This show is Bourne to be wild
Review of The Bourne Stuntacular at Universal Studios Florida
4.75 (out of 5)
Every now and again, I find myself scraping my proverbial jaw off the ground after experiencing something truly extraordinary at a park or attraction. When the concept is so audacious, and the wow factor is so over the top, it reminds me anew why I love this stuff. It happened recently with Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. It happened the first time Spider-Man leapt down and landed on my Scoop vehicle at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
And it happened when I witnessed a riveting chase scene take place a few feet away from me in which Jason Bourne evaded certain calamity–in glorious slow motion no less. Where did the live actor playing Bourne, along with the practical in-theater props with which he interacted, end and the filmed action begin? Beats me. Hence my unhinged jaw.
The Bourne Stuntacular at Universal Studios Florida takes park stunt shows to the next level. It fulfills the promise of immersive media and effectively blurs the line between virtual and reality. And it does so with style and confidence (plus a whole lotta wow).
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Befitting the “Bourne” franchise’s globetrotting settings, the stunt show’s creators wanted to take its live characters, and its audiences, to different places. That prompted the idea of merging the performers with media that was filmed on location around the world as well as created with CG, according to Deb Buynak, the park resort’s VP of entertainment and one of the show’s visionaries. The concept has been attempted before. In fact, the theater in which Bourne is presented had been the home of the “Terminator”-themed T2:3D in which an Arnold Schwarzenegger doppelgänger aboard a motorcycle literally burst through the screen.
But the show’s team had a grander vision in mind. It wanted to assemble a large cast and have them interact with one another on and around set pieces. The team also wanted the physical set pieces and the stunt actors to precisely shift in perspective and sync up with the projected media, thereby creating a seamless integration. Buynak says that Universal brought creative partners, including show equipment designers TAIT, digital entertainment studio Cinesite, and production company Renaissance Entertainment, together to pitch the idea. Think of it as the Bourne ultimatum. Their conclusion?
“The look on everybody’s face was ‘people don’t do this,’ ” says Buynak, with a laugh.
Like the CIA black ops character on whom the series is based however, the park conjurers were able to somehow pull off the seemingly impossible. Among their magic bag of tricks, they incorporated ultra-high-resolution media projected onto an enormous screen, computer-controlled show action equipment, digital projection mapping, and in-theater effects such as mist, fire, and wind. The results are stunning. (Check out what it took to create the groundbreaking show in my article, “A star(ling attraction) is Bourne.”)
Julia Stiles, revisiting her role as Nicky Parsons, sets up the premise in the pre-show. For some reason, hapless Florida tourists who have wandered into the building have been recruited to evaluate the CIA’s wayward Bourne as well as the folks at the new ops center that are trying to capture him alive. They will be able to do this by entering an “enhanced surveillance” theater that’s specially equipped to virtually follow Bourne wherever he goes, even as he travels through time zones. I know, it makes no sense. But hey, since when did any of the “Bourne” movies make any sense?
The show sets the tone in the opening sequence in which a fight scene takes place in a remote village. I kid you not when I say that the only way I could tell which actors were live on stage and which ones were prerecorded is that the in-theater performers were wearing pandemic-era face masks. It’s that good.
The show really shines when the show action equipment, including a motorcycle, small buildings, and an entire house, moves in tandem with the filmed action. The actors, a cast of 11 that was trained by the company, Action Horizons, enhance the production with thrilling stunts and split-second timing. The locales shift from Tangier to Washington, D.C. to Dubai, encompassing everything from urban streetscapes to a desert highway. There are car chases (of course), a helicopter buzzing overhead, and enough punches and kicks to fill a half dozen episodes of “WWE Raw.”
The scale and scope of the production is impressive. The technology is incredible. But it’s the people, both on the stage and behind the scenes, that make the show truly hum.
“It’s the humans combining everything in exactly the right way,” says Universal’s Buynak, explaining how it all comes together.
The Bourne Stuntacular opened in June 2020 when COVID was still top of mind. In my estimation, it didn’t get the opening or the attention it deserved and was never really able to get its due. And that’s a shame. I’m here to tell you that it is a mind-boggling, next-generation park show that belongs on your must list.
Have you experienced The Bourne Stuntacular? Were you as blown away by the melding of media and live action as I was? Do you plan to see the show? What are you most looking forward to? Let us know what you think.
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