This week on WDW ESCAPE, take a journey of the imagination with us, as we IMAGINE the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.
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IMAGINE- The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!
When you ask yourself what Walt Disney World experiences can truly be called “Extreme”, you can’t overlook the shows.
The parks are full of spectacular performances of all shapes and sizes, filled with music and fireworks, huge casts of talented singers, dancers and other performers, all creating whole worlds of the imagination for the entire family.
But if there is one that springs to mind as the most extreme of them all, it has to be the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, which has been blowing up carefully controlled bits of Disney’s Hollywood Studios since 1989.
All Disney shows are spectacular, but this one has fisticuffs, swordplay, ancient deathtraps, pyrotechnics and lots and lots of talented stunt performers.
There is one particular performance of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular that stands out to me as the most extreme of them all, it was the day that the show starred Indiana Jones, Marion Ravenwood and… me!
I didn’t have to wait long for my big Walt Disney World stage debut. It happened on my family’s very first Disney trip, on our second day in the parks. We came directly over from what was then called Jedi Training Academy.
My son is a pretty outgoing fellow these days, but back then he was a very shy little guy, and he amazed me by getting up in front of a crowd of people and playing his part, swinging his lightsaber and fighting Darth Vader.
For him, that was as extreme as anything that Indy was about to do, and I was feeling pretty proud of him. As we settled in to the massive open-air auditorium where the Indiana Jones show was about to begin, an actress playing the role of a casting director took the stage soliciting volunteers to take on the role of extras.
I guess my padawan inspired me with his bravery, and instead of hesitating in the slightest, I threw my hand up as high and as fast as I could– And a star was born! …except not really.
My young apprentice was so astonished that he almost followed me, but my wife managed to intercept him, but in so doing she lost the opportunity to remind me that I had my camera in one pocket and her cellphone in another.
Which means there is no photographic record of anything that happened next, and you’ll just have to take my word for it.
I had to fill in a few gaps later myself, because while the crowd settled in to enjoy the action, I and a dozen or so fellow extras were hustled off to the back right side of the house to get wardrobed.
We were playing the roles of passersby in the marketplace in Cairo, and a fine line was very carefully walked to have a selection of robes that would fit the bill while remaining culturally non-specific.
In a nutshell, they were all a bit like stripey bedsheets with arms, but everyone was pretty excited to try theirs on, nonetheless. It was an exciting opportunity, and we could tell from the music that was coming from the theatre that things were heating up for Indy as well.
When a show has both the words “epic” and “spectacular” in the title, a person could be forgiven for coming in with some pretty high expectations, and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular does not disappoint.
From the moment that Indy enters the room from high above, descending a rope in a style that is somewhere between “climbing” and “plummeting”, the stunts are nothing short of spectacular.
In the show’s first few moments, in a scene loosely inspired by the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy dodges deadly spikes appearing from the floor, evades the blows of ancient axe-swinging statues and flees from a massive rolling rock, all to John Williams’ iconic score that has come to be synonymous with adventure for generations of movie lovers.
As for the title’s promise that the show would be Epic, that is well and truly kept by the scale of the piece.
Massive sets move quickly and quietly, allowing a cave in Peru to transform into the Cairo marketplace and finally into an enemy camp, complete with machine guns, explosions and an out-of-control airplane that only looks slightly scaled down from the original film.
The transitions are made seamless with the addition a scenario that fits perfectly into Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
That was not actually Indiana Jones being crushed by a massive boulder, but “Harrison Ford’s Stunt Double”, and we are schooled in the arts of movie magic by actors playing members of the Second Unit, filming an Indiana Jones adventure.
The Assistant Director, the Stunt Co-ordinator and the Casting Director all pitch in to keep the audience entertained while the massive sets transform; covering the time largely by taking the mickey out of the volunteer extras, namely me and my new bathrobe-wearing friends.
As we took the stage, several of my fellow citizens of Cairo looked a bit like things had got too extreme for their tastes. That is a very big crowd of people to get up in front of, even if you don’t have any lines to remember, but no one backed out.
We were taken through our comic paces, and everyone was so intent on what was happening in front of us that we were startled when we finally turned around to discover the transformation that had taken place.
In a quick, on-stage huddle with the Casting Director, we were given our instructions, where to stand, when to run, when to cheer as Indy fought the sword-wielding marauders with his trusty whip, and climbed with Marion to an escape from a dizzying height over the rooftops.
It all went by so quickly it seemed to be over in an instant, but when I finally saw the show from the audience, I was amazed by everything that was executed to such thrilling perfection, though at the time all I can remember thinking is how very HOT those explosions felt on stage, even standing at a very safe distance as we were.
After helping to cover the final scene change, which we did by being legitimately terrified as “Karen Allen’s stunt double” beat the tar out of a stuntman who had been planted in our midst, we were released back into the crowd to return our robes and marvel at the final fight sequence, feeling vey glad that there was no role for “Man #2” in that beautifully choreographed mayhem.
And that is the entire story of my on-stage career at Walt Disney World, in spite of all my efforts to get picked for the final act of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. But even that glory would be hard-pressed to equal the most spectacular moment of my day in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
There was a moment, when another character was talking, when they brought Indy and Marion over to shake hands with the extras. Up to that moment, I didn’t really understand Character Meets. I mean, I thought they were great photo ops, but we all knew what was really going on there, right?
Until they brought Indiana Jones over to shake my hand. I knew this wasn’t the “real” Indy, or Harrison Ford, or even anybody’s actual movie stunt double. I understood that this was a talented stage performer doing what he does every day.
Except THIS WAS INDIANA JONES, AND HE WAS SHAKING MY HAND! I was a stammering, blushing, incoherent mess and I loved it as much as my daughter had loved meeting Anna and Elsa the day before, or my son had when he fought Darth Vader.
And that is what is truly extreme about the experience. The depths of true Walt Disney World Magic never fail to delight. It is Epic, it is Spectacular, and it is what brings us back, time and time again.