Film review by Jason Day of War for the Planet of the Apes, the next addition in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, starring Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson.
Director: Peter Jackson. NewLine/Wingnut/MGM/3Foot7. (12A)
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Zane Weiner.
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro.
Camera: Andrew Lesnie.
Music: Howard Shore.
Sets: Dan Hennah.
Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Kiran Shah, Benedict Cumberbatch.
60 years before his nephew joined another fellowship, to destroy a magical ring that has the power to enslave all of Middle Earth, unassuming Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) lives a comfortable, sheltered life in the beloved Shires. That is until the wizard Gandalf (McKellan) and a group of raucous dwarves (led by Armitage) show up on his doorstep. Bilbo is taken out of his comfort zone on an adventure to recapture the Dwarve’s fabled home city, taken years earlier by a ferocious dragon, encountering dangerous creatures and finding he has unexpected depths along the way.
Peter Jackson is a man who knows how to make big movies. Very big. Colossal in fact. And if he throws caution to the wind in terms of economy of scale, well good on him and so be it. What he is in dire need of however is a stopwatch. And a gutsier editor.
The combined length of his Lord of the Rings trilogy weighed in at around an arse-numbing nine hours (and that’s the slimmed down theatrical releases – there were extended versions released on DVD), King Kong concluded only after a rather unnecessary three hours plus. It is probably no surprise that he filmed so much footage for this adaptation of the first and singular novel in Tolkein’s Middle Earth series that it was easier to release it as another trilogy.
It also makes good box office sense; these films are expensive to make so two extra films means more box office ‘kerching’. It has also lead to an accumulation of rather a lot of protracted, repetitious, disposable events, scenes and moments in a film that runs to two hours 49 minutes in its original movie theatre version. The opening preamble, for instance, with the older Bilbo (Holm) and Frodo (Wood) seems tacked on to help audiences familiarise themselves with the first book being adapted last. Given the mighty publicity machine deployed though, the value of this scene is questionable.
One can’t help but imagine how much cheaper these film’s would be, if Jackson shaved half an hour off each one during the development stage.
Perhaps this feeling is wholly a question of taste at the end of the day; with nearly a $billion in gross takings for this first instalment as of Jan 2013, who am I to judge? But judge I will when I feel a creeping sense of the familiar and duplicated throughout.
I freely admit to not having read any of Tolkein’s much admired books. Perhaps I lack perspective on certain things, but as a film viewer and reviewer, it didn’t aid my enjoyment to come across settings already visited (the Dwarf city of Moria, where Gandalf was ‘killed’ in the first Rings film) and situations that smack of the ‘been there, seen it’ (the eagles who fly to the rescue, as in the second Rings film). This ‘samey’ feel probably explains why the London Evening Standard thought this was a ‘fair to middling return to Middle Earth’.
The set-pieces and special effects are, of course, magnificently realised. In terms of head-swirling spectacle, The Hobbit delivers in spades. 3D is used exceptionally well in many sequences, but if any film genre was made to be told in an extra dimension it is this. But this is par for the course; we know Jackson and his too-numerous-to-mention-individually technical team can deliver the goods here. He really needed a different tack to make this new trilogy stand out from it’s forbears.
The musical sequences are cute but a step in the wrong direction; are we heading into Cameron MacIntosh territory? Surely we want something other than Les Middle-arables. Could it be emotional intimacy in amongst the CGI? Are we hankering for less people but better character development?
Freeman is saddled with much of the dramatic weight of the film as his character is the main person who will progress and mature, but he is mostly sidelined until the film kicks into life (thank heavens we leave the Shire behind us). It will be interesting to see how far he pushes the next two films.
