For those of you that may not know or have never experienced it, tourists visiting the Universal Studios theme parks have had the chance to board a tram and get a brief glimpse of the behind the scenes action in the studio back lots since 1964. A visitor could expect to see anything from stage hands moving props around, to actors walking around in costume and, if they were really lucky, a scene being filmed for an upcoming TV show or movie.
There were several attractions along the tram route that were staged reenactments of popular films. Some, like the house from Psycho, were highly recognizable settings, while others were elaborate mechanical reproductions like the parting of the seas from The 10 Commandments, Jaws and Earthquake. In 1986, Universal Studios added King Kong to that list of attractions.
Sadly, King Kong, one of the best attractions on the Universal Studios Back Lot Tour, was lost last year to a fire set accidentally while crews were making repairs. Originally, studio execs said the King Kong ride would be replaced by another movie property, but they recently dropped that idea and decided to "reboot," if you will, the original King Kong ride concept and take it in a completely different direction.
Larry Kurzweil, the CEO and park president said this in a press release:
"King Kong has been an integral part of Universal Studios Hollywood for decades. We’re very excited to announce that not only are we reintroducing King Kong, but we’ve completely reimagined the experience and will incorporate this legendary icon into a truly innovative Studio Tour attraction."
In this case, "reimagined" means using Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake as a template for the special effects and will immerse riders in what Universal is calling "the world’s largest Surround Digital projection system to create a next-generation theme park experience."
Even though I’ve never been to the original tour in California, I thoroughly loved the one they built in Orlando - and until it was removed several years ago and replaced by The Mummy ride, I thought it was the best part of the tour.
Peter Sciretta over at /Film has described what the new ride experience will be like better than any other article I have read. Check it out below:
"In the new attraction, guests will don special glasses as they enter a darkened sound stage aboard the Studio Tour trams and will be transported — via the magic of Surround Digital 3D projection — deep into the dark heart of the world of Skull Island. They’ll survive a close encounter with a swarm of monstrous bats, only to be confronted by the terrifying presence of Kong himself."
"Suddenly, an enormous, ravenous 35' tall dinosaur will challenge Kong, and guests will feel their trams jolt, roll and shudder as they find themselves caught in the middle of a ferocious showdown between the great ape and the giant lizard. The action will immerse guests in the battle between the two colossal predators."
I admit that I am having some mixed feelings on this new thrill ride concept. On one hand, it totally makes sense to start producing rides more in the style of how the movie is filmed. Almost the exact same technology is used in the filming and displaying of 3D movies now, sans the pneumatic cars. More and more movies are being pushed into 3D territory so it’s a natural jump to bring that experience to a theme park ride.
(By the way, I predict it will not be long before we see pneumatic theater seats that give action movies a completely different feel.)
On the other hand, there is something to be said about the raw and gritty feel of live motion special effects and animatronics. The original Kong ride had a 30-foot high 7-ton animatronic gorilla lunging out at you.
You could see the steam from his breath and feel the pounding of his fists as you watched them going up and down. You could see the rubble pile up as he destroyed New York City, shook the bridge your tram was on and it felt as if you were really in danger. That just doesn’t happen when you watch a 3D movie. No matter HOW real you can make something with CGI, you always know that if you try and grab it, you’ll get nothing but a handful of air.
There is also the "wow" factor to consider: When audiences were watching effects-laden movies from the sixties, seventies and eighties, the technology was very primitive but it was also more believable. I believed that Yoda existed because as a mechanical puppet he was a physical presence on the screen. The CGI version Lucas gave us just feels flat. Can you imagine what ET would look like now? He would be all CGI and it just wouldn’t feel the same because technically it’s just a bunch of ones and zeros.
What made the backstage tour rides fun to ME, was being able to see what SFX were used to make my favorite movies.
Does it bother you that theme park movie rides will start leaning heavily on 3D digital technology instead of mechanical effects to reproduce the original, or do you consider it just natural progressive step towards the future?