Universal Studios’ behind-the-scenes Studio Tour takes visitors through Hollywood’s most famous backlot in the world’s largest working movie studio. It passes through 13 city blocks on four acres of land in the largest set construction project in studio history.
We set off in the tram that was featured in Nude Bomb, The Wizard and CSI. We pass the campervan lot where the crew of movies and series that are currently being filmed are staying and soon we arrive at the set of New York Street, featured in Captain America, The Transformers, The Prestige and King Kong.
A few moments later we arrive at Skull Island and drive into the dark tunnel, where we watch the award winning King Kong 360 3-D, the world’s largest 3-D experience on screens over 40 feet tall. We are caught in the middle of a terrifying struggle between King Kong and a 35-foot T-Rex. We can feel the tram shaking and the wind against our cheeks as they leap over us. Suddenly, the T-Rex grabs hold of the last carriage of the tram and rips it from the train, throwing it down a pit. Finally we are free, but as we leave Skull Island we are reminded of those who were not so lucky.
The Fast and the Furious Extreme Close-Up is our next stop, where we get a glimpse behind the scenes of a spectacular chase scene. The tram comes to a stop in front of the garage door and seconds later two drift-racing cars come careering towards us at over 40 miles (70 kilometres) per hour. Shots are fired from an overhead helicopter, spraying bullets across the pavement. Suddenly a bullet hits the gas tank causing a massive explosion and sending the cars hurling towards us. From the relative safety of the tram we can feel the heat of the flames on our faces.
These vehicles actually weigh only around 225 kilograms, as they have been stripped and designed to accommodate the nimble motion control required for the breathtakingly-orchestrated movements. As we are about to leave the two cars begin an ‘automotive dance demonstration’.
As we continue on our way the tram pauses at the bottom of a winding street running through a Mexican village. It starts to rain and then we hear a roar of thunder. We hear another sort of rumbling and suddenly 10,000 gallons of water rush down the street, threatening to engulf the tram. Windows and doors from the shops and houses lining the street burst open and the signpost is thrown over by the force of the water. The tram drives off just as the water is building up around us. Our guide explains that early film-makers discovered that water doesn’t show up well on screen and added milk powder to it to make it more visible.
Safe from the flood we arrive at a Western set, where we learn that some doors are made smaller than regular ones to make the heroes look bigger and some are made bigger to make the damsels in distress look more vulnerable.
A little further on we pass the ‘Bigature’ of the S.S. Venture approaching Skull Island. ‘Bigatures’ are large-scale, highly-detailed miniatures which can be filmed at close range and manipulated in ways not possible with full-size props, digital generation or the more commonly used miniatures. By accurately reading the relative humidity in the air, the behind the scenes creative team effectively produce a high pressure fog that engulfs the island and creates a true sense of realism.
The tram heads underground as we pass through the San Francisco Waterfront subway station. We come to a halt and can feel the ground is shaking. The lights go off, part of the ceiling of the subway station collapses and a gas truck comes crashing down, hitting one of the pillars and bursting into flames just metres from the tram. A train is derailed and crashes into the platform and, on the other side of our tram, flood water bursts into the station.
When we are safely back above ground we pass a sign that says that the beach is closed by order of the Amnity police department, but our driver continues anyway. We can see that Jaws has been captured and has been hoisted up on a pulley, so we should be safe.
A diver is out in the water, but as we arrive we see him begin to struggle and he is pulled beneath the water. The police boat rushes out, but it is too late – the water turns red and the diver is gone. At the other side of the lake there is a noise, the fuelling station bursts into flames, spraying gasoline all over the lake. We take off for safety but as we do Jaws II lurches out of the water just metres away from us, between the tram and the fuelling station. We have escaped in time, but chaos has returned to Amnity Island!
Leaving the havoc behind we arrive at Who-ville, one of the most imaginative and elaborate sets ever constructed on Universal’s back lot, but we are late and the Grinch is not happy about it. Despite his disapproval of our poor time keeping we watch a marvellous, one-of-a-kind song and dance performance by a Who’s Who of Who-ville.
After a welcome break from the hair-raising natural disasters we pass the Bates Motel. The tram slows as we see Norman Bates emerge, carrying the corpse of his dead mother, wrapped in plastic sheets. He dumps her body in the boot of his car and as he turns he spots us watching him. He grabs a huge kitchen knife and comes chasing after us.
Another lucky escape leads us to the set of the plane crash on War of the Worlds. A commercial 747 was bought for this scene, and chopped into pieces. After filming was completed, the wreckage of the plane was left exactly as it had been during the film, amidst the surrounding destroyed houses and with smoke spilling from the engines.
- Information provided by Universal Studios