There are welcome returners in the cast, dotted amongst the newbies – Blanchett and Weaving as almost hypnotic Elvish leaders, Lee shows the beginnings of his turning to the dark side, Serkis is still unrecognisable as the dissociative Gollum. Of those new cast members who score strongest (or loudest at least), Nesbitt is Dwarf Bofur, Stott is older Dwarf Balin and former Dr Who McCoy makes a surprise cameo as a far too eco-friendly wizard (let’s just say it is no surprise he is known as ‘The Brown’). The dwarves help make sure that the comedy moments (such as when they are BBQ’d by two hungry trolls) carry the film along during the longuers. It’s a shame, then, that these are few and far between. Let’s hope that, as with the first part of Lord of the Rings, things pick up nicely after this lumbering character introduction.
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Twentieth Century Fox/Chernin/Dune. UK Certification: 12(a)
Producers: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Camera: Andrew Lesnie. Music: Patrick Doyle. Sets: Claude Pare.
James Franco, Frida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris, David Hewlitt, Andy Serkis.
A precursor to Pierre Boulle’s original novel La planète des singes and the series of films featuring Roddy McDowell that followed; scientist Will Rodman (Franco) arrives at a breakthrough with an Alzheimer’s vaccine he has been developing, following a series of experimental trials on chimpanzees. The vaccine causes an increase in intelligence and memory recall. Unfortunately, violence also seems to follow as a side-effect and Rodman’s cherished project is declared dead by the big pharmaceutical company backing it. Discovering that his favourite test subject had secretly given birth, Rodman takes the baby home to hide it from the company, as all other test subjects are to be destroyed, and names him Caesar. Caesar’s mother carried him whilst receiving the vaccine and he develops an astonishing intellect. Caesar becomes curious about his chimpanzee kind and is torn between this and his human family, which eventually leads him to start an uprising.
Just when one thought Fox couldn’t drill any deeper into this well-excavated movie mine, they smartly think up another seam to plumb for riches – the events that precipitate the famous rebellion of servile chimpanzees against their human masters.
Director Tim Burton may have stumbled, epic style, with his “re-imagining” in 2001 (a straight remake of the original film, wherein astronaut Charlton Heston astronaut crash lands on a planet where cultured apes are in charge and humans are aggressive, grunting animals) but writer/producers Jaffa and Silver are on surer ground by paying only lip service to the events that will transpire in this future, fictional Earth and focus purely on the creation of a new world order.
However, just like Burton, they can’t help some cheekily alliterated dialogue. Felton’s gleefully psychotic villain paraphrases Heston with “Get your damned paws off you dirty ape!” and they also name-check the lead Orang-u-tan Maurice, styled on actor Maurice Evans, who played lead Orang-u-tan Dr Zaius in the original film.
One can only wonder how long this current flow of inventiveness will last – with box office grosses over $100million what it cost to make, you can be sure this new injection to the franchise will not be the last.
Of course, there are derisory, almost corny aspects – Franco’s scientist is determined to rid the world of Alzheimer’s all because his beloved Pa (Lithgow) is conveniently afflicted with the condition (do scientists ever just work for love of the discipline)? In the time honoured tradition of all movie scientists diminished to a screen duration of only 2 or so hours, he also happens rapidly upon his cure, before the opening credits have finished rolling in fact. Within five years he’s moving toward human trial stage which is jumping the pharmaceutical gun ad absurdium.
The smart idea of having Caesar understanding sign language (the apes at this part of the series have not evolved voices) to communicate with humans is carelessly discarded during the scene where Franco takes Caesar to the lab where he was born and explains his origins. Franco relates this without signing, but Caesar seems to understand every word uttered, even when looking away from his master.
There are precious few things to savour in the modern American blockbuster, but the gracefully ageing Franco’s attractively furrowed brow is one of them and he is seriously determined throughout. Pinto’s boring and forgettable eye-candy Veterinarian reveals only how she unaccountably continues to accept woefully underwritten female roles. She is suitably outclassed by the meatier support performances of Lithgow and in particular Serkis, as the computer generated Caesar. Peter Jackson’s King Kong (in which Serkis played the title role of the monstrous gorilla with terrifying aplomb) proves to be ample training here as he dominates the film as a tortured ape soul with a devastating humanity.