Saturday, April 19, 2014

The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island by Weta Workshop (2005)

Cover blurb

It was an uncharted island somewhere off the coast of Sumatra, it was a land whispered about by merchants and sailors. It was a place so unbelievable that no one dared believe in its existence. Except for one man, the extraordinary Carl Denham. Many will, of course, remember his show on Broadway and its tragic ending. But New York is not where the story ended, it is where it began.

In 1935 a joint expedition of several prominent universities and organizations called Project Legacy was launched. Its stated mission goal was to create the first of several field guides to Skull Island, a land filled with creatures existing outside their time, where dinosaurs roamed, evolved, and still lived. Only a year later it was discovered that the island was doomed; the geological forces that had formed the island were now tearing it apart. There were only seven more abbreviated expeditions to the island before its destruction and the start of World War II.

The journals, sketches, and detailed notes to the scientists who braved Skull Island would have continued to gather dust on shelves across the plant were it not for the work of the authors of this book. Here for the first time is there work, collected in a comprehensive editions of the natural history of this lost island. Here is The World of Kong.

My thoughts

You may or may not have fond memories of Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong. As for myself, I enjoyed the movie but wish Jackson had curbed some of his cinematic excesses. (He almost lost me when he had T. rexes swinging through vines like Tarzan.) Most of the movie was set on Skull Island, a prehistoric isle that was King Kong’s home. The World of Kong is a glimpse of that world, and it may please even those who didn’t like the film.

The book is essentially a field guide to the wildlife of the island, showcasing not only the many animals seen in the movie, but also a wide variety of creatures that never received any screen time. The central idea behind The World of Kong is that Skull Island’s dinosaurs didn’t stop evolving when the rest of their kin went extinct 65 million years ago. That’s why we get T. rexes – here dubbed “V. rexes” – with three fingers instead of two and velociraptors the size of horses. The team as Weta Workshop – the special effects house that worked on the movie – let their imaginations run wild, but at the same time kept most of their animals grounded in the science of paleontology. Anyone familiar with prehistoric wildlife will recognize the inspirations for many of the creatures showcased throughout the book’s pages.

The artwork itself is gorgeous, capturing the moody atmosphere of the island. As for the text, there is no overarching story, just descriptions of each of the animals. Sometimes the folks at Weta get a little carried away, such one entry about an implausibly large spider that eats dinosaurs. And the artists are too focused on depicting predators, leaving one to wonder how all those carnivores managed not to starve to death. Those are just minor complaints though: The World of Kong will please anyone who loves fantasy illustration or dinosaurs.

Trivia
  • While many of the animals in the book didn’t make it into the movie, some of them were featured in the tie-in video game.
     
  • Two of the animals featured in the book – the Triceratops-like Ferrucutus and the eel-like Piranhadon – were in scenes cut from the theatrical release of the movie. However, their scenes were restored in the extended edition of the film. (The extended edition is, in my opinion, the superior version.)
Reviews

1 comment:

Brandon Bowling said...

I too have this book. Managed to find it on Amazon some time ago for about $10, which made me very happy. You hit the nail on the head with your review. I found the book to be a joy to flip through. Occasionally, I crack it open and just find a random page or creature to read about as it is very inspiring for my own writing efforts.

There does seem to be a bit too much focus on the carnivores, but then, who doesn't find the carnivorous species of dinosaurs more interesting than the herbivores?