Hold on to your butts and the raft’s railing as you drop 84 feet, because Jurassic Park: The Ride—at least, as you know it—is going extinct next week.
On September 3, after 22 years of hand-painted animatronic dinosaurs, one of the world’s most iconic splashdowns will go dry for a while. The branded rafts locked to tracks—much like the tour vehicles in John Hammond’s fictional theme park—as well as the 1.5 million gallons of water in the beloved, meta ride will cease their gentle circle through Ultrasaurus Lagoon, Stegosaurus Springs and Hadrosaur Cove. It’s a bittersweet moment for many Angelenos, some of whom passed under the flame-lit arch to ride the Universal Studios attraction from adolescence into adulthood.
Thankfully, Jurassic Park: The Ride won’t be going the way of the dinosaur—or maybe more appropriately, the way of E.T. Adventure, Back to the Future: The Ride or that so-good-why-would-they-ever-scrap-it Terminator 2 3D experience (Universal, don’t you dare touch that Waterworld live show). In 2019, life will find a way for a new iteration, a Jurassic World-inspired revamp that promises to be technologically advanced while still drawing on the O.G. ride’s most beloved features.
But anyone who’s ridden those rafts knows the most endearing feature of all is the lack of modern-day technology: The animatronics, first groundbreaking and awe-inspiring in the mid-’90s, gradually aged into charming antiquation, and eventually became a nostalgia-fueled wormhole to the decade of scrunchies, frosted tips and Lit.
At times, the dinos’ motion grew twitchy or ceased to work altogether—we’re pretty sure that car dangling over the edge of the building hasn’t made the crash to the water below in, like, a decade—but the will-it-work/won’t-it-work toss-up burrowed, like a Compsognathus digging a nest for its eggs, deep into our hearts.
A 1996 news release, which clearly ran before “SPOILER ALERT” was a thing.
The original ride represented the culmination of more than five years of planning, begun by Spielberg three years before the first Jurassic Park film even went into production. Some of the theme-park and film industries’ top technicians, architects, designers and shop crews built the Isla Nublar-inspired journey, which included a welcome video by Dr. Hammond himself, Sir Richard Attenborough, and most impressively, an animatronic life-size T. Rex. So what, if over the years, the dilophosaurus could no longer shoot open its frills or the T. Rex would occasionally stop moving—the point is, you’d be alive if they started to eat you, so you know, try to show a little respect.
Let’s take a trip back to June 21, 1996, the first day dinosaurs ruled the earth lower lot of Universal Studios Hollywood. Here’s a little footage from NBC Universal, bringing to life the ride’s opening day, which was attended by Steven Spielberg, David Hasselhoff, Michael McKean, Robert Rodriguez, Dennis Hopper and, of course, Dr. Ian Malcolm himself, Jeff Goldblum, among other myriad ’90s-and-beyond legends. Time is the ever-flowing river, indeed.
“It’s been a challenge for us because what Steven was able to accomplish on the film really raised the level of people's expectations for what dinosaurs looked like and how they behaved,” Jurassic Park: The Ride producer Phil Hettema once told NBC Universal in an interview. “This is not about riding in a boat and watching dinosaurs over in the distance or watching a nice tableau of dinosaurs you could see in a museum. This is about experiencing the story of Jurassic Park, firsthand, so this is not something you passively watch—this is something that happens to you.”
We’re guessing that when Jurassic World Ride opens next summer, with its promise of “never-before-seen dinosaurs, enhanced storytelling, lush scenic design, an entirely new color scheme and uncompromised state-of the art technology,” it will be, much like the Jurassic Park ride of ’96, innovative and totally ahead of its time. We’re hoping that it maintains the ride’s animatronic bent and some of the charm therein, but we’ll just have to put our trust in chaos theory at this point. Whatever the case, we’re sure they’ll spare no expense.
“I think the finale of this attraction will be talked about for years to come, and like the film, set the bar at a higher level,” Hettema said of the original ride. “This attraction is gonna set the theme-park world on its ear, because there’s never been anything quite like it.”
And lo, there has never been since.
Catch a final raft tour on Jurassic Park: The Ride by 9pm, Monday, September 3. The Jurassic World Ride is set to open sometime next summer.