Monday, 31 May 2010

What I was up to this weekend...

If you live or work in London the chances are that you will have seen posters which look somewhat similar to this

as you've been negotiating the Tube.

Maybe you've even wondered what exactly it is?

Well, this past Saturday the kind people at Madame Tussauds invited me down to London to take a peak at this, their new 4D Marvel themed attraction.

So let me explain...

Marvel Super Heroes 4D is a mixture of what Tussauds does best (i.e. lifelike, to scale, wax models of characters and celebrities) and the current resurgence of 3D cinema. The theming is well done, part S.H.I.E.L.D. lab - part gallery of covers, mixing Classic Marvel characters in with their movie counterparts.

So, for example, you get Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury...

The entrance will (I say 'will' because the attraction is not yet open to the public - and we were let in through the back door) peel off directly from the rest of the Tussauds tour, leading you around The Hulk's gigantic legs and into a S.H.I.E.L.D. themed attraction area - complete with screens in the walls, rotating 'secret files' style bios of the characters in a given area.

Oh. And yes, like I say, the Hulk IS to scale...

He truly is HUGE! and incredibly (Pun probably intended) well sculpted. I've always felt that in other media to date the sheer size of The Hulk has been somewhat undersold, compared to his in-panel counterpart (Although the recent Hulk movies have pretty much gotten in right).

And, of course, it really wouldn't be Tussauds without the opportunity to take some daft photos...

Which I maybe enjoyed just a little TOO much...

Yeah. Maybe more than a little...

There's a number of props to aid you in you photographic tomfoolery - from Wolverine's claws or standing on ceiling with Spider-man, to a viewing glass designed to make you look like The Hulk and a stand up landscape which allows you to fake up flying around Westminster and Big Ben - as any ageing Captain Britain fan has surely ALWAYS wanted to do...

(Be proud of me. I resisted that one...)

But the main focus of all this is to lead you through to the 4D experience itself.

And I bet a few of you are asking exactly what makes it 4D, right now? Well, anybody who has experienced attractions like MuppetVision 3D at MGM Studios or Stitch's Great Escape! at Disneyworld in Florida will be in some way familiar with the principle. Marvel Super Heroes 4D has been built into the former site of the London Planetarium. Which means the screen itself is 360 dome above the auditorium - a perfect canvas for this kind of film. The 3D movie itself (Glasses supplied) is displayed principally to the front of the auditorium, but with extra images flashing up around the sides of the dome, at key points in the film. These take the form of bits of SHIELD technical data, and flashes of the targeting system from Iron Man's armour.

As you sit down in your seat, the SHIELD Mainframe instructs you to turn off your Mobile Phones lest you 'Make The Hulk ANGRY,' but what makes this show 4D is that IN that seat they've fitted with a few... extras.

Such as spray units to create the sensation of water splashing up at head height, and compressed air blasts around you legs to convey movement around you under faded lights. Pressure units mounted in the back of your chair poke your back at certain intervals, and the floor beneath you actively rumbles and shakes - all at specific points during the performance, to match up with what you're seeing on screen.

And it works pretty well, too. I've experienced a few of these kind of rides over the past few years, and I have to say that the combination of elements here strikes a really good balance. It was also, for fanboy sake, nice to hear several approved voices from Marvel's animated features and videogames providing voice talent here. It really helps to maintain a proper consistency.

I will be honest with you, though, I really didn't know what to expect from this, when I went along on Saturday. I tend to be a little bit sceptical when it compes to Marvel tie-ins in other media. But I'm happy to say that this is one attraction that really get things right. A balance of old and new, movie and animation.

We did spot a stray Jessica Alba, as Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four, who seemed a little out of place (The female character used in the movie sequence is actually Ms Marvel), but otherwise the effort made in getting the theming right is spot on, and has plenty potential for Tussauds to add to the exhibit as time goes on. Probably as more and more Marvel movies are rolled out. Maybe the addition of a Liv Tyler Betty Ross, a Scarlett Johanssen Black Widow, a Chris Evans Captain America, or a... whatsisname... Um... the guy from Home and Away (EDIT: It's Chris Hemsworth) THOR!

