There have been many versions of 1933’s King Kong, the classic story about a giant ape who falls for a human woman. The best known are 2005’s epic re-imagining of the same name and 2017’s action-packed Kong: Skull Island. And while each movie is a different take on the story, there’s just as big a contrast between their backdrops.
Like the original, they both take place on “Skull Island” – a fictional prehistoric land in the Pacific. To bring to life the vast ancient jungle of his 2005 movie, director Peter Jackson largely made use of movie studios in New Zealand. But the lush and tropical backdrop of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island was filmed in various real-world locations, including Oahu in Hawaii.
During the “Premier Movie Sites Tour” my wife and I went on during our Hawaiian honeymoon, we realized why Oahu’s Kualoa Ranch doesn’t offer helicopter excursions. As our tour bus made its way along a dark jungle trail, we saw the rusting wreckage of a military chopper. It turned out to be the one Kong smashes out of the sky in the 2017 movie’s aerial attack sequence.
Shortly afterwards, we were fortunate enough to spend some time in the company of some of the movie’s stars. But I’m not talking about Samuel L. Jackson or Brie Larson. While Kualoa Ranch also served the Jurassic Park movies, it’s actually Kong: Skull Island that has left behind a scattering of dinosaur fossils here.
In the movie, the characters enter a foggy skeleton graveyard where they’re ambushed by deadly monsters known as “Skullcrawlers”. In reality, this collection of skulls and bones couldn’t sit in a more gorgeous clearing. Located in the majestic Ka’a’awa Valley – understandably nicknamed “Jurassic Valley” – it’s a place where visitors can do some skull-crawling of their own.
In that same scene, a terrified soldier mounts a machine gun on top of a triceratops’ skull, only to meet a sticky end. My wife, however, relaxed and content, struck a pose from the top of the same horned skull. Then it was into the skull of one of Kong’s relatives so that we could see our breath-taking surroundings through their eyes. And for a pretty neat picture, of course.
Other Oahu locations included Waikane Valley’s Ohulehule Forest Conservancy, which also doubled as the movie’s dense rain forests, broad valleys and rugged mountains. Even Honolulu’s Chinatown district was called upon for scenes beyond the movie’s main island setting. Remarkably, it was transformed into a 1970’s Saigon in Vietnam.
This isn’t the first time Hawaii has been used for Skull Island, though. Scenes from 1976’s King Kong were filmed in the vibrant valleys of Honopū and Kalalau (and on their respective beaches) along Kauai’s mystical Na Pali Coast. While we may know this part of Kauai as nothing short of paradise, in the movie it played the face of a forbidding land of monsters discarded by time.
Hawaii has felt the impact of more than just one monster over the years, too, having also served 2014’s Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island’s predecessor. Back then, the 400-foot beast made waves at Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach. There were no signs of damage when we arrived three years later to start our honeymoon, but one of his giant footprints can still be found back in Jurassic Valley.
All of these striking locations have only left us excited for the follow-up movie Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020. And if the “King of Monsters” is to bring the fight to Skull Island, it’s possible we’ll see Hawaii put to good use once again. That said, it would be wise to expect far more giant footprints and skeleton graveyards when that happens.
With Kong: Skull Island, Hawaii has once again proven its versatility. When it isn’t posing as a tropical resort where prehistoric animals have been created, it’s a lost world where such animals have long since survived. And while Skull Island is a place that time would rather forget, we will never forget some of Hawaii’s truly timeless locations.
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Dan is a freelance writer from the UK who works for a number of online publications. He’s also working on a science fiction novel, and believes the impression Jurassic Park made on him as a child – both the Spielberg film and the book by Michael Crichton – to be the source of his passion to write. He previously critiqued theatrical releases for his local radio station, while his blog ‘Curious Rookie’ remains his platform for sharing film, travel and book reviews. Dan has also visited some of the most iconic film locations around the world, and his favorite destination is the island of Kauai in Hawaii.