Saturday, August 19, 2006

Amusement Parks: Universal Studios Hollywood

Los Angeles is a great place to be in, especially if one has to fill the long lonely weekends with something interesting to do. Most of my Friday evening was spent in browsing to chart out my itinerary to my destination by bus and train. I diligently wrote down the bus numbers and directions so I did not get lost. Los Angeles can be quite cumbersome without a car I was told but I managed fabulously with a $3 Metro Day Pass and my legs filled in for the rest.

The first amusement part I visited was Universal Studios; I took the red line train from Hollywood and Vine to Universal. I emerged and wondered what to do next and just followed the crowd who must be heading towards the park. I waited at the shuttle bus stop and a white and blue four carriage long tram like bus came along shortly and I boarded with a ho-mum-bored attitude. The bus started its ascent towards the studio and as it climbed, my interest grew. The studios were situated on a top of a hill and the panoramic view was great. The bus came to a halt in front of the entrance, I spent some time walking up and down 'Citywalk' which was a collection of souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and movie theaters trying to find a camera. The disposable cameras did not look too appealing so my friends and relatives would just have to take my word that I had visited Universal in absence of tangible proof in form of photographs.

After finding absolutely nothing to buy, I headed towards the ticket counter and bought a general pass, there was a 'first class pass' which guaranteed the first position in any queue for double the price but I had a lot of time to kill so did not feel the need for it. On entering I was assailed by what I call the 'amusement park smell' which is an amalgamation of odors emanating from fries, waffles, ice-creams, hot dogs and pop corn, which put me off food altogether - at least the kind that was available in park seemed revolting to say the least and if something looked remotely appetizing, the portions were far too large for me to finish.

I walked along trying to figure out a landmark from the map I had and stood in the first queue I came across which turned out to be Shrek 4D. With swarms of kids and families everywhere I felt even more miserable while in queues. The queues thankfully are fast moving so I didn't have much time to wallow in self pity. The Shrek show was rather cute where the earth shook while horses galloped and you felt Shrek's spit when he sneezed and nearly jumped out of your seat when the mice ran over your feet and something seemed to come straight at you.

The next ride was the Studio Tour which was the most wonderful part of the Universal experience, though the wait in this queue is probably the longest. The bus took us around the various stages which are numbered and where some famous stars were currently shooting for some up coming movies - we just heard about them but didn't see any. Next the bus took us around the 'facades' which were dummy buildings complete with doors, windows, curtains, signboards and so on. The streets had strategically placed mail boxes, street lights, trash bins - all made of cardboard or some such thing and managed to looks so real. The tour guide said that these facades could be remodeled to depict a street in any country and any period back in time. She rattled off the names of some movies which were shot in these streets but I can’t remember their names now.

Next the bus entered a dark looking shed when suddenly the bus started shaking, the whole place seemed to disintegrate, two trains were about to collide and it seemed that a truck would land right on top of the bus but of course we were saved just in time. This was the earthquake zone where we were shown how such scenes in movies are simulated. Next we entered another dark looking cave which was the King Kong zone where there King Kong ranted and raved like a maniac looking ferocious with big red eyed and sharp teeth.

Talking about natural calamities, floods can’t be ignored; they have their rightful place in the movies too. The bus drove along at a leisurely pace along the winding streets of a street with a look and feel of a Mexican village and suddenly we experienced 'torrential rains, dark skies, gusty winds, thunder, lightening and floodwaters gushing towards us. If I didn't know that this was a studio I would quite certainly be swept away and drown in the floods - they looked that real. The skies cleared magically and we moved on through the Jurassic Park jungle which had some watery and creepy sounds and then on to some exhibits of cars used in movies which overturn, burst into flames and were used for many famous chases in many famous movies. There was also an exhibit of Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift which was then just about to be released - the bus remained rooted there for 5 minutes so all of us knew that this movie was opening in theaters soon.

We passed through many bungalows where the stars of the yesteryears stayed during movie shoots; these are now used as offices by various producers. We saw the New York Central Park which is probably the size of backyard garden (okay it wasn't that small!) in this studio. For movies using New York Central Park, aerial shots are taken of the actual park and then fitted in with this park where people are shown walking around or sitting on benches.

