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A diverse team of scientists, soldiers, and adventurers unite to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong. (From WB’s official synopsis)

 Kong: Skull Island
Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong (1933) was the blockbuster of its era and one of the most important movies ever made. None of this changes the fact its central concept is really weird, but decade upon decade of official and not-so-official remakes have certainly ‘normalized’ the experience. Putting aside the sequels (Ernest B. Schoedsack’s Son of Kong, 1933, and John Guillermin’s King Kong Lives, 1986), the spin-offs (either version of Mighty Joe Young, 1949 and 1998), and Toho entries (Ishirō Honda’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, 1962, and King Kong Escapes, 1967), the major reboots/remakes have been mixed bags. Both Guillermin’s 1976 movie (produced by Dino De Laurentiis) and Peter Jackson’s 2005 picture (made to cash-in on the success of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies) were commercially successful, but met with lukewarm critical/audience reactions that soured further in the years after release.

Jackson’s movie is a decent and ambitious mix of good and bad ideas, but it was not as big of a hit as anticipated and time has not been kind to its self-indulgent ways. I imagine that even fans (a group I almost find belong to) find it difficult to rewatch in its entirety. With that in mind, the people responsible for the latest incarnation, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island, have attempted to streamline the shared concepts (the title alone tells audiences that the new movie will center on the middle act of a typical King Kong flick), while also laying track that will connect their new Kong to an expanded WB kaiju monster universe that includes Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla reboot (2014) and its upcoming sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (directed/co-written by Michael Dougherty, 2019).

 Kong: Skull Island
For the most part, Vogt-Roberts and screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, and John Gatins’ (who each receive a ‘story by’ credit) abridged approach is the smart one. It puts the emphasis on action and moves quickly enough to glaze over some of its thematic problems. Vogt-Roberts (whose other feature, The Kings of Summer, I’ve not seen) wasn’t the sexiest choice for director, especially after names like Joe Cornish ( Attack the Block, 2011) and Neil Marshall ( The Descent, 2005) were thrown around early in production, but he brings a relatively unique, though not unfamiliar voice to the material. His employs comic book colours and eye-strainingly aggressive editing techniques, and draws upon visual conventions from Vietnam movies – mainly Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987). This occasionally cheesy, but charmingly confident style is a pleasant contrast to both Jackson’s Oscar-baity attempt at the Kong mythos and the deep dark grit of Edwards’ Godzilla. Like his predecessors, Vogt-Roberts’ monster fights are still brimming with personality and their exploits are cheerfully gory, both of which also pulls his movie through its most dodgy storytelling choices.

Speaking of Apocalypse Now, I can’t help but notice that call-backs mirror one of Jackson’s key influences. Sure, there are some formulaic elements that can’t be avoided without completely superseding the basic ideas of Cooper/Schoedsack’s King Kong, such as Kong’s complicated status as a protagonist and his residence on an island of monsters, but there’s nothing tying the 1933 film to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (pub. 1899). And yet, both reboots pay direct homage to Conrad’s story. Jackson used it as the basis of his Skull Island sequences, then drives the point home by having the book itself featured on screen and its themes discussed by the characters. Vogt-Roberts one-ups that by framing his entire movie around Coppola’s Vietnam-themed adaptation of Heart of Darkness. On its own, the Apocalypse Now connections are reasonably clever and attach a vague socio-political subtext to the film and linking it to the already inherently political Godzilla movies (meaning that the entire Godzilla series, not just the 2014 reboot, is inherently political). However, in relation to other monster movies, including Jackson’s, it is an incredibly obvious choice that underlines Skull Island’s prevalent lack of imagination.

 Kong: Skull Island
I respect Vogt-Roberts & company for avoiding too much of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ruthless showbusiness angles of the original story – both aspects that were thoroughly covered in both the Guillermin and Jackson Kongs. They fill the void with some genuinely interesting espionage stuff that will probably tie into further MonsterVerse titles (that’s what WB’s calling it), as well as some really tired war movie motifs. The latter seems to be an excuse to sidestep a lot of character backstory, which is lazy and, when coupled with those rapid-fire, cartoonish visuals, cheapens any sense of real drama. Otherwise, there just isn’t much here outside of style and action to latch onto. It’s difficult to care about the humans, even as monster fodder, because their motivations are all ill-defined or deeply cliched and their personalities are defined by their never ending stream of snappy one-liners and platitudes. I understand that Kong, like his scaly frienemy Godzilla, is being cast as the true protagonist of this new franchise, but are we really expected to be completely apathetic to the non-monsters? That seems like a weird choice to me.

