If you’re anything like me, you still get a sour feeling in your stomach when you drive by the empty field that once held AstroWorld. The park was an enormous part of my childhood and the childhoods of millions of Houstonians and visitors.
Well, take a trip down memory lane with this new, free documentary on the park written by Jonathan Baker as part of his series on theme parks. Six Flags AstroWorld: A Cyclone of Thrills is a two-part, roughly half-hour look back at AstroWorld through historical footage and pictures, and every moment made me smile and clap like a small child.
Baker lovingly chronicles the life of the park from the day Judge Roy Hofheinz cut the ribbon with his kids in 1968 right up until the last ride on the Texas Cyclone. It’s primarily a history of how AstroWorld evolved over the years, as measured by the different ride additions. A great deal of focus is on the park's identity as a testing ground for new technologies and ride styles, a place where innovation and whimsy came together, sometimes with mixed results. I can’t be the only one who thought on a regular basis, “Huh, Sky Screamer’s stuck again.”
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It is primarily a coaster film, as that is Baker’s passion. As such, my main complaint is that it leaves out so much of the culture that AstroWorld created around it and lacks some personal touches. There’s nothing about Fright Fest, or when the park would open during Christmas break (to this day, AstroWorld is the only place I’ve ever skied). There’s no mention of the Southern Star concerts or the stellar performances that would be put on, save a small segment on Marvel McFey. The old dolphin shows get a brief nod, but nothing about the amazing water shows the park would do.
That aside, it’s still a much-needed chance to revisit one of the places that made Houston the city it is. Baker ends his look at the park by lamenting the fact that the sale of AstroWorld’s land didn’t even result in the giant payoff its investors were hoping for, as well as revealing the fate of several coasters. There’s hope at the finale, though, and for the city as well, as we all wait impatiently for Grand Texas to open in (we hope) 2019.
Memories of AstroWorld are often powerful. It was a place that was, well, magical, even if that magic was sometimes dirty or broken. Baker brings that magic screaming back to the front of my mind as if I were riding the last car in the Texas Cyclone again. It’s definitely one of the best new things in the world today. Watch it below.