Ed Driscoll

When Merian Cooper Meets Irwin Allen

The New Zealand premiere of local hero Peter Jackson’s new version of King Kong got more than it bargained for:

Movie director Peter Jackson is the king of special effects but even he was outdone when the audience was shaken and stirred by an earthquake during a preview screening of his new blockbuster “King Kong”.

The quake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale hit Wellington about an hour into the film and at first it was difficult to tell what was happening.

The theatre was already filled with the sound of the roaring of the sea and scraping metal as onscreen a ship belonging to the eventual capturers of King Kong was smashed against the rocks of the sinister Skull Island.

However it soon became clear that the technical wizardry of the maker of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy did not extend to shaking the seats and walls.

But the show must go on. The tremors stopped after a few seconds and after some nervous laughter, the audience stayed planted in their seats as the three-hour screening continued uninterrupted.

The quake struck at 9.09 pm (0809 GMT) and was centred about 25 kilometres (16 miles) northeast of Wellington. There were no reports of serious damage.

I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in a San Jose theater in the spring of 2001 when an earthquake rumbled through in the middle of the film–I think it was about 3.0 on the Richter scale. It sounded for a moment like the theater’s ceiling would collapse, but it quickly passed, and since the power didn’t go out, the film kept right on running.

Of course, that was the moviegoing experience that had everything, even prior to the quake: screaming babies, loud adults, folks talking on their cell phones…But like Kong’s audience, I didn’t expect the Sensurround experience on top of all that.