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Hands

"He wrote in his log of 'piercing the White Veil'...and landing on the 'Beach of the Skull' where he heard the 'roar of the Greatest Beast'."



Just as Bogie never really said "Play it again, Sam", in neither the 1933 nor the 1976 version of King Kong does anyone refer to "Skull Island".
 

For all the barbs hurled at King Kong 1976, the critics were grudgingly complimentary over two aspects of the film.  John Barry's intricate and haunting musical score; and the pristine, primordial beauty of "Skull Island".  The latter fact should come as no surprise.  The Skull Island beach scene was filmed on the incredibly
Skull Island 1rugged Na Pali North Shore, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai -- a nearly inaccessible area which, before and after, did  similar duty for several Hollywood productions, including South Pacific, Raiders of the Lost Art, 6 Days/7 Nights (Harrison Ford and Anne Heche) and the TV series Acapulco Heat.

Specifically, King Kong 1976 was filmed on Honopu Beach, an almost impossibly magical section of the Na Pali coast that comprises two deep golden beaches separated by a colossal natural stone arch, and a slim, shimmering waterfall just beyond the arch, all of which elements featured prominently in King Kong 1976.

Honopu means "Conch Shell", although tourists called the beach "Cathedral Beach", and at one time it was a sacred meeting place for Hawaiian royalty (Ali'i) as well as a sacred burying ground for their families.  The family members carried the bones of their deceased relatives as far up the mountain as they could get, then interred them in the caves.  As a result, the area is still sacred today and you are only supposed to visit it by
Skull Islandswimming.  At least that's the theory.  Clearly they made an exception for film crews.

If you're looking for King Kong 1976 trivia, here's one for you.  Everyone knows that Kong's island was called Skull Island, right?  Wrong.  Just as Bogie never really said "Play it again, Sam", in neither the 1933 nor the 1976 version of King Kong does anyone refer to "Skull Island".  Not even in the 1933 novelization.  In the 1933 film, there is a distinctive rocky knoll in the middle of the island roughly shaped like a skull.  Carl Denham points this out to Ann Darrow and she says: "Oh yes, I remember you telling me.  Skull Mountain."  (In the 1933 novelization, the map is described as depicting "a high wooded island with a skull-like knob...", and Denham cries out: "Skull Mountain!" on sighting the island.)

But King Kong 1976 was even more oblique.  There is no reference at all to either Skull Island or Skull Mountain in the '76 remake,
Skull Island but Jack quotes "Pero Fernando de Quieros", who in 1605 was blown south from the Tuamotu Archipelago, when he passed through the fogbank surrounding the island and landed on the "Beach of the Skull". 

Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s screenplay describes the satellite image shown by Roy Bagley as depicting, from directly
overhead, "a varicolored but sharply defined mass shaped roughly like a human skull."  But how De Quieros could know that, and so name the Beach accordingly, surpasses understanding.  Anyway, those directions were clearly abandoned by Guillermin because the satellite image doesn't look much like a skull.  So, that description and the "Beach of the Skull" line are the closest we get to a "Skull Island" in Kong '76.  It would be fascinating to know when the confusion first came about.

Beyond the arch, there is danger, there is Kong!

Although the Kong '76 film crew were told Honopu Beach was remote, nearly inaccessible and isolated, the day they arrived in their helicopters and set down on the supposedly isolated beach, they found a pair of bemused honeymooners already there, no doubt thinking they had finally escaped all the hustle and bustle of the city, only to be invaded by an army of Hollywood types. 

Scenes of the boats passing through the fogbank were shot on nearby Hanalei Bay, where several huge fog making machines mounted on boats were used to lay down a real fogbank.

Both the colossal stone arch and the waterfall beyond featured in King Kong '76.  (But this is not the same waterfall where Kong gives Dwan her shower and hair dry.  That was a studio sound stage.) The arch especially played a deceptively important part.  It is so huge, during the filming of one episode of the TV series Acapulco Heat, pilot Red Johnson flew a helicopter underneath it.  (For size comparison to a person, click on the second
waterfallpicture on this page to expand it.  The person is the tiny thing in the very middle of the arch.  You'll have to squint!)

Director Guillermin used the arch as a sort of doorway into his movie.  I recall, watching King Kong '76 as a kid, believing that our heroes (and Wilson) were safe from Kong so long as they were on this side of the arch.  And so Guillermin obviously intended it to be, as he shows Jack and Dwan frolicking in the misty spray from the surf and Wilson looking ridiculous as he wades pompously ashore.  But as soon as Dwan passes under the arch?  The mood changes and Jack rushes after her, chewing her out for going off on her own.  Beyond the arch, there is danger, there is Kong!  It is as if there were a sign posted above the arch that reads, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here..."

At the same time, the arch also fits in with the screenwriter's
Skull Islandtheory (explained in his preface found on this site).  To make the fantasy work, Lorenzo Semple Jr. explained that he began with a very realistic reality -- an oil company setting to sea -- then uses the discovery of the beautiful girl in a liferaft -- a more fantastical element -- to prepare us for the really fantastic stuff yet to come...Kong!  In the same way, the arch, although real, appears so fantastic, it too functions to prepare us for weirder stuff to come.  Like the mirror in Alice through the Looking Glass, it is like a door, not just to the other side of the beach, but to another world...the world of Skull Island!

 


Skull Island Skull Island
Approaching Skull Island thru the fogbank
Jack and Dwan with Honopu Arch in backgd

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