Di­rec­tor Jor­dan Vogt-roberts’ map to the buried trea­sure of Kong: Skull Is­land



Skull Is­land, a fun, ’70s-set rein­ven­tion of King Kong’s ori­gin story, may well boast the record for cin­e­matic ref­er­ences, video-game winks and comic-book nods. “A great book is lay­ered with sym­bol­ism and metaphors, just dif­fer­ent tex­tures,” sug­gests the af­fa­ble film­maker. “When I am de­sign­ing a movie I just love the idea of cre­at­ing lay­ers, some of which are in­ten­tional things for the fans and oth­ers are for my­self, ac­knowl­edg­ing the in­flu­ences that have been mean­ing­ful to me.” Here, the di­rec­tor calls out some ob­vi­ous and not so ob­vi­ous gems.


As the Sky Devils, a ’Nam war he­li­copter squadron, take off for Skull Is­land, Sa­muel L. Jack­son’s lieu­tenant colonel Pre­ston Packard can clearly be heard to say, “Hold on to your butts,” a line Jack­son ut­tered to iconic ef­fect in Juras­sic Park. “I had [screen­writer] Derek Con­nolly put it in the script. I never thought it was go­ing to stick. I didn’t say any­thing about it, Sam didn’t say any­thing about it. I tried so hard to get a Big Le­bowski-john Good­man line but I couldn’t find the right place for it.”


Hid­den in the back­ground of a street scene and night­club in Saigon are Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias, the stars of Vogt-roberts’ com­ing-of-age de­but, The Kings Of Sum­mer. “That, to me, is a very per­sonal thing,” he says. “I flew them out my­self. An enor­mous amount of brain power and lo­gis­tics went into do­ing that but that’s the stuff that mat­ters to me. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if putting them in all of my movies ends up be­ing my thing.”


Kong scoff­ing oc­to­pus was a piece of con­cept art that Vogt-roberts latched onto early. “It’s le­git­i­mately a slice of life, show­ing how dif­fi­cult Kong’s ex­is­tence is. On the other hand, it is a nod to the oc­to­pus fight in [King] Kong Vs. Godzilla, the Toho ver­sion. But for me it’s a trib­ute to

Oldboy.” Vogt-roberts later showed the scene to Oldboy di­rec­tor Park Chan-wook. “He thought it was funny, he made sure the lead ac­tor [Choi Min-sik] saw it. He couldn’t be­lieve we spent so much money. It is by far the most ex­pen­sive

Oldboy ref­er­ence on film.”


Keep ’em peeled in Mar­low’s (John C. Reilly) dwelling. You will not only see a replica of the cam­era used by Carl Den­ham in the 1933 King Kong, but on the record player is the ref­er­ence num­ber given to the ark of the covenant at the end of Raiders. “Any time there was ran­dom text on screen, why not do some­thing?”


Kong: Skull Is­land is stuffed with video-game ephemera. From moun­tains stolen di­rectly from Jour­ney (“My favourite piece of me­dia in the last ten years”) to the Sky Devils logo

in­spired by a crest in Zelda, Vogt-roberts is de­ter­mined to raise the bar for film/videogame in­ter­ac­tions. “Nor­mally video-games are as in­flu­en­tial in my life as films.”


Dur­ing Em­pire’s pod­cast in­ter­view, Vogt-roberts

teased a hid­den Alien ref­er­ence. “The ‘A’ on the side of the ship ‘Athena’ is in the same font as

the Alien ti­tle font,” he now re­veals. But he also threw some shade Prometheus’ way. As the sol­diers run away from Kong, a sol­dier head­ing in a straight line is killed. Vogt-roberts, with his sound mix­ers, added the line, “Run to the side, you id­iot,” ref­er­enc­ing the mo­ment where Vick­ers (Char­l­ize Theron) is crushed try­ing to out­run a fall­ing ship. “There are few movies that have gone from, ‘Holy fuck, this is in­cred­i­ble,’ to be­ing so un­fath­omably frus­trat­ing,” Vogtroberts says of Prometheus. “So we just put in what the au­di­ence is say­ing in the the­atre.”


“It went through a lot of vari­a­tions,” says Vogt-roberts about the movie’s post-cred­its scene, where Con­rad (Tom Hid­dle­ston) and Weaver (Brie Lar­son) dis­cover there are more mon­sters than Kong. “There was a scene with Con­rad and Weaver on a ship in the mid­dle of the Arc­tic and — wait for it — Godzilla sur­faces,” says Vogt-roberts. Pre­sum­ably, though, Godzilla was un­avail­able for film­ing, the mas­sive diva.

You’re go­ing to hear him roar! Kong makes his point.

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