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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