For a movie so shrouded in mystery, the cast of "Kong: Skull Island" sure was chatty.
That's what we learned when Moviefone, along with a small group of reporters, was invited to the Hawaii set of "Skull Island" back in December 2015. (Although, nowadays, you could say the gargantuan gorilla flick is "formerly shrouded in mystery," since our eyes have since been exposed to a number of jaw-dropping trailers and TV spots.)
Still, thanks to the ample access we were granted to the movie's stars and filmmakers on the set of "Kong: Skull Island," we were able to compile more than a few revealing details about the simeon spectacle that have, until now, remained under lock and key.
In quick, convenient asked-and-answered style, here are 15 very important questions we got answered on the set of Warner Bros. and Legendary's "Kong: Skull Island."
1. What is "Kong: Skull Island" about?
Remember Peter Jackson's 2005 "King Kong"? Remember how the only part of the movie you really remember is the time they spent on the island finding Kong, encountering all types of dangerous, awesome creatures? Remember how you wished they'd never made it back to New York and the whole movie was spent on that island? Well, they heard you, and they made a movie for you.
More specifically, "Skull Island" is about a team of scientists, soldiers, and assorted explorer types who seek to survey an uncharted Pacific island in 1972. Each person on the team is venturing to the island for different reasons -- some well-intentioned, some nefarious. Once they reach the island, however, all hell breaks loose (in this case, hell's name is "Kong," and he puts the smackdown on their helicopters), and the team's mission of exploration turns into one of "we need to get off of this island before it kills us." Need more clarity? Watch the trailer.Clear enough? Let's move on.
2. How does "Skull Island" start?
While on the set, we were shown some stunning concept art, one of which featured Kong, larger than life (naturally), looming over two WWII soldiers standing on a cliff. One of the film's producers, Alex Garcia, keyed in on this specific image, and used it to paint a vivid picture of the film's opening sequence.
"We open on the aftermath of a World War II dogfight," he revealed. "A pilot crash lands on this island. A U.S. pilot, you know, crawling, stands up, sees another plane crash. It's the plane he's been fighting with. A Japanese pilot starts running at him. They get into a death duel running through the jungle. You know, two mortal enemies going to kill each other until they're interrupted by this seemingly impossible much larger force that literally -- they're on a cliff face here -- that literally plants his hands down and comes up and everything of their world -- the warring factions, the whole war, all of that -- is instantly nullified by this guy. We cut out of that and come into the '70s."
Hooked? Yeah, that's the point.
3. When is "Skull Island" set?
As previously mentioned, the film is set in 1972, during the Vietnam War, and there's a very specific, rather ingenious reason as to why they set the movie during this very tumultuous time. Producer Garcia delivered this insightful bit of backstory:
"[Director] Jordan [Vogt-Roberts] came in with this idea of setting the movie in the early 1970s, at the dawn of the Landsat program," he revealed. "The Landsat program is a real program that was formed to start utilizing satellites to map the surface of the Earth. It's the first time we ever did that, and, in that mapping, they discover a previously uncharted island that is surrounded by weather patterns, storm systems -- it's incredibly difficult to reach, and incredibly difficult to even ascertain its existence because of the storm systems and weather abnormalities and all of that."
Sound like the perfect setting (and set-up) for a monster movie.
4. Where is "Skull Island" set?Well, the answer to this one is in the name of the movie: the "previously uncharted" Skull Island, which is located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean -- seemingly somewhere in Southeast Asia, but maybe not. As Garcia explained, Skull Island isn't just uncharted, it's a world unto itself -- one with the kinds of flora and fauna scientists have only dreamed about.
"It's an entirely unique ecosystem," he told us. "A team of people come together to go and survey this island. We will discover, through the course of the movie, that some of them may have had more knowledge than others. They may have actually understood that something was there, even if they didn't know exactly what. The movie essentially becomes, thematically, about the collision of the modern world and myth. Science is now debunking all myth, but what if some myth actually was true?"
For those worried that "Skull Island" is going to be mired by long sequences of exposition and scientific explanations, Garcia says you have nothing to worry about: "It's an adventure movie at its core, about this group of people who are confronted with the seemingly impossible on this island and have to survive it."
