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Author Topic: The World of Kong: A Natural History Of Skull Island  (Read 5228 times)

ColonelHardisson

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The World of Kong: A Natural History Of Skull Island
« on: October 20, 2006, 03:52:17 PM »
Introduction

The discovery and subsequent expeditions to Skull Island until it disappeared beneath the waves are revealed. The gradual shrinking of the island as it sinks into the sea is discussed, and the reader learns it is due to volcanic activity. Also discussed are the huge ruins that seem to have covered a large part of the island at one time, the builders of which are unknown.

I. The Crumbling Coast and Village

While some of the coastal creatures – such as large crustaceans and various water-loving animals like reptiles and amphibians, as well as birds and other flying creatures – are detailed, the human village is of even more interest. The humans here are a dwindling, desperate lot, pushed to the limits of existence as they are forced into more and more inhospitable living conditions due to the encroaching sea. They are of a racial stock unlike any that are indigenous to the region, and could be the descendants of the builders of the ruins. If so, they have lost any memory of their history. The ritual sacrifices to the mighty Kong are also discussed.

II. The Shrinking Lowlands

The primary domain of the true heavy-hitters of Skull Island’s dinosaur set, such as the brontosaurus (yes, brontosaurus, not apatosaurus) and the V. Rex (V standing for vastatosaurus), a big, meat-eating tyrannosaur descendant.

III. The Winding Swamps and Waterways

Called the “Blood of the Island,” these wet areas ensure the sustainability of life on Skull Island.

IV. The Steaming Jungle

Perhaps the most familiar part of Skull Island, the jungles contain probably the greatest variety of life. Life forms range from graceful certopsians to proto-monkey creatures. There are flying lizards (“flizards,” not quite pterosaurs), a wide array of nasty-looking insects, “flying rats,” strange sorta-bats, and “burglar monkeys” (the aforementioned proto-monkeys) inhabiting the forest canopy. Below, giant flightless birds, huge centipedes, and lots of large, nasty lizards prowl the jungle floor.

V. The Abyssal Chasms

This is the deep, dark, dank, and perhaps most alien region of Skull Island. Deep fissures cleave the island, and are kept moist by the tropical climate, and very warm due to volcanic activity. Spiders, giant worms with big, nasty teeth, and weird, pterosaur-like “vultursaurs” lurk in these areas. Think of what you find under a rotting log, mix it with a lot of fungus, and make it all really big and hostile, and that’s what you have here.

VI. The Barren Uplands

While inhabited by a variety of creatures, such as the bifurcatops, an agile ceratopsian that fills a mountain-goat-like niche, this region is most notable for the giant apes that claim it. How and why a species of huge, gorilla-like primates came to exist on Skull Island is discussed, but a lot is left to speculation. An interesting idea that is presented is the notion that these creatures were brought to the island by the mysterious ruin-builders, and bred into their giant size from gigantopithecus stock. The species’ gradual decline, until only the mighty Kong remained, is discussed, as is the demise of Kong himself, and provides a melancholy end to this book.

Size Comparison Chart

A fold-out section at the end of the book shows the various creatures of Skull Island standing placidly in profile on a New York City street. We get to see just how large all the dinosaurs and other animals are in relation to each other, as well as in relation to humans (such as Ann Darrow/Naomi Watts), biplanes, and New York’s elevated trains.

The Good

This book conjures up Skull Island as a fully-realized, living, breathing place. It’s such an interesting place, that it makes me wish there really was such a place in the world. The book never “breaks character” and dispel the illusion, treating its subject with respect and perhaps a bit of awe. This includes a rather neat vintage-looking map on the inside covers and end-papers of the book, as well as several maps showing the climatic/ecological regions of the Island. It really seems like a place I’d like to…well, not visit, really, since it’s so dangerous. But I’d love to see a National Geographic special on the place.

Another neat thing about the book is that the creatures on Skull Island are not simply frozen-in-time hold-overs from the Cretaceous era. They are descendants of the animals from that time, and have evolved various specializations over the eons.

The Bad

Honestly, I can’t find a legitimately bad thing to say about this book. I only wish it was longer and contained more artwork.

The Ugly

The carnictis sordicus is a species of intestinal parasites that somehow evolved into giant worm-like creatures, and which live deep within the chasms of Skull Island. Described as “animated stomachs” with a “sphincter-maw of teeth,” these critters made a pretty spectacular and, yes, as the book says, repulsive appearance in the recent “King Kong” movie. Very creepy, shudder-inducing fellas.

Why You Will Like It

Perhaps first and foremost, this book is gorgeously illustrated. The images are clear, vivid, and fire the imagination. The detail put into the ecosystem, while pushed to the limits of credibility and beyond, still show a lot of thought and effort. This makes the book a fun read as it straight-facedly presents Skull Island as a real place.

Why You Won’t Like It

If depictions of unrealistic, pulp-magazine style jungle-clad islands inhabited by dinosaurs and giant apes don’t appeal to you, then you probably won’t like this book.

I’m a Gamer. This Isn’t a Game Book. Should I Buy This?

If you are looking for a mysterious, secluded, self-contained “lost world” which you can plop down into just about any setting or genre, then this is a great book to have. The detail and illustrations really cover just about every aspect of the island that gamers would need to know. Now, if you play a game which doesn’t have statistics for a wide range of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, you’ll have to come up with statistics for most of the critters on Skull Island on your own. But if you play a game which has an extensive collection of detailed stats for such critters, then most of the work is done for you in that regard. Skull Island fits into most of the major genres of RPGs – fantasy, pulp, scifi, supers. It probably works best in a pulp-style setting, but fantasy RPGs like D&D definitely have precedents for such “lost world” settings.

Where’s the Fun?

The fun is in the sheer chaos of the island’s ecosystem. It’s bright, colorful, over-the-top adventuring fun. Really dangerous bright, colorful, over-the-top adventuring fun. There is a cliffhanger (often literally) every few yards, with the fauna (and maybe even some flora) out to eat the unwary. Realistic? No. Fun? Hell yeah.

Final Assessment

I love this book. It’s the best movie tie-in I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading and looking at. It can be used as a game setting, or simply read as a study of a place that never was.
 
"Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell

4e definitely has an Old School feel. If you disagree, cool. I won't throw any hyperbole out to prove the point.

ColonelHardisson

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The World of Kong: A Natural History Of Skull Island
« Reply #1 on: October 23, 2006, 09:34:29 AM »
One of the things I didn't empahasize enough was just how beautifully illustrated this book is. There are no stills from the film; the art consists of concept paintings and drawings from the Weta Workshop, which did the special effects for the film. This is an important point, I feel, as the book establishes its own identity separate from the film. One could comfortably read and enjoy the book without ever having seen the film.
"Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell

4e definitely has an Old School feel. If you disagree, cool. I won't throw any hyperbole out to prove the point.

mattormeg

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The World of Kong: A Natural History Of Skull Island
« Reply #2 on: October 23, 2006, 08:20:33 PM »
I hated this movie (odd, considering I'm a fan of both Peter Jackson and the original King Kong) but that book has been on my list of possible acquisitions for some time. Thanks for the review!

ColonelHardisson

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The World of Kong: A Natural History Of Skull Island
« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2006, 11:57:51 AM »
It really is a great book, and, as I've said before, is one of the best movie tie-ins I've ever seen. This is in part because it can stand on its own, independent of the movie. I hope you at least get a chance to browse through it in a store.
"Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell

4e definitely has an Old School feel. If you disagree, cool. I won't throw any hyperbole out to prove the point.