King Kong is back on the big screen for the first time in about a dozen years in this week’s Kong: Skull Island. The story follows a group of explorers lead by James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and Bill Randa (John Goodman) who are searching for a long-lost island that’s cloaked in legend and mystery. Along with them is photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a contingent of soldiers, including Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who are there for the safety of the group.
Things take a turn, though, when they find that the island is already full of inhabitants, many of whom are of the “giant monster” variety. That includes Kong, a massive ape that gives them an inhospitable welcome but who eventually becomes an ally against the other creatures that have less humanity than he does. But will any of the team survive long enough to get home?
The first teaser poster took the name very literally. It shows a person dressed in military garb and sporting a machine gun standing atop an actual skull popping green smoke like he’s marking a landing zone. Barely visible through the mist in front of him is the face of Kong, who looks none too pleased and is obviously massively larger than the person standing in front of him.
Later on at New York Comic-Con a poster was handed out featuring a map of Skull Island that appeared normal but, as some people discovered, revealed all sorts of hidden locations and clues about the story when put under a blacklight.
Two new posters debuted along with the second trailer. The one shows a group of soldiers and helicopters moving toward a sunset that’s being partially obscured by Kong, which gives a nice sense of the size and perspective of the creature. The other goes for a similar effect by simply showing a closeup of Kong’s face with a helicopter moving across it.
In case the nods to Apocalypse Now in the rest of the campaign weren’t obvious enough the IMAX poster underlines the parallels with a design that’s pulled straight from Coppola’s masterpiece. Kong is put in the place of Kurtz, the sun in the background shows helicopters flying in from to fit and in the foreground is a shot of some sort of crashed aircraft. Even the design of the title is similar.
Another IMAX poster takes a similar approach as one of the earlier designs, showing a swarm of helicopters all moving toward a massive Kong, who’s backlit by the glowing sun. It’s not exactly original, but it still works to sell the scale of the character and the story.
The first trailer, which debuted at San Diego Comic-Con last year, really wants to sell this movie as Apocalypse Now. So it starts off with a group of civilians being helicoptered to a remote island by the Army, helicopters which are quickly knocked down by unseen forces. That – and a gun to the head – prompts Goodman to explain that whatever’s here is from a bygone era before mankind. There are lots of shots of giant footprints and skeletons and of the surviving helicopters taking on something. Just a few shots here and there of the ape itself, which is usually seen in the far distance as the military approaches but lots of footage of the humans, both military and civilian, reacting to the damage that creature is doing.It’s not bad. But it does have a markedly different tone than most other summer blockbusters and franchise releases. Whether this is indicative of the movie itself remains to be seen, but this plays much more seriously than what the audience might expect, meaning there may be actual stakes in the story. At least it may not be filled with one-liners and so on as the attention here seems to be on making sure the peril felt by the human characters is understood to be very real.
It’s not bad. But it does have a markedly different tone than most other summer blockbusters and franchise releases. Whether this is indicative of the movie itself remains to be seen, but this plays much more seriously than what the audience might expect, meaning there may be actual stakes in the story. At least it may not be filled with one-liners and so on as the attention here seems to be on making sure the peril felt by the human characters is understood to be very real.
The next trailer once again sets up the idea that the expedition to the island has been undertaken under false circumstances. Some know that monsters, like Kong, exist there but they are looking for proof. From there on out the guide for the characters and the audience is Bill Randa, played by John C. Reilly, as we see more of the enormous creatures, some peaceful and some terrifying, that inhabit the island.
Seriously, Riley’s role here just upped my interest in the movie by a solid 48%. He’s basically playing Dennis Hopper’s role from Apocalypse Now, which is so great I can’t even put it into words.
The final trailer starts off with the team being assembled and warnings that everyone is likely to die on the mission. Most of the first half of the spot is then focused on the first encounter with Kong, which ends badly for the soldiers in the helicopters that are swatted easily from the sky. After a brief interlude the action shifts to the fight against the “skull crawlers,” a fight that involves not only the tiny humans but also Kong, so it’s clear that the big monkey winds up on the same side as the island’s interlopers by the time of the climax.
It’s a fun and stylized trailer, using music of the era to set the time and provide some structure. There’s a lot of action and a bit of humor, again provided by Reilly. The whole thing continues to show how the style and story seems to be influenced by elements of Apocalypse Now, with lots of nods to that movie here, beginning with the soldiers starting up the music as they board their helicopters. It’s a decent final statement for the movie’s campaign.
