Kong: Skull Island took bold steps to innovate the oft-rendered character of King Kong. It transformed the iconic monster into a noble protagonist. Kong is also now an especially enormous and entirely different species of ape. Newly-released concept art designed by Eddie Del Rio suggests that the filmmakers considered changing the character even further: He almost became an actual king, throne and all.
As pointed out by iO9 — which first posted the art — most of Del Rio’s designs were near-perfectly integrated into the final movie, except for two, which show Kong lording over the natives in an especially humanlike manner on what appears to be a gigantic throne.
From King Kong’s beginnings — back in 1926 when an explorer first imagined the character after encountering some fearsome Komodo dragons — he has been associated with strength and power. But contrary to what the name suggests, he has never been portrayed as literal royalty. Sure, he’s received worshipful appeasement (to be blunt: human sacrifices) and is considered to be a god by the natives in some versions, but he’s never been an explicit sovereign.
If the Skull Island filmmakers had gone that extra step, it would’ve been quite the bombshell. Kong’s character has always been mysterious — he’s monstrous, yet sympathetic — and so has functioned like a Rorschach figure. Viewers project all sorts of victim narratives onto him. His story has been called a metaphor for class struggle and for America’s oppression of its black citizenry.
Portraying Kong as a king might’ve disrupted all that. It’s much more difficult to project victimhood onto a monarch, such a token symbol of privilege. It could’ve been the worst, or best, decision Skull Island made.
We’ll never be able to see that version of the movie — but we can tease ourselves with what might’ve been by perusing Del Rio’s awesome images. Check out his full series of Skull Island concept art here, and more of his other work on his website here.