Kong: Skull Island roared into cinemas last week, and, as has been Kong's wont since 1933, the film promptly trampled over international box-offices everywhere. As is our wont, we sat down with director Jordan Vogt-Roberts for a spoilerific podcast chat. The Spoiler Special will be up soon – here’s what Vogt-Roberts had to say.
1. The post credits-scene was almost quite different
“We shot that in principal photography. It was not shot after the fact. We had a bunch of different variations for that. There was one version of that scene where [Tom Hiddleston’s character] Conrad and [Brie Larson’s character] Weaver were on a boat in the Arctic ocean with [Corey Hawkins’ character] Brooks. Conrad and Vernon say “what are we waiting for?”, and Brooks is like “hold on, hold on...” – and then Godzilla surfaces and breaks through the ice. But then we realised that doesn’t really jive with Godzilla, because in Godzilla, they say he hasn’t really surfaced since the atomic bomb tests. So it became this much more stripped down scene. The response to it has shocked me a little bit. It seems to be very evocative.”
2. The original opening had a mini-King Kong killed in the first five minutes
“The alternate opening that I pitched to them, the studio said: “No. You're crazy. You can't do that|. So it's World War II. A full squad comes to this beach. They're killing each other – and then suddenly, this giant monkey (that looks a lot like the monkey from the last King Kong movie) comes out of the jungle. And they just kill it. It's dead. And you're sitting there going, "wait, did they just kill King Kong? Did they kill the hero of this film?" And then you'd hear a roar and see a much bigger creature – the real King Kong. That was the crazy version of me wanting to send a message that this isn't like other King Kong movies that you've seen. The studio were like: "you can't do that".”
3. The filmmakers didn’t want to withhold Kong
“I wanted him in the first scene. I loved what Gareth Edwards did with Godzilla, He did such a good job with that film. But I so fundamentally didn't want to withhold the creature. They played that game, but I don't like the expectation that these movies have to withhold the creature. It's funny, because with horror, less is generally more. The less you see of the xenomorph, the better. But I was so inspired by Bong Joon-Ho's The Host, which just put the creature out there, and then it's about how that creature affects your story and characters.”
4. Kong’s new height was not entirely down to Godzilla
“Technically he's taller in Toho's Godzilla vs Kong. There's a weird technicality over whether you count that as canon. But yeah. He's huge. People have a negative view of that at first – "oh, he's really big because they want him to fight Godzilla". In fact, that's one of the things I wanted to do really early on. I wanted him to be that big because I wanted the first instinct that you or I to have if we were to look at it would not be, "that's a big monkey, that ape is suffering from gigantism". I wanted the first synapse in your brain to be, "that's a God". And then what does that inspire within you?
He’s not just a giant gorilla. He's his own species. He's got those heightened cartoonish features, the big brow and the bug eyes. This lonely god, this protector of the island with a thankless task. To carry himself with the nobility of a king but to have this melancholy tragedy underneath.”
5. Kong’s combat style was inspired by anime
“I wanted to put in imagery and a thought process that would help future-proof him in future movies. If he's gonna take on Godzilla, who's enormous, he's really got to have an ingenuity to him. I loved the idea of seeing him using tools and improvising. The way a creature of that size would normally move is not how he moves in the movie. It's hyper-stylised, more kinetic, more to do with the way the mechs move in [sci-fi anime] Evangelion. There was a lot of Evangelion references in the film, but particularly in the way he moves and fights. Getting that potency and power and visceral rawness to it, as opposed to slow and lumbering punches.”
6. Thousands of creature designs were proposed
“There were thousands and thousands of creature designs that never made it to screen. Very early on, I said I did not want to do dinosaurs. Peter did dinosaurs really well. Jurassic World did dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are recent in our memory. I thought, what an incredible opportunity to me as a monster movie nerd to design these things from the ground up. It took a long time before we stumbled upon the 'Miyazaki element'. The water buffalo was the one that broke it open: it felt like it had a mythic quality to it. It had a spirituality to it. If Kong is the god of the island, these creatures are gods of their individual domains. All these creatures have a majesty and a beauty to them. If Terrence Malick shot a monster movie, would this creature look beautiful in it? The water buffalo became a guiding force for that.”
7. The Vietnam element made the studio uneasy
“It seemed unfair to play with the imagery of the Vietnam war and Apocalypse Now without saying something. I didn't think it was appropriate to pillage that imagery and not have a message associated with it. The allegory of the war was always necessary. I'm psyched how much made it in. There were conversations early on where they were like, 'you can't say anything about war'. It's not like we were breaking new ground with it, but it felt necessary.”
8. There are more references in this movie than you might have noticed
“Honestly, this movie is chock-filled with references. There's a very explicit Taxi Driver reference that no-one's brought up yet: the patch that John C. Reilly wears on his jacket says 'Lizard Company'; Travis Bickle wore a patch that said 'King Kong Company'. The 'Good For Your Health' label on his jacket is a reference to Dr Steve Brule and also Akira. There's a very specific Alien reference in the movie. One day I want to put a list online...”
9. Monarch's backstory has been fleshed out – and we'll learn more in Godzilla 2
“There's a bunch of internal Legendary documents that detail what Monarch [the shady government organisation behind Kong and Godzilla] is to some degree. We were really trying to tell the best story for our movie. That's why the post-credits tag was briefly taken off, because the facility they were in didn't chime with what they had in mind. This movie sheds a little bit of light on that, but you're going to see a lot more of that in Godzilla 2.”
10. Vogt-Roberts wants to make a prequel with John C. Reilly
“I keep kind of joking that the movie I'm most interested in making is a prequel with John C. Reilly fighting monsters with Gunpei, the Japanese pilot, and the villagers. I'd love to make a $30million version of that. Something that's weird and funny, in a Looper/District 9 sense.”
Kong: Skull Island is in cinemas now.