For some time now Undead Backbrain has been following the evolution of a film based on artist Joe DeVito and writer Brad Strickland’s illustrated novel Kong: King of Skull Island (see this article from 2009, for example). Rumours of its coming were persistent for a while. Initially developed by FX-master Ray Harryhausen, it began as a project of Fantastic Films, where it languished for some time. In June 2009, Variety reported that the property had been acquired by Spirit Pictures, and the film was to be produced by Arnold Kunert.
Shortly afterwards Fantastic Films pulled the entry and associated artwork from their site, though sometime later added another entry to their upcoming productions list called “King Kong: The Beginning”, clearly planning to do their own prequel or original-style film about the Great Ape on Skull Island. This entry has since disappeared, so we can assume the plan fell through. Meanwhile, the Spirit Pictures project presumably continued, though there has been little word of it.
Just a few days ago, however, came an announcement that Fox Animation has decided to take up the Kong gauntlet, in the form of an animated film to be written by Christian Magalhaes and Bob Snow based on a story by Mike Weber (source: Deadline). Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps will produce in conjunction with Ted Field’s Radar Pictures. There’s not much by way of plot detail, but it is said to be a “modern-day” approach to the story, told from Kong’s point-of-view. Cute and cuddly? Happy ending? Who knows?
Made curious by certain facts relating to the project, the Backbrain’s Jimmy Olson, Kaiju Search-Robot Avery (aka Avery Guerra), has been in pursuit of clarification. He reports:
I was told a short while back, by someone who had worked on the DeVito project, that they were no longer involved and that they had heard that Ted Fields was now attached to it. In conjunction with this new report that Fields’ team was working on the Fox animation, it all seemed very confusing. Were these the same project? So I enquired of Joe DeVito if this new animated film was related to his project in any way.
This was DeVito’s exclusive reply:
“I can tell you that the project you refer to is not connected to mine. The two are on completely different tracks. Mine is still moving ahead very well and I can say this: the project has never been more alive, and has never been on a faster track or in better hands than it is right now.”
So one Kong project may be dead, but it appears we’ve got two others to look forward to.
Meanwhile, here are some of Joe DeVito images from Kong: King of Skull Island:
- Source: Avery Guerra. Written by Robert Hood.
On King Kong on Film:
For one of the most recognisable and prestigious figures in giant monster film history, Kong has not been afforded the sort of franchise continuity typical of icons — certainly not producing enough adaptations, prequels, sequels and spin-offs of quality to warrant a section of his own on Undead Backbrain’s Giant Monster Film List.
The original King Kong (US-1933; dir. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack) is considered one of the greats, not just among fantasy/monster films but in the history of cinema itself. Images from the film have survived through the years and have entered our cultural consciousness, so that even those who have never seen the film are aware of the Great Ape and his key antics.
Apart from anything else the 1933 King Kong highlighted the work of SFX master Willis O’Brien and led not only to a run of classic films using his characteristic stop-motion techniques, but also played a central role in bringing Willis O’Brien protégé Ray Harryhausen onto the scene. Harryhausen’s superb fantasy SFX have in turn inspired filmmakers, artists and monster makers for decades, in the stop-motion animation field and beyond it, even today in the world of digital FX creation.
What followed for the original Kong, however, was less inspiring. Though not a bad film, the quickly made follow-up, Son of Kong (US-1933; dir. Ernest B. Schoedsack) was a much more minor affair, with some good moments from O’Brien but little resonance. Famously, O’Brien planned to make another Kong film, tentatively titled King Kong vs Frankenstein, but it never eventuated (see the Backbrain article “Willis O’Brien’s Frankenstein” here). This in turn led to Toho Studio’s acquisition of the script and subsequent adaptation of it as Kingu Kongu tai Gojira [King Kong vs Godzilla] (1962; dir. Ishiro Honda) — and then again, sans Kong, as Furankenshutain tai chitei kaiju Baragon [Frankenstein vs the Subterranean Monster Baragon] (1965; dir. Ishiro Honda) aka Frankenstein Conquers the World (US, 1966). But that’s another story. The Japanese Kong, of course, reappeared in Kingukongu no gyakushu [trans. King Kong’s Counterattack; aka King Kong Escapes] (1967; dir. Ishiro Honda).
Note: Kong’s career actually began early in Japan with a short film Wasei Kingu Kongu [lit. Japanese King Kong] (directed by Torajiro Saito in 1933) and a few years later in Edo ni arawareta Kingu Kongu [lit. King Kong Appears in Edo] (1938; directed by Sôya Kumagai). These films are lost now, but we do know that Kong was played by a man in a suit and from available stills did pretty much what he did in New York — grabbed the girl and rampaged.
After that there is little to report. Putting aside assorted low-rent rip-offs such as A*P*E (1976), Queen Kong (1976) and this recent one from Bangladesh, cartoon series such as 1998’s The Mighty Kong, and non-Kong giant ape films such as Schoedsack and O’Brien’s Mighty Joe Young (1949), Britain’s Konga (1960) and the Hong Kong The Mighty Peking Man (1977), there have been few legitimate Kong films. The first appeared in 1976, with the Dino De Laurentiis produced, big-budget remake, King Kong (US-1976; dir. John Guillermin) — still defended by some, but in truth pretty much an artistic failure, despite a few excellent moments and some decent non-stop-motion SFX (see Backbrain review). The relative success of this film resulted in a sequel, King Kong Lives! (US-1986; dir. John Guillermin and Charles McCracken) — a film that is universally derided but which I for one found to be more fun than its predecessor, despite its many flaws.
Next up came Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, an expensive latter-day homage to the original, scorned by some but to my mind a superb, if somewhat unrestrained achievement.
Where will these new ones fit? We’ll see.