Skull Island Is (Sort of) a Real Place

When creating the fictional setting of the new King Kong movie, filmmakers relied more on old-fashioned legwork than computer-generated trickery

Skull Island Is (Sort of) a Real Place

It took 16 months, three countries and one iconic gorilla to bring the latest rendition of Skull Island to life on the big screen.

Set in 1973, Kong: Skull Island strands an unfortunate group on a remote island populated by the big hairy primate and an array of baddies. The reboot, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, took more inspiration from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now than past King Kong iterations, pushing the Skull Island mythology into grittier—and more realistic—waters.

The filmmakers hunted for real-world environments that would fit the bill. Ahead of shooting, they scouted locations in Cambodia, Thailand and Iceland before sett ling on Vietnam’s mountainous Ha Long region. “As soon as we landed in Ha Long, we knew we’d found our Skull Island,” says production designer Stefan Dechant. “We spent two days gliding through mist karst, traveling through world heritage sites and trekking along coastlines.”

Vietnam’s Ninh Bính served as the filmmakers’ base of operations. From there, they filmed escape sequences along the cliffs that hang over the Trang An river and Van Long marsh. The rugged, cave-filled Tu Lan region is home to several Skull Island scenes, including the spot where Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston’s characters encounter an enormous water buffalo.

The team fleshed out other beachy and jungly regions of Skull Island with stops in Australia’s Gold Coast and Oahu, Hawaii. The movie’s locations are dramatically beautiful in their own right, but the filmmakers worked hard to transform them into an ominous playground for Kong by adding visual effects, such as colossal animal skeletons and giant spiders. The result is a totally make-believe island that feels as menacingly mysterious as the big guy himself.

Dechant says constructing the Skull Island mash-up was “an amazing global adventure, one in which the location and the design worked in concert with the director to develop the plot of the film.”