Sense of Wonder: King Kong stomps onto Universal Studios

This Tuesday, wearing my other hat – as proprietor of Hollywood Gothique, the website of Fantasy Films, Mystery Movies, Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in Los Angeles – I attended the press preview of the new “King Kong 360 3-D” attraction, which opens today at Universal Studios Hollywood. For those who don’t recall, Universal’s back lot was devastated by a fire two years ago that destroyed prints (but thankfully not negatives) of classic horror films, along with part of the tram tour. Among the casualties was the old King Kong, a life-size mechanical replica, seen from the chest up, pulling the wires of an elevated train. The replacement Kong is a combination of 3-D projection and motion simulation modeled after the 2005 remake of KING KONG directed by Peter Jackson, who is given a “created by” credit for the new attraction.

Peter Jackson appeared via 3-D video clip
Peter Jackson appeared via 3-D video clip

Universal rolled out King Kong 360 3-D with a press event that featured celebrities walking the red carpet, studio executives expressing their pride at getting Kong back on the tour, and a 3-D video clip of Jackson himself, who explained his involvement by saying, because the KING KONG film does not lend itself to a sequel, he “was just thrilled to have an excuse to go back and have a bit more fun with King Kong.”
Fun is the operative word. I was not a big fan of Jackson’s KING KONG (reviewed here), which was like watching a rough draft of a concept, in which each and every idea is included, whether or not they gel, and I found the special effects set pieces like the dinosaur stampede and especially the Kong-Tyrannosaurs battle (dangling from vines in a chasm) to be laughably absurd. Fortunately, this kind of excess, which works to the detriment of a narrative film, is perfectly tuned for a theme park ride, where visceral impact outweighs any credibility concerns. King Kong 360 3-D is one wild ride.
However, potential visitors should consider that, unlike Universal’s TERMINATOR 2 3-D, or any of the motion-simulation rides that have graced the theme park of the years (including BACK TO THE FUTURE and, currently, THE SIMPSONS), King Kong 360 3-D is not a stand-alone attraction; it is one of many sights seen the tour through the back lot. Situated near the old rickety bridge (which used to sag on cue as the tram rolled over it), the new Kong attraction takes you inside a darkened tunnel, leading you to Skull Island, which is visualized on two colossal digital screens, one on either side of the tram.
The crushed tram does not bode well for your chances on Skull Island.
The crushed tram does not bode well for your chances on Skull Island.

After passing a smashed and smoking tram – a sign of the dangers to come – you enter a tunnel leading to Skull Island. Inside, images of dense foliage give way to raptors that appear to chase the tram – until they are interrupted by hungry T-Rexes, bring the tour to a stop. Just when all seems lost, Kong appears to battle the carnivorous dinosaurs. The action runs continuously on both screens as if happening in real time, synchronized so that when Kong tosses a T-Rex from one side of the tram, it appears to land on the other. The visual impact is heightened by motion simulation, creating the illusion that the tram is being buffeted by the battling creatures. As if that we’re not enough, you get sprayed by dinosaur saliva (actually water) as the reptiles shakes their heads at you.
The highlight is the convincingly realized illusion that a T-Rex has grabbed the last car of the tram, pulling it around until it is visible on the left – and then dragging it over the edge of a cliff, leading to what feels like a 100-foot free fall, arrested only by some convenient vines. Will Kong arrive in time to prevent you from plunging to the bottom of the abyss?
The tram takes visitors into the jungles of Skull Island.
The tram takes visitors into the jungles of Skull Island.

The computer-generated visual effects are well rendered, and the 3-D is also nicely done. (You are told when to put on the requisite 3-D glasses, handed out as you board the tram.) The imagery is especially effective when you consider that, essentially, you are seeing two long, continuous takes, uninterrupted by editing, in order to create the illusion that you are viewing live-action on both sides of the tram.
The slight downside is that the large screens (the size is necessary to fill your entire field of vision) are not quite perfectly bright and clear. Also, the 3-D illusion is ever so slightly marred by the fact that, depending on your seat in the tram, you are often not watching the action at a 90-degree angle to the screen. (It feels as if you should be able to see around and behind objects, but actually viewing them at an oblique angle undermines the illusion.) On the plus side, the initial glimpse of the Skull Island forest effectively conveys the sense that you are travelling past real objects.
The old King Kong, destroyed in the 2008 fire
The old King Kong, destroyed in the 2008 fire

The experience is visually impressive, but is King Kong 360 3-D worth a special visit to Universal Studios Hollywood? At a minute-and-a-half in length, probably not, but it is great to have Kong back in action on the back lot. Just remember that, despite the ballyhoo, this is not a stand-alone attraction. However, if you are considering a trip to Universal’s’ theme park, it is definitely worth the wait in line to take the back lot tour. You will not be disappointed.
Celebrities who attended the debut included Christopher Lloyd (BACK TO THE FUTURE), Mark Pelligrino (LOST), and Thomas Kretschmann (the 2005 KING KONG) and Jack O’Halloran (the 1976 KING KONG).
Christopher Lloyd Mark Pelligrino (LOST) Thomas Kretschmann (from KING KONG 2005) and Jack O'Halloran (from KING KONG 1976)

ConQuest 41 This Weekend

COnQues41ConQuesT 41, Kansas City’s Oldest Science Fiction Convention, is coming up this weekend at the Hyatt Regency Hotel .
Their theme this year is Steampunk and Evil Geniuses.

