Welcome to Hawkins! Hawkins’ new mall to be exact, which laid the scene for the brand new Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience located in Los Angeles! With all of the restrictions of 2020, I was eager to see what this completely covid friendly drive through experience would be like. So buckle up and try not to run over Eleven as we delve into the Upside Down.
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The first thing to note is that I have only seen the first season of Stranger Things, so it wasn’t an IP I’m the most familiar with. However, a friend of mine who came along had seen the whole series and was able to fill me in.
When heading to the event my biggest fear was that getting in would be difficult and I’d be stuck in a never ending line of cars on the street. Luckily this wasn’t the case. The experience is located in a parking structure with ample space surrounding it.
First, you pulled into the check-in area where you waited in a line for someone to scan your tickets. There was light theming around beginning to set the scene for Hawkins. This line moved pretty quickly and we were then led to the pre-show moment of the experience.
Located outside the parking structure, cars lined up into one of 6 lines where you would enjoy the pre-show. This consisted of a stage at the front with an emcee. You could tune into the sound through the radio and this system worked nicely. The MC played 80s music, made jokes and played games with the crowd. Games would consist of flashing your headlights to answer questions.
Actors dressed as the main tweens from the show were running around the cars in character. At one point they also brought out a video camera that was broadcasting to the main screen at the front. This part was really fun and set the stage for the event.
However, after about 15 minutes we hadn’t moved forward at all and were getting a little tired of the DJ. There were also staff members walking around selling food which we bought to kill some time. They delivered the food very quickly and it was a simple process.
The whole pre-show area was fun for a while but we were simply stuck there far too long. We ended up waiting an hour before we actually got to enter the experience.
Once we entered there were no photos allowed but I will do my best to explain each of the 3 scenes. We were put into a group of around 30 cars and drove up to almost the top of the structure. Blackout curtains were used so that you were encased in darkness.
The first scene had us pull into parking spots so that the cars sort of formed a theatre in the round. Employees did a good job of telling people where to go and it was very easy to navigate. It seemed like it was going to be a really cool scene but then unfortunately they also filled the middle with 2 rows of cars.
Once everyone was in, the scene began. All the music and dialogue was pre-recorded. Actors ran around pretending to say the lines. However, due to safety protocols all the actors had masks on so they couldn’t actually mouth the words so they would just sort of move their head a lot when they were supposed to be speaking.
The scene was set in the Russian lab which my friend informed me was a pivotal moment from the show. However, you just couldn’t really follow what was going on. The actors were running around all the cars but there were so many cars packed in there that you couldn’t see much. While the sound was good, it just didn’t mean much because you couldn’t follow it very well.
Next they cycled us up to the next floor. This room had some theming consisting of branches everywhere but that was about it. This floor was the most traditional haunted house in that there was a moving line that you followed around the floor. However, instead of driving through, they filled up the line and had everyone park. Screens were placed throughout the level that then proceeded to play a video.
The problem with this video was there was simply no story or cohesion to it. I described it later as a collage of moments from the show. It almost felt more like a music video. And these moments came from every season and they jumped around seasons with no thru line. So basically, you parked and then watched a cut together reel of moments from the show. The lighting and the music was cool but there was just no substance in the actual content.
The final scene took place on the roof of the parking structure. This was by far the best part of the experience. The entire roof was surrounded by screens and everyone parked much like you would for a drive in movie. This area also had a stage in front which was elevated so you didn’t have an issue seeing anything this time.
The actors performed various scenes from the show and a couple of flying effects were used. Visually this scene was by far the best. However, once again, it was simply a collage of moments from the show. You would basically watch a scene for a minute or 2 and then they’d do a different scene. It was all cool looking but there just wasn’t much to follow.
After that, there was an optional merch stop and then the experience was done. The inside portion lasted about 45 minutes in total.
While the experience was certainly different, I don’t think it had been fully conceptualized yet. The biggest issues being, long wait times, lack of visibility, and most importantly to me, lack of story. I wondered if I felt this way due to my lack of knowledge on the IP but my friend who was a fan confirmed she felt the same way.
As I’ve said a few times, the experience lacked any type of thruline story that you could hold onto. Made up of half live theatre and half movies, but no story you could follow. Just a collection of moments from the show.
However, I would be really interested to see a 2.0 version of this experience. I do think all the parts are there to make a very compelling show but the idea needs to be worked on a little longer. With more visibility and an easier to follow plot this experience could grow into something very fun!