Ever since his first appearance onscreen in 1933 Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong, the colossal jungle tyrant has become one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time. The film has been noted as being one of the best movies ever made, and its many incarnations have always had the ability to draw viewers to the theater, no matter who is helming the project, or what take they will have on it. There’s just something wistful and mesmerizing about a gigantic godlike bipedal towering tall over a group of tiny humans who believe themselves to be the biggest things in the universe. There’s always been an air of magic surrounding Kong. The cast of 2017’s reboot Kong: Skull Island knows it, and that’s why they all jumped at the chance to appear in one of the legendary installments.
“Me in a King Kong movie!” exclaims Samuel L. Jackson. “Something I’ve been wanting to do since I was a kid, when I saw the first one. You know, it’s kinda like ‘Wow, this would be fun.’ And you go home with your friends and you pretend that big thing’s out there and you’re all running from it or you’re fighting it and whatever. So, a lot of times, that’s it. You know, it’s one those movies I would have gone to see when I was a kid, or one of those movies I always wished I could be in. So, yeah I did, it’s like the same reason I’m probably gonna end up doing The Blob. One of my favorite movies”.
Samuel L. Jackson’s co-star Jason Mitchell couldn’t agree more. He, too, was blown away by the offer to join a film touting one of the biggest names in all of cinema history.
“It was a no brainer for me” says star Jason Mitchell of his decision to sign on to the project. “Like, script and all that, nah, save it, Kong movie? I’m in. Definitely. Like, if they want me in it, I want to be there, you know? Because this is just like so epic, you don’t get bigger than Kong, you really don’t”.
Aside from being impressed with the prospect of signing onto a Kong movie, much of the cast became fascinated with the parallels of their characters invading an island they honestly have no business being in, and the invasion of Vietnam during the Second Indochina War. With the film being set in 1973, starting out with shots of Nixon and protestors, and carrying the tagline “We don’t belong here”, it’s easy to see why anyone involved with the project would be enticed by the surprisingly intelligent political commentary in this monster movie.
“I have always been really picky about the films that I make” explains Brie Larson about her career choices, “Because I think that there’s such an incredible opportunity to bring up questions. Some of my favorite films that bring up big questions are actually the bigger movies, because you have beautiful visuals on the surface and this screen that’s bigger than you, and like incredible sound design and 3D glasses and blah, blah blah… But when you walk away from it, it like hits you as something deeper, and it’s a great fun way to be able to bounce around some of these harder concepts in our head. I don’t really want to be like a big famous person, so there’s a trade off for doing a big movie like this, and it means like less privacy and you give up something every time you do another film, and so I really question myself every time I do it, I say like well what’s the trade off, and for me with this: it is bringing that message. Do we really need to control and dominate everything around us or can we let things be? Can we allow things? Can we love something by giving it room to grow? And so that is exactly why I did this”.
Screenwriter Max Borenstein says he always had a kind of Apocalypse Now thematic idea in mind for the film, it was just a matter of figuring out the exact time period.
“World War II and the Civil War are the only wars that I can think of that were actually over something like you could probably say like, there’s a good and there’s a bad really cleanly, but pretty much every other war in history is over bullshit. You know it’s like territory or marriages or nothing, like the history of warfare is just like, that’s what it is, and yet people have to be heroes and brave and sacrifice their lives and do these heroic things and these self-sacrificing things for what’s ultimately causes that are fleeting and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and certainly above and beyond their pay grade, and Vietnam was a very iconic example of that. You come from a world that you went in thinking, because you grew up during World War II and you think, ‘I’m going in and I’m fighting the good fight’ and you come out and find that the world is a gray area place, and you don’t know what’s good and I don’t know what’s bad, and you can’t win. There is no winning. The war’s over. And here’s Samuel L. Jackson’s character who’s invested in that and sacrificed lives of people he cared about for that, now to emerge and to come back into the real world is difficult because it shakes your world view, and what was it all for? But then you land on this island and you see this thing that appears to be a monster that kills everyone you care about, and suddenly, while that’s a tragedy, what you grasp on to is that the world seems really clean again. It’s really obvious that that’s a monster, and really obvious that your job now is to destroy that monster, and so everything that was gray area and complicated about the war suddenly comes into focus, and he can do this, he can destroy this thing, and it makes sense! It’s emotionally resonant, but of course, because it’s Kong, he’s misunderstood. He’s not a monster. He’s this custodian of an island, but he’s not a monster, he simply seems monstrous to us because he’s strange and scary and big, and so we lash out”.
“Well, the sense of saying we didn’t lose the war, we abandoned it is his attitude about it” says Samuel L. Jackson about his character Preston Packard. “What sends him into what, in my mind because sort of an Ahab mode, Kong became my white whale, I had to exact some kind of revenge for all the men that I lost out there. And it’s a personal thing. And him being the kind of person he was having had the warrior mentality and survivor, takes him to that place where man’s been on this planet for how long? And there’ve always been things bigger, and stronger, faster, and with teeth, but we survive, we find a way to defeat those things. And because we have ingenuity. And that’s what’ll happen this time. So when they say ‘Well, he’s the only thing between humanity and these other things out here’. He said, ‘Well, we’ll kill that and then we’ll take care of those things too’. You know, one thing at a time. But we’re gonna do that”.
When it came to concocting the design of Kong, to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, increasing the size of the ape to over a hundred feet tall was absolutely essential to his vision.
