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Universal Studios Hollywood freshens up for the Fall

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Universal Studios Hollywood freshens up for the Fall

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As far as Universal Studios Hollywood is considered, this was the Summer of the Simpsons. "The Simpsons Ride," to be exact.

Photo by Shelly Smith

But now Autumn's on its way. Which typically means that this is the start of the slow season for Southern California's theme parks. A time when you push special events -- like USH's Halloween Horror Nights, which will be held this year from October 3rd through November 1st -- in order to drive attendance levels up. Rather than adding new rides, shows or attractions to your park.

Well, Universal Studios is evidently looking to buck that trend this year. For just before Labor Day, they added two newish attractions in order to give tourists something different to experience while visiting USH this Fall.

"What do I mean by 'newish' ?," you ask. Well ... Do you recall that fire that erupted on Universal's Lower Lot back in June ? You know, the one that destroyed this theme park's New York Street as well as its King Kong tram ride-thru attraction ? Well, the site of that blaze has since been razed ...

Photo by Shelly Smith

... And while Universal is now getting ready to rebuild New York, the return of the King is somewhat in flux as of this moment.

What do I mean by that ? Well, according to an industry insider that I spoke with last week, USH is looking to rebuild its Kong attraction. But what they won't be doing is recreating what Bob Gurr & his associates built back in 1986.

Copyright 1986 Universal Studios Hollywood. All Rights Reserved

This time around, when Kong comes back, Universal Studios Hollywood wants to give its guests an entirely new experience. Which is why they've decide to create a scene for USH's Tram Tour that won't based on the original 1933 version of "King Kong" or even Paramount Pictures' 1975 remake. But -- rather -- Peter Jackson's "King Kong" remake, which the studio released in 2005.

So what will USH guests see after they roll into that reconstructed soundstage ? I'm told that Universal's ride designers have been looking at the Jackson film's Kong-versus-V-Rex battle sequence for inspiration. So imagine your tram standing in for Naomi Watts as you're suddenly surrounded by huge animatronic versions of the brutes that you see below.

Copyright 2005 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved

But until that thrilling new addition actually gets designed & built, this studio theme park still needs some sort of Kong replacement. Which is why a retired piece of the Tour was quickly rehabbed & then put back into service.

"Which piece ?," you ask. Well, do you recall USH's old Collapsing Bridge scene ? This part of the Tram Tour originally debuted back in 1974. But when Universal blocked off access to this structure back in March of 2006, many studio insiders assumed that the Bridge had Collapsed for the very last time. But when the Kong soundstage burned to the ground back in June, Universal knew that they had to come up with something to fill in for that now-missing portion of the Tram Tour. And the Collapsing Bridge was still standing basically intact along the pre-established Tram route.

So USH spent most of this past Summer rehabbing its Collapsing Bridge, literally spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to make this thing look as old & as flimsy as possible. (Which explains my use of "newish" toward the top of this article). The Bridge officially re-opened just before Labor Day and it has been frightening tourists ever since.

Photo by Shelly Smith

Another park of Universal Studios Hollywood that recently got a redo is this theme park's old "Lucy: A Tribute" exhibit. Located in the Lower Lot, this small walk-through attraction used to celebrate the life & times of television pioneer Lucille Ball. But "Lucy: A Tribute" closed back in March to make way for the new " Universal Experience" exhibit. Which now offers an interactive & informative look back at USH history.

Photo by Shelly Smith

Universal actually did a great job with this exhibit. They dug down deep into the company's archives to uncover unique curios like the full-color poster that studio founder Carl Laemmle had created for the grand opening of Universal City back in 1915 ...

Photo by Shelly Smith

... Not to mention the blueprints for that mechanical shark that Disney visual effects wizard Robert A. Mattey designed & built for Steven Spielberg to use in his very first blockbuster: Universal's 1976 release, "Jaws."

Photo by Shelly Smith

The "Universal Experience" exhibit even manages to touch on an intriguing bit of Hollywood what-might-have-been: That live-action version of "Curious George" that Brad Bird was originally supposed to direct back in 1999. Those three busts and that full-sized monkey maquette shown in the case below were originally created for this aborted project. Sadly, the screenplay that Bird reportedly wrote for this abandoned Universal / Imagine Entertainment production was nowhere to be seen.

