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Official Article

Universal Studios Hollywood '92

Growing up, movies from Universal were always identifiable by the logo featuring a view of the Earth, seemingly shot in space by Astronauts in the 1960’s. Classics like Back To The Future, Howard The Duck (classic crap?) and The Wizard (classic product placement?) had already endeared me to the studio during my early days of movie watching, but it was a special screening at the turn of the decade that really made me want to visit the place where movies were made. Here’s a look back at my fascination and first visit to Universal Studios Hollywood.

Jetsons: The Movie was feature length animated film released by Universal to theaters in 1990 and at the local Fashion Island shopping center, the stars of the film were going to appear in person. Well, as in person as a 2 dimensional cartoon character can. After watching the fairly forgettable action in a darkened theater with other kids my age, we were given the opportunity for a meet n’ greet with George Jetson. As you can see in the above Polaroid I happily posed for a photo, fully accepting that he was the physical embodiment of the futuristic Flintstones rip-off. What really added to the effect was that the event staff were dressed in “21st century” outfits like they were extras from the movie.

After The Jetsons encounter, I caught the bug for going one step beyond the passive cinematic viewing experience and into the world behind the scenes. I soon became aware of a place called Universal Studios where they showed you how movies were made and even let you be in them. You see my friend had gone with his family in 1989 and brought home a very special VHS tape as a souvenir. In it, people from the audience had been dressed in Starfleet or Klingon uniforms to perform in a mini-episode of Star Trek for an attraction called The Star Trek Adventure. You can click this link for an example of what the finished adventure looked like.

I mainly remember my buddy’s Dad playing a Klingon who had a hard time keeping a straight face and got crushed by a bunch of fake boulders for his trouble. Sure it was goofy, but still, they were in a movie! After that day I was on a mission to get to Universal Studios Hollywood, but trips to theme parks were major undertaking so the day didn’t come until 2 years later. In the meantime, I wistfully watched commercials like this one showing all the fun that was being had by kids who were not me. But when the day came in 1992 for me and my Dad to pass through the gates, I was one happy 10 year old.

The latest and greatest attraction at the time was E.T. Adventure (as evidenced by the cover of the studio guide), but before anything else I wanted to make sure I rode the infamous tram tour I had heard so much about. My first celebrity encounter came while waiting for the other passengers to board. There I was just minding my own business when suddenly I came face to face with one of the classic Universal icons: Frankenstein's Monster! Obviously I’m a bit of a ham, but my Dad’s total non-reaction is what makes the picture great. I’m being strangled to death and he’s just trying to ignore the situation behind his Blue-Blocker shades. Thanks, Pops!

As the tour commenced and we took a drive passed the homes where they shot old TV shows like Leave It to Beaver, The Munsters and even the Psycho house, I was pretty bored. Those shows were in black and white, this was the age of color! When we rolled passed the town square set where they filmed the clock tower scene for Back To The Future, my ears perked up a little, but the promise of seeing a movie star with “banana breath” is what really got my heart pumping.

As we entered the sound stage, police sirens were blaring as a rigged helicopter fell out of the sky, hailing us with sparks. Pre-recorded news reports from TV sets hanging out the apartment building façade warned us of the impending danger. From here, there was no turning back. As we rounded the corner we were greeted by a roar from a giant, animatronic King Kong who furiously shook the cables of the bridge we were traveling on. He seemed more annoyed than dangerous, but it was awesome to come face to face with the famous beast. This thrilling part of the tour actually burned down during a fire at the studio several years ago, but you can see home video footage of the experience at this link.

Next up was the Earthquake set, where a quiet subway station quickly became the scene of movie mayhem as in so many natural disaster films. It was silent when we pulled up next to the concrete pillars and tiled walls, but suddenly the tram started to shake as a runway subway car and skidded out of control and broke apart in a hail of sparks (are you starting to see a trend?) Then the ceiling collapsed and a semi-truck rolled directly at us in a burst of flame, as rush of water came flooding down the stairs into the station. As we were leaving you could see the area re-set itself back to normal, which was really cool. It was like Superman flying around the Earth to turn back time as the pieces returned to normal. Get shaken yourself at this link.

The final and most iconic part of the tram tour was entering the town of Amity where a certain great white shark was known to raise havoc. Pulling up next to a dock set our driver called out to an old man in a boat fishing, who suddenly disappeared beneath the water in fountain of blood. Then a familiar fin began popping up out of the water and suddenly BAM there was Jaws trying to take a bite out of us in a hail of…water (hey, the sparks would have been a safety hazard). Check it out at this link. As fun as this section was, I always felt cheated that they didn’t do a cross-promotion with Sea World for an underwater terror ride to re-create scenes from my favorite in the series Jaws 3-D. Just imagine Jaws trying to break through the glass to avenge her captured baby, talk about a thrill ride! With the tram ride over, I was ready to take on the other attractions in the park, but even the walk around was filled with surprises.

