Skull Island is the name most often used to describe a fictional island first appearing in the 1933 film King Kong and later appearing in its sequels, the three remakes, and any other King Kong-based media. It is the home of the eponymous King Kong and several other species of creatures, mostly prehistoric and in some cases species that should have been extinct long before the rise of mammalian creatures such as gorillas, along with a primitive society of humans. In the 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla and the 1967 film King Kong Escapes, the comparable islands are called "Farou Island" and "Mondo Island", respectively. Kong plays a similar role on these islands as the godlike being of the land, a role he plays in all versions of the King Kong story. Skull Island's origins are unknown, however Kong appears to be the only giant gorilla known to exist on the island. However, the 2005 remake shows other skeletons of Kong-sized gorillas, indicating that there was once a group of such creatures of an unknown number living on the island.
Appearance in the 1933 films
In King Kong, the island is never mentioned by name and is located at approximately — somewhere off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. There is a distinctive rocky knoll in the center of the island which is shaped like a human skull, which is referred to as "Skull Mountain". Scenes from the original King Kong film was filmed on the Island of Saba in the Dutch Caribbean.
At first, the island is thought to be deserted, but upon further examination by the protagonists of the picture, it is filled to the brim with superstitious natives, prehistoric creatures of all sorts, and one extremely large gorilla, known by those on the island as "Kong".
In the sequel film The Son of Kong, Carl Denham returns to Skull Island when there was mentioning of some treasure that was hidden there. He also encounters a large white gorilla who is the son of King Kong. Skull Island sinks into the sea during a powerful earthquake. Kong's son drowns while holding Carl Denham above the water. Denham survives unscathed while the treasure is claimed by him and the other three survivors.
The term "Skull Island" is never used in the original films. In King Kong, only "Skull Mountain" is named, while in the sequel The Son of Kong, its simply referred to as "Kong's Island". In the novelization of King Kong by Delos Lovelace, it's called "Skull Mountain Island". But RKO referred to it as "Skull Island" in some of their publicity materials.
Appearance in "Kong: The Animated Series"
In Kong: The Animated Series, the island was named Kong Island. Although various prehistoric creatures are seen living there, Kong Island also contains some ruins where one of them serves as the prison of the demon Chiros.
In the 1976's King Kong, Skull Island is mentioned as being "the beach of the skull." Various people are said to have visited the island through the centuries but returned with no clear proof. By the 1970s, it is an urban legend whose only evidence is in government secret files. It is also revealed to have a huge deposit of oil which led the film's antagonist, a greedy oil company executive, to go in search of it.
In Peter Jackson's remake, Skull Island's position west of Sumatra remains the same, in a region afflicted by magnetic anomalies and violent sea storms. According to the book The World of Kong, Skull Island was geologically unstable and has been slowly sinking into the sea for the past thousand years. By 1933, the island was on the verge of destruction. Fifteen years after its discovery to the modern world, Skull Island finally sank into the ocean.
In its prehistory, Skull Island was a refuge for a variety of prehistoric creatures. Over time, more and more species arrived either by swimming, flying, rafting, or migrating through temporary land bridges. As the island slowly receded into the sea, life was forced to adapt, resulting in an ecosystem of bizarre and nightmarish creatures.
Three thousand years before, an advanced civilization from Southeast Asia migrated to Skull Island, bringing with them domesticated animals such as Gaur and the giant ancestors of Kong. This culture eventually died off, leaving behind only gigantic eroding ruins scattered around the island (such as the enormous wall) and a small society of primitive people that became the Skull Island natives.
To coincide with the 80th anniversary of both characters, Altus Press announced on January 29, 2013, that King Kong would meet pulp hero Doc Savage in a new, officially sanctioned book written by Will Murray and artist Joe DeVito, who will also do the cover artwork. Set in 1920, shortly after returning from military service during World War I, Doc Savage searches for his long-lost grandfather (the legendary mariner Stormalong Savage) with his father, the explorer Clark Savage, Sr., that ultimately leads father and son to the mysterious Skull Island and its prehistoric denizens including King Kong. Doc Savage: Skull Island was released in March 2013. In his review for the New York Journal of Books, playwright-author Mark Squirek concluded:
- Across close to 400 pages Doc Savage: Skull Island takes us not only on a journey to Skull Island, but to the beginnings of a young man’s rise to greatness. Mr. Murray has created a new classic of the genre—all the while staying completely true to the legends of both Kong and Doc Savage.
King Kong and Son of Kong
- Stegosaurus - Appears in a sequence in which it is disturbed by Carl Denham's crew. It charges the men and they fell it with a gas-bomb. As they walk by, it starts to get up again and is shot. Orville Goldner, who worked on the film, described the film's Stegosaur as a combination of two genera: Stegosaurus ungulatus and the less well-known Kentrosaurus.
- Apatosaurus - The dinosaur is disturbed by the rescue party's raft as it crosses a swamp and capsizes it, attacking the men in the water. Several of them are chased onto land, and one fellow is cornered while climbing a tree and maimed to death by the animal. A common misconception is that the sauropod actually eats the sailor, but it is stated in the script and observed in the film that the dinosaur kills and then abandons the body of a sailor identified as "Tim." The creature reappears in Son of Kong, crying out as the island is sinking.
