King Kong 360 3-D officially debuted today on the famed Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour, immersing passengers into a unique experience appropriately dubbed “Surround Digital 3D film.” Director Peter Jackson brings his version of King Kong to life inside this next-generation theme park experience, placing guests riding the backlot tram tour onto Skull Island in the midst of a battle between the famous giant ape and a few strikingly realistic dinosaurs.
Through the use of digital 3D projection, two enormous screens (their combined size comprises an area equivalent to 16 conventional movie screens), and a powerful motion base, guests are thrust into close encounters on a giant scale.
The new attraction, which is one of several seen along the park’s Studio Tour, emerges two years after the massive fire that consumed much of Universal Studios Hollywood’s backlot, including the former King Kong attraction. King Kong was the original “attraction” to be added to the Studio Tour back in 1986, paving the way for the creation of Universal Studios Theme Parks. Since the blaze, many of the legendary Hollywood sets have been recreated and the re-addition of Kong to the tram tour tops off the restoration effort.
Two days before today’s official opening of King Kong 360 3D, Universal Studios Hollywood held a world premiere event for the new show, inviting celebrities, media, and other special guests. Here’s a video summary of the day’s activities including a few celebrity interviews, words from the presidents of Universal Studios and the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, and a glimpse at the King Kong 360 3-D attraction itself:
World Premiere Event
The King Kong 360 3D world premiere event was held to benefit the Wildlife Waystation Animal Refuge. The group was on hand with an Albino Python and a few other animals.
Universal also rolled out the red carpet for celebrities. Noteworthy attendees not seen in the video above included Christopher “Doc Brown” Lloyd (no stranger to the Universal Lot), Wayne Brady, and Kevin Smith. Kate Flannery (“Meredith”), Oscar Nunez (“Oscar”), and Craig Robinson (“Daryl”) from “The Office” were also in attendance. And for you “LOST” fans, Jacob was there.
Several actors dressed as tribal/cave people were on hand to “entertain” the crowd. I found them slightly annoying and I don’t think I was the only one. The expression on this Universal security guard’s face says it all:
One of the biggest thrills for me personally at this event was meeting Bob Burns, the famous historian/archivist of paraphernalia from classic fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films. He owns the original armature of King Kong used in the 1933 film and can be seen in the behind-the-scenes documentaries on the “King Kong” (2005) DVD. Director Peter Jackson personally called him the day before this event and asked him to attend and bring Kong with him. Who could say “no” to PJ?
Universal had promoted to us that this event would feature the world’s first 3-D press briefing, but it ultimately it wasn’t terribly exciting. Peter Jackson sat in a theater talking - in 3-D. He had his legs crossed so his foot was “popping out” of the screen, which was the only indication that the video had an extra dimension. Here’s the briefing, minus the 3-D:
This video showed me 3-D isn’t going to replace regular 2-D cinema anytime soon. Dramas (and press briefings) don’t need to be seen in 3-D to be enjoyed.
(More photos from the world premiere event can be found at the bottom of this article.)
King Kong 360 3-D Review
I was very impressed with King Kong 360 3-D. The basic story behind the attraction is that the Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour tram has somehow found itself on Skull Island. Don’t ask me how it got there. No additional logic behind the ride is given.
The approach to King Kong 360 3-D sets the stage for what’s to come by showing off a tram vehicle that appears to have been crushed by a dinosaur or perhaps Kong himself:
Upon arriving to Skull Island via the tram, guests find themselves surrounded by three Tyrannosaurus Rex. They attack the tram from all sides but, naturally, King Kong eventually comes to save the day. At one point during the experience, the tram gets “thrown” into a chasm and appears to be suspended by vines. Kong once again saves the day and the show ends.
It sounds simple when written (again, no story to tell), but being surrounded by the 3-D moving images, being able to look in any direction, was mind-blowing. At one point, I was watching Kong fight two dinosaurs and actually felt the tram being pulled away. I quickly turned around only to discover it was another dinosaur yanking on the tram. It let out a huge roar and sprayed dino-slobber all over me - and all of that was happening while the other fight was still going on. I experience King Kong 360 3-D twice and received a different experience each time.
Technically, King Kong 360 3-D is an impressive creation. It uses 16 3-D projectors, synchronized to each other each creating huge moving images at 60 frames per second. In addition to the visuals, the surround sound features 16 audio channels pumping 108 decibels from 68 speakers. But this being a theme park and not just a giant movie theater, plenty of other effects have been combined with the audio and video for the complete experience.
The “Tram Mover System” is a pneumatic mobility program that was developed specifically for King Kong 360 3-D and is the first of its kind for a theme park ride. Four large movable flat metal plates sit beneath each of the tram cars are controlled by compressed-air power. Add this movement to smell, water and wind, and it’s sensory overload - in a good way.
I give major kudos to Universal for including Peter Jackson in the creation of this attraction. Jackson definitely had a huge hand in every element of it and as a result, the attraction fits in perfectly with his “King Kong” film.
The original King Kong attraction featured a massive animatronic version of the famous ape, but that was destroyed in the June 2008 fire. Universal made the decision to switch to 3-D projections rather than building a new animatronic figure. Jackson said, “The technical aspects of this new attraction are very, very exciting. Presenting King Kong in 3-D at 60 frames a second with interactive movement and effects is more realistic than an animatronic would ever be.”
The Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour is definitely the best attraction in the theme park and the addition of King Kong 360 3-D makes it even better. Visitors looking forward only to the Kong portion of the tram ride will also enjoy a tour of a real, working movie studio. What other theme park can do that?
If you want to know more about how the “Surround Digital 3D” film was created for King Kong 360 3-D, watch this excellent making-of featurette provided to us by Universal:
Jeremiah Daws and his brother Josh are theme park fans and filmmakers living the dream in California.
Follow their adventures at DawsBrothers.com.
Photos from the King Kong 360 3-D world premiere event:
(Video shot by Jeremiah Daws, Edited by Ricky Brigante. Photos by Jeremiah Daws.)