Posted on Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
Legendary Pictures attempted to surprise the crowd at 2014 Comic Con with a teaser trailer announcing a King Kong-set film project Skull Island. We were given very little information about the project, but Monday we learned more about the writer developing the project and that Legendary has offered the movie to Attack the Block director Joe Cornish. But we still don’t know what the film is about. Is the Skull Island movie adaptation based on a King Kong novel, or an original tale set in the King Kong universe? Or is it possible that Legendary Pictures is working hand in hand with Universal Studios theme parks on making a movie based on a theme park ride that hasn’t even been constructed? I’ll explore both of these questions and more, after the jump.
Is The Skull Island Movie An Original Prequel Or An Adaptation?
After the announcement, I wondered on /Film if Legendary was writing an original prequel based on the island from King Kong, or making an adaptation of a Skull Island book that has been published.
Here is the official plot description of Joe DeVito‘s book Kong: King Of Skull Island:
In 1933, American showman Carl Denham returned from a mysterious, hidden island with a priceless treasure. A treasure not gold or jewels, but the island’s barbaric god, a monstrous anthropoid called “Kong.” The savage giant escaped and wreaked havoc among the man-made canyons of Manhattan, but within hours of the giant ape’s death his body – and Carl Denham – disappeared. Twenty-five years later, the son of Carl Denham makes a shocking discovery that leads him back to the site of his father’s greatest adventure and to the answers that will unlock the century’s greatest mystery and history’s greatest miracle. Authorized by the Cooper Estate and based on the original novel that inspired the all-time classic film. This new novel acts as both prequel and sequel to the classic fantasy tale, King Kong. Acclaimed fantasy artist Joe DeVito and top fantasy and science-fiction writer Brad Strickland join forces to make for an interactive visual-narrative storytelling experience unlike any other.
In short, the novel’s stoyline is set 25 years after the events of King Kong and pretends Son of Kong never happened. Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll return to Skull Island to explore and learn more about the history of Kong and the island’s natives. But Universal Pictures, which owns the rights to King Kong, does not own the rights to this book.
Now it was originally rumored that Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game of Thrones) was attached to direct a movie adaptation of Kong: King of Skull Island titled Skull Island: Blood of the King for Radar Pictures. That was in October 2013. The original copyrighting of King Kong was done in an unusual way, and led to the creation of this sequel novel, commissioned by the estate of King Kong co-creator Merian C. Cooper.
But the Legendary Pictures press release revealed something else:
Today in Hall H, Legendary also revealed it will be making a feature film based on the famed Skull Island, the cinematic origins of another classic beast, King Kong. Previous works have touched on the island, but staying and exploring this mysterious and dangerous place offers Legendary the opportunity to take audiences deeper inside this rich world with a style and scope that parallels other Legendary productions. The film will be released on November 4, 2016.
The words “cinematic origins” lead many to believe that this is a prequel and not a sequel like the Joe DeVito book. (Although the novel claims to be set before and after the original Kong tale.) It also seems unlikely that Godzilla scribe Max Borenstein would be adapting that book for this film, becase as far as we know, Universal doesn’t have the rights to that story.
So that leads me to the interesting findings in my research…
Is Skull Island Movie Adaptation Connected To A Universal Theme Park Ride?
In early 2013, rumors broke on the theme park news sites that a new ride or land was being planned to be constructed behind the Jurassic Park land in Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
At first people thought the area might be an expansion of the Jurassic Park land. Jurassic World is in production and it makes sense that there will be a renewed interest in the property. Universal even filed new trademarks to use the name “Jurassic World” in their theme parks, including “entertainment in the nature of a themed area in an amusement park and amusement park rides”. They also trademarked the evil sounding dinosaur names “INDOMINUS REX” and “DIABOLUS REX”.
Since the announcement of Jurassic World it has been rumored that Universal park creatives have been in communication with the filmmakers for potential theme park tie-ins, updates and expansions. But it is now believed the additions will happen within the land already built for Jurassic Park. Some sites like Screamscape think that Jurassic Park might be renamed Jurassic World to tie in to the theme park setting of the new film.
Insider reports then revealed that the area would feature a new “‘ride’ version of the King Kong 360º 3-D attraction added to the backlot tour at Universal Studios Hollywood”. Park geusts would board a vehicle which would take them on a tour through the outside jungles of Skull Island and into an indoor area with a skull cave facade which would feature the King Kong 360º 3-D attraction from Hollywood. New plans on the Orlando Water Management website detailed the site and shape of something being called “Project 340″ featuring a very large new attraction. Reports claimed the Universal was hoping to open the new land/ride in May 2016, and construction officially began clearing the area in February 2014.
Universal Studios has yet to make an announcement about the new addition. Unlike Disney, they usually don’t officially announce new attractions until they are well into the construction phase. The Universal theme parks have become a huge source of revenue for NBC Universal, so much that they are expanding their offerings in Orlando, Hollywood, and internationally at a staggering pace. I’ve been hearing for a while now that NBCUniversal wants to leverage their theme parks in the same way Disney had for years, synergistically planning not just film-to-park attractions, but park attractions to films.
