Universal Studios, Hollywood: Where Fiction and Reality Switch Places

Bringing visitors face to face with heroes and villains
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Universal Studios
Universal Studios, Hollywood: Where Fiction and Reality Switch Places

Universal Studio attracts visitors to experience fictional movie sets such as Jurassic World- River Adventures (Photo: Aadesh Kumar)

Hollywood is already known as the place where it becomes difficult to separate reality from fiction and more so since the advent of computer-aided graphics, virtual reality and other tools of film making. But the attraction park at the Universal Studio here is the place where reality and fiction actually switch places and the varied options for visitors to experience add to the befuddlement. But all that only enhances the total experience.
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Fiction becoming reality. A thought too great to be real. Even while checking in, I caught a colourful glimpse of the studio that could have only been fuelled by my imagination. However, as I stepped in, it immediately became clear. Universal Studio Hollywood truly blurs reality.

Once inside, I was overloaded by the amount of rides and attractions Universal provided. However, upon asking, I was recommended the “World Famous Studio Tour”. Not sure what to expect, I joined the queue and waited for my turn to take the tour.

Once I was seated, the driver opened a monitor in front of all the seats and on it appeared comedian Jimmy Fallon, who was acting as our virtual host for the day. Jimmy Fallon was amazing no doubt, but I was starting to doubt the effectiveness of the tour if it was going to be all jokes. However, once the tour started, I realised how unconventional the experience would turn out to be.

Instead of simply listing all the attractions in Universal Studios, this tour takes its passengers on four sets, which show different technological aspects of movie making. There are real life reusable sets, where the passengers are shown how explosions, crashes, and stunts are performed, while being reset each time between shots. Additionally, there are multiple 360 degrees 3-D screens that simulate action scenes of the movie, complemented with additional side effects, making the scenes even more life-like.

After experiencing augmented reality sets, I was left dumbstruck by the amazing quality. The application of cutting edge technology and Jimmy Fallon’s commentary kept me and other passengers thoroughly engaged, as we could only admire the performance put on throughout the ride.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Having immensely enjoyed the ‘World Famous Studio Tour’, I was ready for another augmented reality ride, preferably based on a movie franchise I knew. Seeing Harry Potter on a map I picked from the tour, I went forth to find the ride. However, once I approached the ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’, a radically different sight stood in front of me.

Instead of a single ride dedicated to Harry Potter, the Wizarding World was quite literally a world on its own. It is a life-size replica of Hogsmeade town and the Hogwarts Castle that was shown in the movies. To add to the excitement, the town had authentic shops that sold accessories and souvenirs similar to the ones found in the movies.

Even though the shops displayed attractive glittering trinkets and other products, I set about exploring the Hogwarts Castle. While the castle was maze-like and looked very similar to the movie, I was more interested in the ride it secreted. Once I saw the queue, it was clear that I was not the only visitor interested in “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”.  In fact, the queue stretched throughout the castle.

By the time I got to the ride, my knees had weakened, with an equal mix of excitement and exhaustion. However this weakness was temporary and disappeared as soon as  the ride started off with great momentum. Glaring lights, immersive audio, and various 3-D images floated past me, as the ride took off at a high speed. We flew around the castle, fought Voldemort, and even raced against dementors, avoiding their soul sucking gazes. Though the previous tour was also amazing with its audio and visual quality, this ride lasted longer and provided an even more immersive experience, if possible. The storyline was compelling and any rider would feel included, as we rushed to save the world.

Transformers, The Ride

After the ride, I went back to Hogsmeade to eat in the iconic store, The Broomsticks. However, once done with food and all the side shopping, I was back on the hunt for a ride. The moment I saw Transformers the Ride, I knew I had to get on it as I had already seen the movie.

The queue here, too, was quite long. However, it was a blessing in disguise, for the queue was surrounded by artificial relics. Though behind protective glasses, the detail on these relics was very precise, and most were as seen in the movies, like Scorponok’s tail and the AllSpark. In fact, the entire queue was inside the base of the NEST and these relics were kept on display inside the base.

The ride was again worth the wait. Much like the Forbidden Journey, Transformers the Ride is an augmented reality ride that allows its riders to save the Earth from the decepticons. Acting as recruits, the riders get to meet a lot of the classical characters and get to stop Megatron from stealing the AllSpark. And just like the Forbidden Journey, Transformers the Ride has clean visuals, and even uses temperature variations and water droplets to make the experience even more realistic. Overall this ride was very nostalgic for me, as Transformers were a big part of my childhood.

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Jurassic World – River Adventures

By dusk, I had finished most of the minor rides in the studio. The studio also has movies and roller coasters that are highly entertaining and definitely worth trying. However, I was still missing a critical component, before I could end my visit to Universal Studios. So soon, I joined the queue for the River Adventure’s ride in Jurassic World.

The queues were getting shorter, as the end of the day approached and many tourists had left. After waiting for barely 10 minutes, I was onboard a raft that slowly travelled downstream in a lush forested area. Water splashed near me, sprinkling little droplets of water on me, immediately soothing my sunburned skin. The aroma of a jungle hung in the air and the land around the raft was covered with artificial plants and dinosaurs. This ride definitely was calmer than the augmented reality counterparts and just perfect for relaxing after a long day.

Just as I loosen the tension in my muscles, an alarm blared and a security breach warning was displayed. The ride took a faster pace now, bumping against rocks and land, as well as showing occasional sightings of rogue dinosaurs. The water splashed more violently and at this point the passengers were holding tight, eager with anticipation about the upcoming events. Suddenly, a T-Rex appeared in front, attempting to mutilate the passengers with a single chomp. But the next moment, the ground below us gave way, sending the raft plunging down. We landed with a big splash and all the riders were soaking wet. After this sudden rush of adrenaline, the ride ended.

However, even as I got off the raft, I was craving more. Though not using cutting edge virtual technology, this ride was a perfect mix of relaxation and thrill. The environment was perfectly set and the use of real water and plants only made the experience better.

Having completed most of the major rides at Universal, I was soon standing out the gate looking back to all the fun I had. Universal Studios Hollywood is definitely a gem worth exploring on the West Coast and it would be a sin for any tourist to miss. Therefore, as I left, I was sure that I would return, just to experience the remaining rides and refresh the old ones as well.

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