What is the
most magical thing you can think of? David Blaine sawing someone in half
and then putting them back together? Somebody sawing David Blaine in
half, and then not putting him back together? Well, as nice as that may
be, reality tells us that there’s no such thing as magic, and that
what purports itself to be so is just a sly illusion. With that in mind,
Alton Towers’ slogan, “Where The Magic Never Ends”, is actually
quite accurate. The only real mystery is how the place manages to keep
its high reputation is the face of the overwhelming evidence to the
visiting Alton Towers regularly since long before I can actually
remember. I used to sit in my infant school class, endlessly drawing
pictures of the Mini Apple coaster, and counting the days until I could
next ride it. Of course, things were so much different then. The skies
were blue; the fields were green; children respected their elders; Opal
Fruits were called Opal Fruits; the pop charts were full of good songs
with proper tunes and lyrics you could understand; and Alton Towers was
the greatest theme park around. Not like today, oh no.
So how did the
park’s reputation come to suffer the most spectacular fall from grace
since Gerald Ratner? What are the implications for the future?
no hiding the rich heritage behind Alton Towers - despite their
thing to remember about Alton Towers is that it is in a highly unusual
position. Unlike Thorpe Park, Legoland, or countless others around the
world, the site was simply never meant to be a major theme park, and
became one almost by accident. The estate had been open to the public
for over half a century when the first major rides appeared, and the
place operated on the strength of people wanting to see the castle ruins
and the (undoubtedly spectacular) gardens.
One of the
most lamentable things about the Alton Towers of today is that precisely
nobody visits for that reason, and the fact that the estate is the
ancestral home of the Earls of Shrewsbury is largely ignored. This is a
crying shame, as Alton Towers is at its very best when it exploits its
own sense history. It is difficult not to be impressed with Hex, as it
beautifully combines Alton Towers’ rich heritage with Tussaud’s
ability to create drama and entertainment.
there can be no more appropriate setting for a haunted walk-through than
that of Terror of the Towers. Even Nemesis managed to tap into the seam,
by creating a theme that took the park’s rich sense of enigmatic
history and twisted it into a much darker realm in a manner that would
simply not be possible in the modernistic settings of most theme parks.
the park is at its nadir when it tries to fight its own history. To have
the magnificent Towers neighboured by the coarse industrialism of
X-Sector, and the garish explosion-in-a-paint-factory of Ug Land simply
beggars belief. Would Tussaud’s treat Warwick Castle like this? Of
course not, but for some reason, the Talbots’ home does not warrant
the same sense of reverence.
This is a
ludicrous situation, as most theme parks are charged with the task of
taking an undeveloped site, be it industrial (Thorpe Park and The
American Adventure) or agricultural (Oakwood, Lightwater Valley), and
turning them into places of mystique and wonder; Alton Towers, on the
other hand, seems insistent on taking a site that was already overloaded
with charisma and majesty, and making it look like a cross between an
industrial estate and a cheap village fate.
no further than Blackpool to see how new can compliment the old
This lack of
reverence is at the heart of much of what I feel is wrong with the park
today. Irreverence in itself is actually a wonderful thing, but while
Blackpool Pleasure Beach revels in its outrageous levels of tackiness,
it does so while retaining its wonderful charm; similarly, Thorpe Park
can get away with the epic campness of Amity cove and X:\ No Way Out
because of its modern urban setting.
Alton Towers does not have that
luxury, and the usual theme park cheesiness simply falls on its face
when you’re working with such a historical backdrop. If you’re
asking for examples, I can point you in the direction of the two
“new” rides for 2004.