Kong: Skull Island plunges viewers into a lost world of forbidding landscapes and gnarly creatures. A bit like the Galapagos Islands but far stranger and a lot more dangerous, Skull Island developed according to its own unique set of conditions.
An untouched and previously undiscovered land where evolution took its own path, on Skull Island, the creatures are like nothing you’ve ever seen – and man is no longer at the top of the food chain. We sat down with the film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, to get the lowdown on Kong‘s assorted creatures. Time to issue a mild SPOILER WARNING…
“I made a very conscious decision with these creatures to not give them specific names. Purposely,” he says. “I actually really liked the idea that no scientists and geologists and zoologists have ever been to this island so they don’t have specific names. Anything would be hearsay – it would be something that the villagers [on the island] would have made up. I intentionally didn’t want them to have zoological names."
A bunch of ‘official’ names for the film’s creatures have cropped up online that Vogt-Roberts disputes. According to the filmmaker, who offers his own alternative names for the creatures below, the names are not ‘canon’ – and he's asked Fandom to help him set the record straight.
We’re only too happy to oblige.
These are the only creatures ‘officially’ named in the film – and it’s a moniker that John C. Reilly’s character, Marlow, gives them. But even that’s a step too far for Vogt-Roberts.
“I actually originally wanted that creature to be called MacArthur,” he says. Why MacArthur? Because he loves the idea of Marlow having a casual line where he explains he called him that "because he was like General MacArthur – you can’t stop him.”
The skullcrawlers were inspired by a number of screen monsters. Firstly, the one creature in the 1933 King Kong that isn’t a dinosaur. Vogt-Roberts says, “During the log scene, when they’re hiding and Kong reaches down and another creature is crawling up the side? That creature didn’t seem to have hind legs and I thought that was such a cool thing.”
He also references Bong Joon-ho’s The Host. “I loved the way the creature in The Host had an inelegance to the way that it moved and was clumsy and kind of looked stupid. And I love that it just felt like it evolved poorly.
“And then I became obsessed with the idea that its face had sort of become calcified, because it travels around in the vents below the surface. I just loved the idea of having this stark, bone-white, iconic sort of [face]. I actually didn’t even want the creature to have eyes at first. I designed the creature without eyes. Eyes were put in later. But I loved the idea that it had these false eyes, these black pits that were actually ‘pit sensors’. I wanted the creature to be blind, but it had these things that looked like eyes."
His influences for the Skullcrawlers don’t end there: “There’s this anime called Evangelion. The monsters they find there are called Angels. In the first episode, there’s this Angel [Sachiel] and it’s got this bone-white face and black scaly skin.”
“We actually had designs of it originally where the skull wasn’t embedded in its face. At one point, there was a version of it that actually wore a skull on its face,” says Vogt-Roberts.
Big Momma Skullcrawler
“There’s the babies,” says Vogt-Roberts. “And then there’s the Big Momma.”
Aesthetically, it’s different from the smaller, younger, more common-or-garden variety. And though they’re threatening enough, Big Momma is even more deadly.
“The calcification grows over time, and sort of develops into spikes on the arms, and the crown changes,” says Vogt-Roberts. “To me, it’s sort of a riff on the Queen Xenomorph in Alien.”
You’ll find the Internet referring to these creatures as Sker Buffaloes. “I don’t know who made that up. That is not canon as far as I’m concerned,” says Jordan.
“That creature was actually the breakthrough creature, as far as the design goes, for the vibe of the creatures on the island. I didn’t want there to be dinosaurs on the island because a) Peter [Jackson] did such a good job of that in his movie and b) Jurassic World had just come out and I felt like I’d seen it before.
"We looked at thousands of designs. Anytime I would show someone art and they felt like they’d seen it, it was, like, reject pile – and that creature was the one that broke it open. We got the piece of concept art back and it had this mythic Miyazaki-world [feel]. It had this beauty and yet it was terrifying.
"I love that dichotomy. That creature became the guiding light for all the creatures. You don’t know if you should stand there and be in awe of it or pee your pants. And there was a spirituality to that creature that I wanted all the creatures to have.
"I don’t consider it a carnivore and in fact that scene was on the verge of being cut out of the film multiple times. But, to me, it’s almost the purpose of the film – that scene sort of says: ‘OK, you don’t have to shoot everything.’"
Otherwise known as Mother Longlegs, the Bamboo Spider was inspired by a walk Vogt-Roberts took through a bamboo forest in Hawaii.
