There has never been a gameshow whose set was as prominent a character as Legends of the Hidden Temple‘s. As viewers, we all wished desperately to one day get the okay from Olmec to try and evade those temple guards. Even among those lucky few who were chosen to compete, only two out of every 12 contestants in an episode got to personally experience what it was like to try their hand at the final run. All this considered, walking onto the set of Nickelodeon‘s live-action film, based on the network’s classic ’90s game show, was an actual childhood wish come true. A dream that I thought I had lost out on forever. But could even this experience possibly live up to nearly 20 years of anticipation? Could entering the temple be as fun as I had always imagined?
Actually, it was even better than I had hoped.
Image: Keirstan Wanamaker
That’s because while I’ve been stuck imagining the temple as I remember it, made up of its smaller individual rooms, Nickelodeon has been busy building a massive and immersive new take on the show’s set, complete with the Steps of Knowledge and dozens of statues of realistic looking temple guards all overseen by the one and only Olmec himself. (Truth be told, I was more excited “meeting” Olmec than I get meeting most human celebrities.) I’ve never been inside an ancient temple, but it was tough to remember I was on a soundstage in Vancouver as I wandered around looking at the small detailed work that went into bringing this incredible facsimile to life.
What was even more amazing is that I was told this main temple room, which was where all the filming of the day was taking place during my visit, covered the fewest amount of shooting pages in the script. It was so impressive, and felt like such a waste not to use it way more, that I suggested they rent it out to birthday parties when they were done… though what I really meant was they should just let me run around it. Just like when I used to watch the game show at home, all I wanted was a chance to play in it like a kid.
And that was before they brought out the monkeys.
Image: Keirstan Wanamaker
Because you can’t have a Legends of the Hidden Temple movie without a green monkey. (Don’t worry, they didn’t dye a monkey green, that transformation is handled in post.) Shooting with those adorable, friendly little animals was far easier and more efficiently streamlined than I ever would have guessed, even given the fact that you need both primary monkeys and a backups to complete the shots… though for as amazing as it was to have a monkey hug my head, the stuffed taxidermy stand-ins were terrifying.
It didn’t seem to be nearly as taxing to work with trained monkeys as it is to work with children, though not for the reason you think, but rather because the demands on child actors are astounding to witness in person. Strict rules dictate how much time kid actors can shoot (which is good) and also how much time they must spend in “school” while on set (also good). Watching the three young stars of the movie, Isabela Moner, Colin Critchly, and Jet Jurgensmeyer, switch immediately from being in character on this big fancy Hollywood set to homework mode with their tutors, all to come back to the set again before long, was really remarkable.
I got tired and ansty merely sitting around during the ceaseless camera changes and lighting setups, but the three young stars never seemed to lose any of their energy or exuberance. We all remember it having been tough to focus in ordinary classrooms at their age, but somehow they seemed to have super human energy to film a movie while also learning math between scenes. No wonder the show’s host Kirk Fogg, who appears in the film as himself, had nothing but glowing praise for his three young colleagues, whose praises he sang when we sat down with him that day.
As for the rest of the set, we were given a look at a few of the smaller temple rooms, based on the same ones from the show. As in the case of the giant temple room, it looked as though no expense was spared. These were the sets that really felt like they came directly from the show, if only it had suddenly been given a whole bunch of money to make them look a lot better.
We were also told by the movie’s set designer that the sets were made with a “real sense of jeopardy” in mind, just like contestants (and viewers) felt during those temple runs. It wasn’t surprising to hear, because if there was anything we learned on the set it was that the movie was made by people who loved the show and who know how much we all did.
If you are worried about authenticity, the writers, director, designers, and cast all made sure they knew Legends of the Hidden Temple as well as we do. As a result they didn’t just include all of the elements from the show you will demand be a part of this adaptation (like the moat that the contestants had to cross, Pendants of Life, that stupid Silver Monkey, and the show’s best, most identifiable rooms), they also researched the Olmec culture where (duh) Olmec comes from, to make sure the temple looked as accurate as possible.
Very few individuals ever got a chance to enter Legends of the Hidden Temple‘s most exclusive club. Those of us who got this opportunity this year waited 20 years to legions of youngsters who once braved the grounds of Olmec. I always wondered what it would be like, but never imagined it could be as magical as it was. Plus, I didn’t even have to get wet, answer a bunch of questions, or be grabbed by temple guards to do it. Sometimes reality can exceed our dreams, even if it takes 20 years.
The Legends of the Hidden Temple movie premieres this holiday weekend, on Nickelodeon on Saturday at 8 pm EST.
What are you most looking forward to with this adaptation? The choice to enter the comments section below and tell us what you think is yours and yours alone, but it would rock if you did.
Featured Image: Nickelodeon