Whatever our preferences are, we do have a movie we’d just love to be in. When we watch those characters we love and hate on the big (and small) screen, sometimes we can’t help but wish there is a way for us to extend ourselves and plunge into their world. Perhaps what appealed to us about the world of the silver screen were the actions- how James Bond keep us at the edge of our seats as he turns, twists and dodges the villains who are bent on world domination and saves the day. Other times it could be the fantasy element- the fact that magic can seem so believably real in Harry Potter. Or perhaps we are just drawn to movies simply because no matter how much things can go wrong in there, the ending will always turn out all right for the protagonists (unless you’re watching one of those gory horror flicks with the message: Wait, don’t get bored! We have a sequel coming up!)
Nowadays, people aren’t just satisfied with paying a few bucks to see actors or animated characters brazen their way through a crisis in the cinema- they want more. And “More” means they would like to be part of the act as well. Disney milked this desire by creating Disneyland, and Hollywood has the Universal Studios Theme Parks. While I have yet to visit one of the Disneyland creations, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit one of the Universal Studios franchises in Singapore last weekend.
Opened in March 2010, the theme park is located in Sentosa Island, a park on the south coast of Singapore which was revamped from
the completely unattractive “Pulau Belakang Mati” (Translation: Island of the Death From Behind), aptly named due to it being a former killing field during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, into a tourist attraction. If you’re taking the Sentosa Monorail from Vivocity into the Island (it’s free), you can see the lovely view of the Port Of Singapore, which itself a form of art.
The entrance into Universal Studios is adorned with the famous rotating globe of the studio logo. For a day that was the combination of a weekend and a public holiday in Malaysia, the crowd was still tolerable when we got there at 11am (the park opened at 10am). Still, to get a good picture in front of the rotating globe, we kind of have to pounce at the right time and opportunity, otherwise all the good spots around the globe will be claimed by the numerous pose-crazy visitors from all over the world. The park itself consists of seven different attractions, each of them themed after a famous movie franchise.
Park #1: Hollywood
There are no other better-themed attractions to greet and bid farewell to visitors at Universal Studio other than Hollywood.
Placed just after the entrance, this will be the first of the grand seven one would see and also the last before one leaves. It was built to mirror the streets of Hollywood in California, USA, down to the low palm trees and the glamour-related shops on both sides. Indeed, a
signpost that greeted us says “Population: Glamourous”. Every so often, characters from well-loved series and movies such as Kung-Fu Panda, Woody Woodpecker, and Frankenstein and others would make an appearance for a photo-op with their fans. In one of the many souvenir shops in the neighbourhood, we found replicas of the famous Academy Award statuettes, marked with emblems such as “Best Father” or “Best Boyfriend”, perfect for those who wish to present an Oscar to their family and friends.
At certain time of the day, one can catch the Monster Rock Musical in the Hollywood theater. The 30-minute show presents many of the world’s most famous classic monsters: Dracula, Werewolf, Frankenstein and the Mummy, and they would perform skits and dance and sing. A word of the wise to those wishing to bring children- this show might be a little too raunchy for the young and the innocent. My Mum was practically squirming at some point of the performance for the sake of my two underage siblings. For my part, I found Frankenstein amusing, especially when he exclaimed “Frankie likes chicken rice!”
Perhaps the best bit about this Hollywood is the remake of the Walk of Fame adorned across the pavement on each side. However, the names they carved upon the pavement were old movie stars, so after 40 minutes of trying to locate Hugh Jackman’s name, I admit defeat. Oh well, at least Bette Midler’s name is there.
Park #2: Madagascar
Oh wait, no. That’s just my brother sprinting over to queue up for A Crate Adventure. This mild indoor ride took us through the key highlights of the movie Madagascar, from the time when Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman fell off their boat to when Alex overcame his natural predatory senses enough to write off his friends as food, we got to see them all.
As if on cue, just after we were finished there, pop go the penguins as they appeared for a street dance performance to the Madagascar classic: “I like to move it, move it!” Joining them were Gloria the Hippo and Alex the Lion (I suppose trying to put on a realistic Melman the giraffe costume would be a bit of a strain).
Park #3: Far, Far Away
Just nestled between Madagascar and the entrance to Far Far Away, we found Shrek and Fiona’s swampy home- including the outhouse but minus the smell. I would think it was created according to an ogre’s size because I felt miniature standing at its door. Thankfully neither ogre were home so we’re moving along to the Kingdom of Far Far Away.
The Kingdom boasted a creation of the actual castle belonging to King Harold and Queen Lillian. It housed one of the main attractions in this particular park: the Shrek 4D experience. Due to time constrain, I didn’t check what it was all about, but from what I heard, it was supposed to the an experience ride through a short video with Shrek and his friends. The pavement was beautiful and realistically built just as it had been in the Shrek movies, and almost made me want to sing “Monkeytown” while walking. Across the castle, was the Enchanted Airways, where Dragon aka Mrs Donkey took me on a brief spin across the air in a roller-coaster ride. A glass casing showing Gingy falling asleep on ticket-selling duty for the ride made me giggle- and then kick myself stupid when I realized I had left my camera with my aunt before joining the queue.
Further up was a fountain with the stone statue of the true form of Princess Fiona’s father- as depicted in the funeral scene of the third movie- pond and all. I really can’t look at the statue of the Frog King without hearing “Live and Let Die” in my head. Thankfully the fountain was free from actual frogs. A few steps forward and we found the fairy godmother’s potion shop- where apart from juicy drinks and souvenirs, they also have a small Ferris wheel for children.
