Do you like Halloween mazes? I do. I don’t even like horror very much, but gimme a great immersive environment, and I don’t care what the theme is: I will go thru it, and I will go first.
But why aren’t there any non-horror mazes? I was lucky enough to attend both Midsummer Scream and ScareLA this year, which together form the launch platform of all So Cal’s big Halloween attractions. They’re the only places to get previews of this year’s Halloween mazes, which is great. BUT… they’re all horror. And for me, eventually, evil gets boring. My secret dream is that at some point, our maze-making will expand to include non-Halloweenish themes.
Well, let’s just throw our minds into the future a little, and imagine a time when my secret dream is a reality – wibblywobblyblipblipwiiibbly –
Ok – wow – we’re in the future.
YES! Look there, across the street, the big banner – “Coming Soon: Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying Walkthru Maze!” Oh man, I’m so happy right now; this is great. Here in the future, themed, walkthru mazes are a very common thing. On any given weekend, you can physically walk through a variety of different worlds. Oh, and no big surprise here, but it turns out that many of the best themes come straight outta books. I will see them all…
Ok, here’s my report:
The Wrinkle in Time maze more or less follows the book. At the beginning, you’re in the garden with Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. From there, you visit the various planets, landing at Camazotz, where you face off with IT – the brain. There’s a cool bit where you walk down a long “sidewalk” flanked by perfectly symmetrical homes, with kids bouncing a ball in perfect unison. Cool effect. The secret on this one is the sound design: bass so low you can’t hear it, but – good lord – you can feel it. It kicks in when you “tesser”, and gets cranked up when you confront IT. People barf all the time. They also do some cool things with fans, so tessering feels like you’re in a wind tunnel. Not good with the barfing, but it sure as heck makes you feel like you’re part of the story.
Ah – Oliver Twist’s London is a good one. Nice work with the queue here, which actually looks like the workhouse mess hall, where the famous “Please, sir, I want some more” scene happens. You really get the feeling of waiting in this endless line, just like a little orphan waiting for his dollop of gruel. After that, it’s mainly filthy street scenes of Victorian London. The claustrophobic alleyways, crowded streets, wretched hovels of the poor are pretty damn well done, all the way down to the stench, which is wretched. You’re meant to move thru it all very quickly, as if you’re running away from either police or Fagin’s gang – hard to tell. At the end, when you’re kinda beat to hell from crawling, climbing, etc and covered in soot and grime, you spill into this fancy parlour – which really makes you feel the sting of being lower class.
This is my favorite: 2001: A Space Odyssey: The Maze. This follows the basic development of the book & movie, and its main feature is the contrast between the several parts. Starting out near “caves” which overlook an African plain, you crawl around rocks and can spot a few hominids peaking at you around corners and such. You walk into the famous black monolith, and find yourself in the antiseptic hallways of a commercial space station. It’s so perfect and detailed and Kubrikian. You exit the station out onto a lunar surface with the second black monolith, which emits its weird shriek. You run thru a nearby hatch, and you’re on the ship, which has all the control panels and such – god I love that. HAL natters creepily and sings “Daisy” as you move thru the service hatches and past the sabotaged cryo-chambers. To escape HAL, you jump into a pod. They use some kinda video projection on the windows – like on Star Tours – and the pod sorta falls into a wormhole or whatever the hell it is – I mean, the pod actually jumps around a bit – and when you get out – you’re on an alien planet and – anyway, it’s just amazing. If you like real sci-fi, this is your jam. This is like major theme park level here. I don’t know what it means or anything, but it’s got such great design – wow.
Kids love the Watership Down Rabbit Run. This is life from Fiver or Hazel’s POV, complete with long warren-like tunnels to wendy little paths thru tall grass. There are a few sections where you have to run past Owsla rabbits or cats – and, obviously, a lot of jumping is involved in those exciting bits – but the real selling point is just seeing things from that other point of view. If your kid actually has a pet rabbit at home, you’ll need to have a talk with them or they’ll be releasing the bunnies into your backyard. It’s a damn near irresistible impulse.
Okay, it’s hard to believe this book survived into the future, but the Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code Mystery of the Ages Experience is pretty fun. This is part maze, part escape room. It’s a little more pricey, since each group can take a while to move thru it, but I’d say it’s worth it. You start at the beginning with a couple of clues to some bullshit conspiracy theory, and as you sort thru them, you move deeper into a richly ornamented, maze-like environment, which looks like a mix between the Vatican and the Lost Boys clubhouse. I can’t actually tell you more of the story without spoiling it. There are puzzles of various types and trap doors, hidden bookcases – it’s well-made. The more random, unconnected bits of history and culture you know, the better. Also, the more you’ve had to drink, the better. A fun time for smart people who don’t mind twisting common sense into weird shapes.
The Maze Runner Maze is a no-brainer. The walls are really high, and there are vines to climb in a few points – which adds a 3 dimensional quality. The walls don’t move, but there are distant sounds of wall movement. The difference with this one is that most of these attractions are not legit mazes, in that you can’t actually get lost in them. You can absolutely get lost in the Maze Runner Maze. If only they had some giant animatronic grievers, it would be perfect. You’ll have to settle for weird growling and scuffling sounds and some glowing eyeballs.
The Lost World has an interesting story. A small company wanted to do a Jurassic Park maze, but there’s this little thing called “intellectual property”. Universal and the Michael Crichton estate “sent a letter”. Not a problem, jerk-faces: no one owns dinosaurs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is public domain, so… The Lost World was born. It’s just basically running through a jungle dodging dinosaurs and ape men. Pretty fun, and the dinos are well-done, considering that this is a non-profit/charity maze for the Wenceworth Children’s Hospital. They had to take out the Jeff Goldblum animatronic, but he brought his jazz combo to the opening night party. What a cool dude.
There’s a really fun Christmas walkthru I saw last year – wait, not last year, it was year before, 2034 (remember, we’re in the future): A Child’s Christmas Maze in Wales (stupid title). In this one, you are actually the young Dylan Thomas character, and you walk thru most of the scenes in his story, from the smoking kitchen to snowball fights (fun!) to whistle fights (the worst thing ever). It’s mostly about the comedy here. There’s a section with snoring, belching, farting uncles in chairs around the fireplace – disgusting, but totally like your own family, right? There’s even a participatory bit: when you get to the creepy house, if you sing a carol loud enough (actually, you can just yell – it’s sound activated), someone will sing back. The temperature alternates from scene to scene – whether you’re inside or outside, which must cost a fortune. This one is just… it gets me weepy every time. Oh – and they serve wassail in the lounge at the end.
BONUS: This one is actually a Fantasyland-type dark ride, over at the new mall in Glendale (Americana Nova). It’s called Mr. Samsa’s Wild Ride!, based on Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Your ride vehicle is shaped like a cockroach, and you skitter around thru an apartment: avoiding your dad’s broom-attacks, hiding under the couch and even running up the walls. (That’s done with a sort of visual trick, I’m sure… but I haven’t figured out how they do it! It’s crazy!) This one puts you in a deep funk.
Come on, theme park/Halloween/escape room/dark ride fanatics; let’s make this future happen!!