Sunday, June 15, 2008

King Kong Cold-Cocked!

BIFF - BAM - POW!

Burbank is proving more dangerous to Merian C. Cooper's 50 foot gorilla than was his Skull Island homeland.
Last week's fire at Universal Studios (6/1/08) gave the King's career a Kong-sized hotfoot and dealt the Gorilla-God a triple whammy.
The studio, which resides on a 400 acre property nine miles north of downtown Los Angeles has movie-themed thrill rides and the famous Universal back lot where countless movies and television shows are filmed.


It was the second fire at the historic studio in as many decades, taking out much of the historic
courthouse square (used in To Kill a Mockingbird, Village of the Giants, How to Frame a Figg, & Back to the Future, just to name a few) as well as the New York and New England street facades (Dirty Harry, Austin Powers, Spiderman 2). All were lost in the blaze that broke out from a blowtorch on a sound stage roof featuring New York Brownstone facades early Sunday morning on the first day of June. The fire moved quickly and at one point was two city blocks wide. It didn't help matters that Burbank 911 operators were slow to react when they received calls about "New York street" being on fire, saying over and over that they needed an address to send help (as seen on TMZ).
In addition to the back lot exteriors the building that housed the King Kong exhibit (that was part of the tram tour) was incinerated as well as a large building that served as a vault housing many archival prints was a total loss.

The Courthouse set, New York street and the King Kong attraction have all been down this road before --these same three sites were either damaged or destroyed during the November 1990 fire at Universal Studios. (That fire caused $25 million in damage and was started by a security guard who was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to arson.)

The film vault however, is another story...

Meyer estimated there were 40,000 to 50,000 videos and film reels in a vault that burned but said duplicates were stored in a different location. Firefighters managed to recover hundreds of titles. The videos included every film that Universal has produced and footage from television series including "Miami Vice" and "I Love Lucy."It was reported that hundreds of videos were saved from the burning building by firemen and most of what was there were duplicates. However, much of what was lost involved music recording masters from the last century from artists including Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, and many 1940s live jazz performances and soundtracks.


In addition to the initial list of the lost , Universal sent out this e-mail to several dozen film exhibitors on Monday (June 2):


It is with great sadness that I must inform you that yesterdays fire destroyed nearly 100% of the archive prints kept here on the lot. Due to this we will be unable to honor any film bookings of prints that were set to ship from here. Over the next few weeks and months we will be able to try and piece together what material we do have and if any prints exist elsewhere. For the time being please check your rental confirmations and look under shipping instructions. If the print was set to ship from the studio then your date is now canceled. If the shipping instructions say ship from Deluxe then those dates are still good. Please call either myself or Dennis Chong with any questions. I can be reached for the next two days at xxx and you can reach Dennis at xxx. I will be back in the office on Wednesday.

Paul Ginsburg
Vice President NBC Universal Distribution


(The history-engulfing blaze can be seen here roaring just down the hill from the "Psycho" House -at right)

The rarity of archival 35mm prints is driven home further by last year's G-FEST XIV's intended Universal film screenings. When G-Fest's booker arranged for the rentals of King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes from Universal Studios they were told that they had only one archival print of each film in their vault.

So if Mr. Ginsburg's message above is correct, then that would mean that at the very least, the prints of the English versions of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, KING KONG ESCAPES and Hammer Studio’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF are gone.
Two of these films have now confirmed themselves gone, as they had bookings that had to be canceled or replaced by a different screening method.



One of the venues affected was the upcoming "Thrillville goes Ape" film festival. According to Thrillville’s host, promoter and programmer Will “The Thrill” Viharo, “I was particularly anticipating my West Coast premiere of the single existing 35mm print of KING KONG ESCAPES next week (The 35mm print of KKE was previously shown at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood back in 2005). But I just got word that rare print has indeed gone up in flames. However, due to the proximity of this catastrophe to the play date, the show will go on - via the magic of big screen DVD".


(“Thrillville Goes Ape” will take place Thursday, June 12 at 9:15pm. The Cerrito Speakeasy Theater is located at 10070 San Pablo Ave in El Cerrito, CA)

No one’s still quite sure just how many films were affected in the vault’s disaster, so the question still remains regarding Universal’s classic Horror, Monster and many other genres of films. Naturally, Universal still has digitalized versions of most films that were used to create the DVDs. But the loss of the archival prints would be devastating.


True, and thankfully, the negatives DO exist at a different site.
But with the rising costs of striking prints and the onslaught of digital distribution and digital projection methods, it is highly likely there may never be a reason to strike these prints --providing they all do still exist-- because of their, shall we say, selective appeal. (Making new film prints can cost $5,000 or more each and take months to produce.)
Meaning, the only way we may ever be able to see certain Universal films again is strictly by DVD or another video means outside the classic 35mm projection method.

And, if that ain't bad enough...

"Built in 1986, the $6.5-million “King Kong” attraction included a 30-foot-tall, 7-ton animatronic gorilla inside a 26,000-square-foot soundstage built to look like a city block, according to The Studio Tour fansite."


Now The L.A. Times reports:
"Universal Studios Hollywood officials said the “King Kong” attraction, a key element of the movie and television theme park’s back lot tram tour destroyed by Sunday’s fire, won’t be rebuilt and will be replaced with an all-new, yet-to-be-determined attraction."

As Richard Pryor woulda said... PI-YOW!!

Bad day for ol' Kong
--not to mention fans of Universal and giant monkeys in general.

Kudos for this post go out to Robo Japan, Sci-Fi Japan, Arron Cooper, The L.A. Times, Thrillville & Will Viharo.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Robert Pope said...

Great post; the news coverage was very thin on the losses-or maybe I was just distracted by baby vomit (still am, now that I mention it)

11:46 AM

 
Blogger DanO said...

thanks for the info. i keep hearing murmurings of what was destroyed. over the weekend i was at a screening with John Carpenter and the guy in front of me was telling his friend that he heard that "Prince Of Darkness" was destroyed in the fire.

whether this is true or not i do not know. i suspect Alice Cooper would be most disappointed....

10:26 PM

 
Blogger ormon said...

Wow, thats pretty amazing. Thanks for posting.
Speaking of Film Prints, I have been trying to book a screening of Mad Monster Party by Rankin and Bass here in Raleigh as part of Monster Creature Feature. I can license it to show no problem, but there does not seem to be a print of the film anywhere. The folks who own the rights said everything they have is water damaged. So unless a private collector has a print, that one is gone too.
YOurs,
Ormon

12:24 PM

 
Blogger Craig J. said...

Thanks for putting this in perspective. I've reads bits and pieces about the Universal fire over the past few weeks, but your entry really drove home exactly what we've lost because of it.

5:49 PM

 

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