It’s not a spoiler if I tell you you’re going to encounter King Kong on Universal’s new ride, Skull Island: Reign of Kong. It’s his ride.
And it’s scary. Not because of any roller coaster-like moves — riders are in a giant, lumbering expedition truck — but because the story is scary. Reign of Kong has the most complex and enthralling story in this year’s crop of new attractions and is populated by terrifying creatures.
The new King Kong ride hasn’t officially opened and an opening date hasn’t been announced, although park guests — including this reporter — have been admitted intermittently for “technical rehearsals.”
Meeting King Kong on his home turf, with its frightening natives and oversized prehistoric creatures, is what sets this ride apart from the earlier attractions.
This is King Kong’s fourth incarnation at a Universal theme park. This attraction, at Islands of Adventure, is set in 1931, before the original movie, in which Kong was found on Skull Island, captured and put on exhibit in New York. Meeting him on his home turf, with its frightening natives and oversized prehistoric creatures, is what sets this ride apart from the earlier attractions.
The story is that the Eighth Wonder Expedition Co. has been exploring the newly discovered island and is taking along members of the public. The ride is the centerpiece, of course, but the adventure starts in a queue that has its own plot, props and characters. Skulls are everywhere — little ones, big ones, giant ones with fire in their eyes.
Winding through caverns, we hear the voice of Eighth Wonder’s dispatcher talking to drivers about what’s happening out in the field. There are crates carrying live creatures, including one made of glass that holds a Carnictis — a giant, disgusting slug whose head is little more than a gaping mouth full of sharp teeth and which eats the dead and wounded.
Tunnel walls close in, and we’re startled by scary actors who appear suddenly from shadowy niches. As we come around one corner, we hear drums beating and natives chanting. A shawoman speaks in a language we don’t know, but clearly she is angry, threatening, as if she is calling down a curse on us.
It’s all very creepy. It’s a relief to board the trucks.
As we pass through the enormous temple doors, our guide says it’s time to put on our 3-D goggles. Some of what we see are props, starting with the skeleton of a giant ape — Megaprimatus kong; some are projections on giant screens.
There is action on both sides of the truck, sometimes simultaneously.
There is action on both sides of the truck, sometimes simultaneously. A scientist working on the left side is carried off by a Terapusmordax, a bat-like predator with a 10-foot wing span, then reappears on the right, fighting her way free, only to be seized by a giant claw. Dinosaurs — the fearsome vastatosaurus rex, descended from the T. rex — attack on the right and we get our first look at Kong. He’s huge, nearly three stories tall.
The action switches to the left for the final, heart-stopping scene, when a V. rex chomps on another expedition truck and ours rocks on the precipice of a deep canyon while Kong and a dinosaur do fierce battle.
There’s a contingent of theme park fans who complain that Universal’s newer rides rely too heavily on video screens and 3-D goggles, but it’s that third dimension that adds the thrills to this attraction. It’s creative, it’s scary, it’s unpredictable.