Universal Studios Hollywood has reopened sections of its backlot that were destroyed in a 2008 fire, with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Steven Spielberg on hand to lead the celebrations.
Portions of the backlot that have been reconstructed include the New York Street set and the Courthouse Square scene made famous by the Back to the Future movies. The sets will now be available for use by movie productions, as well as forming part of the theme park's famous Studio Tour attraction.
The original sets were left badly damaged - and in some cases completely destroyed - by a fire on June 1, 2008. Universal has invested $200 million in rebuilding and upgrading the backlot, in what is claimed to be the largest set construction project in Hollywood history.
The New York Street set, which is likely to be seen frequently in blockbuster movies over the coming years, features recreations of Wall Street, Park Avenue, Chinatown and Little Italy. It also includes versions of famous landmarks such as the Trump Tower, the Macy's building and Radio City Music Hall. New additions to the backlot include a street based on 19th century London, and a square designed to resemble Paris. Three modern office buildings designed to depict modern "big city" locations are yet to be completed.
Universal claims to have used state-of-the-art fire prevention technology in the construction of the new sets in order to prevent a repeat of the 2008 incident. The building facades are built from flame-resistant fiberglass with wood trimming, while new sprinkler systems are designed to douse any flames that do occur. Movie production will be aided by large spaces behind the building fronts, which will enable more expansive camera angles.
Governor Schwarzenegger - himself a star of blockbusters filmed at the studios, as well as the theme park's Terminator 2: 3D attraction - hailed the potential impact of the updated backlot. He is quoted in the Contra Costa Times as saying: "Today's opening of the Universal backlot is very important because it brings great entertainment to people who visit Universal Studios. It is good for tourism, it's great for job creation. And it really re-establishes Hollywood as the entertainment capital of the world."
Spielberg, who was involved in the design of the new sets, hailed their creative potential. "What you see around you is the result of a new New York, and not just New York, but London and anywhere else your imagination takes you, because the backlot can be anything an art department and a director and a writer put in our imagination" he said.
Also destroyed in the 2008 fire was the King Kong soundstage which formed part of the Studio Tour. Universal will open its replacement, King Kong 360 3-D, on July 1. The new version will be the largest 3-D attraction in the world when it opens.