U, Jackson betting big on three-hour 'Kong'

It’s no secret that Universal’s biggest bet of the year is “King Kong,” but less than two months before its Dec. 14 release, the studio has doubled down, agreeing to release Peter Jackson’s three-hour cut, which will push the budget to $207 million.

The budget on the great ape epic went up primarily because of the additional FX work needed. Jackson and U had originally contemplated a running time of around two and half hours, with a budget around $175 million.

Jackson’s original $20 million deal for “Kong” — which covered helming as well as writing and producing with wife Fran Walsh — included a penalty if he brought it in over budget.

U and Jackson’s camp have been in recent days negotiating how to pay for the overages. The result: Jackson will pay for the bulk of the additional $32 million needed to bring in the super-sized “Kong.”

However, just the fact that “Kong” carries a $207 million price tag — despite Jackson’s own Weta Digital FX shop doing all of the FX work and the production receiving subsidies from New Zealand — dramatically illustrates the escalating costs for Hollywood’s biggest spectacles.

Decision to increase the running time and budget was made after Universal brass — including Ron Meyer, Stacey Snider, Marc Shmuger and Mary Parent — flew to New Zealand to screen the pic.

The U delegation knew they were going to see a three-hour version, but hadn’t made any decisions on whether to release it.

“We expected to see a long movie,” said U chair Stacey Snider, “and we loved it. It’s a brilliant movie, an epic feast.”

Jackson’s manager Ken Kamins said, “After they told Peter they were happy to release and support a three hour movie, there have been negotiations to alter the deal to accommodate the adjustments.”

Both sides described the discussions as amicable. Kamins said, “Peter and Fran love the film so much they’re paying for it.”

Studios normally seek to avoid longer runtimes since it limits the number of showings when a pic is released in theaters. However, some of the biggest grossing pics have had three hour run times, including all of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The final installment, “The Return of the King,” clocked in at three hours and 20 minutes.

And of course, the all-time biggest grossing film “Titanic” reached $600.8 million despite running three hours and four minutes.

Still, by opting for a three-hour runtime, Jackson will nearly double the 1933 original “Kong’s” one hour and 40 minute length.

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