KONG: SKULL ISLAND
About The Production
ALL HAIL THE KING
Larger than life. Last of his kind. King of Skull Island.
First unleashed more than eight decades ago, King Kong has thundered off the big
screen and into our world with a force that echoes through our collective
consciousness still. Now the time has come to restore the crown of the greatest
movie monster myth of all.
"Kong represents all the mystery and wonder that still exists in the world,"
says "Kong: Skull Island" director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. "That's why he will
never stop being relevant."
The quest to reimagine cinema's mightiest ape would reunite the producing team
behind the 2014 blockbuster "Godzilla."
For Thomas Tull, who produced the film together with Mary Parent, Jon Jashni and
Alex Garcia, it was a prospect both thrilling and incredibly daunting. "We
wanted to create a fresh, new experience for the audience," Tull offers. "As
fans ourselves, it was incredibly important to us that we honor the essential
elements of this character that have connected with so many people around the
world in a big, fun, epic adventure that delivers the pure entertainment and
spectacle of an action-packed monster movie."
The legend and iconography of Kong continue to strike consistently deep yet
wildly varying chords with generations of fans. "A lot of things define Kong-his
size, his power, his animal nature, but also his heart and huge depth of soul,"
observes producer Mary Parent. "He keys into our natural affinity for other
primates, and his gestures and expressions are much more humanlike than even
natural primates-which is what has always set Kong apart from other monsters.
Even though he's a terrifying predator, it's impossible not to root for him. In
some ways, he's been more like the classic romantic hero than a villain."
Kong is the seminal big-screen badass, and continues to resonate as everything
from a living tempest of nature's fury to an avatar for our own primal selves.
Actor Tom Hiddleston suggests, "Kong embodies the internal clash between our
civilized selves and the place in our consciousness that still has a very real
sense of something bigger than ourselves. How do you reconcile this massive
creature who is both a terrifying force of nature and a sentient being with an
intelligence that is different from ours but no less sophisticated?
King Kong was originally conjured by revolutionary special effects master Willis
H. O'Brien and sculptor Marcel Delgado to be the enigmatic central figure and
unquestionable heart of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's
groundbreaking 1933 classic "King Kong"-a dazzling mash-up of Beauty and the
Beast, high adventure and giant monsters that would shock and awe millions of
moviegoers across the world. It played to sold-out crowds at the height of the
Great Depression and broke records through decades of re-releases and television
airings. It was the original effects-driven blockbuster and monster movie
milestone, and has been remade, parodied and spun-off on every sized screen.
Kong has also become embedded in pop culture, inspiring everything from video
games to hip hop lyrics to college dissertations, and deploying armies of action
figures, models, toys and games.
Kong's defiant end from high atop the Empire State Building is among the most
iconic of all time. But for fans-and Tull counts himself among them-his
provocative beginning remains the Holy Grail of origin stories. In fact, his
long-held goal of a 21st century MonsterVerse wouldn't be complete without it.
The producers brought in writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly
to craft the screenplay from a story by John Gatins. Tull states, "One of the
most fascinating elements of the Kong lore is Skull Island-a place with the most
exotic, lethal food chain you can imagine, and Kong is the alpha predator
keeping the rest at bay. That's the mythology we wanted to crack open in this
film. Our characters are not taking Kong off the island. They have to survive
Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Lt. Colonel Preston Packard, the human alpha among
the film's characters, relishes the notion. "We want to see Kong in an
environment that is as big and spectacular as he is," says the acting legend.
"We know he lives in the jungle, but what else is in that jungle? What's out
there that allows him to exist? Are there others or is he an anomaly? And we
find out that he was once part of a community that got wiped out by something
else that's on that island. Now he's the guardian that keeps those things in
With "Kong: Skull Island"-and "Godzilla" before it-the producing team is laying
the foundation for a vast, shared universe of monsters, one grounded in our own
world but heightened to allow for the existence of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified
Terrestrial Organisms, in the "MonsterVerse" vernacular). But to do it justice
meant not only orchestrating the collision of two longstanding cinematic
mythologies but merging two distinct timelines.
The key came in the form of a game-changing idea from Vogt-Roberts, an emerging
filmmaker with just one feature under his belt-the acclaimed independent hit
"The Kings of Summer." Producer Alex Garcia reveals, "The linchpin of our
Godzilla story is the notion that the 1954 nuclear tests weren't tests; the
government was actually trying to kill something. Jordan came in the door with
the idea of
setting the film in the 1970s, and that immediately lit up our imaginations. Not
only did the '70s jibe with the MonsterVerse, it's a rich period to explore
thematically and allowed us to bring ultra-real warfare and giant monsters
together within the same movie."
For Vogt-Roberts, "King Kong" had been the entree to a lifelong obsession with
film. "'King Kong' is legitimately film history, and when I first saw the 1933
film, it completely shattered my brain with its endless cinematic
possibilities," he says. "It was the first movie to transport audiences to an
uncharted, untamed world. Though it was on our own planet, we were confronted
with things that we were told couldn't exist here."
A self-described "nerd," the Detroit-born filmmaker came of age on a steady diet
of monster movies, summer blockbusters and video games. His discovery of '70s
cinema would be the flashing neon sign guiding him forward into making movies of
his own. Though that generation's bold, brash, socially conscious films had been
produced long before Vogt-Roberts was even born, they spoke directly to his own
contemporary experience and sensibility. "The '70s are like a weird black mirror
of our modern world," he notes. "Everything that was happening then-political
scandals, civil unrest, divisive wars, distrust of the government-reflects
exactly what's happening right now. At the same time, the `70s was kind of the
last time when science and myth could co-exist. Since then, we've been on a slow
quest to destroy the unknown."
