Holy Gut-Wrencher! Batman the Ride! -

Holy Gut-Wrencher! Batman the Ride!

Published: May 28, 1993

JACKSON, N.J. IT lasts only two minutes: a 30-second climb and then a diving, looping, veering, tilting descent. That descent, on the well-hyped new Batman the Ride, at Six Flags Great Adventure theme park here, is a thrill-rider’s delight. Smooth but sudden twists, unlikely curves and 360-degree rotations both vertical and horizontal wreak havoc not with something as prosaic as the stomach, but as delicate as the ear’s semicircular canals: it leaves your head spinning.

But Batman the Ride seeks to be something more than a highly evolved roller coaster. It orchestrates its inevitable waiting time — likely to be considerably more than an hour on a weekend afternoon — toward two goals. One is praising the Time Warner conglomerate that owns Six Flags and that generated «Batman» and «Batman Returns»; on the way in to the ride is a memorial plaque to Steve Ross, the architect of the Time Warner merger. (As Six Flags looks over its shoulder at Disneyland and Disney World, the rivals it cites in its ubiquitious advertising, Batman and Bugs Bunny become Time Warner operatives the way Mickey and Donald symbolize Disney.) The ride’s other objective is to revive the sense of foreboding urban squalor that made the «Batman» films seem so familiar to a New Yorker. Beyond its vertiginous thrills, the Batman ride aims for psychological effects.

During the wait, claustrophobia builds up. The first half of the maze is set in «Gotham Park,» with quaint but gallowslike lampposts and a convoluted path, enforced by black iron railings, that mirrors the twists of the brooding black structure looming above. Because the ride’s cars hang down from a monorail, the passengers’ legs dangle, making the train look like a helpless centipede as it zooms by overhead.

The «Batman» soundtrack (a Time Warner product) of Danny Elfman’s romantic orchestral swells and Prince’s dance tunes, along with selected dialogue and gunfire from the films, plays on speakers, growing ever louder during the wait. Part 2, about 25 minutes’ worth, moves under the ride. Between black chain-link fences, topped with barbless barbed wire, and under an industrial ceiling of exposed black pipes, passengers-to-be view an art-directed urban wasteland: a police car smashed into a gushing hydrant, a scrap yard of metal parts and used tires, a graffiti-covered wall. Just outside, screaming riders regularly whiz by, a close-up preview. The final approach is through a corrugated tin tunnel, toward a human-size fan, then up a narrow stairway.

The ride, then, is deliverance back to open sky, even as the orange safety harness is clunked down over your shoulders and an attendant gives the short seat belt a tug. The ascent provides a nice view of the flume ride and the trees surrounding Great Adventure. And then the view doesn’t matter anymore.

An upside-down loop shows you your own legs; a left, a right, a twist, another vertical loop, a turn on the axis and what’s billed as a simulated zero-gravity roll bring severe disorientation to your internal gyroscope. Because you’re hanging under the track, you can’t see what’s coming, only feel the angles and watch blue sky give way to black metal, again and again, until the vehicle coasts back to its starting point. Unharnessed, you wobble dizzily past a photo booth that may have captured your centrifugal grimace, toward the HBO Commissary and the Time Warner gift shop.

Batman the Ride isn’t as tall (105 feet), fast (50 miles per hour maximum) or long (2,700 feet of track covered over 2 minutes) as the park’s other star roller coaster, the Great American Scream Machine (173 feet, 70 m.p.h. 3,900 feet, 2 and a half minutes). Yet the Scream Machine, with the more conventional cars atop a track, is not only unromantic — you watch television and look at flags on the way in — but also uncomfortable, with nasty sideways jerks that bang your chest into the harness. The Batman ride, by contrast, allows no distractions from its central missions: suspense and vertigo. It works. To Get Dizzy.

Holy Gut-Wrencher! Batman the Ride! -

Six Flags Great Adventure, the theme park in Jackson, N.J. can be reached from the New Jersey Turnpike, Exit 7A, or the Garden State Parkway, Exit 98.

The park is open Monday through Friday, 10 A.M. to 8 P.M.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 A.M. to 10 P.M.

Admission to the park, which includes all rides and the safari, is $29.95; $20 for children 54 inches and shorter; $14.98 for the elderly; free for children under 3. Parking: $5.

Information: (908) 928-1821.

Photo: Thrills and chills: Daring passengers go up against the sky and gravity. (Bill LaForce for The New York Times) (pg. C1) Map shows the location of Six Flags Great Adventure. (pg. C17)

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