Kong: Skull Island would be just as effective a film if it were completely silent.
Set right at the end of the Vietnam War, Skull Island sees a U.S. military helicopter squadron co-opted by a shadowy organization called Monarch to provide transportation to an uncharted island in the Pacific. Wouldn’t you know it? They wind up doing more than flying some nerds from A to B.
Skull Island is a war film with giant monsters in it, and it is a visually-driven conflict. One look at the trailers for Skull Island will show just how photogenic the film itself is, but the cinematography and imagery (courtesy of DP Larry Fong) in the film do a lot more than look badass as hell.
Kong: Skull Island puts forth a notion that warfare is in some way dependent on imagery and visualization. That to go to war requires a sort of adversarial imagery, a villainous silhouette of “the enemy” that can be recalled in the imagination and identified in the real world without the burden of having to contextualize it before shooting.
Samuel L. Jackson is fantastic as Lieutenant Colonel Packard, a man less than ecstatic to be leaving Vietnam under such undefined circumstances. When Packard lays eyes on Kong for the first time there’s no consideration of context or ecosystem or nuance, there’s only his line-of-sight and a hundred-foot-tall gorilla monster. The image of Kong is not only all he needs to go to war with the entire island, it must remain the only information he has, as any context for the enemy muddies the waters. There’s a telling moment early in the film where Packard blames photojournalism for the unceremonious end to the Vietnam War. He is a man of focus and determination who will not be distracted from the image of the enemy by any extraneous light or sound.
In line with the film’s focus on the imagery of conflict are Brie Larson’s character Mason Weaver, a photojournalist pursuing context and nuance through imagery, and a pack of monstrous tripod lizards with false eyes akin to an Orca. The film is continually driven forward but what characters see and how they see it.
Sight is everything in Skull Island. That the discourse of the film can go hand in hand with its fist-pumping cinematography gives a movie that is essentially a ride a little bit more heft. It’s stylized imagery isn’t just exciting, it provides insight into the characters by sharing with audience the overwhelming stimuli they are reacting to, whether that reaction be napalm or thoughtful discourse.
All this is to say, if we’ve gotten a black and white version of Mad Max: Fury Road and there’s talk of us getting a B&W version of Logan, the Blu-ray hawking powers that be could do a lot worse than churning out a silent version of Kong: Skull Island.