By colliding Cooper and Schoedsack's lost world of monsters into a chaotic era
of choppers, napalm and rock n' roll, then dropping the audience directly into
the fray, Vogt-Roberts hoped to bring all the power and relevance of Kong to
today's moviegoers. "I want this film to take people out of their comfort zone
and thrust them into a balls-to-the-wall adventure that is visceral, intense and
like nothing they've ever seen before. I'm pretty sure you won't find a gigantic
ape-like creature punching a Huey helicopter in another movie," he smiles, "but
that was the movie I wanted to see."
Moving the story from the 1930s to a more modern, but not modern-day, setting
folded seamlessly into the themes the filmmakers were already exploring.
Hiddleston, who had signed on to play the film's disillusioned SAS vet Captain
James Conrad prior to the director coming aboard, states, "It's a world before
the tyranny of global satellites, near total surveillance and information
overload. We didn't have the illusion-as we do today with the internet and cell
phones and GPS-that we knew everything about the world we live in. The period
setting also gave us an extraordinary prism to explore what Kong might represent
in a conversation about war, and the tendency of mankind to destroy what he
For Brie Larson, who plays wartime photojournalist Mason Weaver, this dynamic
gave the cast rich thematic territory to explore in their search for monsters.
"To me, this story feels like an allegory for the animal nature that's within us
all," she remarks. "We're so far removed now from that part of ourselves; we
seem to feel the need to overcome it in so many ways. It also taps into the ways
we deal with the world around us-how we treat nature and how we value it, and
how we value other human beings as well."
The year 1973 not only marked the end of the Vietnam War but the dawn of the
Landsat program, when NASA began mapping the globe from space, which gave the
filmmakers a credible hook for Kong's exotic home to be discovered. "But,"
producer Jon Jashni comments, "Skull Island is a place where human arrogance can
perhaps be your undoing, if you don't look before you leap."
Though Kong is the alpha on the island, he's not the most vicious or terrifying
thing in that order...by far. "Skull Island has been completely closed off from
the rest of the world, and followed its own unique and bizarre evolutionary
path," Garcia says. "It's extraordinarily beautiful but also the most dangerous
place on Earth, with creatures unlike any we've encountered. This is no place
for human beings, and their very presence, in fact, will have a profound effect
on this delicate ecosystem."
Vogt-Roberts plunged into mapping the island's dramatic shifts in feel and
temperament and the effect each wonder and terror has on the characters and
their choices. "One of the most amazing things we've done as human beings is to
remove ourselves from the food chain," he notes. "These characters come to Skull
Island with all the presumptions of our place in the outside world and suddenly
none of that matters...because they're back in the food chain. I wanted to explore
what that would do to people: Who breaks? Who becomes stronger because of it?
Who rallies together?"
Those questions, the director adds, are the fulcrum upon which "Kong: Skull
Island" spins. "I love the idea of taking a handful of characters that have come
out of the Vietnam War not believing in anything or quite knowing where they
belong and thrusting them into this mystical place. Kong is not just a giant
animal in our film. This isn't a man versus nature story. That's why our Kong
will be the biggest in Hollywood history-I want audiences to feel what it's like
to look up and see something conscious and ferocious and 100-feet tall looming
"Kong: Skull Island" will bring moviegoers face-to-face with a living mountain
of majesty and sheer force. But his mammoth stature is not the only thing the
filmmakers are changing up. Parent explains, "Kong is an adolescent when we meet
him in the film; he's still growing into his role as alpha. And this is an
island teeming with far more vicious creatures, including the Skullcrawlers,
which killed his ancestors and made him last of his kind. That's what's so
exciting about exploring this piece of the mythology. Kong is such a compelling
figure anyway, but he's facing the defining battle of his life in this film-the
fight to claim his rightful place as King of Skull Island."
The quest to immerse today's audiences in Skull Island would hurl cast and crew
across the globe to some of the most intoxicatingly beautiful and exotic locales
ever put on film. Vogt-Roberts offers, "When you're bringing a myth to the
screen not as a symbol but in the flesh, it's critical to place him in an
environment that feels tactile, real and absolutely alive. So it was incredibly
important to shoot the film practically in environments the actors can interact
with, as opposed to putting them on a green screen stage. I want people to look
up at the screen and say, 'I believe that could exist.'"
The production of "Kong: Skull Island" spanned three continents-with locations
in Australia, Hawaii and Vietnam-to capture footage that would later be
seamlessly fused together to create a never-before-seen world. The first major
feature film to shoot extensively in Vietnam, it entailed a complex logistical
operation to open up the pristine environments in northern Vietnam for filming
and to safeguard the ecology before, during and after principal photography.
To bring the film's seminal title character thundering back to the screen,
Vogt-Roberts drew together an A-team of behind-the-scenes collaborators, who
would push the envelope on design and effects, and raise the bar on digital
"Kong: Skull Island" marked only the second film-and by far the biggest-that
Vogt-Roberts has made, but he was undaunted. He reflects, "What guided me
through this epic journey was to create an experience for the audience that will
feel so real that it will open up a space for myth and mystery in their lives.
Even though we're making a completely new movie with, with a very different
narrative...this is King Kong."
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