Next was the water tank for the movie 'Jaws' where all the underwater shooting was done, there were some unexpected surprises as well when the bridge 'collapsed' and a rusty tin shark opened its jaws wide to make a meal of all the passengers and fires came up everywhere. Well we lived through this one as well and moved on to the next calamity - the house on the hill or the 'Psycho House' which has been carefully preserved. Thankfully no showers were turned on and no one crept up from behind!

War of the Worlds was next where the set was created by actually blowing up a fully created set to pieces. There were half burnt cars, broken houses, a broken aero plane, smashed coke cans, torn curtains and so on. It was a very real looking set which was used for the movie.

The bus then passed through a very pretty looking lane lined with houses on both sides with gardens in front, the houses were real and not facades and it looked very familiar - I had seen this before I told myself, Was it deja vu, past life memories? Well of course not! It turned out to be Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives - no wonder as I watch it religiously every week. ABC has exclusive use of this part of the studio and people are not allowed inside except for the Studio Tour buses.

The last stop was the huge white backdrop which is used for backdrops in many movies - King Kong against the blue sky was this back drop and then it was a drive down the memory lane where there were posters of movies from 1920s to 2006. This was probably the best exposure for movie goers to the world of movie making with ingredients of drama, surprise and magic.

Another interesting show was the Special Effect Stages where we were shown how visual and audio special effects are created and gained some more insights into the world of movie making. The Jurassic park ride was entertaining as well where one had all kinds of dinosaurs popping up unexpectedly and some spewing water at the gawkers. I had very unusual company of two Tibetan monks who were seated in the same row as me for this ride. Walking through the Lucy Tribute was nostalgic too. The 'Revenge of the Mummy' ride was an awesome rollercoaster ride where one has no idea about the direction where one is going. The only disadvantage is that one has to deposit all hand baggage in the lockers outside.

The rides up and down the escalators gave me a good view; there are three escalators one after another which connect the lower level to the upper level. On the upper level I tried some more rides like Back to the Future which was modeled on the movie, which was good but not great and definitely worth a miss. Van Hesling and Waterworld are good too if one is so inclined. I didn't have time to see Terminator 2 and Backdraft shows so I cannot comment much on them, gives me an excuse to go back another time (Dave are you listening?)!

As for food options, there were plenty. I chose Panda Express broccoli, beef and noodles which passed muster and assuaged my craving for something Asian, next was a Ben & Jerry waffle cone which was too large for me to handle but I tried my best while sitting on a foot massage seat soothing my aching feet and doing justice to my ice-cream which ultimately went to the trash bin half eaten - I long for it now! There are plenty of souvenir shops with Marvel merchandize and an array of colorful basketballs with Superman, Shrek and Spongebob pictures which seemed worth buying. By the time I was done it was close to 9 PM and I was ready to drop with amusement park fatigue but I loved every minute of my first experience of an amusement park.


Nautilus said...

The beginning of your travelogue vaguely reminded of the forced tours of Ramoji Film City that I had to endure a few times :-) Sorry for the icky comparison...but couldn't help it!

Jokes apart, your posts about LA are so lucid. I love the matter of fact style.

Anonymous said...

ur literary skill is very good, keep writting about anything which u think is relevant.keep the good work flowing.xtraordinary way of putting few facts in a very interesting manner.

goldennib said...

I'm exhausted. I think I was there with you ; D

indianpeppone said...

*turning green*

ichatteralot said...

@Nautilus: This was something I just put down so that my Grandkids could read it! Never been to Ramoji - maybe I should? Thanks a ton!

@Anonymous: Hey thanks - you keep me going - love you...

@Goldennib: I know - I got finger fatigue while writing it and yawned while I read it :)

@Indianpeppone: WHY? WHY? Dubai has desert safaris which are much more interesting than a stooopid movie studio!

Desh said...

Hey.. great travelogue of the journey! I have been thru this ride but your descrition and - best of all - the pictures (did you take these pics?) were fantastic!

keep it coming...


Jenn said...

It sounded very interesting. Trust the movie studios to capitalise on all that richness, and you describe it so well...

I wish you had given me the other half of the ice cream...half would have been just nice.

ichatteralot said...

@Desh: Thanks for dropping by! No - the pictures were courtesy Universal Studios web site! I did not have my camera then...

@Jenn: I rue my misdeed till this day *SIGH* If you are here sometime, I will be happy to share my ice cream with you!