Los Angles Times television editor Martin Miller drops by the Hero Complex to review the new monkey business at Universal Studios Hollywood.
This is about the 800-pound gorilla in the room or, in this case, the one shaking the tram. (Man, those things can take a beating; dinosaurs, earthquakes and Whoopi Goldberg.) It’s great that King Kong — this time in 360 3-D and with some special toothy guests, no less — is back on the list of star attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood. I, for one, missed the big, snorting palooka.
But, you know, what about the little people?
On opening weekend, we decided to conduct our own mini focus group, which consisted of my two sons — an 11-year-old eager to prove nothing scares him (except girls) and an 8-year-old who continues to derive great pleasure from exceeding the height requirements for amusement park rides. Not only was I curious about their reaction for the purposes of plotting future impromptu excursions (we live about 20 minutes away), but also for the invaluable intel that might be gathered and passed on to various relations scattered across the country whose interests, children and travel plans will eventually turn to our local theme park.
Focus groups, like miles per gallon in the city, can vary, especially when kids are involved. Your results, of course, may be different, but here’s some context about our boys’ fright threshold. Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way — they’ve seen none of the apparently inexhaustible “Saw“ series and hopefully never will. And generally speaking, they don’t suffer vampires either unless they are cartoons or in a Scooby-Doo movie.
They have, however, seen all the Harry Potter movies and, between their mother and their ever-advancing reading skills, have read or heard all the books. Also, appropriately enough for this occasion, both boys have seen the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (directed by Peter Jackson, who also created King Kong 360 3-D). Yes, the sight of Sauron’s minions laying siege to Helm’s Deep was cause for concern, but it was nothing that sitting on the edge of their beds until they fell asleep for a few days couldn’t remedy.
Before we took Universal’s studio tour, we rode the “Jurassic Park” ride (they were not scared and loved it) and the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster (they were scared and shut their eyes during a lot of it), so my wife and I didn’t know what to expect from the latest incarnation of Kong — billed as a 30-foot-tall, 6,000-pound ape that practically leaped off the huge 3-D screens.
It’s now the morning after, and I’m happy to report no nightmares, not that I was expecting any. The reaction from the 11-year-old after meeting Kong nearly face to face was: “That was so awesome.” And the 8-year-old: “It got kinda gross because it was, like, King Kong spit on you, but it was cool.”
As far as kids go, “King Kong 360 3-D” doesn’t sneak up on you — unlike the startling T. rex head dropping from the ceiling in the Jurassic Park ride or just about every twist and turn on the Mummy roller coaster. On this ride, there is no mistaking when showtime is. Jackson (who has lost so much weight from his “Rings” days, he almost looks like a younger Spielberg) tells you to put on your 3-D glasses.
In the video playing inside the trams, Jackson likens the coming experience to a sequel to his 2005 movie “King Kong.” I’m not so sure about that, but from the moment the lights go off and the sights, sounds, smells and slobber of Skull Island come onto the screen and into the tram, there’s no doubt you’ve been transported to a different world — one I think the boys wouldn’t have minded visiting a bit longer.
Here’s some fan-shot video of the sequence from YouTube…
In fairly quick order, hissing raptors come and go, then T. rex and Kong beat the stuffing out of each other. There’s thunderous screaming and roaring, ape spittle (or was that dino blood splattering on us?) and a titanic, tram-rattling death match. And it was all presented in a super-sophisticated Saturday-morning-matinee way that didn’t terrify our little monkeys. What more could a kid ask for?
If there’s a downside, it’s the ride’s duration. The tram visits Skull Island for about 2 1/2 minutes. It goes quickly and easily could have been longer. It almost felt like a teaser. The feeling from our family was Jackson could easily build a stand-alone attraction around Kong by combining elements of the Simpsons Ride with the 3-D experience. (He’s forgiven if he can’t do it immediately because we’re all hoping he turns his attention to the up-in-the-air production of “The Hobbit.”)
But until the Son of Kong comes along, we feel fairly good about bringing the ‘tweener sons and daughters of friends and relatives to this ride.
— Martin Miller
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Photos: Universal Studios Hollywood
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