“Roller coaster, the big thrill”, on Arte: vibrate with fear and pleasure


If roller coasters are so popular, it’s probably because humans love to play scare. There are currently some 13,700 circuits scattered around the world. This documentary, rich in testimonials from engineers, neuroscientists, circuit designers and thrill seekers, retraces the long history of this very special form of entertainment.

Every year, amusement parks and fairgrounds see two billion people jostling, sometimes ready to wait for hours to get laid on increasingly sophisticated installations. Extreme centrifugal force, accelerations, loops, spirals, impressive bends… The risk of accident, while rare, does not prevent the quest for emotions, the pleasure of being afraid. The chemical reactions of the brain in the face of a controlled danger have been studied, underlines the scientist Meryl Malezieux, of the Max-Planck Institute, in Munich, where she deciphers the cerebral mechanisms which make “vibrate with fear and pleasure”.

“American Mountains”

Originally, the inhabitants of Saint Petersburg, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, sprinkled water on wooden structures, which, under the effect of frost, became steep ice rinks; in Pennsylvania (United States), miners invent a similar attraction by transporting coal in wagons that descend the mountain. In the Tsarist Empire, the first roller coasters were called “American mountains”… In 1897, the rudimentary installations of the first amusement park in the world were built on Coney Island (New York).

Since then, it’s been an endless race, on both sides of the Atlantic. According to the documentary, the first looping dates back to 1846. In 1989, Parc Astérix offered a circuit of seven loopings, and, in 2013, an English roller coaster lined up fourteen! A New Jersey attraction opened the highest (128 meters) and fastest (200 km/h) circuit in the world in 2005. Record beaten in 2010 in Abu Dhabi with 133 meters high and peaks at 240 km/h!

Werner Stengel, a brilliant German engineer, is at the origin of modern circuits thanks in particular to his complex mathematical calculations which made it possible to defy the laws of physics. He is also the inventor of the first modern looping, inaugurated in California in 1975.

As for Daniel Schoppen, another high-level engineer, his job is to design increasingly spectacular roller coasters. Like the one called “Taiga”, installed in Finland, in the Linnanmäki park, and designed “like a musical composition, with its fast and slow passages. And this bump that we cross upside down ». An attraction that meets the most demanding expectations, judging by the particularly strong emotions felt by Anita and Bruno, a couple who devote their weekends and holidays to testing roller coasters around the world: they are nearly 2,500!

Roller coaster, the big thrill by Rosi Bundz (Germany, 2021, 52 mins). art

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“Roller coaster, the big thrill”, on Arte: vibrate with fear and pleasure

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