"Raise your hand if you feel sick. Don't be embarrassed," the host said, words you don't expect to hear in a movie theater.
Some of the 40 kids from Hereford Middle School north of Baltimore snickered as they settled into their seats. How could a movie about American history make anyone queasy?
But once the film started and their seats lifted off the ground and began to twist and briefly plunge like a roller coaster, screams filled the theater.
"That's scary!" one girl shrieked as mist and wind buffeted her face while, on screen, Pilgrims battled a fierce storm.
Scary or not, for the next 25 minutes the students traveled through 200 years of history as they watched "Time Elevator America." The film shows on three large screens to an audience sitting in cars that are raised and tilted by large hydraulic lifts timed to move with the on-screen action. The cars have safety bars to keep riders, er, moviegoers, firmly in place.
The combination movie/theme park ride is one of four shown in a special theater at Baltimore that has been open since June 2003. The three other films offer tours of Rome, Jerusalem and an underwater exploration called "Oceanarium."
Teachers especially like "Time Elevator America" and "Oceanarium" because they come with classroom study guides. Wendy Schanberger, Hereford's social studies chairman who accompanied 360 eighth-graders on a recent Inner Harbor field trip, said teachers liked that the movie gave students "an outline of what they'll be studying in American history this year."
Before each show, kids are quizzed, "Jeopardy!"-style, on how much they know about the movie's subject. Nicki Smith, 13, said she learned more from the "Time Elevator America" pre-quiz than she did from the film. (Did you know that Tennessee was once called Franklin?)
"Voyage navigator" Robert Matthews says the best part of his job is "seeing kids enjoy themselves." He's seldom disappointed.
"That was awesome!" one Hereford boy yelled as the movie concluded. Others clapped in agreement. Happily, no one got sick.
-- Marylou Tousignant