Friday, August 13, 2010 : Los Angeles, Universal Studios, Griffith Park


To spend this day in Los Angeles, we have chosen Universal Studios. Rather than a real studio, it is more a movie-themed amusement park. The nuance, however mercantile, is not to be underestimated. We expect to grease business, we will not be disappointed.


Universal Studios is actually a whole City, Universal City, less than a 10-minute drive from our hotel. As soon as we arrive, we get to appreciate the staff's courtesy. One of the parking employees very kindly let me use his pen, to write our parking space number on the backside of our ticket. This detail will be significant at the end of the day.

Universal Studios, ticket machine

How to get help without ever asking


At the entrance of the park, an employee volunteers her help, which I actually did not need at all, to buy our tickets. It's always nice to know who you can count on.


Then, with the the mandatory map in hand, we stroll along the alleys, sampling the attractions we want to see. We will not see everything, this would be a several day visit. Mentally, I measure how much this park has changed since my first visit 30 years earlier.


Universal Studios, Animal Actors

Animals in the movies : isn't that little dog cute ?


We watch a show about animals in movies. There's a bit of everything : birds flying over the set hardly a few inches above the spectators' heads, smart dogs, a racoon walking on a tightrope, monkeys, and even a fennec. It's all nicely handled, with a lot of humor and gentleness.


To keep sunshine off, the stands are protected by a tarpaulin. It will be the same in all places that welcome visitors outside, including some queues. Here, everything is designed for the consumer's well-being. That includes sprays in some queues, which proved very useful, considering the 100°-plus heat.


Universal Studios, the backlot

The backlot, from the top of the hill


We were not the only ones to especially enjoy the park tour. While queing, about an hour an a half but it's worth the wait, we take this picture of the backlot, this large piece of land where movie sets are stored, and where cinema and TV films are made. We will have the opportunity to recognize a few famous sets, like the house on the top of the hill in Hitchcock's Psycho, the shark in Jaws, and a few others.


Universal Studios, Back to the Future

Back to the Future, and a few others


Can you recognize this small square, without all the dressing ? It can be seen in the original Back to the Future film. I don't think I would have know, if I had not been told !


Universal Studios, the Latin American village

10 seconds ago, the weather was so bright !


We then cross a Southern American village. Suddenly, a storm, which our guide had warned us about in some advance, breaks out. The village is instantly flooded, and our train is almost washed away by the rushing water. But soon Heaven's gates close again and streets instantly dry, as if by miracle.


We told you, it's a movie !


Universal Studios, the undefined village

A village from nowhere. Or from everywhere.


A bit later, we cross this village, which does not look to have any specific origin. According to the accessories used to dress it up, it can be from practically any European country. It's the Hollywood version of component re-use to cut down costs. Is the dream shattered ? Not the slightest !


Universal Studios, Jaws

Could it be a real shark ?


Compared to my previous visit, the backlot has dramatically changed, with many more sets shown, most of them re-useable. Some points of interest, formerly in plain sight, like the Psycho house on the top of its hill, are now surrounded by so many other sets that I have a hard time making them out. There are some points of reference, though, like this great classic, which does not need any further introduction.


Universal Studios, War of the Worlds

Air travel is not what it used to be, at least in movies.


Then a catastrophe happens. An airliner has just been thrown down on this peaceful neighborhood, and the ground is littered with fragments. The most attentive have noticed the folds in the synthetic grass, in the foreground. Can you believe it ? It's yet another movie !


Universal Studios, special effects

Even the co-host acts like she's afraid for good


On a more didactic mode, we watch a show about special effects in movies. As the host says, we are shown only what they want us to see. And that means a lot ! We see a young girl in balance on the top of the Empire State Building ... 15 inches above ground, an astronaut suspended to a handful of more or less visible strings, tourists in the jungle attacked by a hungry giant gorilla, and an astonishing number of various illusions.


All this is, to some extent, quite realistic : in another picture, the lady with the white overall, seemingly randomly chosen among the public, abruptly turns her head the other way when the host pretends to cut her arm.


Universal Studios, the Blues Brothers

Elwood, Aretha and Jake


The self-proclaimed 70s music dedicated fan in me longed to see the show about the Blues Brothers. I've been delighted. The three artists do not lip-synch, they sing live and, well, they really have great voices. This shows deserves to be seen and heard.


The day ends up with the more or less mandatory stroll through the souvenir shop, where we will buy a little something for all our loved ones, family, friends, and ourselves.


Then we leave Universal City, in search of the famed Hollywood Sign. I know where it is, I've been there twice already. We take advantage of this so-called treasure hunt to see part of Mulholland drive, and drive along the Hollywood Reservoir, where Charlton Heston ends his morning jogging at the very beginning of Earthquake.


Los Angeles, the Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign


Along the hill, we cross what looks like a tony suburbian neighborhood. But make no mistake, we are right in the heart of Los Angeles, the city that does not really have a center. The sun has already come down, we take Hollywood Sign pictures in plain backlight. We won't see the Sign up close. The perimeter is fenced, to prevent thieves from stealing the letters, although they are 46 feet high !


Los Angeles, from the Griffith Observatory

Cities are beautiful at night. Especially Los Angeles, from the Griffith Observatory


Then we climb up to the Griffith Observatory, next to the Hollywood Sign. From there, we enjoy a beautiful sight of the whole city. What we did not know, however, was that Santana plays at the Greek Theather, a nearby auditorium and, at the observatory, is the inauguration of a jewelry exhibition. In a word, there is not a single parking space left in the whole park, and we have to trade places to take pictures and enjoy the scenery.


We then go for some shopping and have dinner in the room.

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