by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent
When the original KING KONG was released by RKO in March of 1933, some of the trade ads included a tie-in between Kong’s big bang box office receipts and the failed banks of the Great Depression roaring back to profitability. It was a nostalgia sell, a heart-tug for a pre-code Hollywood monster romp, the likes and scale of which had never been seen on the silver screen.
In a quick recap, Merian C. Cooper was turned down at Paramount, then skipped over to RKO. David O. Selznick bit, but bailed out during production. Titled “The Beast,” “Eighth Wonder of the World,” “Ape King,” and “Kong,” Selznick insisted the title be changed to KING KONG. The wow-title was a huge pivot for a scream queen screenplay written by Edgar Wallace.
Much like the old KONG, the new KONG: SKULL ISLAND also released in March 84 years later, by Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures, just shot past all expectations for the weekend opener, to the tune of $61 M USD. (*Now just shy of $150 M USD worldwide.)
And this is up against the formidable Hugh Jackman franchise starrer LOGAN.
Why is KONG SKULL ISLAND doing so well?
Nostalgia, folks, Viet Nam war era discontent, and throw-back technology right down to the brick-like cell phones and dot matrix, white and light lime green striped perforated IBM computer paper from the 70’s of this KONG. Call it a Guardians of The Galaxy overhaul of the gorilla classic, KONG even features a key plot point role by GOTG’s John C. Reilly.
The film script has so many great touches, for example Brie Larson’s photojournalist character says she was “an anti-war photographer” embedded in Vietnamese conflict. Shea Whigham plays a hardened Viet Nam veteran who says “we didn’t lose the war… we abandoned it.” All creative plot embellishments work here.
Plus, Bradley Cooper’s brother from Silver Linings Playbook, that same actor Shea Whigham, has some other soulful moments in this, also his Playbook alum John Ortiz makes an impact. All the supporting characters are extremely well-thought out.
Including some kid who looks like he actually is in Apocalypse Now-then, even though this is KONG 2017, ironically shot in Vietnam, here. His name is Thomas Mann, from Portland, Oregon, a kid we will see much more of based on his palpable brand of youthful sincerity in this picture.
Richard Jenkins, the one and only, shows up as a US Senator, another nice touch. The guy who should have passed on the remake of BEN HUR, Toby Kebbell, shows us why this British-born actor is still very gifted as Chapman, whose letter-writing home to “Dear Billy” is a leit-motif and masterstroke of the emotionally rich storytelling throughout this movie.
Anyway, KONG SKULL ISLAND is making money because it’s worth the money. Main stars Tom Hiddleston (“The Avengers,” “Thor: The Dark World”), Oscar-nominee Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron”), John Goodman (“Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Argo”), Oscar-winner Brie Larson (“Room,” “Trainwreck”), Jing Tian (“Police Story: Lockdown”), Toby Kebbell (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), John Ortiz (“Steve Jobs”), Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton”), Jason Mitchell (“Straight Outta Compton”), Shea Whigham (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Thomas Mann (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), with Terry Notary (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and all rock the blockbuster with Oscar-nominee John C. Reilly (“Chicago,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”), knock it out of the park.
In sum, everybody delivers “bigly” as the word goes these days. It’s the perfect storm of escapism for a time that parallels the economic uncertainty of the early 30’s. Our KONG, the 2017 inhabitant of this silver screen Skull Island, has his own agenda, and is rebranded as a 2.0 of monster movie heroes.
Not to give too much away, you won’t guess the plot twists, and may be slightly disappointed by a thin and pale John Goodman whose real purpose here seems to be to show the perils of weigh loss on humor quotient. That said, Goodman also pulls his weight in a line-up of truly excellent performances for the genre, and even for any genre.
Watch Tom Hiddleston and others in this official featurette on KONG SKULL ISLAND…
Here’s What Warner Bros Has to Say About Their Gorilla-Not-To-Be-Missed
Official Statement: The producers of Godzilla reimagine the origins of one the most powerful monster myths of all in “Kong: Skull Island,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures and Tencent Pictures. This compelling, original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”) tells the story of a diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers uniting to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong.
Vogt-Roberts directed the film from a screenplay by Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, story by John Gatins. Kong: Skull Island is produced by Thomas Tull, Mary Parent, Jon Jashni and Alex Garcia, with Eric McLeod and Edward Cheng serving as executive producers.
The creative behind-the-scenes team included director of photography Larry Fong (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), production designer Stefan Dechant (supervising art director True Grit, Avatar), Oscar-nominated editor Richard Pearson (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy) costume designer Mary Vogt (the Men in Black films) and composer Henry Jackman (Captain America: Civil War). The team also included Oscar-winning makeup supervisor Bill Corso (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and supervising stunt coordinator George Cottle (Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises). The legendary Kong was brought to life at a whole new scale by Industrial Light & Magic, with two-time Oscar winner Stephen Rosenbaum (Avatar, Forrest Gump) serving as visual effects supervisor.
To fully immerse audiences in the mysterious Skull Island, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his cast and filmmaking team filmed across three continents over six months, capturing its primordial landscapes on Oahu, Hawaii—where filming commenced—on Australia’s Gold Coast, and finally in Vietnam, where filming took place across multiple locations, some of which have never before been seen on film.
Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures and Tencent Pictures present a Legendary Pictures Production, a Jordan Vogt-Roberts Film,Kong: Skull Island. The film will be released worldwide in 2D, 3D in select theatres, and IMAX beginning March 10. CAST: Kong: Skull Island” stars Tom Hiddleston (“The Avengers,” “Thor: The Dark World”), Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron”), John Goodman (“Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Argo”), Oscar winner Brie Larson (“Room,” “Trainwreck”), Jing Tian (“Police Story: Lockdown”), Toby Kebbell (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), John Ortiz (“Steve Jobs”), Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton”), Jason Mitchell (“Straight Outta Compton”), Shea Whigham (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Thomas Mann (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), with Terry Notary (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and Oscar nominee John C. Reilly (“Chicago,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”).
See their website for official images and screening details.
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