Online and Social
The Tumblr-based official website opens with a recreation of one of the final bits of key art, with a big prompt to watch the trailer or to check out one of the special limited engagements in 70mm.
There’s a menu bar below that which links to “Story,” which is where you can read a brief synopsis of the plot, and “Partners,” with information on the companies that signed up for promotional help. Below that are the posts that have been published to the Tumblr blog containing GIFs, links to a Spotify playlist, videos and more. There are also links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Back toward the top of the page there’s a button labeled “Kong-Sized,” which takes you to another site with more interactive features. You can find out just how huge Kong is and how you, as well as other beasts, stack up to his size, more about the tribesmen who share the island with Kong, who the ape’s natural enemies are and lots more. It’s all a bit of background to build out the world of the movie, but I’m not sure why it couldn’t be on the main site. I’m also not sure why movies based on real events couldn’t have this much information.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Various TV spots took various approaches to the story, some showing it simply as a “kill the monster” movie, others like this one showing the empathy some of the characters begin to feel toward the beast. Altogether they form a decently well-rounded picture of the movie for anyone who’s interested.
A “Destination: Skull Island” VR experience was created that took people inside the mission to the island as the crew of the choppers gets a first-hand look at the monsters that live there.
There were quite a few companies that signed on as promotional partners for Kong’s latest big-screen outing, including:
- Visa: No details Visa’s website.
- Tiles: Offered a trip to Hawaii to the winner of a sweepstakes it ran.
- Xperia Lounge: No details on the company’s site.
- Skull Candy: No details on the company’s site.
- Pic-Nik: Also offered a sweepstakes giving someone a trip to Hawaii.
- Johnny Rockets: Created a couple of special banana-centric milkshakes as well as offered movie-themed meal upgrades.
- Expedia: Offered a sweeps of its own and tips on extreme vacationing on Skull Island.
- Google: Placed Skull Island on Google Maps so you can find and explore it virtually.
Media and Publicity
The movie had an…odd… announcement at San Diego Comic-Con 2014, where it was just kind of dropped into a list of other upcoming releases from Legendary, with very few details were offered, though there were lots of rumors about it.
With the exception of casting news and rumors the next big bit of news was when, in an unusual move, it was announced that Legendary was in talks to move the movie from Universal to Warner Bros., where it could potentially crossover or at least be in the same universe as WB’s 2014 Godzilla movie. Those rumors were confirmed when WB said that yes, the two franchises would share a universe and would cross-over in a series of movies over the next several years.
Several months later there was news Universal would exercise some corporate synergy and was working on a theme park attraction tied to the movie.
A while later a first look at footage from the movie, set within a behind-the-scenes visit with the cast, debuted during the MTV Movie Awards, with Larsen, Hiddleston and others talking about shooting the movie, what the story is and who their characters are. An interview later on with the cast and crew had them sharing some new stills and promising the biggest Kong yet along with other thrills for the audience.
The first real good look at the gorilla came via Entertainment Weekly, which also featured an interview with the director where he talked about taking on the project, the vision he had and more.
Closer to release there were the usual press activities as the cast made the rounds of the TV talk shows, spoke to the print press and so on.
It’s big and audacious, that’s for sure. But it also seems kind of low key in spots, particularly in how the campaign took a significant amount of time off before the final trailer was released. Yes, there were other activities going on but there didn’t seem to be any big pops of press and publicity that were designed to keep people talking and buzzing about the movie in the period just before it hit theaters. Unfortunately, some of that was simply the result of the press focusing on the other movies – particularly Marvel Studios titles – Larson, Hiddleston and Jackson were involved in when writing stories that should have been about Kong.
That’s not to say the movie’s marketing was severely hurt by that. It’s hard to believe awareness is low for the release. Any tentpole of this size is going to have decent awareness simply by virtue of it being part of the studio system. And the whole campaign has a nicely consistent tone and feel, particularly in how it’s meant to evoke earlier movies that took place during the Vietnam War. As should be clear from the above, my favorite part of the push is when it stops selling a movie about a big monkey and starts selling a human drama, particularly if that involves more of John C. Reilly’s crazed character. But that actually exposes a flaw in the system, which is that it seems split between presenting the movie as a serious wartime drama, a big monster movie and a human-level story of survival. It remains to be seen which one of these is closest to the finished product.