AutoMatters+: Universally entertaining — Universal Studios Hollywood turns 50

AutoMatters+: Universally Entertaining – Universal Studios Hollywood Turns 50

This is the 50th anniversary of Universal Studios Hollywood. Also making headlines is “Jurassic World” (which I reviewed here last week). The movie studio’s latest blockbuster installment in the “Jurassic Park” movie franchise has broken the worldwide and US opening weekend box office records.

The two events came together for me last week. After experiencing the spectacle of “Jurassic World,” I felt compelled to drive up from San Diego to visit “Jurassic Park — The Ride” at Universal Studios Hollywood. The clincher was receiving a postcard in the mail that invited me, as an annual pass member, to be among the first to experience “Fast & Furious — Supercharged.”

On the postcard’s face is a bold, colorful, action-packed artist’s rendering of a scene from “Fast & Furious.” A massive, fiery explosion emerges from what looks like an oil refinery, as hero cars driven by the stars race to support “Dom” (Vin Diesel), who is hanging by his arms from a heavily armed helicopter. Beside him is a Universal Studios Studio Tour tram that is filled with guests, most with their mouths wide open in shock and awe at what they are witnessing. This captures the essence of the 3D-HD ride, which takes place in a brand-new, 65,000-square-foot building. This may well be the next best thing to being on set during the filming of “Fast & Furious.” It is movie-making magic, and it is what makes the Studio Tour so special. We experienced a rehearsal, but the ride will be finalized and become part of the Studio Tour on June 25.

“Jurassic Park — The Ride” begins with a deceptively tranquil boat ride past docile dinosaurs. Then other dinosaurs attack the compound, and it gets very dark. Suddenly we plummet in a steep, freefall drop, splash-landing in the water below.

In “WaterWorld,” the audience is seated in a stadium that surrounds a large body of water. The show has fire, explosions, speeding boats and Jet Skis, and stunts. It all culminates with a surprise arrival that will leave you speechless.

I took the Studio Tour three times, the last one being on the final tour of the day, which departed about 9 p.m. Yes, it was in the dark, which will be brand-new for Universal Studios Hollywood when the rehearsals are finished and it officially begins on the July 4 weekend.

Offered in multiple languages, Studio Tour attractions include a shark attack in Amity Island; a flash flood in an old Spanish village; a fiery, tram-shaking earthquake; and an epic battle in 3D as dinosaurs fight each other and King Kong, and attack a tram. At night, dramatic lighting is added, as well as other special surprises, which make the Nighttime Studio Tour distinctly different from the daytime version.

This is a working studio in this, “The Entertainment Capital of L.A.,” and we observed actual productions underway.

A completely new and wonderful dining experience is set in an amazing recreation of “Springfield” — home of "The Simpsons." This sprawling, two-story addition to the park accurately captures — via numerous authentic details — the heart and soul of the iconic animated TV series. Features include the nuclear power plant, the Duff Brewery Beer Garden, Springfield prison — with a jailbreak in progress — and Springfield Elementary School.

Be sure to visit upstairs, where you can actually eat your meal on a pool table. They even sell Lard Lad doughnuts. Yum! Naturally, I also went on “The Simpsons Ride.”

Opening in spring 2016 will be the eagerly anticipated “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” situated on what was once the sprawling site of the beloved Gibson (formerly Universal) Amphitheater. You can already see the towers of Hogwarts Castle. Universal tells us that the signature 3D-HD adventure ride “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” will feature “a groundbreaking robotics ride system, fused with elaborate filmed action sequences and immersive visceral effects.” “Flight of the Hippogriff” will become the park’s first outdoor coaster. You’ll find authentic food and beverages, and eight themed retail shops.

Also, by 2016 there will be all-new Studio Tour trams, with comfortable, cushioned seats.

They describe the massive undertaking — unprecedented in the park’s 50-year history — as “pioneering” and “epic.” It truly is. That “D-land” theme park down the road had better watch out. I had a wonderful day here, and things will only get better. Isn’t competition great?

That’s all for now. Please send your comments and suggestions to AutoMatters@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2015 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters+ #389

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