- A large 2-legged Dimetrodon - This creature climbs up a vine from the crevasse to attack Jack Driscoll. It falls back into the pit when Jack cuts the vine it is climbing. Other than the two limbs, the other distinct feature of this creature is the iguana-like ridge of spikes down its back. Orville Goldner said it was loosely based on the features of the Desmatosuchus.
- Tyrannosaurus - The dinosaur was modeled after Charles R. Knight's depiction of a Tyrannosaurus. However, it possesses three fingers per hand, unlike Tyrannosaurus which had only two (however, the number of fingers in Tyrannosaurus was disputed at the time, as a complete manus was not discovered until the mid-1990s). In the documentary I'm King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper, included on the 2 disk DVD release of King Kong, Cooper refers to this beast as an Allosaurus, not a Tyrannosaurus, which would help explain the number of fingers. However, the creature was originally intended to be a Tyrannosaurus designed for the canceled Willis O'Brien film Creation (1931). It may also be worth noting that the Tyrannosaurus present in Willis O'Brien's earlier project The Lost World (1925) also had a third finger. The 1932 King Kong screenplay refers to the dinosaur only as a "Meat Eater." The creature appears in the iconic scene where Kong defends Anne from its attack, killing it after a protracted fight.
- An Tanystropheus-like creature - A highly stylized, serpentine aquatic reptile with a long neck and tail as well as two pairs of flippers. It inhabits the bubbling swamp area inside King Kong's cave. Goldner describes the Elasmosaurus as "being designed as more slender then the ones known to science, and its swimming limbs are less prominent. In those respects, it more closely resembles the polydactyl nothosaur Ceresiosaurus. " It battles Kong in the style of a giant, constricting snake.
- Giant Pteranodon - It menaces Anne and is the last major creature to appear on Skull Island. It is slain by King Kong.
- Teratornis - These birds can be seen flying around the dead Tyrannosaurus. One is seen eating the dead Tyrannosaurus and is frightened off by the approaching Jack Driscoll.
- Rhamphorhynchus - The tiny Rhamphorhynchus are seen flying around Skull Mountain. A few are flying around the large cave at the base of Skull Mountain, while others are seen at Kong's lair near the top of Skull Mountain.
- Archaeopteryx - The tiny Archaeopteryx are seen flying around in the jungle. Most notably a few fly by when the Stegosaurus enters the clearing, and one flies out of the dead tree that Kong puts Ann in before he goes to fight the sailors on the log bridge. According to Goldner, they "were made to flit among the trees on invisible wires."
- Arsinoitherium - This huge prehistoric mammal was to chase the men onto the log bridge and corner them between itself and the enraged Kong. in the test reel. According to Goldner, Cooper had second thoughts about the Arsinotherium and "ordered the action to be refilmed using a Styracosaurus. Both versions were eventually thrown out because they captured too much audience attention." This can be attested to by the fact that the sailors didn't just run back across the log when Kong appeared.
- Gigantophis garstini - According to Goldner, "This huge snake that appeared in one scene and later cut out of the film, had its living prototype in Egypt." This giant snake frightens Ann at the base of the dead tree that Kong puts her in before he battles the sailors on the log bridge. It was in the test reel, but later cut. However, you can still see Ann Darrow's reactions to it below her just before the Tyrannosaurus shows up in the clearing.
- Erythrosuchus - It was created and then re-created for the "spider-pit sequence" and portrayed as a stout reptilian predator. Goldner stated that a was loosely adapted, as many of the creatures of the pit were imaginative.
- A giant crab, giant spider, and giant tentacled "bug" - They all appear in the original notes, script, and re-created "spider-pit sequence," eating the surviving crewmen in the crevasse.
- Triceratops - In the original script only, it was encountered by Kong on volcanic flats. He hurls boulders at a herd of them and drives them into a stampede, impaling one of the crew of the Venture. It was also seen in a deleted scene in Son of Kong.
- Styracosaurus - Corners Hellstrom, Englehorn and Charlie into a cave in Son of Kong, destroying one of their guns. Originally slated to appear in King Kong, chasing the crew onto the log bridge and keeping them trapped there.
- Nothosaurus - A dragon-like creature that threatens Denham and Hilda, but is fended off and killed by Kiko. King Kong: A History of a Movie Icon calls the creature 'The Dragon' all through its review of Son of Kong. In some respects it resembles a very large Protorosaurus.
- Elasmosaurus - A very stylized incarnation of this marine reptile eats Hellstrom as he attempts to flee at the end of Son of Kong. The 'snapping' version that grabbed Hellstrom was actually the revamped Apatosaur from the original film; same holds for the armature version seen briefly snarling in predatory glee.
1966 TV Series
- Armadillo - A small-armored mammal that was seen in the pilot episode where it was attacked and carried away by a Pterosaur.
- Pteranodon - A flying reptile that was seen in the pilot episode where it attacked and carried away an armadillo.
