Coaster Kingdom

Rio Bravo, Parque Warner Madrid
Sunday, February 25, 2007

This article contains spoilers. If you read on, please be aware that surprises or secrets may be revealed in great depth

Wild Western flicks were a celebrated genre for over half a century, celebrating the high noon and tumbleweed culture of the 'Myth of the West' with a famous cast of goodies and badies with nothing in between.

It was either the silent 1898 film Cripple Creek Bar Room or the famous 1903 classic, The Great Train Robbery that started off the fascination with the rugged landscapes and rugged heroes of the west with countless classics set into celluloid such as Stagecoach or High Noon.

Rio Bravo, the 1959 movie, encapsulates everything a Wild West film should be, just as the genre begins to fade. John Wayne stars as a small-town sheriff in the American West and relies upon the help of a cripple, a drunk, and a young gunfighter in his efforts to hold in jail the brother of a local bandit.

Rio Bravo, the 2002 ride, celebrates the film industry's infatuation with all things western with an epic boat ride around the dusty wooden streets of Western Americana and harsh landscapes of the West.

Upon an overgrown knoll, the weathered but none-the-less over-powering Rio Bravo Mining Company building hides the station. A winding pathway lit with flickering lanterns guides you into the building, a veritable museum of film-related artefacts and props.

Outside and on the covered platform, boats slowly pass through the centre of the station.

The boats are similar to Valhalla's, seating riders comfortably in four pairs. Rio Bravo has the welcome addition of seatbelts to keep trouble makers' hinds comfortably seated and out of mischief. As the boat slowly advances along the length of the platform, you only have a short while to adjust the soggy seatbelt and clip it in before you reach the end of the platform.

Your journey through the wilderness starts off like a shopping trolley rolling through an industrial estate with a slalom bouncing your boat from side to side through a mass of concrete and gravel.

Unperturbed, you sail onwards towards the more sympathetic landscape of the red-rock mountain in front. A small turn takes you into a small, shallow lift up into the mountain with fantastic views of the conical helices of Wild Wild West to your left.

Inside, the boat stops, turns on a turntable before dropping backwards. If you're expecting a drop the size of a ripple in a rock pool (much like Valhalla insults us with), then try and contain your excitement as you plunge smoothly down a reasonably steep, reasonably tall drop and then jolt rather sharply into a roller coaster style bunny hop before smoothly skimming to a halt in the water.

A brief backwards stretch takes you through a small canyon before you stop, turn forwards and continue through the rocky landscape. The dusty dunes are cluttered with branches, tumbleweed and... a ride camera.

Whilst the ride to this point has been thoroughly enjoyable, I can't help but think expressions on riders' faces are going to be that of concentration more than exhilaration. It seems absurd to put an on-ride camera anywhere but the drops on log flumes.

You sail through the crumbling rock ravine, the sound of wind channelling through the stony gorge. As the wind picks up, the sound of tumbling rocks draws your attention aloft where boulders wobble precariously, one collapses hitting a crumbling wooden water trough sending water pouring towards the ground.

Passing through some desolate foliage, you enter Dodge City, a deserted Wild West township amidst abandoned stagecoaches. The rotten wooden sign above informs visitors that the population is 157 – following a brief exchange of gunfire, a stray bullet hits the sign, dropping to reveal a new population of 156.

As the dust swirls down the street of this sand-beaten town the ghostly sound of gunfire draws your attention first right, then left.

Soon you re-enter the mountain and start climbing a final tall lift hill. Somehow I expected to be climbing inside a gold mine or something with wooden rafters holding up the crumbling rock above, glistening with gold. By this point the creative finesse of the designers has all but gone.

The modern corrugated walls are just about still visible in the darkness decorated with speakers offset with flickering lanterns. At the top of a rather lengthy lift-hill through a small corridor you stop in a cave.

You stop at the top on a turntable, your hushed silence broken only be the distant sound of dripping water. Your boat swings around 90-degrees to the left, with two wooden doors swinging open.

A beautiful view of the Wild West Territory distracts your attention from the water in front cascading out of view as you advance towards the final drop.

A sharp change of direction pulls you downwards as you bolt through spray from the drop and cut through the lake at the bottom creating a rather sensational splash. Front seat riders get the brunt of the splash, everyone else is refreshed by the fallout.

Intamin have managed to provide Movie World with a great ride system for Rio Bravo. The eight-seater boats manage with busy days well, are comfortable and are just about the best type of boat you can expect to find on a standard flume ride.

Most log flumes have three drops: the big final drop, a surprise drop (whether enclosed or backwards) and one drop that is absolutely forgettable. With only two drops on Rio Bravo, it is the forgettable drop that has been omitted from the ride leaving two excellently situated and well executed drops to remember the ride by.

The final implementation of the ride system is over-shadowed by only a couple of points: the boat has an often-irritating habit of bouncing from one side of the trough to another. Some parts are worse than others, but it is an annoying distraction that the ride can do without.

Ruining two otherwise perfect drops, too, a nasty jolt awaits new riders on the first bunnyhop-style drop. The drop relies heavily on the element of surprise, and as you're heading backwards, the jolt is not only a surprise but an uncomfortable one, too.

Rio Bravo is a long ride, but very little of this is idly zig-zagging or staging itself for it's next trick. High quality theming follows you throughout the ride with the obvious highlight being Dodge City. Special effects are minimal, but more than you expect from a log flume.

Again, though, a few aspects bring it down a peg or two. The roller coaster drop backwards is great, but the view isn't. It seems the designers forgot that we would be facing backwards at this point and so a view of the tin shed on the back of the mountain is unavoidable. As corrugated buildings go, she ain't a looker.

Of course, taken in context, you realise what a great flume ride Rio Bravo is and how it's downfalls are only minor blemishes on an otherwise highly polished gem. Movie World have struck gold with an exceedingly attention grabbing flume ride.

Please, do not use our ratings to compare rides head-to-head. They rate only how well this ride meets its own objectives using criteria that may not necessarily be relevant with similar reviews.

Good points:

  • A very good length flume with several drops
  • Not too wet despite a spectacular splash down
  • Excellent two-wide boats make this a more comfortable flume than most
  • A few excellent sets and some nice effects throughout

Bad points:

  • Patchy theming - the back side of the building is extremely ugly, for example
  • A nasty jolt on the backwards drop
  • Boats have a tendency to continually bump into the side of the channels

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