Posted on Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 by Peter Sciretta
Skull Island: Reign of Kong is now open at Universal Studios’ Orlando resort’s Islands of Adventure theme park. Last month I got a chance to preview the new attraction and talk to some of the creative producers behind the new ride. Hit the jump to find out what I learned about this new ride and to get my reaction.
1. Skull Island Features One of the Most Impressive Animatronics I’ve Ever Seen
As someone who was very fond of the old Kongfrontation attraction and that huge King Kong animatronic, I was kind of sad to see that both of Universal’s domestic resorts were replacing the big gorilla with screens and 3D glasses. But don’t worry, Skull Island: Reign of Kong features one of the most impressive animatronic creations I’ve ever seen. At the conclusion of the ride guests will come face to face with King Kong himself. Even though Kong is larger than life, he looks so real. The emotion that is seen in his face is amazing. Some people on my ride were not even sure if it was another computer animated creature on a screen — that’s how real it looks.
2. Skull Island Is Not Just a Ride Version of King Kong 360 3-D
When I first heard about Skull Island: Reign of Kong, I was pretty cynical about the idea. Universal Creative seems to be obsessed with giving guests a “universal” experience with the same rides and attractions in their theme parks around the world. I’m a theme park fanatic that loves traveling to new parks to experience unique experiences and attractions not featured elsewhere. And it seemed like Universal was simply trying to take the King Kong 360 3-D attraction, which is part of Universal Hollywood’s tram tour, and turn it into a ride in Florida. So I wasn’t expecting to be surprised by Skull Island… but I was.
Its much more than a ride version of King Kong 360 3-D. A combination of new immersive technology, a next-level themed queue and impressive animatronics. Even scene six, the scene that was previously seen in King Kong 360 3-D was completely reanimated for this attraction in high definition 4K 60 frames a second video. Not only does this segment feature a different opening from the Universal Studios Hollywood’s tram tour counterpart, the sequence where part of the tram tour gets pulled off a cliff has been reanimated with a second expedition vehicle instead.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong might not be the kind of attraction that will convince you to take a cross-country vacation to Universal’s Islands of Adventure, but its a great addition to your otherwise planned adventure at the park.
3. The Ride Is Not Associated With the 2017 Kong: Skull Island Movie
King Kong has a long legacy with the Universal theme parks. I fondly remember both the old Universal Studios Hollywood studio tour segment (which was the victim of a bad fire that destroyed part of the backlot) and the Kongfrontation ride at Universal Orlando, which was an expanded version of that segment taking guests through New York City before they come face to face with a huge animatronic Kong (that attraction was replaced by Revenge of the Mummy in 2004).
So it makes sense that Universal has created a new King Kong attraction, but on the other hand it doesn’t. Universal and Legendary were working on a Skull Island movie, but those right have transferred to Warner Bros. Rumor has it that if this project has gotten approved 30 days later, it would have been a Jurassic World ride instead. But we really shouldn’t concern ourselves with the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong‘s story takes place in 1931, predating Carl Denham’s 1933 expedition. Park guests join the Eighth Wonder Expedition Company, which is searching Skull Island for creatures of unknown origin.
When the attraction was first announced, many people assumed that the ride would tie in with Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ upcoming 2017 film Kong: Skull Island. The film was greenlit by Universal Pictures through their production deal with Legendary Pictures before this ride was even announced. But the ride has no association with the upcoming film. The characters seen in this attraction are unique creations for this story and have nothing to do with the upcoming film.
When I asked Universal creative members if they might incorporate anything from the upcoming movie, they insisted that the ride and the movie will remain their own things. Also as you might recall in September of 2015, Warner Bros acquired the rights to Kong: Skull Island from Universal Pictures in order to lead up to their planned monster mash-up movie Godzilla vs. King Kong.
While the ride does incorporate the Kong and T-Rex designs from the Peter Jackson King Kong film, Universal Creative had free reign to create and expand upon this world in any way they wanted. The reason they decided to keep the previous King Kong design is that it’s an established Universal picture and people would recognize it from the movies.
4. The 8th Wonder Expedition Vehicles Are Trackless
One thing you might not notice is that the huge expedition vehicles were created using some of the newest theme park technology. The 72-passenger 13 feet tall, 40 foot-long bus-sized vehicles are the largest trackless vehicles in a theme park today. Unlike the Hollywood studio tram tour that requires a driver, these 17-ton vehicles move through the attraction’s 3 million cubic foot show building without a driver or even tracks. Its a marvel that most park guests will not even notice, but it’s very impressive if you do.
5. Five Different Drivers Provide Different Ride Experiences
One of the coolest details I learned about the attraction is that each of the five expedition trucks feature their own unique audio animatronic driver characters:
- Becky Callahan: The loose-cannon cowgirl who isn’t fazed by the dangers awaiting her on Skull Island.
- Will Denham: The fresh-faced, adventure-seeking nephew of famed movie director Carl Denham.
- Jinks Costanza: A hardened New York City ex-con who is wary of the island’s mysteries.
- Kalana: A mystical descendent of the natives who first settled on the island.
- Charles “Doc” Jordan: A PhD student in paleontology who took time off from his studies to explore the world.
Each one of them tells the story in their own different way. So while the ride remains the same, the interpretation of the experience from your human animatronic guide will be very different. This is very cool though I almost wish Universal took this a step further and programed each ride vehicle with its own unique driving style based on the driver. It should be noted that only four of the five ride vehicles are operating at any given moment.