Considered one of the last live “behind-the-scenes” shows at Universal, the Special Effects Stage provides an interesting perspective on the changing nature of Hollywood’s renowned special effects – from its initial inception to some of the film industry’s most advanced tricks.
In the age of digital bonus features on DVDs, Universal Studios Hollywood needed a twist. Enter Special Effects Stage, where you’ll witness some of Hollywood’s most beloved and intricate techniques with a sarcastic twist. Shuffle in some audience participation, and you a really great behind-the-scenes show.
With the closure of the original Special Effects Stages to pave way for the new Transformers attraction, Universal was left with one gaping hole: the lack of a full-fledged, old fashioned, behind-the-scenes show that focused on movie effects.
Now, to set things up, I’ve always considered the original Special Effects show to be a hidden jewel in Universal’s lineup. Located in the Lower Lot and nestled inconspicuously next to Backdraft, the Special Effects Stages had an excellent blend of sharp wit, sarcasm and actual Hollywood info that gave audiences a brief look at how the film industry works on a day-to-day basis.
Fast forward to today, and what do we have? Well, the show still has wit, and it definitely has sarcasm coupled with the necessarily Hollywood insider information…so in the end, what’s changed? To start off, things have been tamed down. Granted, things have improved dramatically since the show’s original premiere – and that’s a plus – but the entire production has been driven down a few notches. In the process of making the script and hosts more rigid, the show has lost its spontaneity that made the original production so great, and this – to me – really shows in the audience’s response.
So how’s the actual show? Let me start off with this: the show’s performance relies more heavily on the host now than it did in the past. What do I mean by that? Well, while the majority of hosts are fine (and by fine, I say you might get a few chuckles here and there), there are only a few that really stand out that bring back the edge that was so prevalent in this show’s predecessor. In other words, you might get an average performance or you might get one that’s genuinely funny – it’s that big of a wash.
That said, the show’s format is pretty decent. Not only are you given a glimpse of some of Hollywood’s oldest tricks and techniques (which I won’t spoil here), you’re also given a special look at modern effects used in the trade today. While seasoned movie-buffs won’t learn anything new, the information they present is actually pretty intriguing. And it’s no surprise that Universal oftentimes donates props or models from recent releases for show demonstrations, allowing guests to see how the most modern productions tick. Best of all, the show relies heavily on audience participation, so if you’re determined enough, you’re bound to have a role in the show.
But really, I do recommend you check this show out. While (on average) not as good as its predecessor, the Special Effects Stage does give a compelling behind-the-scenes look at “Hollywood magic.” And more importantly, the Special Effects Stage builds on the legacy Universal has when it comes to behind-the-scenes show, allowing audiences to get an authentic look behind the scenes of one of Hollywood’s biggest studios.
The Special Effects Stage is a live stage show that uses loud noises, strobe effects and audience participation.
– Like all shows at Universal, we recommend you arrive at the theater 15-20 minutes before posted show times. Note that the schedule lists when shows start, not when you should start lining up.
– Audience participation is key: they often look for two couples, two men, a family of five and a women. Arrive early if you want a better chance at getting pick – especially if you’re a couple. Hint: sit near the center of the stage.
– Video taping and photography are fine, but the theater’s pretty dark.
– In terms of the “best seat” in the house, we’d recommend sitting in the center near the back, since the center-middle rows are reserved for front-of-line guests.
The Special Effects Stage is mostly child-friendly. Do note there are loud noises, PG effects and perhaps some mild humor depending on the guest.
Other than that, everything else should be fine.
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Article last revised: June 30, 2012.