Walt Disney Studios Park, six years on. The crowds are bigger, the guests happier, the theming visible and the entire park dominated by a 183-ft monster that is about to be unleashed. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, legendary in Florida for over 14 years and under construction in Paris for the past three, an attraction heavy on style, thrill… and story.
Every Disney park fan in the world knows the story of the iconic Hollywood Tower Hotel, a “beacon for the show-business elite” which fell victim to a disastrous lightning strike and the grasp of The Twilight Zone, but has it ever been seen for real? On this fateful night, the chilling legend would come to life before the eyes of an exclusive audience, like never before and never again. This is the entire ‘Twilight Zone Spectacular’ from start to finish, in pictures…
As guests left behind their exclusive buffet in the giant temporary domes behind Studio Tram Tour, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror had suddenly been all wrapped up, ready to surprise. Bathed in pink and a pattern of ‘HTH’ symbols, a yellow string and ’15’ label tied the unusual package together — a late sixth birthday present to the park towering 183ft above the flat fields of Marne-la-Vallée.
Walking back down the illuminated Hollywood Boulevard, guests were directed behind the raised control booth at the edge of Place des Stars, already filled with photographers and film crews aiming their lenses at the Tower. The courtyard would provide the perfect viewing spot for the nighttime spectacular.
The remarkable projection effects were achieved by several ultra-bright, high definition projectors pointing toward The Hollywood Tower Hotel from other buildings in the park. The technology was used to project the dreams of children onto Sleeping Beauty Castle during last year’s spectacular 15th Anniversary launch night and has been evolving and improving for years in the hands of the resort’s technical teams since its first use for the unique Phantom Wedding show on a Halloween Soirée night several years ago.
With 1400 guests spread across the courtyard, many of the projections were doubled-up to not only appear on the front face of the Tower but also integrated into its left-hand side.
At 10.30pm, announcements went out across the park and both through the domes and the studios’ other restaurants, which hosted other groups such as celebrities, calling everyone to Place des Stars for a special gala event at The Hollywood Tower Hotel. The operating attractions — Crush’s Coaster, Cars, Flying Carpets, Armageddon, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Stitch Live! were all temporarily closed.
At 10.45pm, with the crowds gathered and enjoying a medley of 1930s period music, the entire park was taken into total darkness.
“Good evening and welcome in front of The Hollywood Tower Hotel. ‘Tis magnificent, don’t you agree? Our evening will start in a few minutes. Do not be too impatient, you could regret it!”
Vintage cars, bellhops, pyrotechnic effects and over 100 extras were waiting behind the scenes — the assembled crowd knew nothing of what to expect. A traditional inauguration ceremony? A projection show? Some fireworks? As the jazzy music reached its crescendo, a ticking clock began to cut through the night atmosphere. The menacing “tick, tick, tick” continued for several minutes before the heavy, foreboding chimes of an old grandfather clock began to echo across the park…
Eight chimes brought a collection of bizarre, bright green bugs to crawl across the package, disappearing around the front of the building, their legs tapping across the wrapping paper. An arm appears from the left, a bellhop’s arm, his white-gloved fist punching into the parcel and squashing an insect.
As heavy, chesty breathing rumbled from the Tower, the bellhop’s hand reached in again to tear away a piece of the wrapping paper, revealing the bright, clean façade of a well-kept Hollywood Tower Hotel behind. Undoing the yellow string and ripping a large section of paper from the front, the bellhop caused the entire package to unravel, paper falling down around the building to reveal a spectacular vision for real — The Hollywood Tower Hotel, at the height of its golden age.
Projections highlighted the building’s features, making it appear new and clean. Windows lit. Music built to a great fanfare. The giant lighting rig behind the Tower emitted a startling fan of bright white lights, shining into all corners of the sky.
For anyone familiar with that famous wall mural in the Tower Hotel Gifts shop, this was the real thing, right before your eyes. The sight was spectacular, almost unreal, receiving great applause (and unprovoked applause at that) from the audience.
At this point, as strings and horns swelled in the rousing Hollywood gala music and searchlights beamed across the sky, the inauguration took its first very unexpected turn. Eyes still focused on the Tower, movement down in the street below suddenly caught the audience’s attention.
Two traffic police walked toward the junction, swinging their batons and blowing whistles as the music continued to swell. From the left, a vintage 1930s car suddenly pulled into view. From Hollywood Boulevard, countless extras in period clothes busily congregated on the curbside, crossed the street and pointed upwards to the dazzling hotel. A second car pulled in from Vine Street in front of the hotel, more extras arrived — reporters with old-fashioned cameras and flash bulbs, newspaper sellers and glamorous couples.
As a third and fourth car arrived on the scene and traversed the junction, the traffic cops waving them through and helping the “show business elite” to cross the street to admire the hotel’s fountain. The entire scene filled the street with 100 extras and no less than five vintage cars ferrying the invitees around, bustling and exciting as if a real evening at the hotel, a living and breathing 1930s Hollywood right before the audience.
As couples swooned and flashbulbs continued to pop, the period crowd began to head toward to hotel’s entrance, the cars disappearing out of the scene just as quickly as they miraculously appeared.
