Travel Week: Universal Studios Cinematic Spectacular — 100 Years of Movie Memories

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Recently, I was given the opportunity to check out Universal Orlando’s latest nighttime show. I’ve never seen an evening show at the park before, so I was looking forward to the experience. My past experience with nighttime shows at Disney, however, had me anticipating a crowd and long wait for a good seat. To my surprise, that wasn’t the case at all. Unlike the shows at other Orlando theme parks, there are multiple locations along the water front that you can view the show and still have a front row experience.

The Universal Cinematic Spectacular: 100 Years of Movie Memories is a nighttime lagoon show that features some of Universal’s most iconic film moments. The show is projected onto state-of-the-art water curtain technology and is surrounded by colorful fountains and amazing pyrotechnics.

As Mother Nature’s lights started to dim, the water screen started to come alive. Lights… Camera… Action! The show began.

The first thing I couldn’t help but notice was the narration given by Academy Award winning actor, Morgan Freeman. I don’t think they could have made a better choice. As soon as it started, my son couldn’t take his eyes off the water screen. We were all taken back by the pyrotechnics that shot off not only from the lagoon, but also all around us from various locations in the park.

In addition to viewing the show, I was given the opportunity to interview one of the individuals behind the show’s creation, Micheal Aiello. Since 2003, Mr. Aiello has had a major role in the Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Night event. He’s been responsible for writing and directing the extremely popular “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure” as well as working with New Line Cinema to co-create content based on A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as well as Universal Pictures’ The Thing.  He is also responsible for overseeing the concept and development for the entertainment elements within The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

As the writer and show director of Universal Orlando Resort Entertainment, Mr. Aiello was able to give me some insight into what it takes to make a show like this go from concept to reality.

GeekMom: Were there any technical obstacles that you had to overcome while working with the different elements?
Michael Aiello: Every show has its share of challenges, for this nighttime show it certainly was getting all the different elements to interact, in sync and “talk” to each other. However once the programming agreed, getting to orchestrate all the elements was great fun!

GM: How many fireworks are shot off each night during the show?
MA: Hundreds of shells are fired during the 18 minute experience.

GM: How many different movies are represented in the nighttime show? Do you have a complete list?
MA: The show edit is comprised of more than 200 Universal films ranging from the 1930’s with All Quiet on the Western Front to Snow White and the Huntsmen which opens in June.

GM: I noticed that the romance theme was left out. Why was that?
MA: Although Romance did not get a specific “100 Years of….” category, romance is heavily featured during the end of our “100 Years of Triumph” section. This is there where you see clips from Shakespeare in Love, Knotting Hill, Pillow Talk and Atonement among of few others. The Triumph section was all about those classic finale moments a hero can go through: Defeating the villain, achieving the goal, getting the girl, etc.

GM: I was a little surprised by the horror themed section. Are you worried that some families might not want to stay because they have young children that might be scared by some of the scenes?
MA: Universal Studios began 100 years ago by creating the horror film genre with films like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman and later Psycho and the films of Hitchcock. Horror is an incredibly important part of our history. We really wanted to recognize it and give it its due.

The show is all about taking our guests on an emotional journey through the films of Universal. Young and old, we want them to feel like they can cheer on the heroes, laugh at the comedies and shed a tear during the heartfelt and dramatic moments, just as much as we want them to feel a little anxious seeing the villains. In every story, every hero must have a villain. This show is no different.

GM: Was there any movie that you would have liked to include, but for one reason or another were unable to?
MA: I really feel we hit on a brilliant cross section of the well-known films in Universal’s library. We have the biggest hits, like E.T., Back to the Future and Fast and the Furious, but also a few cult films, like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim. There really is something for everyone.

GM: How long did it take to go from idea to an actual show?
MA: It was about a two year process from concept to completion.

GM: How many cast and crew does it take to make one show happen?
MA: We have a very large crew of technicians on hand to make sure the show is looking good every night. Ranging from video technicians, to fountain specialists, to pyro-technicians the entertainment technical team here at UO is top notch!

GM: It felt like some scenes were up a little longer or had more dialog than others. Did they have more of a significant role in Universal’s 100 year celebration or was it based on something else (like popularity). The ones I remember the most were Al Pacino with “Say hello to my little friend” and E.T.
MA: Universal’s biggest hits are all represented and yes in some cases several times depending on the film. Al Pacino is represented more than once, but the line from Scarface you mentioned is only once. Pacino is seen again in some clips from the film “Scent of a Woman.” E.T. does get some extended screen time simply because it is an amazing film that really captures everything you want in a movie: imagination, emotion and wonder!

GM: Tell me a little bit about the technology that is incorporated into the lagoon show that is special or different from other shows like it.
MA: The main focus of the show is our Aquagraphic curtains which unlike the water fans that you traditionally see, allow us to project a crystal clear image onto water. They also allow us to play with interesting patterns and shapes all formed from a single waterfall. Think of it like a dot matrix printer. Any image we wish to show we simply upload into our software and the curtain “prints” out the image in water! It’s pretty spectacular!

Overall, I’m happy I stayed to check out the show that night. My favorite part as a parent, was not having to wait very long to secure a good seat. My son enjoyed the show with its mix of elements and inclusion of some of his favorite movies. When it comes to this show, there really is something for everyone.

I was given park tickets to check out Universal Studios Cinematic Spectacular — 100 Years of Movie Memories. Though I received this benefit, I have given a review that is completely my own.

Aerial View Image courtesy of Universal Studios
Aerial View Image courtesy of Universal Studios
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