The old King Kong ride in Universal Studios Orlando
The rumors of Universal creatives working with the Jurassic World team to either enhance, update or expand their theme park offerings for the new movie give you a good idea of this. In previous years, Universal has been very slow in their adaptation of films into attractions. One of their biggest franchises, the Fast and the Furious film series, has yet to get a significant area in the Universal domestic theme parks. (Hollywood did have a sad Tokyo Drift stop on the tram tour.) But the studio announced plans to right that wrong earlier this year.
Could it be that Universal and Legendary are working together on the Skull Island ride/land in Islands of Adventure? It seems like it would be a smart move to try to keep the designs and vision somewhat consistent. When Legendary Pictures signed its deal with Universal Pictures in July 2013, the press release specifically mentioned that an important part of the deal’s terms included opportunities to expand Legendary’s franchises and intellectual property into Universal’s theme parks.
“Legendary continues to prove that big ideas are relevant and profitable with our global movie-going audience. We couldn’t be more thrilled to embrace the challenges and changing marketplace with Thomas and his team and we are also excited about what opportunities this will bring to our Theme Parks around the world,” said Ron Meyer, President and COO, Universal Studios.
Also check out this quote from a Variety cover story on Legendary head Thomas Tull from May 2014:
In January, Legendary kicked off a five-year deal with Comcast-owned NBCUniversal that’s already seen Tull put his money behind more monster movies, including next summer’s “Jurassic World” and this year’s “Dracula Untold,” giving him new franchises on which to stamp Legendary’s logo. The pact also affords Tull more autonomy and opportunities to expand his company’s imprint across other businesses. It now has access to Comcast’s vast portfolio of broadcast and cable channels and broadband services, as well as theme parks around the world. “We’re very excited about the theme parks; there are certainly a lot of conversations around that,” says Tull, who already had a relationship with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke through mutual friends. “The kind of stuff that we make obviously would fit and we both recognize that.”
Theme parks traditionally have waited until after a film’s release before announcing a theme park attraction based on a film property. Disney has taken this stance since Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers, n attraction based on Warren Beatty’s 1990 film Dick Tracy. The movie was expected to be the start of a franchise and Imagineering was tasked with designing a ride for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The attraction was even publicly announced but never constructed due to the lackluster box office success of the film.
Disney often develops theme park attractions alongside big budget movies, but never pulls the switch until after seeing the box office success. For example, Imagineering visited the sets of Oz: The Great and Powerful and creatives were said to be interested in developing a ride based on the hot air balloon entrance into Oz. Imagineering also developed concepts for Tron: Legacy for the domestic Disney theme parks, but those projects were canceled after the film failed to ignite a huge fire at the box office.
But Universal working with Legendary to simultaneously develop a movie and theme park ride would be something unusual and interesting. Its a gamble, but in order to not have a park featuring outdated rides of older franchises (a problem the park has had since its creation), Universal has been pulling the green switch earlier and earlier (see Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem for example).
But in my research for Skull Island, one thing became even more obvious.
That is Legendary Pictures head Thomas Tull‘s obsession with King Kong.
While his office is mostly devoid of toys and collectibles, Tull’s office bathroom has an original framed cell from King Kong and a poster of 1954’s original “Godzilla.” In another interview, Tull “traces his fascination with movies back to the time he saw King Kong: The Legend Reborn and Star Wars at the old Oakdale Mall cinemas” in New York. It was King Kong not Godzilla that captured his imagination as a child, so it makes sense that he wants to make a King Kong movie.
Will King Kong Battle Godzilla In A New Movie?
When the news hit in Hall H at the conclusion of the Legendary presentation, I wondered in my coverage “if Legendary Pictures is trying to set the stage for a Godzilla vs. King Kong movie, or maybe even a Pacific Rim crossover (less likely).” Also note that Godzilla and the upcoming King Kong reboot Skull Island share the same screenwriter. I’m sure this possibility occurred to many fans who made the studio connections. I do think Tull knows when developing Skull Island, that if all goes right, it could lead to a crossover sequel sometime in the future.
Note: Godzilla’s film rights are still owned by Warner Bros as far as we know, which could complicate things. But one must remember that Universal did a deal to get the rights to Pacific Rim 2 away from WB. A deal like that or (less likely due to the WB/Legendary breakup) a co-production are always possible.
In May, Collider asked Thomas Tull if there’s a chance we might see a King Kong versus Godzilla movie now that Legendary is based at Universal. (The studio which owns the big Gorilla.) Tull laughed and responded,
“Wow, that’s…that’s pretty interesting,” said Tull, later adding: “Yeah, well look, our saying around our shop, “You can never have too many giant robots or monsters.”
That would be interesting, wouldn’t it?