The bright lights across Place des Stars faded as a roaring fire and warm orange curtains beamed onto the Tower, as if providing a view into the high-society event taking place in the legendary Tip Top Club on the hotel’s 13th floor. A couple enter the elevator to the club, a bellhop smiles.
The famous jazz sounds blasted out, the same song we’ve come to recognise as the theme of the attraction from countless promotional videos and trailers. In the background, excited chatter from the hotel guests peppered the air. Two hands holding wine glasses moved in across the scene, clinking into the centre as the jubilant music continued.
Next, silhouette figures of jazz musicians danced across the Tower, their outlines and trombones in heavy black against the warm oak panelling and curtains of the club. Stretching their instruments across the Tower as they danced, the musicians began to fade as a more sinister tone began to take hold of the music. Symbols crashed, and crashed again, the brass heightened, grew fraught and uncontrollable.
Suddenly, a warped black and white circles began to fall upon the Tower. Slowly, it fell further and further across the façade, swallowing up the jubilant scenes of Tip Top Club with it. Instruments crashed and collided, the tight jazz of the trombones echoed into a distant medley.
A giant clock appeared on the Tower, the clock from the hotel’s lobby, as the elevator panel climbed slowly to the top of the hotel and back, continuing to ferry guests to their rooms and the club, unaware that strange and mysterious forces were taking hold of the building.
Tick tock, tick tock… the clock continued as the crashing music became almost deafening…
8.03pm… 8.04pm… 8.05pm… When suddenly…!
Lightning strikes! A huge flash of pyrotechnics hits the upper-right of the building. The scene instantly changes to a heavy rainstorm, pouring down across the hotel as electrical sparks bolt and zap across the front of the hotel. The scene created resembled exactly that of the attraction’s pre-show video, rain pouring and dancing across the hotel façade.
For tiny split-seconds, the cracks of energy and lightning reveal the skeleton of the building’s structure in the projections. We hear the elevator machinery starting up, whirring and falling at high speed.
What happens next in the pre-show? The elevator shafts are destroyed, struck by lightning and crushed to nothing but rubble as the elevator cabins fall into an unknown dimension. We should have warned them…
Right away, sparkles cracked and flashed from all three elevator chutes, even the balconies on the left-hand side…
Sparks continued to fly, pyrotechnics flashing and exploding across the hotel, from its iconic sign to the fallen rubble and cracked brickwork on its body.
The hotel fallen from grace, music turns to a Gothic organ. We see the owl from the hotel’s lobby flying across the façade, a gargoyle appearing on the front body against a backdrop of thundering rain.
Another blast of pyrotechnics bursts from the roof of the hotel — the elevator cables have snapped. Dials and displays from the boiler room cover the tower as elevator doors open and close, cables fly and flap in the stormy winds…
A final round of heavy pyrotechnics burst from the balconies and elevator shafts, now glowing a rich, supernatural blue against the yellow tower.
Strings and cymbals continue to crash, a bellhop’s face appears, laughing, across the front of the building…
From outside of Walt Disney Studios Park and across the east of Marne-la-Vallée, onlookers could see smoke clearing from the Hollywood Tower Hotel sign, the building bathed in a burnt and scorched overlay of orange and black.
The scene fades to black as the last sparks flash from the building.
When the lights fade back up, the curtain is blowing in the breeze, the clock cracked and stuck at 8.05pm, as it is in the actual lobby, a sound of rusted metal machinery squeaks in the silent breeze.
A golden key with a “Hollywood Tower Hotel” keychain swings across the front of the hotel…
“The Hollywood Tower Hotel is changed forever…”
The iconic keys of the unforgettable theme music begin. The hotel turns to darkness, then stars appear, covering every inch. Glistening and sparkling like the possessed fountain at street level, the logo of “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” glows across the building as the audience roars with woops and cheers, clapping along to the Twilight Zone theme.
But the show isn’t over yet… the display inspired by the hotel’s dried-up fountain suddenly turns back to a cascading waterfall, a spectacular scene of gushing greens and blues falling 55 metres across the tower.
To the chilling musical notes of a slow ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, sung by a child without the words, a black silhouette appears in the water. Arms outstretched, the haunting figure of a little girl — the little girl lost to The Twilight Zone when the elevator fell — reaches out and skips from side to side.
Behind the tower, the fan of searingly bright lights flashes in a ghostly green as the silhouette is swallowed up by the falling water in a flash of green and yellow.
Falling keys on a piano lead us into a tour of some of the hotel’s now-infamous rooms and locations. The first sees pipework cover the entire front of the building, the scene then changing to a steamy, dimly-lit boiler room where the entire body of the building flashes and glows as if coming to life like the giant turbines of the elevator machinery.
The lights behind circulate in blues and oranges — the service elevators coming back to life, winding up and down through the lift shaft as they prepare to welcome their new guests.
Buzzing electrics and power surges bring light back into the hotel’s reception area. The tower is dressed in projections to look like the pigeon holes of keys, the square front body to look like the reception desk itself. Echoing through the cold, rain-swept night is Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again”.
