Only two things are sure about Skull Island. First, it is home to Megaprimatus kong a.k.a. King Kong and a menagerie of prehistoric creatures. Second, as Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) says in this weekend’s Kong: Skull Island, “We don’t belong here.”
The latest adventures of King Kong take place almost entirely on the island but what, exactly, do we know about the place?
Not much, because Skull Island is uncharted and changes from film to film.
In the new movie, a digital map image suggests the island derived its intimidating name from its gorilla skull profile shape but originally the isle wasn’t called Skull Island. The best-known versions of the Kong story, the original 1933 Merian C. Cooper film and the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis production, never mention Skull Island.
The first movie and its subsequent novelisation describe a “high wooded island with a skull-like knob” called Skull Mountain while the ‘76 film refers to Beach of the Skull. It wasn’t until 2004’s Kong: King of Skull Island illustrated novel that the name was first used. Since then the moniker has stuck.
The same can’t be said for its location.
Over the years it’s been pegged everywhere from the coast of Indonesia and southwest of Central America to the Bermuda Triangle and the Coral Sea off the east coast of Australia.
In reality many places have subbed in for the island. In 1933 several locations were pieced together to create Kong’s home.
Outdoor scenes were shot at Long Beach, California and the caves at Bronson Canyon near Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Everything else was filmed on a soundstage in Culver City using odds and ends from other sets. The giant Skull Mountain gate was later reused in Gone with the Wind’s burning of Atlanta sequence.
De Laurentiis spared no expense bringing the island to life in 1976, moving the entire crew to the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
The shoot began at the remote Honopu Beach, a place the crew were told was deserted. Arriving in four helicopters laden with equipment they were greeted by a honeymooning couple who, thinking they had the place to themselves, had slept nude on the beach.
The impressive stone arch seen in the film — “Beyond the arch, there is danger, there is Kong!” — was natural and so huge years later when an episode of Acapulco Heat was filmed there a helicopter flew underneath it.
Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong reboot used a combination of New Zealand’s picturesque Shelly Bay and Lyall Bay as Skull Island’s “jungle from hell.” In the film’s closing credits the director paid tongue-in-cheek tribute to all the stars of the 1933 movie, calling them, “The original explorers of Skull Island.”
This weekend’s installment was shot in Vietnam, Queensland, Australia and Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii, where giant sets were built near where Jurassic World was filmed.
The scenery, as John Goodman’s character says, is “magnificent,” but there was also a practical reason to shoot in these exotic locations. The Hollywood Reporter stated the production shot in Australia to take advantage of a whopping 16.5% location offset incentive — i.e. tax break — offered by the Australian government.
Kong: Skull Island describes the isle as “a place where myth and science meet.”
On film though, it’s a spot where the imaginations of Kong fans run wild.