Yawn of the Planet of the Apes

Human see Human do…

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“And that completes my final report until we reach touchdown… You who are reading me now are a different breed – I hope a better one… But one more thing – if anybody’s listening, that is. Tell me… does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother?” – Taylor (Charlton Heston).    

Will we be quoting awesome lines from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a half-century from now? As an admirer of the original Planet of the Apes (1968), mixed emotions greeted the coming of yet another instalment in the rebooted series.

The hi-def quality of the two most recent entries is far superior to the last (mediocre) two movies of the 70s, but does the appliance of sophisticated motion capture technology really enhance this material? Personally, the complex digital spectacle detracts from an intriguing plot. It’s as if it is compensating for average, or inadequate, scriptwriting…

No matter how competent and compelling this modern formula is viewed, it will never beat that all-time classic which first thrilled audiences 46 years ago.

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^ Which do you prefer: the original make-up… or motion capture from the new reboot?

“I read the script, and agreed with the director [Franklin Schaffner] that the apes should not be made to look like hair-faced human beings… The concepts were too ambiguous – they lacked the strength of the animal face and personality. We needed the pleasantness… without being too grotesque” – John Chambers.

The 1968 original remains one of the outstanding gems of SF cinema, the screenplay co-written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling is simply among the very best writing you will ever hear on film, while all the performances complement the material superbly; the make-up by Oscar-winning artist John Chambers is exceptional; the “music” – both tuneless and terrifying – superbly accentuates this nightmarish drama as it unfolds; and, of course, you must realise that it has the Best Ending. Of any movie. Ever.  

Unfortunately, its legacy has been diminished by the four inferior sequels which appeared between 1970-74. Charlton Heston only agreed to reprise his role in Beneath The Planet of the Apes (1970) if he was killed off, which he was… in the most bizarre of circumstances. By trying to explore the story from a different angle, it failed spectacularly.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1973) was a fine, if lightweight, entry into the series. It offered both Roddy MacDowell and Kim Hunter the potential to expand their roles, but sadly, the script failed to do them any favours. The poor concluding two movies effectively killed off the franchise.

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“Ape versus human – and hawk versus dove… as in the last film, the CGI apes are very impressive, with next-level mannerisms in swaying, screeching, lunging and teeth-baring” – Peter Bradshaw.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) heralded a radical new look, released to favourable reviews. Now, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has increased that look. Undoubtedly, it is a competent and commendable movie, but lacks the necessary sophisticated edge and shock value to warrant umpteen screenings. Yes, it is one of the more superior fare of the Summer season, but only as an extended showcase for the latest CGI developments – nothing more. 

Gary Oldman is always good to watch, but seems somehow out of place here. Of course, Andy Serkis has perfected this innovative art of modern visual fx, but does it suit this franchise? Call me a traditionalist – a compliment obligingly accepted – but you just can’t beat John Chambers’ original make-up wizardry. Besides, none of the performances in Dawn are on a par with those gawped at from 1968, and that script will NEVER be bettered.

With Dawn raking in $370 million worldwide, ensuring that Matt Reeves will direct a third Apes movie, this makes for slightly disconcerting news. Honestly, how much further can this franchise last? Mark my words: the downward spiral in quality witnessed in the 1970s will happen all over again. It will get to the point where the original will be REMADE, no doubt with the likes of Mark Wahlberg in the lead role (he types manically with vehement cynicism!) and- hey, wait a minute! Tim Burton already did so in 2001 – wow, just shows what a forgettable exercise that was…

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^ Kim Hunter as Dr Zira: one of the best performances in SF cinema you will ever see – she was unrecognisable under John Chambers’ make-up

 

“By the end of the make-up time, you believed that you were an ape. You’d look in the mirror and say: ‘By golly, that’s me!'” – Kim Hunter.

Any Post celebrating the Planet of the Apes series cannot be done without mentioning the amazing performance of Kim Hunter as Doctor Zira. Certainly, Roddy McDowall (as Cornelius), Maurice Evans (as Dr Zaius) and Charlton Heston (obviously!) put in extraordinarily good performances, but it’s Kim Hunter who grabs my attention on every viewing. Despite the gruelling three-and-a-half-hour make-up sessions, she quite rightly cited Planet of the Apes as one of the best roles of her career. And are there any good female roles in these last two films? No, of course not…  

 

Coming Next: Guardians of the Galaxy (‘cos nothing else matters, or compares, right now – right?)