“Everyone wants to have a very negative initial thought that the reason Kong is very big is because of Kong vs. Godzilla, and that’s actually not true” claims Vogt-Roberts. “One of the first things I did when I came on was I said, ‘I do not want this Kong to be a quadruped. I want him to stand upright, I want a throwback to the 1933 film where he is a biped, because he is a monster. He’s not just a big silverback gorilla, he’s a movie monster, he’s an ape’. In some of the more recent ones, he’s an ape, in that one, he’s a monster. So I wanted to stand him upright, I wanted to make him tall, and part of that is because I wanted him to feel like this fusion between a god and a man and a beast, and so that’s sort of why we stood him upright, but then his size to me is not about Kong vs. Godzilla, that’s nice feature proofing, but to me, in previous movies, if Kong ‘s able to grab somebody by his hand like this, and look at them, he’s a big creature, he’s a scary thing. I wanted to make him big enough that if any of us stood at this table and we looked up at this thing, towered over us, how big does that thing have to be for the first thing that your brain says is, ‘That’s a god. I’m looking at a god’. So, a twenty-five foot ape that can grab you in his hand like that, that’s not a god, that’s a crazy creature. A hundred foot thing that towers over you and walks on two feet? Emotes, thinks, carries himself like with the nobility of a king? Then your brain says that’s a god and on a character level, who does that change? Who becomes the agnostic and the believer and the atheist , who wants to kill it, who wants to protect it? So you know, that’s why the size existed that way. It existed that way to make him godlike”.
Speaking of the upcoming Kong vs. Godzilla, screenwriter Borenstein says Skull Island “definitely connects to the Godzilla franchise” and hints at a separate Monster Island movie possibly coming out at some point in the future.
“I think with Skull Island the idea that we’re trying to get at with this sort of larger mythology of the whole thing with Monarch, this sort of agency, is that there exists underground potentially in these sort of open spaces, uh maybe on other islands that are emergence points, there exists a kind of ecosystem that we were unaware of previously, so we’ve tried to kind of plausibly have signs there that could kind of explain it” reveals Borenstein. “You know Skull Island is Skull Island and we don’t want to step on that. I think one day, I would venture to say it’s probably a good guess that there will be a Monster Island in some grounded way…”.
Vogt-Roberts says that he was very inspired by Japanese cinema and anime when it came to the look of the Skull Island creatures, particularly the Skull Crawlers.
“The very first Angel in Eva is partially the inspiration for the Skullcrawlers like the very first one with the big shoulders and the black body the white face that it has, I mean mixed with sort of, if you want some nerdy shit, mixed with like Cubone and No-Face from Spirited Away”references Vogt-Roberts. “[There’s] a crazy riff between Hell in the Pacific and South Korean cinema, like The Good The Bad and The Weird, and my like undying love of growing up and my brain being rewired by anime and video games. Like, this movie is very much Shadow of the Colossus and very much like, Kong’s movement has more to do with the mechas in Evangelion than he does like the normal like, beast of that size. So, the amount of anime and video game influence in this movie is crazy”.
While Toby Kebbell and Jason Mitchell were busy learning how to fly real helicopters for their performances as pilots in the film, Tom Hiddleston actually sought out SAS men for their input, and underwent a series of rigorous military training to prepare for his role as an ex soldier back called back for one last mission.
“I think it’s my job, I truly think any preparation you do only helps, add dimension and complexity to the work” says Hiddleston firmly. “The character is written on the page is a blueprint for a human being, and that kind of research, there were things that came about as a result of the research I did. Discovering that the British SAS had a jungle warfare school in Malaya in the late ’60’s, because they were so highly regarded for their skills, and they trained other combat groups in what they knew. I only made, I hasten to add I speak in, I have no idea of the true physical and psychological challenges of being a professional soldier. My preparation is only out of respect in representing their courage and their bravery. I trained with a former Navy SEAL and two former British Royal Marines, simply because the physical discipline of having to be in that kind of shape was useful. It makes you feel different because you start to understand the demands and the challenges that these people, that these kinds of soldiers face everyday”.
Although Hiddleston underwent intense training, the entire cast felt the effects of shooting in practical locations like Vietnam and Australia and Hawaii, as opposed to opting for green screens, which helped to better inform their performances in the long run.
“I think you can tangibly feel that the cast have been placed into natural environments which have their own atmosphere and ecosystem” comments Hiddleston about their shooting locations. “We went to Oahu in Hawaii, to Queensland in Australia and Northern Vietnam around Hanoi and Ninh Binh and Phong Nha, and especially Vietnam, but also the other places, I’d never seen the rainforest of Australia. They have their ecosystems, dangerous plants, beautiful birds, snakes, spiders, and there’s something about being in those environments which helps us”.
“I fought so hard for us to be able to shoot there so our movie didn’t feel like Jurassic Park or something like that” says Vogt-Roberts about his decision to film the movie in Vietnam. “If you guys haven’t been to Vietnam, go. It is such a special, incredible place. We shot there just over a month. It has such a rugged, incredible vibe where you know you go to one of these Asian countries and they’re very serene, very beautiful, but Vietnam has a ruggedness to it that’s combined with such an incredible, pure sort of beauty and that dichotomy was exactly what I was going for with Skull Island as a whole where it’s almost like a Miyazaki film where it’s horrifying and gorgeous all at once”.
Kong: Skull Island hits theaters everywhere on Friday, March 10th, 2017.