5. Why do they go to Skull Island?On the face of it, the team is going to "survey the island," but there wouldn't be much of a movie if that were true. Pretty much every member of the team has a different reason for going -- some noble, some not.
Garcia commented briefly on the mixed makeup of the team: "This group is led by Conrad, who's played by Tom Hiddleston. Conrad is a tracker out of the war -- British tracker, S.A.S. [Special Air Service], who's brought in by ... a team of Monarch operatives, which is the organization in 'Godzilla,' who are kind of a shadowy presence in the movie, who sort of jumpstart this expedition. It's a Landsat expedition officially, but John Goodman, who plays the guy from Monarch [Bill Randa], is sort of pulling the strings in the background. We come to realize, obviously, that they knew much more than they let on, initially."
Oscar-winner Brie Larson also forces her way onto the trip, and, as Garcia pointed out, she's got a motive all her own.
"Brie Larson plays a photographer who sort of convinces her way onto the expedition because she believes that there's something else going on," he revealed. "She thinks it's some military thing related to, probably, the war. She has conspiratorial notions of it. She has no suspicion that it's what it actually ends up becoming, but when she hears there's an expedition going with military support she weasels her way onto it in order to get a story -- and gets the story of a lifetime, obviously."
Let's hope she -- and her camera -- survive the trip.
6. How much Kong are we going to get in "Skull Island"?From what we gathered, a lot -- both in terms of size and screen time.
"Unlike Godzilla, we meet Kong pretty quickly in our movie," producer Garcia divulged. "They start the survey, they're coming over the island -- very quickly -- and they're dropping these seismic survey instruments that function almost like charges. They land, and rumble, and create waves that they then measure, and they disturb the peace, quite frankly. The sheriff of the island, Kong, rises up and has a whole confrontation with the choppers."
Essentially, Kong is the giant, destructive gorilla equivalent of your 80-year old neighbor yelling "Get off my lawn!"
7. Are there monsters/creatures other than Kong on Skull Island?Um, hell yes.
As you've likely seen in the trailers and TV spots, Kong is not alone on Skull Island. While we popped our peepers on concept art for a number of creatures (some far more dangerous than Kong), director Vogt-Roberts and producer Garcia only spoke about a few (hey, they've gotta leave some surprises), but what both emphasized was the importance of each creature feeling native to the environment rather than simply being scary or awe-inspiring.
"If Kong is the god of this island, we wanted each of the creatures to feel like individual gods of their own domain," Vogt-Roberts explained. "[Hayao] Miyazaki's 'Princess Mononoke' was actually a big reference in the way that the spirit creatures sort of have their own domains and fit within that. So a big thing was sort of trying to design creatures that felt realistic and could exist in an ecosystem that feels sort of wild and out there, and then also design things that simultaneously felt beautiful and horrifying at the same time."
Secondary to the creatures' environmental authenticity was their originality, as Vogt-Roberts expressed: "My biggest qualm with a lot of movies that I watch is, I feel like I've seen it before. So we just really wanted to go out of our way to, especially with the other creatures, design things that felt sort of unique to our movie and can exist on the island."
A great example of what Vogt-Roberts was going for was delivered by Garcia, who described a sequence in the movie (briefly revealed in the trailer), in which the explorers accidentally incite a battle with some of the island's longest-legged residents: "It's a bamboo forest they go through, and we're with them in the bamboo and they're hacking their way through it -- and then we discover that, actually, in and amongst the bamboo, are these giant daddy long leg-like spiders whose legs look like bamboo and they are hiding in it, camouflaged. The guys inadvertently start chopping their legs, and the spiders start attacking, and there's a big gunfight with them."
8. So, who does Samuel L. Jackson play?Samuel L. Jackson plays Lt. Colonel Packard, who, Garcia said, "is the colonel who leads the helicopter squadron, which is one of the most illustrious squadrons out of the war. He's never lost a man, which is why, when Kong bangs down those choppers, to him it's soul-crushing."