For example, passing by a row of hedges out of nowhere was K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider! Just parked and posing for a photo. Of all the things I had already seen, K.I.T.T. was by far the biggest “celebrity” in my mind. I was so starstruck I just admired the tricked-out Trans-Am from afar. Next thing I knew Woody Woodpecker was strutting by ready for his moment in the spotlight, followed by Marilyn Monroe and even Lucille Ball. It was a really strange mishmash of TV, Film and Animation stars, but I was all for it. They also had a lot of shows you could sit in on with animal actors or wild west stunt men, but the most heavily publicized on TV was the epic adventure inspired by Conan the Barbarian.

Being that it was "Rated R", I had never seen the movie in it's entirety, but you can’t go wrong with sword fights, lasers and a fire-breathing dragon! I thought it was cool that they also had Red Sonja in the mix acting as a sidekick in the all the action. Hey, equal opportunity butt-kicking is OK in my book, but I feel like this kind of thing would never fly these days, except at some Cirque De Soleil show at a Las Vegas casino. If sword and sorcery is your thing, check out the fun at this linkAfter that spectacle of machismo, I talked my Dad into sitting down for the Beetlejuice’s Rockin’ Revue

This was kind of big deal to me, because we had a father and son outing in 1988 to go see the Tim Burton comedy in theaters. Plus the show was made up of 50’s and 60's pop songs which was another interest we shared. I should mention that these songs were being sung by a funky Wolfman in torn jeans and tank top, a glittery Phantom of the Opera singing "Great Balls of Fire", a sultry Bride of Frankenstein serenading her hunky, "monster muletted" boyfriend who had tried to "end me" earlier in the day and Dracula, because...why not? The wise-cracking Beetlejuice did a great impression of the Michael Keaton's performance from the film and it was actually one of the highlights of the whole day. Luckily someone filmed it, so you can get rockin’ like a monster too at this link.

The final part of the day at Universal Studios was spent entering a soundstage to fly through the air with an alien on a bicycle or as the marketing team branded it, E.T. Adventure. The premise was that we had been cast in a sequel to Spielberg’s film which a video version of the famous director explained would take place on E.T.’s home world. That was all well and good, but what really stuck out to me was the awesome area where you waited in line. How could a line for a ride be fun, you ask?

It was all made up like the infamous forest where E.T. and friends were chased by government agents. I remember being so blown away by the fact that they made the indoors look like the outdoors as the smell of actual pine permeated the air. They even had little props like the satellite communicator E.T. built out of an umbrella, record player and Speak N’ Spell, awesome! Prior to this, the closest I had gotten to seeing E.T. live was owning a weird stuffed toy with leather skin, so when we finally boarded our bicycles I was pretty psyched.

You were thrown right into the chase scene with flashlights and headlights chasing you at every turn until your bike took off into the air re-creating the most memorable scene in the movie. After flying over a miniature city we suddenly got zapped into light speed and ended up on a planet of E.T. creatures! I was used to seeing E.T. solo, so watching a bunch of animatronic doppelgangers swing from vines and dive in water was a revelation.

By far the coolest part was when E.T. himself called out my name and thanked me personally for bringing him home and healing his fellow aliens. At least that’s what I learned with further research, all I really remember was one of the 80’s most famous movie stars slowly saying my name and the joy it brought me. Sadly, this fantastic experience has since been replaced by a roller-coaster inspired by The Mummy movies. It’s an exhilarating rush flying backwards at 70mph, but doesn’t hold a candle to the pine-scented memories of what once was. You can check it out for yourself at this link.

I went back to Universal Studios many more times over the years to check out new attractions like the truly terrifying Jurassic Park (seriously, freaks me out), or the innovative Back To the Future and even the short-lived Marvel Mania restaurant (Mutants N’ Cheese X-Men Pasta anyone?), but I’ll always look back fondest on my first trip through the land of movie magic.

So tell me, have you ever been to Universal Studios in Hollywood or Orlando? What stars did you run into and what were your favorite rides?

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Jan 30, 2015 at 08:36 PM

@Vaporman87 That's sweet, I have wanted to check out Islands of Adventure for years. Hope you have a great trip.

@pikachulover During High School I once "danced for candy" at one of the shops in the Citywalk, it was really an awkward attempt at flirting with one of the cute sales girls. I didn't get her number, but I got the candy!

@Fulton4V Yeah, BTTF was a great experience, I'm glad they put the videos on the Blu-ray release of the films. Any word on whether The Simpsons ride that replaced it is any good?

Fulton4V Posted on Jan 30, 2015 at 07:28 PM

My favorite ride at Universal in Florida was Back to the future. It was just cool to sit in a Deloreon and go thru the ride.

pikachulover Posted on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:46 AM

I've been to Citywalk a few times, but I've never been to the actual park. I remember my aunt rode the ET ride and got mad because he pronounced her name wrong.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:12 AM

That's an awesome trip Hoju. I know that Universal in Orlando had many of the same attractions you spoke of here, and I got to see many of them over the years. I haven't been to Universal Studios in Orlando for nearly 14 years. I'm sure much has changed since then. This year, the kids are big enough to ride some of what Universal and Islands of Adventure has to offer, so we have pre-purchased tickets for both, in addition to our usual Disney stops. We'll be leaving late in February, so I'll keep you up to speed on all the new stuff.

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