Universal Studios and its many theme parks around the globe are fairly well-known for their amazing theatrics, imagery, and excitement that comes along with the rides and attractions of the beloved theme park. As time rolls on, the attractions change over to the next “big market” draw for the masses- but one that will never change is the tragically lost King Kong Encounter that I refuse to let anyone forget about.
I mean, it’s pretty hard to forget a 30-foot-tall Kong screaming in your face with banana-scented breath. I know I never did!
I remember my first “Kongfrontation” quite vividly in the Summer of 1993 on a trip to also my first visit to Universal Studios Hollywood. The whole thing was actually videotaped but alas, just as with the fate of this ride, it got destroyed by the flames of injustice. So I only have my memory of watching said videotape several hundred times as a kid and of course, ye’ old faithful Yous of Tubes to light the way of a core attraction memory that seems so long ago.
The ride served as a spectacular ending to the now-infamous Universal Studios Tram ride and debuted in June of 1986- 10 years after the Dino de Laurentiis version bedazzled audiences with a bloody, scarier version of the eighth-wonder-of-the world, and was a prodigal ambition for the time paving the way for the complex themed attractions we know today. Kong’s animatronics were designed by legendary Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr with Kong’s design itself was tackled by Tom Reisenbach. This duo along with the muscle and brains of many others gave the 7-ton, 30-foot-tall, banana-scent-breathing Kong figure in the attraction the reputation of being the largest and most complicated animatronic figure in existence for many years, weighing in at 14,000 pounds and able to perform 29 different types of movements.
Pretty ground-breaking stuff for the mid-80s!
Getting on the tram ride was a real treat for guests at the park and an essential at that. After riding by lots used for Back to the Future and the real Psycho house, JAWS would pop up and give you a scare after riding over a bridge of murky waters and a couple of explosions popping off. Kong was the climactic event to seal the tour’s deal as the must-ride list at Universal Parks. The show began as the tour tram entered the soundstage into a world of New York City where they stopped in front of an apartment building, while a breaking news report about Kong’s rampage on television monitors located inside of the building’s windows showed live coverage of the destruction, informing us Kong is loose, and slightly pissed in the city.
Then, there he was- in all his goddamn 7 million-dollar animatronic glory.
With a news chopper circling overhead giving us a play-by-play, like we really needed that but still cool nonetheless, we were put at eye-level with the eighth wonder of the world and a sweet sniff of that Chiquita banana breath. Police choppers start to fire at Kong to protect us passerby citizens, but this enraged the King even more who then shook the bridge and ripped the suspension bridge cables apart in an attempt to grab us. But, of course, by the grace of RKO pictures, we escaped the giant ape and made it out safely.
It was an extraordinary experience to have and it really is a shame that a fire took out this beautiful piece of history. The infamous Universal Studios fire of 2008 began when a worker used a blowtorch to warm asphalt shingles being applied to a facade. The worker left before checking if all spots had cooled, and a three-alarm fire broke out. The fire lasted a total of 24 hours and damaged the Park quite severely, most notably destroying over 150,000 master recordings of music and, of course, the King King Encounter.
Nine firefighters and a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy sustained minor injuries. In the aftermath of the fire, only four walls remained of the entire Kong part of the attraction, with the only option to demolish this innovative piece of Universal history. Eventually, we got King Kong: 360 3-D, which opened on July 1, 2010, and was based on Peter Jackson’s Kong film, but it really wasn’t the same as a giant head of Kong staring directly at you with the mouth the size of a truck.
At the very least, we have our memories of what once was, and by the grace of giant monster Gods of Skull Island (well actually YouTube), we can remanence in the treasure that was the King Kong Encounter.
RIP to the coolest part of the Universal Tram ride.