How King Kong Came to Life in Orlando

KING KONG came to life over lunch. MCA executives Peter Alexander, Barry Upson, and Robert Ward hammered out the basic story for ``Kongfrontation'' in about two hours back in the spring of 1987. Their thinking went like this: ``Two things you want to do [with King Kong],'' says Mr. Ward, vice president of planning and design for the Florida project. ``You want to get face to face with him,'' he says, leaning across a conference table in an office trailer. And to give that face-to-face encounter more ``bang,'' you have to first see how big Kong really is. ``He's not just a big chimpanzee,'' says the bearded, jeans-clad executive. ``I mean, this guy's a building!'' They needed an establishing shot.

An aerial tramway - the Roosevelt Island Tramway - would put guests at Kong level. That suggested a story, too: ``You're fleeing Manhattan; you hear sirens and bullhorns - police saying `Evacuate the area!' ... And you come around the turn in the tramway and all of a sudden, here he is on the bridge, fighting off helicopters. ... And you're obviously headed right his way and there ain't no way around him,'' says Ward.

After that brush with Kong, ``you think you've arrived on the island,'' Ward says. But ``all of a sudden, here he is again! This time, rather than almost get you and shake you up and stuff - what happens if he can really get ahold of you?'' Plans call for Kong to pick up the tram another 10 feet (the motion is controlled by a ``reaction deck'' on top) and ``throw'' it down.

After they had worked out the story basics, Mr. Alexander and Ward got together with senior management to try to sell them the idea. ``Usually [Alexander] was telling the story, so I'd be Kong trying to fight off stuff,'' Ward explains.

When they got a go-ahead, they ``went fishing'' with the concept to ride manufacturers and ``the guys who make all the flames and make things blow up.'' Such contractors also do stage shows for rock bands, magicians, and others.

As the ride evolved, so did the building to house it: Heat and smoke from major flame effects had to be vented, so as not to toast or suffocate Kong's guests, for example. ``You can make architects crazy,'' says Ward, ``but it's a crazy business'' - and a $40 million, five-minute ride.

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