It isn't long before Packard makes destroying Kong his life's mission, which Jackson likened to a very familiar literary character:
"It's a drive. It's very akin to Ahab and the whale," Jackson explained. "At a certain point, you gotta stand up to this thing that has done so much destruction to you and your people, and he has this idea that this thing is not what's going to save humanity, 'cause that's what everybody else's idea is. This is the thing that's standing between us and these other things that are a threat to humanity. We've evolved to the point that we're the line in the sand. This thing's not the line in the sand -- we are. If us in our infinite, advanced technology, and mental state can't stop a mindless, gigantic ape -- then our evolution has been for naught."
In summary, Jackson is playing the movie's chief (human) antagonist.
9. How big of a deal is Tom Hiddleston's character?As mentioned above, Hiddleston plays Captain James Conrad, a S.A.S. Operative who trained with American forces in Cambodia. He's also a survivalist and a tracker.
As Hiddleston put it, "he's the guy you send in to find missing persons if a plane or a helicopter has crashed in the jungle because he has a special tracking ability."
Conrad is also a man in search of a mission. When Goodman's character comes along and offers Conrad a job, he can't resist, as Hiddleston explained: "Bill Randa, who works for Monarch, comes to find him in a back alley somewhere, and he says 'We need you on this mission.' [Conrad] says, 'What's the mission?' [Randa] says, 'Well, you know, we're making a map of an island in the South Pacific and we need someone with survival skills. We need someone with your ability.' And he's like, 'That sounds sufficiently shady.'"
Money is money, so Conrad comes onboard. "He's there kinda skeptical, and he takes the money and then they get to the island and there's a huge prehistoric ape on the island," Hiddleston continued. "I think that's where, suddenly, Conrad's been kind of spiritually asleep or sleepwalking. He wakes up and, suddenly, his very unique and special skill kicks in and he becomes indispensable to the team."
If you want to see Tom Hiddleston play an action hero, "Kong: Skull Island" is for you.
10. And Brie Larson, what's her character's deal?Brie Larson plays Weaver (just Weaver), a photojournalist with an activist streak.
"I play a journalist," Larson told us. "A photographer who ends up joining this cast of characters. I have my own sort of motive as to why I'm here. That's the interesting thing about this movie. It's a group of misfits that are all coming from different angles looking at the same thing. So I come in as kind of a background person, one who's just there to take photos. And, as it progresses, I have to get a little bit more hands on."
From the perspective of Packard, Jackson's character, Weaver is a threat. If the island's monsters don't get Weaver, Packard will. Or he'll try, maybe.
"Brie, to me, is a photojournalistic Jane Fonda," Jackson grumbled. "She's sort of responsible for the image that goes back home that causes people to have specific reactions to those soldiers, so [she's] not so favorable with me."
11. What about John C. Reilly's character?
John C. Reilly plays Marlow, the American soldier seen in the aforementioned opening to the movie (he didn't want to go to the island; he's stranded there). He's made friends -- or, at the very least, has a positive relationship -- with Skull Island's natives, which has clearly helped him survive for as long as he has. Also, as producer Garcia revealed to us, he ended up befriending his Japanese foe, Gunpei, who, by the time the survey team arrives, has already been "killed by another creature on the island."
12. What role does Monarch play?Goodman's Bill Randa is the driving force behind the expedition. The filmmakers were tight-lipped about the larger role Monarch plays in "Skull Island," and even tighter-lipped about how the events of the story are tied to other Monarch-entrenched movies.
Garcia did go as far to say the filmmakers ensured that the events of "Skull Island" in no way "conflict or directly negate" anything in 2014's "Godzilla," in which Monarch plays a heavy role.
13. Who else is in the cast?
"Kong: Skull Island" boasts a very strong ensemble cast. In addition to the previously mentioned Hiddleston, Larson, Jackson, Goodman, and Reilly, the movie also stars Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, and Thomas Mann, many of whom we saw either roaming around the set or filming. Oh, also monsters -- but we didn't see any of those.
14. Who dies?
Probably a lot of people. The crazy weather patterns surrounding Skull Island and the destructive nature of its inhabitants aren't exactly conducive to survival.
15. Does anyone make it off Skull Island?
Who knows?! The only clue we have is that producer Garcia isn't ruling out a sequel.
"If we pull off this island feeling like a really distinct and unique place, absolutely it could be revisited later in the timeline, for sure."
To find out who makes it off the island (if anyone), "Kong: Skull Island" hits theaters March 10th.