Studio Tour

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This article is about the Universal Studios Hollywood attraction. For other uses, see Studio Tour (disambiguation).
Studio Tour
Universal Studios - Studio Tour.JPG
Universal Studios Hollywood
Area Upper Lot
Opening date July 15, 1964 (1964-07-15)
General statistics
Theme Universal Pictures films
Duration 45-60 minutes
Included attractions Flash Flood
Earthquake: The Big One
Jaws
Courthouse Square (Back to the Future)
King Kong: 360 3-D
Skull Island Sea
War of the Worlds
Bates Mansion
Psycho
Whoville
Collapsing Bridge

The Studio Tour (also known as The Backlot Tour) is a ride attraction at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park in California (USA).[1]

The Tour is the signature attraction at the park, and goes into a working movie studio, with various film sets on the lot. In recent years, guests have sat in multi-car trams for the duration of the ride. The Tour lasts about 45–50 minutes[1] and is led by a live tour guide who can be seen throughout the tram on video screens. It travels through the Front Lot, Backlot and various attractions, passing sets and props from movies along the way.

The tour inspired a smaller but similar version at Universal Studios Florida, which was removed in 1995.

History[edit]

The tour has always been at the heart of Universal. From 1915, when visitors sat on bleachers for 25 cents, to the 1964 introduction of pink and white GlamorTrams, to the current technological sophistication, the behind-the-scenes view of a working movie studio has been a large attraction.

During the early years of the tram tour (1964–1965) all of the attractions at Universal were reached via the tram. The tour originally departed from the front lot comissary. In 1965, the upper lot studio tour center opened.

In 1991, the tram boarding was moved to the lower lot following the construction of the Starway escalator system. In 1996, boarding moved back to the upper lot to make room for Jurassic Park: The Ride.

As the movie studio has continued to evolve, the tour has evolved along with it. In late 1989, CD players finally gave the tour guides a chance to rest their voices. In 2000, the CD players were replaced by DVD players and LCD screens, allowing the tour guides to show scenes from movies filmed at the locations which the tram passes.

Since 2006, some studio tours have bypassed the Collapsing Bridge, due to aging and wearing.[2] However, the bridge has since undergone renovations, and was added back to the tour schedules in August 2008.[3] Since July 2010, the Collapsing Bridge has been used as a representation of the Skull Island city for the new King Kong: 360 3-D attraction.

Film sets[edit]

Courthouse Square from the Back to the Future films (while redressed for the TV show Ghost Whisperer)

Sets from the Universal films Psycho, War of the Worlds, Back to the Future, The Sting, The Great Outdoors and How The Grinch Stole Christmas are visited in the tour. Disney has also used the backlot for movies such as the Pirates of the Caribbean film series and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, specifically for town scenes. There are also 'general purpose' sets visited, such as the neighborhood Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives, and a neighborhood that is made to look like an old west town. This neighborhood has six streets, each with the essentials of a saloon and sheriffs station. Before the advent of sound, up to six westerns could be shot at once. The tour also winds through sound stages, and the tour guide explains what movies, television shows, music videos, commercials, and/or still camera photo shoots are currently shooting on the lot. Stage One, where The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien was filmed from June 2009 to January 2010, was added to the tour. O'Brien and announcer Andy Richter staged events outside the studio on occasion as part of The Tonight Show's Tour-ific Tramtacular sketch. The tram also passes by miniature models of the ship and Skull Island from the 2005 film King Kong.

The house used in Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho (1960), as seen from the tram.

Until June 1, 2008, the tour also passed through a group of facades resembling city streets of New York (used in the filming of Bruce Almighty and some elements in Transformers), Bring It On: In It to Win It, and New England, as well as the Courthouse Square set famously seen in the Back to the Future trilogy. However, these sets were constructed mainly of wood and therefore were highly flammable, and burned to the ground in an early morning fire.[4] All the sets have been rebuilt and a new attraction at the Studio features King Kong: 360 3-D, which opened July 1, 2010.

The area beside the Psycho house (known as Psycho Flats) used to be the site of Falls Lake - a large water-tank and waterfall used in numerous productions. Falls Lake has now been moved, and the area is currently occupied by the huge outdoor airplane-crash set built for War Of The Worlds, directed by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg and crew were on the Universal backlot for three days shooting on the massive outdoor set. A commercial Boeing 747 aircraft was chopped into pieces and transported to Universal, where the full set has been left fully dressed as it was during filming. The only change made to the set following filming was to move the houses on the right of the tram off the road (so the tram can pass safely). As in the movie, there are no bodies in the plane wreckage, but during the Halloween season, a combination of cast members and dummies have been put in place as crash victims.

Staged events[edit]

The Studio Tour includes some special demonstrations, as well as some small segments. For example, a simulated flash flood, an 8.3 earthquake, a short encounter with Jaws, a look inside The Mummy's Tomb, and The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift car stunt show.