  • Guests include:
    Michael SwanwickAuthor Guest of Honor -Winner of
    Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, & World Fantasy Awards

    Toni WeisskopfToastmaster – Publisher, Baen Books
    Peri CharlifuArtist Guest of Honor – Visual Artist and Potter Extraordinaire
    Geri Sullivan – Fan Guest of Honor -Fan Editor, Club Fan, Historian Pete Abrams – Special Guest Writer and Illustrator – Sluggy Freelance
    AND (last minute addition) –
  • Fantasy Author George R.R. Martin!

They expect over 500 fans of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Gaming to be in attendance.

The Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel
2345 McGee St KC, MO 64108
See the website for ticket information: CONQUEST.ORG

The Creature from the Black Lagoon – Live at Universal Studios

Universal Studios Hollywood officially premiered the newest attraction on its famous theme park tour, a live stage musical titled THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: A RAGING, ROCKIN SHOW. This twenty-five minute show condenses the plot from the 1954 classic, starring Richard Carlson and Julie Adams, adding a bunch of songs and dialogue heavy with pop references and laced with irony. The running joke is that the submerged sexual subtext of the original film is here all out on the surface, with the Creature cast as a sort of bad-boy rock star whose dangerous air is part of his appeal.

Julie Adams & the Creature
Julie Adams & the Creature

The embedded video is from Universal preview of the show for the press, which took place yesterday, with a staged event depicting the Creature’s arrival (he broke free to menace the crowd, natch). The cast of the show spoke to the press, and – best of all – actress Julie Adams, who starred in the 1954 film, made a personal appearance, expressing amazement at the little B-movie she mad over 50 years ago had inspired a new incarnation.
You can see it all in the video, or check out a review of the show and the event at Hollywood Gothique.

Sense of Wonder: Weekend of Horrors Ticket Give-Away

Fangoria Weekend of Horrors 2009This year’s installment of the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors is coming to the Los Angeles Convention Center in April. Hollywood Gothique and Cinefantastique Online are teaming up to get you into the convention for free. We are giving away two pairs of tickets, which can be redeemed for any single day of the convention, which runs the 17th through the 19 of April.
To enter for your chance to win, simply post a comment on the contest page at Hollywood Gothique, saying that you would like to attend the convention. If you are not already registered as a subscriber, you will be prompted to register before you can comment (registration is free). When you register, make sure to include a working -mail address, so that we may contact you if you win. (Don’t worry if your comments do not appear immediately; new comments require adminstrative approval.)
Two winners will be selected at random on April 12. You will not receive a physical ticket beforehand; your name will be on a list at the door. Affiliates, freinds and family of Cinefantastique Online and Hollywood Gothique are not eligible.
The convention features several seminars, a Vampire Ball, a Zombie Walk, and an art gallery. Seminars include Hershel Gordon Lewis giving a workshop on low-budget film-making; Clive Barker on horror writing; Tobe Hooper on Film-making 101; and Tim Sullivan on horror film-making. Other guests include: Sam Raimi, Doug Bradley, Tony Todd, Thomas Jane, Ashley Laurence, Brad Dourif, Bill Mosely, Tom Savini, Adrienne King, Ruggero Deodato, Lamberto Bava, Sergio Stivaletti, Tiffany Shepis, Patrick Lussier, Robert Kurtzman, Marilyn Burns, Adam Green, Reggie Bannister, Fred Olen Ray, and Monique Depree.
Location: L.A. Convention Center – 1201 S. Figueroa Street in Los Angeles
Official Website: Click here
Dates: April 17-19

Dance with the vampires at Club Blood

Vampire cinema has infected popular culture with the taint of the undead. This takes several forms, including night clubs that cater to the Goth subculture. This past Halloween, Knott’s Scary Farm took a cue from this concept and created a walk-through maze called Club Blood – a nightclub that caters to the undead. Check out the video here, or you can see a widescreen version at YouTube by clicking here.

Friday the 13th Part 3 – Cast & Crew Reunion

To help celebrate Cinefantastique’s new look, which allows us to feature videos on the home page, we are reposting a few videos. This one comes from last year’s ScreamFest horror film festival in Hollywood, which featured a question-and-answer session with several members of the cast and crew after a screening of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 IN 3-D.

The Signal – question-and-answer with co-director Jacob Gentry

THE SIGNAL was one of the best movies I saw at last October’s Screamfest Film Festival in Hollywood. The premise involves a mysterious transmission that turns those who view it into homicidal maniacs. The plot follows a married woman and her lover, who are trying to avoid her husband after he views the “signal.” Although some people liken THE SIGNAL to a zombie movie, it is closer in tone and execution to David Cronenberg’s RABID (1977) with Marilyn Chambers. The unqiue thing about the film is the vague line separating the maniacs from the normal people, with characters crossing back and forth from one condition to the other, making it difficult if not impossible to know whom to trust and whom to fear.

The film is supposed to get a platform release this February. Below is the question-and-answer session from after the Screamfest screening.

The Death of Hercules

Wow, I did not realize that Reg Park had died until I stumbled upon this obituary written by Tim Lucas over at VideoWatchblog. Park played Hercules in a couple of fantasy-oriented sword-and-sandal epics back in the early ’60s, HERCULS CONQUERS ATLANTIS and HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD. The later retains a certain cult appeal because was directed by genre expert Mario Bava, and it co-stars Christopher Lee (Dracula for a generation of movie-goers, before playing Count Dooku in ATTACK OF THE CLONES and Saruman in LORD OF THE RINGS.
Lucas’s obit is a heart-felt piece that makes you appreciate Park’s contribution to the role, even if you are not a big fan of Italian muscleman epics. If you want a quick introduction to the genre, check out the video below, which I shot at an exhibition of photographs and posters called “Beefcake Babylon: the Iconography of Sword & Sandal Epics.” Park shows up in some of the photos, along with his predecessor in the role of Hercules, Steve Reeves.