By Charly SHELTON
Two years ago, the Universal Studios suffered a fire that devastated the New York Street area of their backlot. The three alarm fire of June 1st, 2008 damaged or destroyed Brownstone Street, New York Street, the King Kong Encounter, some structures that make up Courthouse Square, and the Video Vault, housing copies of Universal films and television shows. After the 1990 fire that destroyed much of the same area, the studio decided to keep multiple copies in various locations to prevent losses. Nothing irreplaceable was lost, but the cost of replacing all that was hit reaches into the $50 million range. (Ironic that the theme park/studio housing the “Backdraft” ride was the victim of a fire, and now that the damage from said fire is repaired, they remove the “Backdraft” attraction to add a “Transformers” ride.) But after all this, the single silver lining is that Kong, now returning to the park, is back and better than ever.
The original attraction, as part of the Studio Tour, was just to drive in, see a helicopter crash, then drive past a nearly 25 foot animatronic of King Kong. This being based on the 1976 remake of the classic film. Now, from New York to Skull Island, from 1976 to 2005, and from Real to Realistic, this attraction has evolved to something completely new. As an attraction purist, thinking that the old attraction is better than any updates (such as adding Captain Jack to Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland- mistake) this reporter was apprehensive about the new look and feel of having a totally digital Kong, projected in HD 3D. But even though you see at the end the entire attraction is comprised of two beautiful, curved blank screens, you would never have guessed that while experiencing it.
This is one of the best attractions in any park ever. Universal has a few winners- Jurassic Park, Revenge of the Mummy, The Simpsons Ride, and the Studio Tour. But that is usually not enough to make a day out of, and not really worth the ticket price. But with the new Peter Jackson helmed “King Kong 360 3D” on the tour, this is now worth the price and time. After your first visit to the new experience, you will get back in line right away. I went three times in one day. It really shows how the progression of theme parks is evolving, just as films are. The original 1933 film featured a stop motion armature to bring Kong to life, standing only about a foot and a half, if that. Then 1986- Kong is introduced to the park in Hollywood as a GIANT animatronic, based on the ’76 film, where Kong was a man in a suit, using the new technology to make a composite and achieve the right scale. In 1990, Kong is debuted in Florida in a near life size set of New York at “Kongfrontation” as a 39 foot tall swinging animatronic, very advanced for its day. Then in 2005, the film goes digital, and Kong is never really there at all- he is a man in a suit,
but a motion capture suit. And in 2010- the theme park catches up to the film once more with a totally digital Kong, now in amazing 3D. This is the way it goes, and it is looking great.
Definitely go see this attraction. Maybe set aside a day where you can wait in line, because with the crowds at the park, it will take a full day in lines. But worth the wait. I give this attraction 5 out of 5 stars, and the Golden Sparrow award for Best 3D attraction of the Year, maybe even the best ever on the West Coast, so far.