Universal Studios Hollywood is not an exciting theme park.
It isn’t. It’s an admirable attempt; certainly, its recent leaning into “motion control rides” has made it cutting edge for whatever that’s worth, but it, as a place, is simply not a very exciting proposition. A tremendous amount of this has to do with the awkwardness of its construction and lay out; the park is actually separated into two areas, joined only by an incredibly long stretch of escalators, which carry you literally up and down the side of a mountain.
Especially compared to its big brother, Universal Studios Florida, a glorious explosion of fun set in the theme park capitol of the world in direct, surprisingly open warfare with the juggernaut of Disneyworld, Universal Studios Hollywood seems rinky dink and half-cocked.
Nonetheless, the park has always held a special place in my hear. See, something people unfamiliar with the park might not know is that it’s actually built very literally INTO Universal Studios. Like, there is a functioning film-lot not just adjacent to the park, but entangled with it. Executives in meetings will occasionally boast they can go down and ride a ride during lunch, though I can’t imagine why they’d want to; most of the rides aren’t very good.
For me, it’s a little different; my father had his office on the Universal Lot in the early nineties, in a bungalow decked out to look like the refuge of some jungle explorer; I relished my visits to the backlot, where I’d get brief glimpses into how movies were actually made, and in some ways, these visits were a deciding factor in my career and greatest passion. So the place is steeped in nostalgia.
But it’s not very exciting.
And tonight, the park was ESPECIALLY not exciting.
This was surprising, due to the park being in the midst of the yearly Halloween Horror Nights promotion, wherein the park is transformed into a night time hell pit of mazes and chaos, crowded with excited teenagers, misguided parents and their young children, and a surprising number of single adult men, all eager, or if not eager, ready and willing to have actors in often surprisingly effective make up pop out at them and say some variation of “boo.” The event is R rated, and, if you splurge for Front Of Line passes and go in early October, VERY very fun.
But on this hot October night, seemingly a third of the park was tarped off or under construction, greatly reducing the number of available scare mazes, and making the park seem even smaller than it already is. This is because of the massive Wizarding World of Harry Potter addition currently underway, which it seems was formulated in aggressive response to my accusation of the park not being very exciting. Hogwarts and Hogsmead are already in place, looking shockingly beautiful and well made, even in their half completed state.
So yes, we were on molly. You’ve got to find excitement somewhere.
My friend and I, both recently out of long term relationships, had decided “Mollyween Hugger Nights” sounded like a great way to spend a thursday; this in spite of the fact that we didn’t know each other very well, and had interacted one on one before exactly once. I had soft pitched the idea, she’d said yes, and the whole thing had been a total dice roll; I went in expecting nothing, and open to anything, but desperate to have Michael Myers pop RIGHT OUT AT ME at least four times.
And yet, we’d been in the park and nothing was happening. No feelings of love or elation. No tingly, vaguely horny, vaguely kittenish need to touch and be touched. No sweating. Just the giggles.
Both of us were underwhelmed. There’s a very specific type of ennui that sets in when the drugs you took haven’t hit, and seem like they might not hit at all; it’s this frantic desperation, where the very act of having done drugs suddenly seems silly and facile, and you feel, put lightly, like a dork. Some dork who is standing around waiting for their brain to surprise them. It’s a bad vibe.
So we made what some would consider a classic, or perhaps THE classic mistake. We took a second dose.
By the time we got off the tram, my friend had begun regularly and suddenly clutching on to me, snickering, and saying things like “It’s cool the way the people go” apropos of nothing. She finally followed this up with “IT IS HITTING ME SUPER HARD.”
So intensely, in fact, that we needed to take a breather, like two-smacked out teens at Coachella, and just collapsed on a bench, trying to take it all in. But it wasn’t hitting me really, not yet; granted, I was feeling carefree. I was feeling, maybe a smidge more elated than usual. And yes, her clutching of my arm had started to feel very cool. But I wasn’t like “oh my god.”
The bench we sat down on was next to a Despicable Me themed store; a seemingly endless variety of minions merchandise was spread in a sea of yellow.
My friend had fallen mostly quietly, looking loopily at me, our faces inches apart, her smiling in a lovely, very, very strange way. This human clearly needed water. Her eyes looked like those of a discombobulated shark; all black, and slightly off kilter. Being Mr. Cool Drugs guy, getting water came second nature.
I left her on the bench, went into the Minions store, grabbed water and got in line. It was then I noticed that, above the counter, off to the right, there was a flatscreen TV mounted on the wall. The flatscreen TV appeared to be showing a feed from the inside of the store, so I was featured, front and center.
“Oh no. It’s me.” I said out loud. Something was off, though. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Confused, knowing something was wrong with the image, I focused in and realized that, in fact, the camera, whatever was filming me to put me on the screen, had some sort of filter where it made you look like a minion. I looked just like a minion on the screen.
But then I focused harder: No, this was not a feed from inside the store. It wasn’t turning me into a minion. This was just a screen showing an actual Despicable Me movie.
And then, moments later, I realized: It wasn’t a screen. There was no TV.
What I was looking at, that I had initially identified as an image of my human self on a television screen, was a motionless cardboard cut out of a minion, sitting on a shelf.
My hand was clenched over my mouth as tears streamed down my face, and I let out a small scream into my palm.
Returning to my friend on the bench, she looked up at me, noticing that I seemed alarmed.
“Okay.” I said, my voice shuddery and quiet. “So much just happened.”
tl;dr I become a minion.
All Notes are Property of Max Landis. Site run and operated by Oliver Judge.