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What started out as a blaze that claimed a misshapen animatronic ape and a city pseudo-block on the Universal backlot is growing almost by the hour into something a lot costlier than the studio originally let on. First there were the Universal Music Group masters lost to fiery eternity (but they were already "transferred digitally," so, you know, whatever), and as alluded to by an astute Defamer commenter earlier today, a whole archive of film prints were rumored to be lost as well.

And while they're not quite as bad as they sound at first, an e-mail sent Monday to repertory bookers around the country (and forwarded our way) indicates they're definitely true:

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that yesterdays fire destroyed nearly 100% of the archive prints kept here on the lot. Due to this we will be unable to honor any film bookings of prints that were set to ship from here. Over the next few weeks and months we will be able to try and piece together what material we do have and if any prints exist elsewhere. For the time being please check your rental confirmations and look under shipping instructions. If the print was set to ship from the studio then you date is now canceled.

We double-checked with folks at Universal, who confirmed the damage but hastened to add that the casualties didn't include negatives or original archival prints — only circulating prints shipped out to rep houses. No one could confirm how many prints were in fact destroyed or their collective value, however, nor has the studio set a timetable for replacing them (or if all of them will even be replaced).

We know we were pulling for Howard the Duck to bite it and everything, but if you're a Universalite who happens to spot its gooey melted remains amid the wreckage or on the tram tour one of these days, please do say a little prayer — and don't hesitate to tell us what else didn't survive.

[Photo Credit: AP]