Deadline freelance journalist Diane Haithman visited Universal Studios Tour for the media unveiling of the new “King King 3D 360″ attraction:
In June, 2008, Universal Studios’ own Magilla Gorilla, the “King Kong” attraction, was destroyed during a fire that also razed part of the park’s back lot and burned the studio’s film vault. At the time, Universal announced that the original robotic monkey — built in 1986 and known for puffing appropriately scented “banana breath” on visitors — would be replaced with “a new, compelling guest experience”. But it didn’t take long for the studio to decide to get back into the ape business. Instead of leaving Kong in the ashes, the studio revived the ride as “King Kong 360 3D ” by bringing in no less than Peter Jackson, who also directed the 2005 “King Kong.” (The remake of the 1933 film.)
Billed as “The World’s Largest, Most Intense 3-D Experience” it had its world premiere today at Universal. The new and improved King Kong, executives promised, would engage all the senses: sight, sound, touch, and smell. The stats: Wearing 3-D glasses and traveling by tram through “Skull Island”, a soundstage larger than a football field, visitors are surrounded by enormous movie screens (an area comparable to 16 regular movie screens) that rest upon steel platens allowing for movement. Once inside, the tram is also programmed to move in sync with the action on the screens. It gets caught in the middle of a growling, howling dust-up between carnivorous dinosaurs and one very cranky Kong, courtesy of Surround 3D projection.
Festivities included performers dressed in ersatz island garb (one outfit included beads, feathers, leather and, inexplicably, fishnet stockings) and photo opps with a big yellow snake and a dazed-looking live tiger. Universal Studios president/COO Ron Meyer and Larry Kurzweil, president of the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park and Universal CityWalk, announced that Kong had returned, large and in charge. In a fine example of entertainment executive speak, Kurzweil claimed King Kong was a “living movie brand”. I was on board one of the first trams to cruise through Skull Island to meet the “living movie brand” face to face. (Although, given the studio’s unfortunate recent history, seeing a fleet of red fire trucks roll by as we boarded the tram was scarier.)
Once inside the attraction, I was in a tropical paradise rife with jungle flora and fauna, including one very large but not particularly threatening spider. As promised, the tram rocked and rolled as 35-foot projected raptors and other outsized creatures slammed against the cars. Kong, at just 25 feet fall, frankly seemed a little dinky compared to his prehistoric friends. The ape took an angry leap and “lands” on top of the tram. In the distance, a crushed tram suggested a previous Skull Island safari gone horribly wrong.
Also as promised, the experience engages not only the ears and eyes, but my sense of touch, as demure droplets of cold water – apparently standing in for dinosaur spit as the big lizards shake their toothy heads — occasionally splattered the tram riders. Or maybe it’s simulated gorilla drool. Either way, the water effect here is not nearly as terrifying as Universal’s Jaws attraction with its fiberglass Bruce The Shark.
We came, we saw, we heard, we felt. But wait – something was missing. A guy next to me, looking somewhat confused, leaned over and asked: “Did you smell anything?” I had to confess that I had not. No banana breath. No raptor breath. Nada. After the ride, I asked one of the PR flacks whether the ride had any odors.
“There was a scent,” said Universal publicist Eliot Sekuler, sounding a little disappointed that it had somehow failed to register. “It’s a fecund earthy scent in keeping with the fact Kong is a little more fierce.”
OK. Fierce. Got it. Although I still mourn the loss of banana breath.