Kualoa Ranch is a 4000-acre private nature reserve in Hawaii, most recognisable as Jurassic Park. Back in December 2015, I flew over to witness its transformation into Skull Island, a place where King Kong meets Apocalypse Now. Tom Hiddleston and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts were on hand to explain:
You decided to call two of your characters Conrad and Marlowe…
Hiddleston: “The idea of Conrad and Marlow really came from Jordan. That was such a great inspiration as a spine. I think there’s something intrinsically exciting and cinematic about putting a group of disparate characters in the same place on a boat and sending them down a river. I think ‘Heart of Darkness’ has inspired so many stories like that.”
Vogt-Roberts: “This is my own personal ‘Heart of Darkness’! ‘Apocalypse Now’ is a huge reference point. The initial talking points for this movie in my mind were: ‘Man, you know what I’ve never seen? A monster movie with the aesthetic of ‘Apocalypse Now’. With Hendrix playing, with The Stones playing, with The Doors playing… thinking about the imagery and the chaos of ‘Apocalypse Now’, what was going through everyone’s mind.”
Are we going to get those things on the soundtrack?
Vogt-Roberts: “Yes! I want to see Kong punching a helicopter while Jimi Hendrix plays. But our movie… ‘Apocalypse Now’ is one of the best films of all time, and while there’s a loose inspiration there we’re ultimately making a very big and accessible movie. ‘Apocalypse Now’ is almost Malick-esque in the way that it has to wash over you, and I don’t quite think that’s opening on 3,000 screens these days. There are aesthetic inspirations, and inspirations in terms of the madness that this place takes on and the journey that going up the river has for these people, but, you know, it’s an easy talking point on the movie when you look at a lot of these things. We’re going for something bigger than that, more adventurous than that.”
What sort of hero is Hiddleston’s Conrad?
Vogt-Roberts: “There’s a bit of Steve McQueen in there. Tom’s so great, and charming, and textured. We initially were talking about making him American. One of the big things that came out was instantly separating him from Packard and the rest of his men. In the context of a movie that takes place in the shadow of Vietnam – those are generally very uniquely American stories – a lot of the conversations about Tom it became clear that it was a way to make the movie feel bigger, more worldly and to give him a different perspective on what was going on at that time. There actually were a lot of British soldiers in Vietnam, which is something which is downplayed pretty significantly. It’s viewed as a uniquely American war, which it wasn’t quite. There were a lot of avenues that led us there, a lot of it was just really trying to create clear and concise sides.”
Hiddleston: “Indiana Jones of course came up, as an icon and a silhouette, in a way. He’s somebody who has an intellectual passion and becomes an adventurer. We always wanted Conrad to be that. We knew we couldn’t make him like Martin Sheen in ‘Apocalypse Now’ because that’s a very heavy character – another iconic performance – but this needed more wit. It’s an adventure film. It will be spectacular – I know that already having been on this for nine weeks. I’ve seen it. It needs to be fun. Having made a couple of films on this scale, the ones that are the most successful have a balance of weight and drama and also of wit.”