Film fanatics may recall that about a year ago, Legendary Pictures debuted a surprise trailer for a “King Kong” follow-up during the San Diego comic-con. According to Deadline, the teaser showed images of Skull Island, King Kong’s infamous home, and seemed to depict a film that would deal more with the origin story behind Kong, as opposed to yet another re-telling of his capture and escape in New York City. In the aftermath of the reveal, it became known that the project was indeed named “Kong: Skull Island” and was already slated for a 2016 release.
Despite the prevalence of monster-related films at comic-cons and in the cinema in recent years, the announcement of what appears to be a prequel to the King Kong saga was completely unexpected. After all, Peter Jackson‘s 2005 “King Kong” never inspired a direct follow-up, and the famous director known for massive visual effects won’t even be involved with the newly announced project.
It’s also noteworthy that Skull Island, evidently the focal point of the forthcoming film, has never really served as the full setting in a Kong film or story, given that the true iconic image of Kong is that of the giant ape clinging defiantly to the Empire State Building’s spire. New York City is firmly attached to the Kong name, and if the new project truly endeavors to focus more on origins, we may finally get a full look at the island that’s always been so intriguing.
The 2005 film actually gave us a pretty in-depth look at the idea of Skull Island, more akin perhaps to something like the world of James Cameron‘s “Avatar” than “Jurassic Park.” We saw towering, inexplicable gates at the port entry to the island, gigantic bugs and beasts the equivalent of Kong’s size for their own species, and dinosaur-like creatures left to evolve in peace on a forgotten land. The overall effect was fairly stunning and added a wild, adventurous quality to a somewhat familiar story. Not only that, but one can argue that the best parts of 2005’s “King Kong” were those taking place on Skull Island.
Those scenes from “King Kong,” undoubtedly the most modern and impressive depictions of Skull Island, even went so far as to inspire their own gaming spin-offs of the Kong franchise. While “King Kong” had its own video game adaptation, the “King Kong Island Of Skull Mountain” arcade game on InterCasino’s site focuses specifically on the chase to capture the giant ape in his home territory. The game is primarily a slot machine, designed around the concept of matching symbols by chance. By invoking Kong themes, though, it takes advantage of the established image of Skull Island to amusing and successful effect. The idea of the formidable Skull Island gate, in particular, makes an appearance as a bonus symbol for the slot game.
And if Skull Island’s imagery can inspire its own spin-off video game, why not a full feature film given Hollywood’s propensity for spin-offs and adaptations? This seems to have been the thinking for “Kong: Skull Island,” as Legendary brought on director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and a team of writers who have nothing to do with the 2005 film, just to make a new project out of an iconic setting.
The only problem is, what looked a year ago to be a very promising and intriguing project with a sound foundation to build on, now looks to be in a little bit of trouble. While Tom Hiddleston (best known as Loki from “Thor” and other Marvel films) has been the main name attached to the project, both J.K. Simmons and Michael Keaton were also expected to appear. They have both been big names for years and brought a great deal of credibility to “Kong: Skull Island” after both were among last year’s Oscar nominees (with Simmons taking home the award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role).
Only now, news has broken that both Simmons and Keaton are pulling out of the project. The LA Times reported that these decisions came due to scheduling conflicts, rather than any sort of issue with the film itself, but it’s certainly not a good look for a project that already felt somewhat unexpected, if not hasty.
As of now, it’s listed on IMDB with a 2017 release date, and with Hiddleston still attached. As mentioned, there’s certainly no shortage of intrigue or subject matter at its heart. However, when names as big as Simmons and Keaton pull out of a project, it can spell trouble no matter how well anything else is going, so stay tuned.