Kong: Skull Island

It’s 1973, and a U.S. survey and mapping expedition, supported by an Army helicopter unit recently released from the wind-down of the Vietnam War, heads toward the previously unexplored Skull Island.

If they’d brushed up on their old movies, they wouldn’t have been gobsmacked, and soon simply smacked, when they spot and engage with a really big ape. Big enough to squish all previous versions of the character under his big toe. Big enough to easily challenge the helicopters and crews. I mean really, really big. In a flash, choppers are scattered in pieces across the island, along with most of their occupants. A few important characters manage to survive, led by Lt. Colonel Preston Packard, the head of the military contingent, and Bill Randa, the civilian in charge of the expedition.

1017kong.box.jpgOn their way to join their scattered forces back together, they encounter natives, together with a slightly loony Army Air Corps pilot stranded on the island since his plane crashed there in World War II. Together they fight their way to the rescue point, their journey slowed not only by an increasingly angry Kong (and even scarier beasties) but also by a now-Ahab-like Colonel Packard, obsessed with revenge for the deaths of his men.

If you’re waiting for our heroes to capture Kong and transport him back to New York for a public showing, they never do. Only Yankee Stadium would have been big enough for such an event. And there are only the slightest swipes toward a beauty-and-the-beast subplot.

The film is beautifully shot, and the UHD Blu-ray gets it all. While most of the film takes place in daylight, several dark scenes critical to the story, particularly Packard’s final confrontation with Kong, are clearly rendered. Bright HDR highlights pop consistently, and the island’s jungle and mountain locations (much of the film was shot in Vietnam) are consistently striking. The widescreen format is also used intelligently throughout, both in quieter scenes and in the film’s jaw-dropping action set pieces. (A Blu-ray 3D edition is sold separately, converted from 2D but quite enjoyable.)

I listened in 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio. (The Dolby Atmos track only plays if manually selected.) The sound was consistently excellent, with powerful bass and active surrounds, not only in the action scenes but in quieter moments as well, adding to the tension and constant threat of instant death from something nasty hiding in the bush—or part of the bush. Occasional bits of harshness did intrude, particularly where loud action effects compete with a music track that mixes conventional underscoring and pop music, but it was rare.

The extras are solid and deserve high marks not only for the modest but interesting making-of featurettes but also for the director’s commentary track, an endangered species in recent years. And while most of the extras here are included only on the Blu-ray version, the commentary is available on both the UHD and Blu-ray Discs.

Kong: Skull Island is a wild ride, though it doesn’t displace my favorite Kong movie, Peter Jackson’s version from 2005. Do check out that one, and also the 1933 original. It’s viewed today as a classic, though modern viewers accustomed to photorealistic special effects can’t appreciate it in the same way that 1933 audiences did—as a terrifying, exciting adventure film.

Studio: Warner Bros., 2017
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio Format: Dolby Atmos / TrueHD 7.1 core; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (UHD and Blu-ray)
Length: 118 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Jordon Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson

utopianemo's picture

I suppose I still prefer the 1976 Jeff Bridges version. I really wanted to like Pete Jackson's version, and a lot of it is pretty good...but he fell squarely into the CGI trap on that one. The whole middle of the film is so Foie-gras stuffed full of frenetically harrowing action CGI sequences the characters BARELY escape from, that any real tension gets lost between entangled Apatosaurus feet. It's almost like Gandalf sat just offscreen, waiting to save the crew until it looked like even he couldn't pull it off. That gluttony kind of steals the tension from the more important moments later on in the film.

This one, too, felt too much like a vapid summer movie. I was hoping for a plot closer in spirit to Godzilla, which as we find out shares the same universe, but is a lot more intelligently written. Here's to hoping whatever Kaiju they resurrect next share more in common with Godzilla than King Kong.

Traveler's picture

Great flick. I hope they come thru with what they showed at the very end!