Kong: Skull Island director reveals surprising influence of Pokemon on new movie

Ben Skipper
Kong Skull Island Cubone

This week (9 March) sees the release of Kong: Skull Island, the first new Hollywood King Kong movie in over ten years and the second step toward a planned clash between the great ape and Godzilla, following on from Gareth Edwards' 2014 film.

Sitting down with Den of Geek ahead of Skull Island's release, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts discussed how video games – namely Pokémon and Shadow of the Colossus influenced the new film – which stars Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L Jackson.

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In the case of Pokémon, the influence was sub-conscious, and involved the design of the viscous "Skull Crawler" monsters that scrap with Kong throughout the film.

The interviewer tells Vogt-Roberts he noticed a similarity between the Skull Crawlers and Cubone, one of the original Pokémon. More specifically, he noted a similarity in the skull-based designs of their heads.

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Enthusiastic that someone noticed it, Vogt-Roberts high-fived his interviewer then discussed designing the new monster and wanting to make it his own. "So initially, it was a rip-off... in the 1933 film, there's one creature that's not a dinosaur. In the log scene, when they're hiding, this creature starts climbing up the side of a wall. And it has these two big forearms, and it's cut off at the bottom so it gives the impression that it has two forearms and no hind legs.

"You never really see it, so you have no way of truly knowing what it does. But I thought that was really interesting, and it reminded me of Bong Joon-ho's creature in The Host, which had such an oddness to the way it moved. I liked the way that creature had an inelegance, as though it had somehow evolved poorly. Because it was a mistake.

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"So we used the creature from the 1933 film as a jumping-off point, just for pure anatomy. Then I want to have it feel like an evolved version of the creature in The Host. And move with inelegance. And as we were designing it, I kind of gave a handful of references to people, and my best friend in the world came and did some concept work with me – this was my friend where we'd have LAN parties as a kid and, like, didn't know how to talk to girls and spent our time in a basement playing video games, drinking pop and eating junk food."

King Kong Skull Crawlers

"And we're looking at this creature, and we're like, 'What does this remind us of?' Because I was, like, 'I want it to have this white face – this weird, bone-white face, and this black, scaly skin.' Both he and I were staring at it, and we had this weird moment where we were like, 'Oh my God.' We realised that we'd created this unintentional fusion of all of our nerdy childhood influences.

"Because I love Cubone. Cubone has the saddest story of him wearing his dead mother's skull on his face."

Cubone's backstory is a surprisingly dark part of the Pokémon series. The skull a Cubone wears on its head is actually that of its dead mother, a story that was long-disputed but eventually confirmed.

According to Vogt-Roberts there was one game that served as a more direct inspiration: Team Ico's 2005 classic Shadow of the Colossus, which he says was among the biggest influences on the new film.

"It's such a beautiful thing to have a boss fight where you feel sad after you've killed the boss. And the way those creatures lumber around was such a huge, huge part for me... the colossi in those games have such a slow, melancholy, morose quality to them. And the sense of scale. Honestly, Shadow Of The Colossus was one of the biggest influences on this film. Just the vibe the creatures have. I think and I hope that Kong has a similar vibe in the film."

The influences don't stop there. One scene depicted in the film's trailer shows a first person sequence of a soldier firing his gun toward the sky at an large creature, which was clearly influenced by first person shooter games.

Vogt-Roberts' love of games is no secret. He's been linked to and continues to work on the long-touted Metal Gear Solid movie (which he says in this interview he would "make the hell out of" if the script was right) and is friends with MGS creator Hideo Kojima.

Kong: Skull Island will be released in the UK on 9 March.

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