The smoking wreckage of a tram car marked the end of a New York City street and the beginning of tropical overgrowth and rocky formations. A bellow emerged from a dark tunnel.
Two years after a fire destroyed the original “King Kong Encounter,” Universal Studios Hollywood announced the new “King Kong 360 3-D” attraction at a premiere event. Celebrities like Mark Moses (“Mad Men”) and Mark Pellegrino (“Lost”) shared the red carpet with a tiger and an albino python courtesy of the Wildlife WayStation, an exotic animal rehabilitation center in Angeles National Forrest. The ride opened to the public on July 1.
“Kong is coming back and coming back large,” said Larry Kurzweil, Universal Studios Hollywood president, at the event.
In June 2008, a fire destroyed large sections of the Universal Studios backlot. The blaze consumed facades used for filming, like New York Street and the King Kong ride. While Universal Studios committed to rebuilding the film sets, the fate of Kong was unknown.
“Immediately we started getting calls and emails from around the world asking, ‘How can you not bring Kong back?’” Kurzweil said.
Universal Studios decided to create a new Kong-based attraction in August of 2008, according to a studio tour guide. Work involved building the largest soundstage in Universal Studios history. New York Street was officially reopened in May of 2010, with the Kong attraction following in July.
“Today marks the final piece in the rebuilding of the backlot,” Universal Studios President Ron Meyer said at the opening.
King Kong captured both Fay Wray and the minds of audiences in a 1933 eponymous film. Since then, the character has appeared in films, television series and video games. Kurzweil described Kong as a “living, large legacy brand” before reminding attendees that Kong survived dinosaurs, U.S. Army soldiers and even Godzilla before the Universal fire.
Inspired by the 2005 Peter Jackson-directed re-imagining of King Kong, the ride replaces animatronics with 3-D imaging helped designed by Jackson. It marks Jackson’s first experience with non-film entertainment. Jackson appeared at the premiere event in a 3-D video. He described King Kong as “pretty much my favorite character” before introducing the technology used to create the ride.
“King Kong 360 3-D” is part of the studio backlot tour. Riders board trams that carry them across the soundstages and film sets before ending at the home of King Kong, Skull Island. Once the tram pulls into a hanger, riders are instructed to put on their 3-D glasses. A series of spectacular beasts, including spiders, raptors and tyrannosaurus rexes then assault the tram, before Kong swings to the rescue.
The visuals are created by the largest 3-D screen in existence, according to the Universal guide. The screen measures 40 feet tall and 180 feet long, completely surrounding the tram. Action takes place on all sides of the tram simultaneously, meaning that the experience is unique for each viewer. While a rider on the left might be recoiling from an extra large scorpion, the rider on the right will be ducking a T Rex tossed by Kong.
In addition to the video, the screens twist and roll, creating the illusion of motion. Riders are also splashed with water and blasted with jets of air, simulating the giant gorilla’s breathing. Jackson likened the ride to a total body experience.
“It is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before, combining movement, sound and smell,” the director said. “You have to experience it. It can’t be described”