Traditional movie parks have most of their attractions tie in with a popular film or franchise like Transformers: The Ride at Universal Hollywood, the Ice Age Adventure at Warner Brothers Movie World Germany, or even The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In the case of MGM Grand Adventures, their rides and shows almost entirely revolved around movie genres. The Backlot River Tour was a boat ride through movie sets that were “filming” in Las Vegas and would magically come to life as riders drifted past.
Unfortunately, none of the movies depicted in the attraction were actual movies that you could see in a movie theater, nor were they actually filming anything.
R&R Creative designed the boat ride based on the basic story beats that the top dogs at MGM Grand Adventures gave them. It was primarily going to be outdoors with one indoor scene. If the above model looks vaguely familiar, it should. R&R also worked on the original design for the Jaws ride in Universal Studios Florida when it opened in 1990.
However, the boats were originally designed to look more like Jungle Cruise vessels from Disneyland. As fate would have it, Universal Orlando was infamously famous its first summer for having attractions break down more than they operated. Most customers who visited in summer of 1990 were given passes to come back at a later time due to their rides constant downtimes.
Jaws, in particular, was a pesky one. So Universal scrapped the entire ride and had it rebuilt from scratch. Only the trough, the boat house and the layout of the queue remained the same. The boats for Jaws that were designed by Intamin, while not perfect, were completely useable. So when MGM Grand Adventures management got wind that there was an entire fleet of them available at a rock bottom price, the park snatched them up.
Scenes along the six and a half minute journey were… well… done on a budget. Pictured above was the movie set for “Swamp Creatures” where the boat would stop and fog was pumped in. Much to the tour guide’s “surprise,” two robotic figures popped up on either side of the former Jaws boats and terrorized it by waving their arms around and grunting.
Backlot River Tour’s most memorable scene was on the set of “Jungle Storm” where a battle scene was taking place. Fire and explosions were erupting all around the boat. Out of nowhere, comes a full-sized helicopter with a machine gun firing all around the boat.
Believe it or not, this scene was inspired by Francis Ford Copola’s Vietnam war inspired drama “Apocalypse Now”. When the film was released in 1979, it received an Academy Award nomination for best film.
Rick Bank from R&R Creative told me that he actually had several meetings over coffee at Francis Ford Coppola’s house, discussing various ideas for the Apocalypse Now Boat Ride. The only scene that was every completely fleshed out was the finale scene with the helicopter and explosions. So when budget reasons forced them to scrap the idea for a boat ride with a real movie tie-in, the finale scene stuck around since it was already designed. However, there was no official correlation with the Apocalypse Now when the Backlot River Tour opened.
Join Theme Park University next time when we take a ride through the Haunted Mine Ride at MGM Grand Adventures. This dark ride, created and installed by Technifex, featured a ride through a mine shaft built on sacred Indian burial grounds.