 Kong: Skull Island


Kong: Skull Island was shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras and was post-converted into 3D for theatrical release. It was also released in IMAX theaters, though this 2D, 1080p Blu-ray release maintains a constant 2.40:1 aspect ratio. One of the best things about this particular movie is its vibrant, tropical and neon palette, which, as I said in the feature section, stands in contrast to the oppressively dark palette of the 2014 Godzilla. The generally warm, lush Hawaiian and Vietnamese locations are laced with otherworldly oranges, greens, and blues, and even dark interiors end up softened by lavender highlights. Details are tightly knit (enough to reveal significant shortcomings with the CG animation and compositing effects) and just about every frame is teaming with complex activity. The colours certainly look great, but I do see signs of minor compression throughout the transfer. Some of this is plain old digital noise, which is as fine and consistent as you’d expect from modern film-based grain (to that notion, several sequences really do look like they were shot on 35mm, so perhaps the specs are incomplete?), but there are also small problems with posterization and edge haloes. Considering that this movie was designed to be seen on IMAX screens, I assume this is an encoding issue, not an intended look. Some of the colour bleeds into blacks, but I believe this was intended.


Kong: Skull Island is presented in both Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. The Atmos track does have a Dolby TrueHD core, but those tend to be pretty quiet on my non-Atmos receiver, so I’ve opted to review the DTS-HD track, instead. This particular track jumps out and grabs you from the opening titles, where the sounds of WWII-era aerial dogfight zip back and forth throughout the stereo and surround speakers. Things rarely let up from here, including a demo-worthy Kong vs. helicopter scene, a super-dynamic ‘skull-crawler’ sneak attack, and a bombastic, explosive climax. Composer Henry Jackman pulls a bit from Alexandre Desplat’s Godzilla themes and from his own X-Men First Class score, though the title song is actually very reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man theme. And, because the film takes place in the ‘70s, there’s a massive, Kong-sized wall of period-appropriate pop and rock music. The playlist is pretty hackneyed (is there a law written somewhere that every Vietnam-related movie has to feature a Creedence Clearwater Revival song?), but it’s all cleverly blended into the mix.

 Kong: Skull Island


  • Commentary with director Jordan Vogt-Roberts – The director comes to this solo track fully prepared and fills the space with loads of behind-the-scenes information. Much of the time is spent discussing his many influences and the meaning behind certain images, which I admit helped me enjoy the film just a little bit more, at least in terms of its mythological and visual concepts. His enthusiasm is intense at times, but likable and consistent.
  • Creating a King:
    • Realizing an Icon[/i] (11:39, HD) – The cast & crew talk about the original film and how it inspired this newest version.
    • Summoning a God (12:47, HD) – Concerning the design of the new Kong (centering on the fact that they moved away from the ‘real gorilla’ aspects of Jackson’s film) and the technology used to bring him to life.
  • On Location: Vietnam (5:28, HD) – A look at the challenges of filming on location in ‘Nam.
  • Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler (6:53, HD) – A day-in-the-life ‘journal’ featurette with the actor.
  • Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography (2:19, HD) – Vogt-Roberts hosts a slideshow of photos that the actress took with her prop camera while making the movie.
  • Monarch Files 2.0 (7:58, HD) – A companion piece to a similar extra on the Godzilla release that breaks down the events of the film from the point of view of the in-film monster-hunting society.
  • Four deleted Scenes (3:45, HD)
  • Trailers for other WB releases

 Kong: Skull Island


As a pretty ardent defender of Godzilla and a fan of the kaiju movie crossover concept, I am disappointed by Kong: Skull Island’s lazy script and utter lack of compelling or even coherent characters. Your mileage may vary and will probably be almost 100% dependent on the enjoyment derived from the definitely entertaining action scenes. The monsters are enjoyable enough that I’m still looking forward to crossovers with Godzilla and his rogues gallery in the future. WB’s Blu-ray looks a bit noisy and compressed to me, perhaps due to the presence of two massive, uncompressed, and very impressive soundtracks. The extras are lightweight, outside of a solid and informative director’s commentary.

 Kong: Skull Island
*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.