“This whole movie is basically just my huge, expensive infomercial for why people should go visit Vietnam.”
Warner Bros.’ giant monsterverse is two films in so far, and the visible improvement from Godzilla to Kong: Skull Island bodes well for whatever comes next. The latter film understands that the big draw here are the big monsters, and it delivers an abundance of big monster action. The film was recently released on Blu-ray/DVD, and in addition to numerous featurettes and deleted scenes the supplements include a director’s commentary.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Kong: Skull Island.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Commentator: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (director)
1. The opening title sequence featuring WB and Legendary logos was originally meant to feature “throwbacks to 70s vector-based and illustrated company logos,” but not only could they not get them right but the companies were also “very protective of their logos.”
2. The American pilot falling out of the sun is meant to suggest Icarus, a world of myths, and the loss of mankind’s connection to them.
3. The opening on the beach is tonally inspired by the likes of The Good the Bad the Weird, and he adds that “I love the idea of this crazy David Lean movie.”
4. The title credits are done by Kyle Cooper who also did David Fincher’s Seven.
5. The image that Bill Randa (John Goodman) hands Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins) was originally of Godzilla, but he fought against that as he felt the film needed to be about Kong from the beginning.
6. Jenkins, Corey Hawkins, Toby Kebbell, and John Dykstra are all “the man.”
7. Three of his Kings of Summer stars — Nick Robinson, Erin Moriarty, and Moises Arias — appear in the background at the 12:10 mark. It was the last day of filming, and he flew them out to Hawaii for the cameo.
8. Thomas Middleditch is the voice on the phone with Brie Larson.
9. The ship named Athena is his “dumb, unnecessary” nod to Alien via the lettering font. It’s the first of several “dorky” nods in the film, and he promises to point some out while leaving others for the viewers to find.
10. Chuck Jones’ “Now Hear This” is playing in the background of the briefing scene. He’s always loved it and took advantage of this being a WB film to toss it into the movie.
11. Video games mentioned as inspirations include Shadow of Colossus, Metal Gear Solid, Journey, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Metroid, and Call of Duty.
12. He had dinner with Park Chan-wook, and the main question the Korean director had about the film had to do with how believable the flight-deck crew were on the ship.
13. Vietnam is one of his favorite countries, and he hopes the film encourages people to visit similar to how the Lord of the Rings films increased tourism to Middle Earth.
14. The helicopter occupant falling into Kong’s mouth is an homage to the 1933 film version where Kong actually ate people.
15. It was a massive undertaking to attain permission and arrange filming in Vietnam. He says this was the first American film to shoot there since 2002’s The Quiet American.
16. Directors mentioned as inspirations include Terrence Malick, Steven Spielberg, and Hayao Miyazaki.
17. Kebbell’s facial motion-capture work includes the scene where Kong munches on the squid — which yes, is obviously an Old Boy reference — and for the shot he was actually chewing Red Vines.
18. Hank Marlow’s (John C. Reilly) jacket says “Lizard Company” on it which is a nod of sorts to Travis Bickle’s jacket in Taxi Driver saying “King Kong Company.”
19. The script originally included a section where they find a “boat city” which was a steampunk-like village consisting of people who’ve washed up or capsized on the island.
20. The writing atop the record player is a design nod to the serial number and writing on the box holding the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
21. The montage showing the boat head off down the river away from the village was originally longer and set to Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.”
22. One of his main goals with the film was to create images we’ve never seen before… like a .50 caliber machine gun mounted atop a triceratops skull or Tom Hiddleston slicing prehistoric flying creatures with a kitana while running through a poison cloud in a gas mask.
23. The scene where Kong approaches James Conrad (Hiddleston) and Mason Weaver (Larson) at night in the fog and has glowing eyes lead to some behind the scenes disagreements. “Somebody actually quit production over this, ‘I don’t understand it! It just doesn’t make sense to me!'”
24. He says Vietnam is ready for their version of The Raid, suggesting their film industry is growing and ready to bust out, but he’s discounting the political climate. The filmmakers behind the excellent Clash followed it up with another action film called Chinatown which was immediately banned by authorities from being shown anywhere inside or out of the country without severe consequences.
25. The post-credits scene almost didn’t make the cut as several voices felt it didn’t fit, but he argued successfully for its inclusion knowing that audiences would love the tease into the bigger monsterverse to come.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I love the Peanuts and Snoopy.”
“The stuff these guys do in helicopters is insane.”
“This is one of my favorite shots in the movie as it turns into a very anime like Evangelion you know long lens like several layers of parallax as you’re running by shot.”
“I love the idea of them kind of being the crackheads of the island.”
“Brie runs like a movie star.”
“That moon should not be that big, but why not.”
“Sometimes you gotta change stuff to avoid vomit.”
Buy Kong: Skull Island on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.
As flawed as the script may be there’s no denying the appeal of the imagery throughout Kong: Skull Island. It’s a visually exciting movie, and Vogt-Roberts splits his enthusiasm evenly between what we’re seeing onscreen and the people involved. He loves his cast and crew, and he’s complimentary towards them all — with the exception of Samuel L. Jackson whom he only mentions briefly a couple times before his character dies. He’s also not shy about sharing his pop culture interests from video games to anime to Asian cinema, and if you take nothing else from his numerous references know this… he *loves* Evangelion. It’s a solid track with minimal silence, and he shares a lot of information regarding the production choices making for an interesting and engaging listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.