Jurassic Park
When the tram passes through the Isla Nublar set, guests are sprayed by animatronic Dilophosaurus. It is very similar to the end of the Jurassic Park ride.

Norman Bates in front of the Bates Mansion as seen during the Psycho section of the Universal Studios Studio Tour in Hollywood.

Psycho: Bates Mansion (1964)
The Psycho house was one of the big draws of the Universal Tram Tour, back in 1964, and has continued to be instantly recognizable in recent years. In 1984, the Psycho house was used in the Knight Rider episode "Halloween Knight". The episode mentions of a man named Norman Baines who is supposed to be the murder suspect at a Halloween party. Also, when Michael Knight, Bonnie and KITT arrive at the house, Michael mentions that "Boy, this place looks really familiar" before he says "Nah!". The film Man on the Moon, a biopic about Andy Kaufman's life story, was filmed in 1999 at an area near the house. While in production, Jim Carrey, who portrayed Kaufman in the film, dressed up as "mother" and leapt out from behind the Psycho house with a rubber knife and jumped on the tram, scaring the passengers, including the guides. The tour guides and tram operators reported the incident to the film crew who told them that the person in the costume was none other than Carrey himself. It was break time during filming and he got bored and was trying to channel the creative energy of Kaufman.[citation needed] Carrey wanted to repeat the stunt one year later while filming How The Grinch Stole Christmas which was being filmed behind the house, but this time in full Grinch costume. However, he was stopped by the production that wanted to keep his costume and make-up under wraps until the film came out.[citation needed] The park however kept Carrey's idea and have cast members dressed as Norman Bates slowly approach the tram with a rubber knife.

Flash flood attraction on The Studio Tour.

Flash Flood (1968)
The downhill flood effect has appeared in many films, including Big Fat Liar and Fletch Lives. There is a story that when a group of dignitaries and celebrities including John Wayne visited the Flash Flood in the early days, the water levels were still being perfected and the group got soaked.[citation needed]

JAWS (1976)
The Jaws event opened a year after the release of Steven Spielberg's 1975 film. It is an animatronic attraction that features the moving shark and other sets. The actual hero prop boat 'Orca' was placed in the lagoon as a center piece, but has since been removed. The shark as seen in the attraction has had cameos in multiple television shows and films including the made for TV film The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island in 1981, the episode "Hooray for Hollywood" from Diff'rent Strokes in 1984, and the episode "Fright Knight" from Knight Rider in 1986. The Amity Harbor/Village area that is associated with the Jaws attraction (minus the moving shark) was the set used in two Airwolf episodes "The American Dream" (Season 2) and "Where Have All the Children Gone" (Season 3).

Earthquake (1988)
The Earthquake event is an 8.3 earthquake inside a soundstage, designed to make it look like a San Francisco subway station. They have a hot set; a hot set is a stage in which various props stay in use and cannot be moved. The attraction features a gimbal which allows it to shake the tram, a burning gasoline truck that collapses through the roof, fire and spark effects, a derailing subway train, and a flood of water.[5] The attraction resets itself within just 15 seconds, to prepare itself for the next tramload of guests.[5]

King Kong Sea (2006)
The guide leads the tram to a body of water around Skull Mountain Island. Suddenly, the waves part, and the tram travels between them, and guests get a view of the mini island.

An actor playing Norman Bates carries a corpse from the Bates Motel on the Studio Tour.

Psycho: Bates Motel (2008)
As the tram passes the Bates Motel, the guests witness Norman Bates carrying a corpse to a car. After placing the body in the trunk, he notices the tram and walks towards it with a kitchen knife as the tram leaves just in time to escape. Norman Bates may be portrayed by an Anthony Perkins lookalike or a Vince Vaughn lookalike. If the actors are not available, a cardboard cutout of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is used in the office window.

Whoville Comes To Life (2008)
During the holiday season, at the Whoville set all of the Whos, even Max the dog, perform a musical spectacular for the guests' enjoyment. The songs are remixes of songs from the movie. This is part of Universal's Grinchmas celebration.

King Kong: 360 3-D (2010)

Main article: King Kong: 360 3-D

Studio Tour guests do wear 3-D glasses as the tram enters a sound stage dressed as a recreation of Skull Island. Two Venatosaurus creatures attack and begin to chase the tram, which disturbs King Kong, who begins to fight them. The fight continues from one side of the tram to the other, as air and water effects are blown onto guests to further the illusion. Near the end of the experience, a V-Rex gets a hold of what is supposed to be the last tram car and pulls it from the train, throwing it down a pit. Kong defeats the V-Rex and roars in triumph. Previously, the tour showed a large pond area with a small scale boat to show how the filming of the boat arriving to Skull Island was done.