“I loved the idea of these legs camouflaged in your environment, and there were two pieces of concept art that really sold it," he says. "One was this low angle looking up – which was perfectly represented in the film, where you’re looking up and you see this creature break through the canopy.
"The other was a removed perspective from the side. As if you were completely to chop off the side of a forest and you were looking at a soldier in there, and you saw these legs coming down. There was the tree line, and you saw the spider just existing above it.
"I started doing a bunch of research on spiders and I came across one which had these like small pincers on it. And I was like: ‘Oh, that’s terrifying’.
"Initially the creature’s stomach was going to open up – it was almost going to have this weird crevice that would open up and was going to pull them into it, as opposed to the snappers. [Some of the team] wanted to have spider webs come down. And I was like: ‘We’ve seen it. We’ve seen spider webs before. We’ve seen it in Lord of the Rings, you’ve seen it in so many different movies. So the idea that it has these tendrils that shoot out was fascinating to me."
We're re-issuing the SPOILER WARNING here: Read this section only if you're prepared to have details of one of the film's key scenes revealed.
Or the Mire Squid, as it’s called in some quarters – a name Vogt-Roberts actually makes a snoring sound at.
“It has elements of a squid and an octopus,” he says. “And that very much is a riff on the Toho King Kong vs. Godzilla, because there’s a squid fight in there. But that scene also primarily exists as a ‘Planet Earth’ moment. Which is to say, yes, it’s a big monster battle but it’s actually this weird quiet moment in the film.
"It actually is designed to be this scene where you think they’re fighting but it’s a slice of life and [shows] what Kong’s daily struggle is just to eat. He has to go through that to have lunch?
"To me, that scene’s actually about the quiet moment right afterwards where he’s just sitting there, exhausted, just chewing on the squid with a reference to Oldboy [as the squid is] squirming all over his face."
Would the Octosquid have attacked a human if Kong hadn’t wrestled it down his throat?
“If Toby Kebbell’s character Chapman had stayed in the water much longer he probably… I don’t even think it would have tried to eat him necessarily – I think it would have swatted him away,” says Jordan.
Or, as the Internet wants to call it, Psychovulture.
Vogt-Roberts says, “The first time you see it, it’s just there, and its back is to you and its long beak is up.
“It’s a couple of things – one is actually a throwback to the original Jurassic Park action figures. Which had these really bright, weird-coloured patterns on them that didn’t exist in the movie. And it’s a fusion of a swordfish, a bird and a flying monkey.
“I wanted them to feel jittery. I wanted them to be like the crackheads of the island. Like the hyenas in The Lion King – these annoying things that you see from behind, these pestering things that are going to laugh at you.
“And I wanted them to be stupid. I just imagined them sitting on a telephone line with their weird beaks up in the air just laughing with each other.”
Otherwise known as a Spore Mantis, the Stick Creature serves a similar purpose to the Water Buffalo. “It’s like this pacifist thing, where the guy fires because that’s his first instinct and then he dies straight after,” explains Vogt-Roberts.
“But I love that scene because it’s kind of a jump scare, and then you watch it and it’s so sad. The noises that [the Stick Creature] makes afterwards, it’s like: ‘Oh, my God. I’m so sorry I shot you. I didn’t mean it’.
“And that really is based on, you know – there are stick bugs. There are things like that, and I just loved the idea of this giant moss-covered log insect thing. It’s the biggest insect you see on the island.”
We don’t see this creature, but Marlow refers to it when he says, “It sounds like a bird but it’s a f***ing ant”.
Vogt-Roberts picks up the story: “That’s a line that we improvised on set. That’s [actually] John C. Reilly trying to f*** with Corey Hawkins on his coverage and make him laugh.”
The line stayed in, and now the creatures exist as part of Skull Island’s fascinating fauna.
“In my mind, those creatures if you were to see them would be some weird giant ant of sorts that has a beak like a bird and is kind of feathery," says Jordan.
“At one point, I actually pitched [that] we should cut to the ant and have it be this goofy moment. To design that ant would have been like $150,000. Just to design it, and not even do the shot. So they were like: ‘No, we’re not doing it’.”
And what of Kong? Vogt-Roberts simply says, “Kong is such a fundamentally different character. You see him using tools and reasoning, and being this fusion of a beast, a god and a man in a way that none of those Toho creatures really are.”
We can look forward to seeing more from this incarnation of Kong, and learning more about what makes him tick as the franchise expands. Whether or not the giant ape will make a cameo appearance in 2019's Godzilla: King of Monsters remains to be seen, but he'll definitely return for Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020 – alongside a bunch more monsters.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ is out from March 9 in UK cinemas and from March 10 in the U.S.