‘Kong’ preem: George Lucas, Peter Jackson and a big ape

Kingkong7 “Kong” was king on Times Square, Monday night — and now he too is gone. The 30′ tall giant ape, created by the Gentle Giant Studio in Burbank, was shlepped across the country in two huge vans, and set up in the heart of the city — and near the Empire State building. Gentle Giant President Karl Meyer told me Universal paid $200,000 for this (stationary) ape and N.Y. was happy to have it — if only for the one night — as an added Gotham tourist attraction. However Kong is now en route to Universal Studios Hollywood where he will become a photo op for tourists.

I met with the man who killed Kong — Peter Jackson — who also created the new version of “King Kong” — at the monstrous-size preem of the pic. Jackson also played the “gunner” in the Air Force plane which shot down Kong atop the Empire State Building. And his pilot in the plane was Rick Baker, award-winning makeup expert who coincidentally played Kong inside his creation of the ape in the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis version of the pic. Baker and Jackson have, understandably, become good friends. In the current “Kong” no Ape was buit, as Meyer explained;  all the ape scenes were created digitally. Yes, all the tenderest to the most ferocious scenes with Kong were the work of Jackson’s amazing WETA digital emporium in New Zealand. This ape is all digital,” Meyer explained. (And his Gentle Giant studio next creates great acting from digitally-controlled figures in the upcoming “X Men-3,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “Spiderman 3.”).

So, I met up with the man who killed Kong, Peter Jackson, after the preem screenings on 42nd street — not too far from the Empire State Buiding, of course. Jackson was now heavily bearded; he had been clean-shaven as the killer pilot in the pic. This was the first time, he said, that he’d seen his film with an audience. Yes, he was pleased. And why not as he was being congratulated by the crowd of 3,000 on hand at the party –among them no less a creative genius than Geoge Lucas. As the two embraced, Lucas said to Jackson, “You set the bar!”

As they chatted abut the film and filmmaking, I suggested the two super filmmakers get together on a project. Jackson was enthusiastic about the idea and Lucas as well. What can we look forward to from this combination — no drawing room comedy.

In addition to the presence of the cast and Universal studio executives, I saw Vicki Rintels, daughter of Fay Wray, the star of the original “King Kong.” Jackson had invited her and family to the preem. He had met with Wray when starting his film. (She died in 2003.) But her daughter agreed Jackson and this cast had done a masterful job. So had those launching the pic in Pier 92 in Manhattan. The giant setting was converted into sights and sounds reminiscent of the film — and its time setting — including a mini theater where movies of the era of the original “Kong” unspooled. They included “Farewell To Arms,” a movie perhaps playing on the Great White Way on the night “Kong” was also starring–and abruptly leaving his audience. No stone was left unturned at the  premiere to give “King  Kong” a spectacular sendoff.   

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