Photo by Shelly Smith

Speaking of "Curious George" : Earlier this year, Universal shut down the "Nickelodeon Blast Zone" and then totally rethemed this part of the Upper Lot. Now called "The Adventures of Curious George," this 30,000 square foot kiddie play area ties in directly with that "Curious George" cartoon series that Universal created for PBS Kids as well as that full-length animated feature that the Studios did back in 2006.

Photo by Shelly Smith

And speaking of Universal Studios tie-ins ... 2009 will bring us the weirdest one of all when "Creature from the Black Lagoon -- The Musical" surfaces at this theme park. Yes, I said "musical." Which -- according to this USH press release -- will take the storyline of this classic 1955 Universal Studios horror film and then blend that in with " ... state-of-the-art stagecraft, acrobatic choreography and hilarious, toe-tapping music."

Copyright 2008 Universal Studios Hollywood.
All Rights Reserved

Which -- I know -- sounds like pretty odd source material for a new musical. But let's remember that the stage version of "Little Shop of Horrors" turned out okay. So who knows? Maybe "Creature from the Black Lagoon -- The Musical" will wind up being a great way to kill 40 minutes while you're visiting the Upper Lot next Spring.

FYI: "Creature from the Black Lagoon -- The Musical" will be staged in the park's Castle Theatre. Which used to be home to Universal Studios Hollywood's "Fear Factor Live" until that audience participation show was suddenly shuttered the middle of last month.

Speaking of fear ... If you really can't bring yourself to attend "Halloween Horror Nights" this year ...

Copyright 2008 Universal Studios Hollywood. All Rights Reserved

... There's still plenty of new stuff to see during the day at Universal Studios Hollywood. So why don't you drop by this Fall and see how the place has been freshened up ?

Universal Studios Hollywood is located just north of downtown Los Angeles at 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, 91608. For further information of this studio theme park's operating hours and admission prices for the coming months, please click on this link.

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  • Wait, Peter Jackson's King Kong? Didn't that movie, like, not do that well? What is with Universal's aversion to the established classics? Well, besides the Creature musical, which should be... uh... interesting...

    But seriously, the Monsters are the best homespun thing Universal has going for them. I grant that they're of limited madern appeal thanks to poor direction for the franchise, but I keep thinking that a Universal Studios without Dracula, Frankenstein, the Bride, the Wolfman and the Mummy would be like a Disneyland without Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. Jeez Universal, grow some Kongs and bring back the 1933 original.  

  • Peter Jackson's King Kong recouped its budget and grossed a little bit more. The problem is that the budget was massive and the number of daily showings were limited by the film's lengthy run time. Thanks to media reports, the public certainly got the impression it was a failure. But it did win three Academy Awards. Overall, to answer your question CoryTheRaven, it did well. It wasn't terrific, but it did well.

    The reason Universal is probably looking to Jackson's Kong is because the movie is fresh on everyone's minds. The Universal Studios in Dubai is going to feature a Kong-themed coaster, so this isn't the first idea they've had for turning the Jackson film into an attraction.

    But it really comes down to this: Who doesn't want to see a giant animatronic Kong tussling with a T-Rex? That's freaking awesome.

  • A Creature from the Black Lagoon Musical sounds a hell of a lot more fun than a "Shrek" Musical. Too bad Howard Ashman is gone.

    I agree that Universal should resurrect their monster franchise. All those great Westmore/Pierce/Chaney creations need to be introduced to a whole new audience. Universal is sitting on a gold mine here. In fact they could bring them all back in an all new CG Mad Monster Party-type film. Or even a Universal Monsters dark ride.

  • damn.. I was hoping for a puppet version of Dracula: THe Musical, but Creature from the black lagoon will be good, too.  I wonder if it has any of the writers from Wicked?

  • Should be a fun review, a product with a slightly different slant in concept, and target audience than most other low cost models. 799, yep, should be very interesting.

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