Andy Serkis makes it happen, again with the apes

ANDY Serkis as Caesar in the final chapter of the Planet of the Apes sci-fi trilogy delivers wholesomely, yet again.

“The War For the Planet of the Apes” is a tale about an ending, as well as a beginning.

The trilogy began with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in 2011, where the young chimpanzee Caesar, a medical lab rat really, is given medicine meant to be tested on Alzheimer’s patients by the drug’s creator (played by James Franco).  Caesar soon starts developing super-intelligence, and leads a simian uprising after giving the drug to his caged brethren.

In 2014 with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, Caesar leads an army of genetically evolved apes against human survivors of the influenza virus but what peace they forge is destroyed by a hate-filled ape called Koba. War is imminent.

Karin Konoval, left, and Amiah Miller in Twentieth Century Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Karin Konoval, left, and Amiah Miller in Twentieth Century Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

In this latest movie, “War”, Caesar wants to lead his simian community to a better place and away from the ever-territorial humans. But he is up against a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson) who shoots dead his son and wife. And thus, gentle Caesar emotes his dark side, out for revenge.

This emotion, by Caesar in most part but in a lesser degree by a few other simians including Maurice (played by    actress Karin Konoval) and Lake (Sara Canning) is shown through

performance capture technique. As they say, the eyes are the window to the soul. The colonel looks at Caesar, and says: “My God. Look at your eyes. Almost human.”

The movie also marks the first time performance capture by the New Zealand visual effects Weta Workshop was used in extreme weather, including falling snow.

Performance capture, also known as ‘motion capture acting’, involves an actor wearing special censors while their movements are captured by surrounding cameras.

A 3D computerised map of their actions and expressions is then recorded, which allows effects artists to create a digital character on screen. In this case, an ape.

Another technological first is the advanced fur system, where Caesar alone had a million strands of hair. You appreciate it when you see scenes where Maurice interacts with a girl orphan called Nova (Amiah Miller).

Aah, Nova, the comely lass in the Charlton Heston 1968 classic who cannot speak yet steals his heart.

And thus, fans of the Planet of the Apes franchise connect the dots. The modern trilogy really does lead to the origins of that Heston classic.

Living up to the title of the movie, there is much warfare between the apes and humans.

But when Caesar gives in his Koba side, you wonder if Caesar is really a “bad ape”, to quote the movie’s quirkiest character called Bad Ape played by Steve Kahn. Or are the simians as conflicted as any human being can be?

As per the intention of French author Pierre Boulle, on whose 1963 novel La Planète des Singes the Ape movie franchise is based all those decades ago, the movie reflects humanity back to the cinemagoer, to push us to think about how we engage with the other species that is 99 per cent like us.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” sets up how Earth as we know it is on a trajectory to turning into the alien world seen in the 1968 blockbuster where apes ruled Earth.

This trilogy shows how it that happened.  In War, the penultimate finale  is a CG avalanche that possibly leaves only a handful of humans alive. And the ones we know, like Nova, cannot speak.

Does the thought of why the humans seems to be losing control over the Blue Marble impinge in your mind as you take in the cruel, inhumane actions done unto imprisoned apes, or those in the forests?

Who exactly is the more humane in the movie – the warring, territorial, cold colonel or the too emotional Caesar?

Esoteric issues aside, “War” directed by Reeves is an overlong movie at two hours plus. It could have benefited from some editing. For instance, in Caesar’s meeting with the Bad Ape, he stars at a hole in the wall from whence soon comes items thrown out. A funny giggly moment, yes, but the camera could have just zoomed to the cave’s entrance and had the items thrown at it in a shock-and-gasp moment instead of wasting 10 seconds before anything happens.  It is the same in the war scenes.

Still, War is relevant for that apocalyptic feel given today’s world affairs. The humans are going extinct with their constant wars, and maybe, just maybe our closest cousins, the simians, will rule Earth soon enough.

As the end loomed on the screen, in 2D Atmos, I was left hoping for a Planet of the Apes marathon, right from Rise to the Franklin J. Schaffner-directed movie, all by 20th century Fox.


** All pix courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Filed under Arts, Cinema
Subhadra Devan

A journalist who has been writing about culture, arts and heritage since the 1980s. She is herself gobsmacked to have started the Sunday arts pages for English newspapers in Malaysia, in the new millennium. The passion for these genres rages on.

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