like being stuck on an out-of-control Ferris wheel — begins.

An original music soundtrack enhances the suspense and screams as riders swing around while watching water cannons from the upper and lower pools explode, simulating volcanic eruptions. Variable-speed fountains take over and shoot within 12 inches of riders’ faces as the water show mimics the ride’s movements through 60-foot heights and decays.

Things heat up as the stone goddess head in the lower pool area begins shooting fire out of her eyes and urns on either side produce balls of fire. A sea of flames appears near the topsy-turvy denouement as the returning waters crackle.

When the ride is completed, riders have been suspended over the fury of Mother Nature for 131 seconds as they have performed a total of five spins — one double and then a triple — during the multisensory experience.

The top-spin concept, developed by famed German theme-park attraction builder Huss, uses ergonomic, cushioned suspended seats for the two rows of guests and vertical, circular and swinging movements to produce gravity-induced accelerations reaching up to four Gs.

To get the effects to meld meticulously with the ride’s movements, designers used programmable logic controllers that send signals to one another, executing and monitoring thousands of commands while offering the safest and most harrowing of experiences.

The attraction is as much fun to watch as experience, as Mr. Reitterer has placed a viewing plaza directly in front of Firefall so riders know exactly what they are getting themselves into.

Although Lara Croft herself is nowhere to be seen during the ride, guests waiting in line can enjoy “making-of” footage from the films liberally displayed on monitors in the queue.

Overall, Tomb Raider: Firefall does not compete with the stomach-churning intensity of Kings Dominion’s coaster stalwarts, such as Flight of Fear, HyperSonic XLC and the Anaconda, but it still pleasantly plunges Croft fans into the spirit of her legendary adventures.

For more information on planning a visit to Paramount’s Kings Dominion, visit the park’s Web site (www.kingsdominion.com).

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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