Brimming with an over-abundance of hip-to-the-minute theatrical technology, Universal Orlando’s new must-see Bourne Stuntacular is the perfect addition to the park and perhaps the medium, as well.

We have yet to see a single Bourne film. That being said, after experiencing the new Bourne Stuntacular at Universal Orlando, we can honestly say that we are already massive fans of the franchise and intend on viewing all 5 combat-clad cinematic adventures effective immediately.

The Bourne Stuntacular is based on the four-decade-old franchise, currently containing 15 novels, 5 films, and a television series. Produced in conjunction with Action Horizon Stunts, the production follows Jason Bourne as he is pursued by sinister characters across three continents, while chase scenes, fistfights, and acrobatics abound. Unlike its predecessor, Terminator 2: 3D, which only included live actors to bookend the production, The Bourne Stuntacular includes live actors throughout the entire performance.

What struck me most about this beautiful blendship of live ‘stuntography’ and highly stylized screen-based cinematography was how it kept me in a constant state of suspense, an effect movies of this ilk rarely seem capable, rendering audiences, despite their box office success, a bit fatigued and spiritless. However, it seems that the clever creators of Bourne Stuntacular kick the ‘what have you done for me lately’ to the curb and replaced it with an unexpected and brilliantly staged theatrical fanfare. While this magnum opus is never at a loss for high octane hand-to-hand battle and high-stakes narrow escapes, this fresh take on the classic theme park stunt show is more a waltz than a cult-crazed action film making it’s semi-stage/screen debut. Nimble performers, lavish sets, and ostentatious explosions seamlessly weave through an endless sea of snappy vignettes, without a bow to tie up lose ends. Suspense is the signature move of this production, leaving you to feel as though a door has just slammed you in the face after your date caught you puckering up for that kiss goodnight. News flash, you’re not going to get it, and neither is the audience at The Bourne Stuntacular, because the anticipation is all part of the hunt, and often, the best part.

Despite the fact that modifications had to be made to the physical theatre to make room for this production, including widening the structure itself, the theatre is still the perfect location for this sort of fare. Set pieces twist and turn as they glide onto the stage from the expansive wings or rise from the deck, only to disappear moments later. Think, The American Adventure at EPCOT, x2 speed, on steroids. Each calculated manipulation is synchronized just-so with the screen, creating a magical cavalcade of ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ optical illusions.

High-definition projections help move the slender story along. However thin the book, we found that multiplot points and bombastic Hamlet-esqu soliloquies would have done a disservice, only hindering the well-tuned pacing of the piece. While the longwinded pre-show (a blasé recounting of the Bourne films), does a fine job of setting us up for what’s in store, it doesn’t much matter. Truth be told, in terms of story, simple wins the day. There is so much to digest in such a finite amount of time, an over-indulgence of narrative would only gunk up an otherwise clean exploration of technical wizardry. Besides, it is rather difficult to make out what is real and what is film, a fascinating factor of this production that is half the fun.

The third act struggles a bit, leaving the best of the best spectacles of this spectacular behind us. However, the finale itself packs enough punch to more than make up for it, with a few last-minute thrills and spills.

We would be remiss if we did not hail the talent of the performers upon the stage. While dialogue is slim, each commanding figure works with the time allotted to convey a true sense of urgency, with extra grit between the teeth, punched up perfectly for theme parkers. Remember, these actors are not contending with the latest revival of Les Miz running down the street. They’re vying for your attention after you just flew through the sky on one of the world’s most exhilarating ‘story coasters’. In other words, the competition is stiff and this company handles it with grace. It is obvious that these performers are true thespians with stage experience. Despite their limited time on the boards, it is this level of professionalism and multi-layered portrayal of character that can make or break an attraction.  These performers go above-and-beyond, having to tackle even greater demands than that of your average living room drama, such as, acting in slow-motion, a skill we assure you yet to grace any theatrical conservatory syllabus.

While technical direction is perhaps the most noteworthy component, costuming should not go ignored. The ability to match both screen and live performer is a trick in and of itself. Meticulous palate choices, assumably made eons in advance, were clearly at play and on display here. The devil is in the details, and it appears as though Universal may have been in some wickedly talented company throughout this creative process.

While this particular performance was considered a ‘soft opening (technical rehearsal), we found very few missteps or mistakes. As set pieces harmoniously contort to meet the playful camera angles that ran in the background, all your favorite theme park troupes (water, wind, fire) made a much-appreciated guest appearance, creating a further immersive experience.

We will mention, however, that while each element was executed with surgical precision, we would like to start a Kickstarter campaign to lobby for a more all-encompassing explosion effect. The ‘flame throwers’ used are simply not enough the share space with the other otherwise spot-on special effects. Unfortunately, the downside of getting so much right is when something is wrong or underwhelming, it appears glaringly obvious. A bit of a backhanded compliment, is it not?

The show also features a host of handy sound effects, as well a complementary score.

Repeatability is really at the viewer’s discretion. However, with only a twenty-minute runtime (not counting preshow), the AC may be well worth the second screening.

In short, we left feeling invigorated. This new force to be reckon with truly begs the question, what is next, in every sense of the phrase. Not just in relation to the show at hand, but for theme park entertainment as an art form. While we believe this production demands its well-deserved time in the Florida sun, it is just the beginning for the medium as a whole.

Most interestingly, we found ourselves reflective regarding Universal’s ability to flip the script. We all know that modern Disney relies heavily on a fan’s previously established attachment to a given intellectual property. Only after the numbers prove themselves is an IP deemed worthy of a three-dimensional visceral experience. However, given Universal’s lack of multi-generational IP to tug upon the heartstrings, it is intriguing to find that this model can (due to the high quality of this production) work in reverse. Universal Orlando has tapped into a new wellspring by possessing the ability to take an avid theme park fan and turn them into a full-fledged fan of a film franchise, sight unseen. And while we are not huge fans of the IP craze sweeping the theme park nation, let us be frank: IP is what made the original Disneyland possible. Though we may gush over the likes of originals, such as The Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Pirates and the Caribbean… Universal Studios has never pretended to be anything that it was not, a backlot tour.

In many ways, Bourne Stuntacular pays tribute to the original concept for Universal. It beckons you to ‘ride the movies, see the stars.’ And while this is not a ride, those of us who were lucky enough to be sitting there at the soft opening were white knuckling this thrilling adventure to the bitter end.