I also appreciated the very deliberate decision to set the 4D sequence itself in London, which I was lucky enough to get a chance to discuss with some of the Tussauds guys after the Q & A session. Rather than simply port over an out of place American setting. They told me it was a very deliberate choice, and one they fought hard for. I can tell you that there is a narrative reason for it, and it it really grounds it as a part of a British attraction and as part of Tussauds itself pretty seamlessly. Great work.

I'd always recommend Madame Tussauds as a place in London you should visit at least once anyway, regardless of your age, but put simply if you've got a kid who's into Marvel then they will love this! As an adult you'll be able to appreciate the 4D show's mechanics and (Of course) the daft photos opps are a must. But for the insane fanboys, who might be reluctant, one very interesting point did come up in the Q & A session on Saturday, which might be of interest to you...

A question was raised as to whether, during the development of creating the 4D movie, the creators had been given any access to designs for upcoming Marvel Movies, which might currently be in production.

The answer was a little diplomatic, as you might expect. We were told that the primary focus was always intended to be on the 'Classic Marvel' characters for the 4D movie. But, that said, there might be some possible similarities between the intended look of a certain floating vessel and its likeness seen towards the end of the 4D movie...

So, you never know... :D

For those of you interested in seeing this experience I believe that tickets for Marvel Super Heroes 4D were intended to go on sale on Sunday 30th May. But you can find more details HERE.

You can also find the attraction's microsite HERE.

There's also this trailer, showing (Obviously in this case 2D) clips from the movie sequence.

And if you do go and see it look out for the obligatory Stan Lee cameo. Can you spot it? :D

A big Thanks to Richard Orr, Joshua Wexler, Paula Barrett and the other guys at Tussauds for inviting us along, and also for giving me permission to post the photos above.

It was great fun, and I wish you all the best for when the doors open to the public.


  1. "The female character"?

    Only one?

    And I was all ready to buy tickets, too.

  2. Well, I think that this also raises a debate that cracks up elsewhere on the Internet from time to time.

    DC Comics have their Big 3 - the Trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Three central characters for their universe - and obviously one of them IS a Woman. She may have started out based on the Mistress of a certain DC employee ;D... but she has become a strong high-profile role model figure.

    Marvel's Big 3, on the other hand, are Captain America, Iron man and Thor. Not a woman amongst them. In fact in the original Avengers line-up there was only one female character - and while I love Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp) she's not really a rival for Wonder Woman...

    So which female Marvel character should Tussuads have used?

    'Marvel Super Heroes' really equates to an 'Avengers' lineup. A grouping of the biggest heroes Marvel has to offer.

    So while Wolverine does appear here (Don't forget, he IS an Avenger, these days), that really does kind of rule out the use of other X-Men. I'm sure that there are those who would want to argue a case for Storm, Jean Grey or Rogue. But none of these characters have actually been Avengers, to date.

    Wouldn't mind seeing any of them AS Avengers at some point in the future, mind.

    It would also seem logical to rule out other properties. We were kind of surprised to see a Sue Storm likeness on display. I get the feeling an earlier version of the script for this feature might have included her, but it seems more than a bit illogical to have a character who is so synonymous with another franchise involved with what is effectively an Avengers feature.

    So... who does that really leave as possible candidates from The Avengers pool of characters.

    Well, Spider-man and Hulk are already in play. That kind of rules out Spider-woman and She-Hulk, simply for being too similar to characters already appearing.

    Scarlet Witch? Maybe. Although she's out of comics continuity right now, and left vilified. It is unlikely we'd see her in an Avengers movie, too.

    The Wasp? Possible. But hard to pack a punch with her in her 'Classic' Wasp persona.

    Black Widow? Well, she has appeared in an Iron Man movie. Although not referred to AS 'Black Widow'. The problem is that she's quite a covert character. And this feature really needs heavy hitters, due to the premise of the script.

    You've got third tier characters like Tigra, Mockingbird, or Jocasta, but they're just not terribly well-known. And wouldn't really work in the context of this movie sequence.