The Collapsing Bridge (1974–2006, 2008–2010, 2013, 2014)
The tour guide tries to take the tram around a bridge rather than going over it, but suddenly the tram driver takes the tram towards the bridge. Just as the tram reaches the midpoint of the bridge, it creaks and massive timbers fall away, causing the bridge to "drop" the tram a short distance. The tram drives on and guests can see the bridge rebuild itself for the next tram.

The bridge was used less-frequently starting in 2005, and by March 2006 was no longer part of the regular tram tour due to mechanical problems. The Collapsing Bridge was repaired and returned as part of the Studio Tour in August 2008, after the June fire had closed much of the normal tram route.[3] As of July 2010, King Kong: 360 3-D is located in front of the Collapsing Bridge. The bridge itself was still there, but King Kong: 360 3-D has temporarily replaced it. The current route is blocked by a crushed tram, used as set dressing for King Kong.

Upcoming events[edit]

Fast & Furious: Supercharged (2015)
New Fast and Furious attraction will be at the former site of the Curse of the Mummy's Tomb tunnel. It will be built in summer 2015.

Nighttime Studio Tours (2015)
In celebration of Universal Studios Hollywood 50th anniversary, the Nighttime Studio Tour will complement the popular daytime experience by offering a nighttime tour of the famous studio backlot.

Former events[edit]

Rockslide (1974–1979)
The tram stops inside a rock cliff which begins to collapse. The tram gets past the cliff safely, but not before having a collision with the rocks. The attraction was replaced by Battle of Galactica in 1979.

Battle of Galactica (1979–1992)
This high-technology attraction featured animatronics and live actors in a spectacular laser battle. This was the first themed attraction to feature audio-animatronic characters outside a Disney park, and was the first dark ride to combine sophisticated animatronics and lasers with live actors. It was replaced in 1992 by the foundations of Back to the Future: The Ride.

Runaway Train (1974–1985)
The tour guide leads the tram across a train track, thinking it is safe to cross. However, a train suddenly rushes from the tracks and stops just in time before colliding with the tram. The guide leads the tram away from the tracks to safety. The train is now a stationary train in the backlot.

Avalanche Tunnel (1974–2001)
The tour guide leads the tram into a revolving tunnel, simulating an avalanche, including fake snow spinning around the tram, and damaged signs, along with special sound effects. It was replaced by Curse of the Mummy's Tomb.

King Kong Encounter (1986–2008)

Main article: King Kong Encounter

The tram enters 1976 New York City where King Kong is on the loose and grabs and shakes the tram, which eventually escapes his grasp and gets out of the city safely. The 7-ton, 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) Kong figure was the largest and most complex animatronic figure in existence for many years. The sophistication of the attraction broke new ground and paved the way for today's themed attractions, including a Universal Studios Florida version. The Kong sequence was also featured in the film The Wizard starring Fred Savage and Indie singer Jenny Lewis. This attraction opened on June 14, 1986, and was completely destroyed by a fire in the early morning of June 1, 2008.[6] As of June 3, 2008, Universal Studios officials stated that the experience would not be rebuilt, and instead was replaced by the new King Kong: 360 3-D attraction, based on the 2005 film.

The Fast & The Furious: Extreme Close-Up (2006–2013)

Extreme Close-up is a demonstration of some of the special effects used in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift. The attraction started construction in March 2006 and opened on June 15, 2006. The area was formerly occupied by a model used in Dante's Peak.

The section was closed in late July 2013. The studio had become increasingly frustrated with the portrayal of its Fast and Furious franchise at Universal Studios Hollywood after the blockbuster success of Fast & Furious 6. This frustration eventually lead to the unplanned closure of Fast and Furious on the Studio Tour after producers from the film witnessed the attraction first-hand. On April 8th 2014 it's was confirmed that a new Fast and Furious attraction would be built on the former site of the Curse of the Mummy Tunnel.


Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (2001–2013)
The tram guide tells guests that they are going to take a look at some props from the film The Mummy, but instead the tram is led into Imhotep's cursed tomb, where he sucks them into a powerful revolving sandstorm. The guide eventually leads the tram out of the sandstorm, and Imhotep is defeated.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb closed on September 3, 2013 and was later demolished in the same month. It was confirmed on April 8th 2014 that the site would become home to the new Fast and Furious attraction, “Fast & Furious—Supercharged".

Notable tour guides[edit]

Photo Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Universal Studios Hollywood - Studio Tour - Current Attractions" (overview), thestudiotour.com, 2011, webpage: ST (accessed 2011-12-18).
  2. ^ "Collapsing Bridge making a return?". 15 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  3. ^ a b "The Collapsing Bridge". thestudiotour.com. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  4. ^ "Universal Studios fire engulfs sets, video vault, King Kong exhibit". CBC News. June 1, 2008. 
  5. ^ a b "Studio Tour - Earthquake: The Big One - the studiotour.com", thestudiotour.com, 2011, webpage: STE (accessed 2011-12-18).
  6. ^ "Universal Studios reopens after fire". 

External links[edit]