Beauty may have killed the beast in the cinematic version of King Kong, but a fire covering almost five acres on the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood on June 1 is what ultimately destroyed the gargantuan gorilla. Firefighters say a worker’s blowtorch accidentally ignited the spectacular blaze on the 391-acre amusement park — cum — working studio that scorched both the King Kong attraction and the New York street scene from movies like Transformers and Batman & Robin.
Also snuffed out were storage facilities containing thousands of copies of movies such as Out of Africa and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, as well as reel-to-reel music recordings from the ’40s and ’50s (Dodie Stevens, Lenny Dee). Miraculously, all was not lost: The courthouse from Back to the Future was spared (even though the surrounding square was torched), and tourists were able to return 24 hours after the fire began — though the popular tram tours were rerouted away from the Kong attraction.
As for those precious archives, studio officials insist damage was minimal, since everything had been backed up. In fact, all the Hollywood studios say they keep duplicates of their old films and TV shows in climate-controlled subterranean storage facilities as far away as Kansas and Missouri. Explains a Universal Music Group insider, ”We had already moved most of what was formally stored there to other, more high-tech facilities as part of a larger preservation effort. Of the amount that was still there and waiting to be moved, it had already been digitized, so the music will be around for years to come.” So will the Kong attraction, it seems. Universal has vowed to rebuild it, as well as the New York street scene — though that’s hardly a substitute for the real thing. ”It’s a real shame whenever you lose a piece of movie history,” said Hollywood veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg. ”The videos are replaceable, but things like the King Kong set are a big loss to movie fans everywhere.” — with additional reporting by Carrie Bell