Of course, a visit to Far Far Away would not be complete without saying hello to Shrek himself. We found him at the entrance with Fiona and took a photo. But unfortunately were too late to catch my favourite character Puss In Boots for a picture. Maybe next time, meowr?
Park #4: The Lost World
Out of all the parks in Universal Studio, I probably feel the fondest for The Lost World park. Not because it is in any way better than the other parks. To me, they all have their own moments. But Jurassic Park has more seniority than the other movie sets depicted here, which meant I watched the first movie way back before Madagascar or Shrek or Transformers even came out. The excitement in Jurassic Park was that it brought back awesome memories of watching that Steven Spielberg classic as a child.
Fortunately, we arrived here just in time for lunch. We made our way to Discovery Food Court, well past a creation of two dinosaur carnivores snarling at each other over several giant eggs. The Food Court was a remake of the Jurassic Park visitor center, the set of the legendary final scene of the franchise’ first film, where the protagonists had to fight their way through a gang of raptors, only to be saved when a Tyrannosaurus Rex came brazing in as a distraction, allowing them time to escape. Standing in the middle of the hall was a replica of T-Rex bones just like in the movie, powerful legs bent and jaws opened, as though ready to strike. The walls were shaped into dinosaur fossils, and as I sat with my family and our meals, I can almost feel as if my glass of water is going to shake at any moment- a low thump, thump.. as the predators creep nearer… and nearer…
After lunch, we head towards the front entrance of the Jurassic Park- a sight that made those of us who remembered the first movie smile. At the door, a man dressed in Ranger outfit stood with an infant Triceratops called Diane- actually a mechanical robot, but adorable just the same. A stroll
through the gigantic trees and I was occasionally greeted by the screeching of dinosaurs from behind the bushes. This park offered three thrill rides, but my favourite would have to be The Rapids Adventure. Basically it is a boat ride, but there is more to that. A quarter way through the ride, you’ll find yourself in a crisis situation that is all too familiar with the original movie story line. And of course, watch out for the rough current that will splash you and possibly even soak you!
I think that out of all the parks in Universal Studios, the Lost World was the one that really took me into a different world. The prehistoric lands could not get anymore real- unless you’re a caveman, I suppose.
Park #5: Ancient Egypt
Welcome to Ancient Egypt, a place where the sun is blazing, the sand is plenty… and the mummies are out to chase you.
I love Ancient Egypt on principle- simply because their history is fascinating and they are one of the oldest civilizations of mankind in the world. I’m still nursing that dream of visiting an actual pyramid and deciphering an actual hieroglyphic text. But I digress.
Mummies have been part of Hollywood’s classic monster club since the idea of a living dead strikes horror into the hearts of common men. Plenty of remakes have been made on the story of an Egyptian priest being resurrected from the dead and bringing along with him a terrifying curse, the latest of these (and an old favourite of mine) being the one starring Arnold Vosloo as the said priest (complete with scary makeup for the first three quarter of the film) and Brendan Frasier as the adventurer who fought to put him down.
Sadly though, I would say that the Ancient Egypt in Universal Studios Singapore was the smallest of all the parks. There was only two rides- one for the children and the other for adults: Revenge of the Mummy, an indoor roller coaster ride housed inside a replica of a tomb. Nevertheless, the structure of the park was probably the most impressive, with its elaborate statues of the god Anubis guarding the entrance to the tomb and his servants in an offering pose along the way. Across the tomb on the other side was a replica of an obelisk with elaborate hieroglyphs.
Park #6: Sci-Fi City
From the Age of Dinosaurs and 1930s Egypt, I found myself transported to the future. Here in Sci-Fi City, nothing is old. Perhaps the most exciting park in Universal Studios, it offers four thrill rides, including the newest attraction in the park- the Tranformers 3D Battle ride. I did not have the fortune to experience this due to time constraint, but I did manage to sneak a photo op with a mini-Transformers outside the entrance.
I did, however, managed to get on the monstrous Battlestar Galactica: Human vs. Cylon . On this ride, I get to choose between Human- which took me to a high-speed chase way up in the air until it I felt as if I just left my heart somewhere high up between the beams- or Cylon- which twisted and turned and looped and somersaulted until my head was doing a roller coaster ride of its own. These two ride were propelled together and intertwined so that one can really feel as if they are battling high up in the air. I can tell you firsthand, after trying out both, I came out alive- but seeing (and thinking) straight was another option. But it was fun!
Park #7: New York
At last we arrived at the last of the parks. Very much like Hollywood, this park represented the good ol’ Big Apple. I was excited to take a look into the “Lights, Camera, Action!” attraction, where we get to experience a real-live simulation the workings of a movie set. As a certain Mr. Spielberg would tell us, most of the actions in the movies were created and done in a sound stage before they edited it to seem oh so real. In this case, we saw what it tool to create a storm in New York, very much like the one in “The Day After Tomorrow.”
Next, how about a little bit of the 50’s as we watched a performance from the Rockafellas. Slick-haired, matching outfits and groovy moves, I’d say they are representing the forefathers of the boyband genre. Right next to their stage is a traditional 50’s diner which reminded me so much of the Archie comic books. I half-expected to see waitresses in roller skates coming out from that diner to take order or serve drinks. Now that would be an authentic experience!
There is nothing quite like experiencing something we can only see on the screen or read in books, and with today’s technology, everyone can play as their favourite characters or be part of their favourite movie setting. So in all, it was an amazing experience. I have yet to encounter the more veteran Universal Studio in Australia and other parts of the world, and Disneyland as well. But if they are anything like Universal Studios Singapore (and I believe they are, and more) then perhaps everyone can be a movie star, after all.