In the Library, bookshelves covering the façade, the television stuttered into life, displaying brief excerpts of a distressing newscast coming live from nearby in Hollywood.
“The hotel is filling with … There’s something going on … Lightning has hit the hotel! … We hear some people have disappeared … Storm’s … Worse all the time … Figure out what’s going on”
The television picture fades to a blur, the interference too strong.
Music gets louder, strings swirling and building, louder and louder, circling in a climactic score that suggests the night is about to reach its grand crescendo. A face appears on the Tower, a bellhop.
He speaks strongly, menacingly, staring into the audience…
“Welcome to the NEW Hollywood Tower Hotel…”
Raising an eyebrow and turning to one side, he steps backwards slowly to reveal the buttons of the service elevator.
As the bellhop reaches to press the “Basement” button, music getting ever more dramatic, choir and strings creating an unbearable tension, he slowly spells out the ultimate proposition…
“DROP IN… If you dare!”
He grits his teeth, tenses his neck muscles and begins to laugh, mercilessly, cackling with a devilish spirit at the audience. We are no longer simply bystanders.
Elevator doors covering one half of the Tower creak open with a toe-curling screech as the chanting choir and pulsing strings reach their climax. Pushing open the doors, the bellhop. As the music echoes out at its height, a familiar theme fades in… Peter Pan’s “Flying”, from the 15th Anniversary!
“And don’t forget… The Celebration Continues… BIG TIME!”
Those bellhops really do have a sense of humour!
Pulling the doors closed with another awful screech of rusted metal, the bellhop disappears as the newly rechristened Tower of Terror glows in a pulse in blue lights, a swirling vortex opening up on its façade.
As the 15th Anniversary theme reached its blast of trumpets and horns, fireworks burst from the body of the Tower, shooting vertically upwards into the sky, joined by another huge line of pyrotechnics exploding outwards from its roof, met by shrieks of surprise and excitement from the audience.
As the Tower of Terror returned to its starry, fibre optic-inspired guise of Twilight Zone imagery, the smoke of the fireworks slowly cleared from around the iconic Hollywood Tower Hotel sign. Loud, pulsing dance music filled the courtyard — were the audience being given a DJ party to follow up this spectacular real-life telling of the Hollywood Tower Hotel legend? Not quite.
Soon enough, the infamous high notes of The Twilight Zone‘s theme song were filling the air, the music a thrilling rock/dance tribute to the classic score. But again, the show wasn’t over yet. Thick fog, smoke, had filled the street in front of the hotel as the audience were mesmerised by the spectacular fireworks above.
Rolling toward the audience, up to 6 feet high, the heavy fog was suddenly dotted with bright white lights in the distance, walking slowly out of the hotel. Cast members preparing for the sudden influx of excited riders? As the figures moved closer, their ghoulish silhouettes became clearer…
The 100 invitees who entered the hotel around 10 minutes ago were now free to roam… but certainly not free from The Twilight Zone‘s command.
Plodding, creeping toward the audience, the airmen, policemen, newspaper sellers, reporters and glamorous Hollywood couples showed no emotion as their faces and bodies gradually appeared out of the fog. Perfectly choreographed, they headed directly for the audience, possessed and zombified, walking slowly to the pounding, hypnotic theme of The Twilight Zone.
When they arrived at the crowds, they reached out with their lifeless arms, clutching and grabbing at the guests, pulling them closer, enticing them to step underneath the barrier and follow them to the hotel.
“You have just entered into The Twilight Zone.”
Seemingly thrilled rather than frightened by the incredible 14 minutes that had preceded, the audience then allowed the newspaper reporters to pull them toward the hotel, the old ladies of a bygone time to take them by the arm. Soon, they would all be a permanent resident… of The Twilight Zone.
From the very first piece of advertising to this spectacular inauguration ceremony, the grand opening of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disneyland Resort Paris has been nothing short of breathtaking.
Deciding to relegate the “gravity defying” drop promoted so heavily in Florida and California to second place in favour of promoting the attraction’s incredible theme and story, it’s clear the six years Walt Disney Studios Park spent waiting for its beating heart to be unveiled were not in vein.
The campaign has been positioned so closely to the heart of The Hollywood Tower Hotel, from the website to the posters and billboards, that it almost seems as if the Imagineers did it all themselves.
Not only has Walt Disney Studios Park finally opened its real saving grace, it has truly — excuse the cliché — done it in style. The themeing is rich and detailed, the drop thrilling and exciting time and again, the advertising strong and true to the theme. The integration into Hollywood Boulevard and positioning in the park is so fitting it seems as if it were always there. The expertly-cast team of quirky, scary, friendly bellhops who provide a memorable experience every minute of the operating day… simply flawless.
And the grand opening event? It goes without saying. One of the most spectacular, well thought-out and well-executed inaugurations ever seen at any Disney park in the world. It is hard to imagine any inauguration that has quite so brilliantly celebrated a new attraction.
To the cast, crew and everyone behind the launch of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Paris — congratulations. You’ve proved that even the wildest dreams of Disney fans can come true.
Walt Disney Studios Park has finally come of age, and we can’t wait to see where you take it next.