Archives » June 2nd, 2008

June 2, 2008

links for 2008-06-03

Fire at Universal

There was a large fire yesterday at the Universal Studios backlot in Hollywood, destroying some of the sets and backdrops that are used for filming moves and TV shows there. But unlike most backlots, this wasn’t just an off-limits location restricted to authorized personnel. It was also part of the Universal Studios backlot tram tour, and the areas destroyed were major attractions on the tour. So this fire is getting a lot more attention than a fire at any other studio would, because so many people have been there to see the areas that were destroyed.

MiceAge has coverage, with a photo tour by Al Lutz of what the backlot looked like before the fire, a story that includes a satellite photo of the affected area, and a discussion thread on their forums.

The LA Times has a story about the movies that were filmed there. But they mention a lot of older movies, even though the exact same area had already burned once, in 1990. So most of what burned yesterday had already been rebuilt 18 years ago.

One place the fire swept through was Courthouse Square, which is home to the clock tower from Back to the Future. The clock tower itself managed to escape the flames, even though everything else around it burned. This page doesn’t mention the fire, but does give a tour of the courthouse area and shows which parts were used in the film.

ABC has photos of some of the damage.

Universal Studios has already said that the burned sets are going to be rebuilt. These sets are a big part of their business, since dozens of movies and TV shows are filmed there every year. And it’s not a big deal, really, to rebuild. They’re basically just false fronts on a wooden framework, and Hollywood in general builds and tears down sets more often than most of us change socks. So the New York Street and Courthouse Square will be back to their old selves in no time. But one thing that might not be so easy, or cheap, to rebuild, is the King Kong encounter. This attraction was built in 1986 to be the highlight of the tram tour. Inside the building you are met with a 30-foot tall King Kong animatronic that attacks your tram, along with other special effects like a falling helicopter and a shaking bridge. The attraction cost $6.5 million to build, and Kong himself was built by Bob Gurr, who did a lot of the early mechanical invention at Disneyland. The whole building housing the King Kong attraction burned to the ground yesterday, and although it was still a popular part of the tour I can see Universal deciding it’s not worth the cost to rebuild it.