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Back to the Future: The Ride, which many theme park enthusiasts consider to be the finest attraction ever built, closed its doors at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood in 2007. And let’s be honest – it was probably the right move. The beloved motion simulator thrill ride first opened in Florida in 1991 and California in 1993 and, well over a decade later, it was starting to show its age in a big way. Not even a time travel ride can remain young forever.

One version lived on, though. Back to the Future: The Ride opened at Universal Studios Japan in 2001 and it became the last place on the planet that fans could experience this attraction. But alas, all good things must come to an end: Universal has announced that the final incarnation will shut down soon.

This news was reported by Inside the Magic and they have the apparent date of the closure: May 31, 2016. That means you have approximately two months to make a pilgrimage to Osaka, Japan if you want to experience this thing one more time. It’s not clear what will replace the attraction, but since both American versions were replaced with The Simpsons Ride, we can make a pretty good guess.

Back to the Future: The Ride was directed by the brilliant visual effects visionary Douglas Trumbull and it represents a pinnacle of theme park technology. This was as good as it got before computers started to get involved. Sure, it’s not as immersive as newer attractions like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, but you’ll never find practical effects this impressive in any other theme park ride. More importantly, you’ll never find another ride that better captured the thrill of inhabiting a beloved cinematic universe. The ride was definitely dated when it closed, especially when compared to other offerings in the Universal parks, but it was an impressive achievement until the end.

You can watch the complete footage from the ride online, but it’s not the same. Trumbull’s meticulous effects and thrilling filmmaking are on display, but it’s missing the part where you’re actually sitting in a ride vehicle shaped like a DeLorean. You miss how the room fills with fog to mask your vehicle’s ascent out of the loading area. Most of all, you don’t get the thrill of finding yourself staring down an enormous OMNIMAX dome screen that envelopes your vision. A YouTube clip can deliver the plot points of the surprisingly story-driven ride, but it can’t capture the scope and grandeur of the experience.

The Simpsons Ride is very good and it utilizes the same technology to supply riders with a very different experience. Heck, it even features a few fantastic Back to the Future references and Easter eggs. But this really does feel like the end of an era. Between this and the closure of Jaws: The Ride and Disaster! (formerly Earthquake), the Universal Studios of yesterday is officially gone. Sure, the new stuff is great, but let’s get melancholy and pour one out for the old school fans. This one stings.

March 31, 2016
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