    Ms Marvel, on the other hand, does. And I suppose that in Marvel's universe she really is the nearest thing they have to Wonder Woman. She flies, she's packs a punch, she has a certain... physique? :D

    Just don't mention the drinking problem, okay? ;D

  3. I don't see why "Marvel Super Heroes" has to equate to Avengers, but OK, fine, if you want to go with it..

    It's clearly not 616 canon that they're going with here, looking at the choice of using actors. So if we're picking and choosing with continuity, there's no reason not to include Storm and Tigra, both of whom are in the Marvel Adventures Avengers team. Storm is a character that is well known from the Marvel movies - I really don't know why they'd avoid the rest of the X-Men, they've had three movies already - and I really don't know why it's such a risk to include lesser known characters anyway - if the big draws are Wolverine, CapA, Iron Man, Hulk etc then people're already gonna be there before they see them. This is an opportunity for ADDING to sales by introducing people to new characters!

    I notice you say "which female character (should Tussauds have used)" again. Singular. Dude, quit that! Just because, in the past, there were fewer female Avengers it doesn't mean that we have to actively resist change (for the better). This isn't 616 historical Marvel facts. It's a cash-in movieverse-based encouragement to spend. Girls have money too.

    I don't see why She-Hulk and Spider-Woman are ruled out as too similar, either.. Ms Marvel does what? Fly? Iron Man. Be Strong? Hulk (and everyone else). Be an aloholic? Iron Man. Be an American Military patriot? Captain America.

    Not working "in the context of this movie sequence" is a weaksauce reason for lack of ladies, too. Do the creators write the story, or does the man-centric story reach out from imaginaryland, punch them in the face, wave its dick around and FORCE them to put exclusionary pen to paper?

    You're right that it's a problem supported by Marvel-proper's handling of the gender imbalance. But that's an excuse, not a reason.

  4. I'm not trying to generalise, Hasoon, or suggesting some kind of gender cap here. I was talking more in terms of numbers. Any more characters wouldn't have really worked so well with this script, and by and large those chosen here are chosen for having powersets which can be accompanied with special effects from within the auditorium.

    Interestingly earlier press about this, a few months back, mentioned Sue Storm as being part of the attraction. But I'm guessing her powerset wasn't so easy to add effects to.

    I guess the real problem here is that when probably the biggest and most recognizable mainstream characters in Marvel are all Male it becomes harder to sub one out in order to place a lesser known character in, to maintain a gender balance. Especially if their powerset is very similar to a character you are already using, or won't really work very well in 3D or produce effects you can use as part of the attraction.

    DC DO have Wonder Woman, who has always helped maintain an easier balance there. But at the same point, in terms of mainstream brand identity beyond their Trinity of characters the rest of their properties really AREN'T known beyond comic book crowds. Especially internationally. Green Lantern's upcoming movie may help to improve that. But guys like Green Arrow or The Flash, Black Canary or Aquaman? They really aren't.

    I think I'd rather be in Marvel's position, to be honest.

    Ultimately though, Marvel themselves chose who appeared in this. The Tussauds guys decided on the final script, and insisted that it took place in London (Which I totally approve of) but Marvel had the final say. Ms Marvel kind of IS the equivalent of Wonder Woman of the Marvel Universe, and has been built up as their lead female character over the past few years. So I can understand her inclusion. It may also be a hint that we might see her in future Marvel movies, if they consider her to be at that level of profile.

    As for the lack of X-Men and Fantastic Four characters, though? Well I think that might have more to do with another issue. Obviously Tussauds do likenesses of actors and characters. I feel pretty sure as we get more Marvel movies we'll see more additions to this attraction. But remember, Marvel Studios do not own movie rights to the X-Men characters, Fantastic Four, Daredevil or Spider-man. So much as though we'd love to see Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or Tobey Maguire as Spider-man, in an Avengers movie, it is almost certainly not going to happen.

    I suspect this has also been the reason that Marvel have pulled much of their attention away from the X-Men Office at Marvel, in favour of building up the Avengers franchise in recent years. Because they have overall control of that Brand. It allows them to maximize exposure of their brand, giving a minimum cut to other companies. If you're going to produce an attraction like this, intended to be in place for many years, it makes sense to stick with characters you will be working with for that duration. Therefore The Avengers are your safe bet.

    Ad while Spidey and Logan may be at other studious but they're always going to be around. Well, unless the Kirby Estate get very lucky in court. :D

    It might seem sensible to use Jean Grey, Storm or Rogue here, but they won't be appearing in any other Marvel projects outside of comics in the next decade. They're not the best option from that POV.

    It does therefore somewhat limit the options.