Skull Island: Reign of KongKing Kong, the legendary ape who has both fallen for and terrorized Fay Wray, Jessica Lange, and Naomi Watts (to name a few), has long been a staple of Universal Studios theme parks. There's the King Kong Encounter, a section of Universal Hollywood's tram tour starting in 1986, the updated version of this experience that debuted at Universal Studios Orlando when the park opened in 1990, plus the recent King Kong 360 3D (once again at Universal Studios Hollywood), that replaced the old Kong section of the tour. Kong has certainly been King, at least at Universal Studios.

So it's not that big of a surprise that Universal announced an immersive new Kong experience, slated to open in the summer of 2016, called "Skull Island: Reign of Kong." This huge experience, which will supposedly be one of the longest and most intense attractions in the entire Universal Orlando complex, allows guests to, for the first time, visit Kong on his native turf: the terrifying Skull Island. If you've seen any of the movies, you know what this undoubtedly entails: dinosaurs running amok, giant insects and other creepy crawlies, and Kong himself, the king of it all. Guests will board large expedition trucks, tasked with cataloging the island's vast array of creatures. Things, somewhat predictably, will go horribly wrong.

Just how wrong? We spoke with Mike West, Executive Producer at Universal Creative, about what guests can expect when entering the spooky world of Kong next summer, what it was like working with Peter Jackson on the project, and why the ride will be housed in Islands of Adventure (over by the Jurassic Park ride) as opposed to Universal Studios proper.

Moviefone: There was obviously a King Kong ride in Orlando before and there's still one in California. So my question is: why circle back to King Kong?

Mike West: It was kind of like why not? Well, there's a couple of things: we're getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary at Universal Orlando Resort. And King Kong has been such a rich part of Universal's history from movies to theme park attractions and they've always been great stories in the past. We thought that this gave us the opportunity to tell a new Kong story to a whole new generation, in a completely different way, by having you go to Kong's home instead of having Kong come to the United States.Skull Island: Reign of Kong entranceWhat from the 3D experience at Universal Studios Hollywood either inspired or informed this new ride and what you're doing to push that technology forward?

Well, it's really a vastly different ride than King Kong 360 3D. We're taking guests to the physical, thematic environment of Skull Island, whereas in Hollywood it's really about the movie-making process. You're watching monitors and you're on the tram and you're going in and it's got the cut and action. It's all very segmented. We've gone in and actually created Skull Island. It's not about a movie. The story is a story all to its own. It really has no relation to the Peter Jackson 2005 and is in no ways a prequel to the 2017 film. It's its own piece, which is really exciting.

Can you talk about the ride system? The promotional artwork shows a large jeep-type vehicle.

Yeah I can talk about the story... The detail of the technology and the ride systems we'll get into detail with a little bit down the road. But the guest experience entails a rather extensive queue that goes right up the boarding of the vehicles. And when guests come onto the island, they go through a rather dense jungle area, which gives way to some rather complex ancient ruins and that gives you a peek at some of the hostile natives who are on the island, you hear some cryptic messages that reference some of the unimaginable creatures you're going to encounter on this rather perilous journey. So by the time you get ready to board the trucks, your senses are tingling and you're ready for a very thrilling adventure. For once it's not the thing where you are on the ride and something goes horribly wrong; you know from the very beginning that things aren't going to go right.Skull Island: Reign of Kong jeep encounterIt's wrong from the beginning.

Yes. You board the rather large expedition trucks and then part of the ride system is that the outside part is inside. One of the key pieces of key art that you got sent shows the expedition truck approaching the great wall, which is going to be the face of the attraction. It's 72-feet wide and is really impressive; as you approach flames shoot up and huge wooden doors open up and you drive up in between these doors and things get darker and more mysterious at that point. Your charge, when you go onto this, is that you're charged with going on and researching and collecting some specimens of unknown origin, which of course carpet this island. But it quickly turns into a fight for survival. The creatures get bigger and badder and eventually you come face-to-face with big Kong himself.

So you do encounter other creatures from King Kong?

Oh yes... all of the creatures that inhabit Skull Island.

Can you talk about working with Peter Jackson? Was this a similar situation to what it was like working with J.K. Rowling on the Harry Potter projects?

We worked with Peter on the initial development, working with him on the feel and the level of immersion of the island and how to get guests involved. Because you're in this truck, you play a role in the story of Kong, which is another new experience for guests. You're not passively sitting and watching him.

Things seem to move pretty fast at Universal. We started seeing the Kong building go up this year, and next summer it has an opening date. How do things move this quickly?

Well, thank you for saying quickly. Others might not agree with that. But I think it has a lot to do with the process and the way we approach things. We really try to establish a strong storyline first and once you let that be the driving force first, and as long as whatever you're doing supports that story, you can move forward at a pretty good clip.

Why Islands of Adventure for this new ride?

Well, for one thing there was a large area of Islands of Adventure that had nothing on it. It seemed like a good spot. And again, if you go back and think of past Kong experiences, where it was really New York-based, this is really going to his shores, to his land. It just felt like a better location to the studios, because it would skew it back more to a film-type feel. We didn't want it to feel like that. We wanted it to feel like an experience on its own.

Will there be other experiences in this new Skull Island section of the park?

It kind of defies categorization. We have never really designed something like this, where the attraction is really something in and unto itself. And because it's Skull Island, because it's Kong, it's got the stature and the size to be established as its own locale.

"Skull Island: Reign of Kong" opens at Universal Studios Orlando in Summer 2016.
categories Movies