By Harvey I. Barkin
UNIVERSAL CITY – When the humdrum makes you long for some background music in your life, it’s time to be in the movies.
Or go to Universal Studios – the closest most anyone can be to Hollywood.
What’s universal about Universal is everybody experienced something specifically unique, an impression that stays. One dude who drives dressed up PT Cruisers to car shows never forgot the Six Million Dollar Man at Universal in the 70s. Another remembers being attacked by Cylons from the classic Battlestar Galactica movie and spin-off TV series on the tram to the backlot tour. Another remembers being up-close with Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula at the end of the tour in the 1980s. That same kid remembers being blown away by the Terminator attraction in the 90s.
But at Universal, good memories aren’t necessarily just from the past. If you visited recently, you’ll probably remember the Back to the Future ride when you get into the Transformer ride. The Western stunt show is now a high-tech Special Effects show (now upgraded with a stuntman on fire for 17 seconds). The subway from Earthquake has been re-purposed as a component of the new Fast & Furious at the end of the backlot tour. The parting of the Red Sea (from The 10 Commandments) is no longer a big deal but still part of aging Bruce’s (the mechanical White Shark from Jaws) repertoire.
But it’s still realistic enough to give an old Asian gent a scare. By the end of the loud and 3-D pile-up of cars in Fast & Furious, the gent was being comforted by his companions below the seats. Last seen, the ruffled gent scrambled up the scenic elevator to the upper level, probably straight to the exit.
The real fright is experiencing the new The Walking Dead walk-through attraction. You’re not riding, just by-God-you-can’t-help-but-run through the maze of the hospital, prison and barn settings out of the long-running AMC cable series. The zombies are not CGI and reach out to grab you, that’s graphic enough and it beats 3-D any time.
In fact, The Walking Dead, Revenge of the Mummy and other rides offer nearby Automated External Defibrillators for literally, the weak of heart.
But for the most part, the attractions at Universal are family-themed.
The popular Animal Actors wow families without special effects. Only furry creatures who mimic human deeds on command. There are even comedic routines from dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and other trained creatures.
Both the Harry Potter and Simpsons universes are given vast spaces at Universal. There are rides, attractions and even meals for the die-hards.
The main attractions for Harry Potter fans are the HD Forbidden Journey and the family-friendly roller coaster Flight of the Hippogriff.
It doesn’t stop there for the true believers. At Ollivanders, there’s always a line to catch the demo and you can buy your own wand. The Frog Choir (Hogwarts students and their large croaking frogs) the Triwizard spirit rally (Hogwarts’ Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students) are welcome and spectacular relief after the rides.
If you get hungry, there’s Three Broomsticks restaurant or just for a nibble of Gilly water, other drinks and fruit, there’s Magic Neep cart. Of course, the fare is English – fish & chips, shepherd’s pie, bangers & mash. You can get a taste of non-alcoholic Butterbeer from carts, the Three Broom or Hog’s Head Pub. The last offers Pumpkin Juice, Wizard’s Brew and Dragon Scale beer and Fire whisky.
At the Simpsons’ side, there’s the Simpsons roller coaster ride and Springfield USA. It’s the downtown that the Simpsons live in. For eats, there are Krusty Burger (“genuine clown-endorsed meal”) and Lard Lad where the doughnuts are Homer-sized. Then quaff a brew at Moe’s Tavern.
For cute, go to Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride where Gru and his daughters transform humans into minions. For naughty, there’s the Shrek ride. The ogre and the donkey rescue the pudgy but pretty princess with voice over from the original talent and innuendoes.
Shrek the 3D ride also catches you unprepared as another dimension is added: you get a sprinkle of water overhead and a jet of air down your legs at the appropriate scenes to simulate being splashed and have bugs running over your legs.
But something classic never changes. The venerable Water World attraction still packs a crowd, long after Kevin Costner stopped making a lot of movies. The scenario is still a nod from the movie but the speedboat chase and the explosions are even more thrilling. This is one attraction where you won’t mind getting soaked. (Photos courtesy of Universal Studio)