What is the future for movie studio-themed parks?
If you haven't visited Universal Studios Hollywood in a few years, prepare for a surprise.
The haphazard collection of lightly decorated upper lot attractions is gone — replaced by a richly-detailed collection of themed areas. Universal executives probably have mixed feelings about this, but I've heard more than one recent visitor exclaim, "It's feels just like Disneyland now."
Universal Studios Hollywood's transformation didn't happen in isolation — just because some studio executives felt like changing things up to make the park look more like its competition down the 5. Across the theme park industry, studio themed parks have been changing their focus from behind-the-scenes looks at movie production to building themed environments that put visitors into the action. The trend is away from deconstructing the movies to reconstructing them.
The new template for a movie studio theme park was set by Universal Studios Singapore, which opened in 2010 with no production facilities nor any reference to them. Nothing in the park was intended to be a movie set — the park's lands were intended to be those locations instead of the places where they were filmed. Its stories where those of its franchises and not of their production. Most recently, we have seen the same model under construction in the United Arab Emirates, where motiongate Dubai will offer zones themed to various movie studios' franchises and not the studio lots upon which they were created.
In my Orange County Register column this week, I look at Why Universal Studios Hollywood has gone Disney, and why the same thing has been happening at movie studio theme parks around the world, including Disney's own Hollywood Studios park in Orlando.
But that doesn't mean that fans don't still care about what goes on behind the scenes on a movie shoot, or about the history of filmed entertainment history. Even as Universal Studios Hollywood transforms its park, one of its must-see attractions remains the Studio Tour of its historic backlot. And other movie studios around Southern California, including Universal's next-door neighbor Warner Bros., offer studio tours that take a much less fanciful look at production than Universal now offers. I'll write about the Warner Bros. tour for the Register next weekend, so look for that column in the paper and on the Register's website then.
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Admittedly I haven't been there in over a decade, but I was disappointed back when i did that the Backlot tour had been discontinued at the Australian Warner Bros park.
I think a key to what Robert argues is that Universal has switched from deconstructing movies to now reconstructing them. At Universal Studios Hollywood, the theme park elements were built over the existing studio infrastructure. Universal back then, pre-USF, was slowly, slowly learning the ropes of the theme park business. Without the budget or expertise of Disney, they turned their inexpensive flat facades into the major selling point. Pure postmodernism! Rides like "Jaws" and "KONGfrontation" later occasionally treated the shark or ape as "real," not a prop, and over time Universal got better at this, and did more of it. Now they're doing "realism" park-wide, because now they can! Through deconstruction Universal learned learned the tools; through reconstruction they use them!
They just better not get the crazy idea of ever replacing the Horror Makeup Show at Universal Studios Orlando. That is gold, and needs to stay forever...
Another thing about Universal's evolution is the name of their parks. If their focus is no longer the Studios themselves, why is it still part of the name? With the exception of Hollywood, none of them are working studios anymore. Its only a matter of time until they drop studios from the name.
Well said Douglas!
While I'm all for studio parks being more immersive, but I feel like playing Devil's Advocate here.
Florida is still an active Production Studio. http://studio.florida.universalstudios.com/
I always considered the movie studio theme park DOA from the get go, because the financial motivations between a studio and a theme park are vastly different. The idea of incorporating thrill rides into a studio tour experience still has some validity, but there are two vastly different audiences.
Universal Studios Hollywood needs to fix the Lower Lot, which is largely unthemed except for the Jurassic Park ride. They need to add elaborate facades for The Mummy and The Transformers rides. They are essentially in studio soundstage warehouses. This won't work for the new theme park model.
USH is a production studio with a themepark attached to it, not a themepark with a studio theme. The charm for me visiting USH has always been the amazing history of the movies filmed there. The beautiful location in the Hollywood Hills. Being immersed in the backlot. I am not excited about Universal Studios Hollywood loosing that.
I completely agree with this article. In order to attract visitors to a theme park, the park must offer something that they can't get elsewhere. With the increase in availability of behind the scenes featurettes the appeal of visiting a theme park to see how movies are made just isn't there anymore. This is especially true with the rise of CGI, as many effects are done digitally now and there aren't as many sets to tour or tricks to display. Now, in order to draw audiences, guests want to live the movies. The USH Studio Tour is a really good example of this transformation...15 years ago, it was primarily a tour with some staged events along the way as demonstrations and to add thrill elements. Now, it is primarily a ride with some tour elements to take advantage of the existing production facilities.
(Sigh) Isn't it so nice that for once we have a Disney/Universal-related thread without having it devolve into yet another flame war, or just mindless complaining about Disney being an evil empire? So many intriguing ideas and thought-provoking opinions! Instead of losing my fairth in humanity, I feel like I'm actually gaining something! We should do this more often!
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