- Tyrannosaurus - A Tyrannosaurus was seen in the pilot episode (also in the title sequence) where it attacked Bobby when he got lost but was defeated by Kong when he came to Bobby's aid. Just like the Tyrannosaurus in the original film, it has three fingers instead of two fingers.
- Aside from Kong and the island natives, the only other creature that appears in the 1976 film is a giant snake.
All the creatures in Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong do not appear to be any real species of animal, but do resemble certain ones. The companion book The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island, elaborates on this stating that they are fictional descendants of real animals. Among these creatures are:
- Brontosaurus baxteri - A large sauropod similar to Argentinosaurus that appears early in the film. They are attacked by a pack of Venatosaurus and cause a stampede. They trample several of the crew and some of the Venatosaurus. They are social animals that organize in herds led by a dominant bull. Brontosaurus give live birth to between one and three young. As Skull Island's largest herbivore, they are responsible for keeping the jungle from overrunning the remaining grasslands.
- Brutornis - A phorusrhachid that is seen in the extended cut of King Kong and in the World of Kong. In the extended cut, the crew of the Venture mistake one for Ann and Lumpy shoots it by mistake when he loses his nerves. After being discovered by the crew, the dying terror bird is then killed by Lumpy.
- Ferrucutus cerastes - A giant ceratopsian that bears slight resemblance to Pachyrhinosaurus, It appears only in the extended cut and in a cameo as Kong climbs to his lair. In the extended cut, a large male attacks the crew and almost kills Jack Driscoll before being killed by Hayes. Ferrucutus is an aggressive herbivore that dwells in small family groups. Like their ancestors, Ferrucutus bulls spar violently even to the point of killing their rivals.
- Foetodon ferrus - A terrestrial crocodilian about 22 feet (6.7 metres) long that appears in both the film and the companion book. In the film, Ann stumbles across a mated pair of Foetodon feeding on a dead Ligocristus. The predators pursue her into a hollow log, and a sub-adult V. rex inadvertently saves her by killing and eating one of the pursuing Foetodon, forcing its mate to flee. Foetodon is an ambush predator that hides in deep piles of leaves, waiting for small dinosaurs and large flightless birds to wander past.
- Giant Arthropods - Several species of giant arthropods appear at the bottom of the Ravine. "The World of Kong" names these insects as:
- Piranhadon titanus - Only appearing in The World of Kong and more prominently in the extended cut, Piranhadon is a 50-foot (15-metre) fish resembling a plesiosaur. In the extended cut, a Piranhadon attacked the rescue team led by Hayes, Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll, killing three sailors and very nearly swallowing Jack whole. Piranhadon has poor vision, only being able to discern prey's silhouettes, using the barbels on its chin to sense vibrations and the light from the surface to detect passing prey.
- Terapusmordax obscenus - A giant bat-like creature. A swarm of them appear in the film roosting in Kong's lair. When Jack Driscoll attempts to save Ann, he awakens Kong. The Terapusmordax then attack Kong, he fends them off while Jack and Ann escape by climbing down a vine. When one of the Terapusmordax attempt to kill Jack and Ann, Jack grabs the wing and the Terapusmordax lowers them down and they fall into the river below. Terapusmordax evolved from hairless rodents that developed wings. They measure about 3–4 feet (0.9–1.2 metres) in body length and 8–104 feet (2.4–31.7 metres) in wingspan.
- Vastatosaurus rex - A descendant of Tyrannosaurus, but with three fingers. It appears in the film in a scene where three of them battle Kong. Vastatosaurus are the apex predator of Skull Island. They can grow up to 50 feet (15 metres) long. Juveniles hunt separately from the adults in the jungle, often coming into conflict with Venatosaurus.
- Venatosaurus saevidicus - A slender dromaeosaur measuring about 24 feet (7.3 metres) long. In the film they ate Carl Denham's cameraman Herb and caused a Brontosaurus stampede. Venatosaurus hunt in packs and are the only predator on Skull Island capable of taking down adult Brontosaurus. They are also highly intelligent and cunning, able to chase prey through ruins and into planned traps. Another, smaller Venatosaurus species called Venatosaurus impavidus is also present on the island. Unusually, both species lack feathers, despite being dromaeosaurs.
- Matthew Moring (January 29, 2012). "Press Release: Doc Savage and King Kong Coming in March". Press Release. Altus Press. Retrieved 2013-02-24.
On the eightieth anniversary of these fictional giants, Altus Press is proud to release the first authorized clash between The Man of Bronze and the Eighth Wonder of the World — Doc Savage: Skull Island. Written by Will Murray in collaboration with Joe DeVito, creator of KONG: King of Skull Island, Doc Savage: Skull Island is a new pulp epic.
- Mark Squirek (2013). "Doc Savage: Skull Island". Review. New York Journal of Books. Retrieved 2014-08-07.
- Orville Goldner, George E Turner (1975). Making of King Kong: The Story Behind a Film Classic. ISBN 0-498-01510-6. See also Spawn of Skull Island (2002). ISBN 1-887664-45-9
- The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island. Pocket Books. 2005. ISBN 978-1-4165-0519-8. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
- Weta Workshop, The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island ISBN 978-1416502586