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Universal Studios 100 Year Anniversary Tour

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by Katie Thompson (subscribe)
University of York Graduate, aspiring to be a journalist with dreams of one day publishing my own novel. Blog: twotwothompson.wordpress.com/ Published work can be seen at www.theyorker.co.uk and www.yorkvision.co.uk
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Go behind the scenes with Universal
2012 has seen no end of memorable events- the Olympics, The Queen's Diamond Jubilee, even the prophesized apocalypse. How fitting then that it should also mark the 100 year anniversary of Universal Studios, home to some of the Hollywood's greatest blockbusters, from The Blues Brothers to Jurassic Park.

This is Hollywood, so what better excuse to celebrate 100 years of glitz and glamor than a themed studio tour? So begins my adventure out of the colossal theme park and into the confines of the tram, soon to be greeted by a cheery, if not a little camp tour guide and a neat pair of 3D shades. Kicking off the tour are billboards on either side of the track paying homage to some of the studio's most memorable movies over the years, dating back to the truly old classics.

Soon after a slightly underwhelming roam through some of the studio buildings begins the real fun - first up, a 3D movie of King Kong having a scrap with a T-rex, complete with the added motion simulator effect of a shaky floor. As we move on our tour guide is keen to give us a rundown of how things work in high-octane action movies, and we're treated to a display of sports cars flying about the air while fire and smoke billows behind them as if it's the most normal thing in the world- of course, on the set of The Fast and the Furious, they're probably quite commonplace.

hollywood 100 years studio tour special effects
Some of the special effects as featured on The Fast and the Furious


As the tour progresses we move on from the action movies and are greeted by something a little more tranquil; firstly, driving down Wisteria Lane from the hit sitcom Desperate Housewives rouses a series of squeaks from the females in the audience. Later on, as a native Londoner I can't help but smile as we're taken through the set of 'little Europe', an old-fashioned looking town which our tour guide informs us 'can be any town in Europe- Rome, Paris, Berlin- we just change the languages on the signs.'

hollywood 100 years studio tour desperate housewives
The set of Desperate Housewives


Slight ignorance of Europe aside, the next leg of the tour covers some of Hollywood's most memorable scary movies. Of course, the Bates motel from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho makes an appearance, as indeed does Norman Bates himself, standing looking at us ominously from the comfort of his home, and moments later wielding a knife- which would be momentarily frightening were it not for the camp commentary from our tour guide. The tour continues the theme of fusing horror with humor as we pass the Jaws set and witness the demise of a humble scuba diver, followed by a close shave with death at the teeth of the great beast himself. Naturally, it's all very comical as our guide warns us unsubtly with all the enthusiasm of a Justin Bieber fan at an Iron Maiden concert.

hollywood 100 years studio tour jaws
Prior to the Jaws attack...


As the tour draws to a close there's a multitude of other visually stunning film sets combined with an engaging account of the production process. Did you know, for example, that the fallen plane featured in the Spielberg remake of War of the Worlds was in fact a real plane? True to his genius, the plucky director actually had the disused plane destroyed in order to make it look as if it had fallen out of the sky. I for one would have loved to have been on the destruction team!

hollywood 100 years studio tour war of the worlds
The fallen plane from Spielberg's War of the Worlds


After just under an hour we've learned some of the secrets of cinema, from the actors' personal habits to the complexities of adverse weather effects in filming. We've seen some of Hollywood's most famous cars, from the DeLorean in Back To The Future to the tour car in Jurassic Park. We've been flooded, set on fire, attacked by Jaws, threatened by Norman Bates and grossed out by scarab beetles on the set of The Mummy. The tour has covered everything about Hollywood from the old classics to the big-budget blockbusters of our time, and it's amazing just how much work goes into one film, and also how many movies are filmed in the same location with the little help of a green screen.

Universal Studios: The 100 Year Anniversary Tour is well worth taking a slice out of your day at the theme park to visit, and comes free with the price of a park ticket, so you can enjoy Hollywood behind the scenes without burning a hole in your pocket. After leaving the tour it's hard to grasp just how much cinema has changed over the past one hundred years, and if we can be attacked by dinosaurs in 2012, I shudder to think what could happen in the next hundred years.
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Why? To learn the secrets of the stars from the past 100 years
Phone: (818) 622-3801
Where: Universal Studios Hollywood
Cost: $89
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