Kong: Skull Island (3D Blu-ray Review)28 Jul, 2017 By: John Latchem
Box Office $168.05 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 3D BD, $44.95 UHD BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.
Stars Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Shea Whigham, Corey Hawkins, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary.
Prior to Kong: Skull Island, three American films have presented the same basic origin story for King Kong, with varying degrees of success.
The original 1933 film is hailed as a cinematic classic, and earned a sequel, Son of Kong, within months of its release. Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake is essentially a big-budget retelling of the original, maintaining the original 1933 setting and many of the same characters.
A 1976 remake, which marked the film debut of Jessica Lange, updated the tale to a modern setting, with Kong climbing the World Trade Center twin towers instead of the Empire State Building. A sequel 10 years later, King Kong Lives, was widely panned.
The basic plot points the three main films followed involved an expedition to a mysterious island where the natives make sacrifices to appease the giant ape Kong. The explorers eventually capture Kong and bring him to New York, but he escapes and rampages through the city, eventually being shot down from atop the tallest building in the city. Kong’s only friend, it seems, is a beautiful woman who is part of the expedition, leading to Kong’s infatuation with her being described in terms of “beauty and the beast.”
This latest reboot shakes things up a bit, and not just because it’s tied in to the 2014 Godzilla remake to set up a cinematic universe of gigantic creatures popping up around the Pacific Ocean.
Kong: Skull Island is less about “beauty and the beast” and more about “man vs. nature” or “man vs. myth.” The film covers just the island part of the other movies, with an expedition discovering the ape. Only this time, it’s a survey mission in 1973 accompanied by a helicopter squadron fresh off of duty in Vietnam.
The island has just appeared on satellite maps, so the plan is to spend a few days charting it, then going home. Only, Kong doesn’t take too kindly to the visitors, and the 100-foot-tall ape knocks most of the choppers out of the sky, leaving a handful of survivors scattered across the island trying to find a pre-arranged evacuation zone.
One group, involving a tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a photographer (Brie Larson) stumble upon a village where the natives have taken in a former World War II pilot (John C. Reilly) who crashed on the island 29 years earlier. He tells them Kong is seen as a god, protecting them from more-dangerous creatures who inhabit the island. Unsurprisingly, Larson ends up as this movie’s version of Fay Wray, to a degree.
The other group, led by a war-hungry colonel (Samuel L. Jackson), wants to gather as many weapons as he can to kill Kong to avenge his men. The military aspect actually shares some plot elements with King Kong Lives, but that's about where the comparisons to that movie end.
In terms of tone, this film feels more like Apocalypse Now, with an intense journey into dangerous territory and the increasing madness of the military man consumed by the need for revenge. (Jackson on the bonus materials would point out that Moby Dick applies here as well).
This isn’t a movie that’s trying to be more complicated than it needs to be, checking off the as the basic motifs about respecting nature and the unknown. The characters, such as they are (good luck remembering their names) are fun tour guides through the adventure, though it’s hard not to think the movie is coasting a bit on its star power.
Rather, the film’s greatest asset is its visual style, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts seems to frame every shot as if it can be turned into a poster. It’s a nice film to watch in 3D as the jungle exteriors provide a good sense of immersion while the action never tries to overwhelm the senses.
As an adventure, it feels more akin to a “Jurassic Park” movie, which comes as no surprise given how much those movies were inspired by the original Kong (with The Lost World: Jurassic Park serving essentially as a Kong remake with a T-Rex instead of a gorilla as the primary attraction). Jackson even gets to pay homage one of his famous lines from Jurassic Park.
As for the film’s larger goal, its version of Kong is now firmly established in the realm of cinema and is ready to take on Godzilla in their showdown movie slated for 2020. Interestingly enough, another version of Kong fought the original Godzilla in a Japanese movie in the 1960s, though it’s high time to see what modern visual effects can do with such a glorious battle.
Vogt-Roberts provides a good solo commentary track on the Blu-ray in which he provides a lot of insights into the various influences on the film, many of which are from video games, and relays his primary desire to create images people haven't seen on film before.
The Blu-ray also includes four deleted scenes and several featurettes. The primary making of is the 25-minute "Creating a King," which is split into two parts: "Realizing an Icon" deals with the film's story, while "Summoning a God" deals more with the technical aspects. "On Location: Vietnam" is a six-minute featurette about filming the island scenes in Vietnam (ironically, the scenes actually set in Vietnam were filmed in Hawaii).
Two other featurettes focus on a pair of the film's stars: "Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler" is a seven-minute bit about his experiences during filming, while "Through the Lens: Brie Larson's Photography" spends about two minutes showing off actual photos taken by the actress during filming, since she was given a real camera in order to add to her character's authenticity.
Finally, there's "Monarch Files 2.0," an in-universe report recapping the events of the film.