Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rise of the CGI Apes

Rise of the CGI Apes

By David Giarrizzo

Since the epic 1968 film “Planet of the Apes” directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and adapted by Micheal Wilson and Rod Serling from Piere Boulle’s novel (about an astronaut crew who crash land on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved) , most of the sequels have been a progression of violations of plot continuity and time continuum laws.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes”(1970),

“Escape from the Planet of the Apes”(1971) and “Conquest for the Planet of the Apes”(1972) worked on the premise that Mankind has obliterated itself with a Nuclear War, save a handful of mutants living underground. Where the Apes went while all this nuclear warfare is destroying life on Earth, one might ask. Another point would be “Why do the apes look like normal primates, and then suddenly in Conquest the apes are on hind legs walking around like Homo sapiens. “ All I know is prosthetic latex making up is a pain to apply and remove. “Battle for the Planet of the Apes’(1973) was the last of the sequels, followed shortly by a shoe string budget TV series ”Planet of the Apes” (1974)and an animated series “Return to the Planet of the Apes”( 1975). By then, all plot development had been exhausted, the marketing value was past its prime, and Slasher films were becoming the rage.

Tim Burton decided In 2001 to reanimate the corpse of Boulle, taking us into theTwilight Zone with a remake of “the Planet of the Apes” The script was noticeably different from the original, attempting to make the film a Tim Burton acquisition! Using extreme artistic license, he cast Mark Wahlberg , Helen Bonam Carter and Tim Roth in a film that can only be described as overtly Shakespearean filled with acrobatics and enough plot holes to fill the Albert Hall. Spoiler alert! Just like the original ending, the sole astronaut escapes back to slingshot his spacecraft back to the future, except this time he is greeted by a an alternate Earth with apes driving planes, trains, and automobiles in a fully technology aware world. The acting was a bit over the top, but it was worth it just to see Charlton Heston saying his famous line “Damn them! Damn them all to hell!” this time as an ape.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, also an original story set in present day San Francisco, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and, ultimately the beginning of the downfall of humanity. Directed by Rupert Wyatt (the co-founder of Picture Farm) . screenplay written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Phillips ( Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Relic), this story portrays a deep psychological character based story with heartwrenching moments generated, ironically enough, largely done by the apes who were all CGIs. A monumental film in itself as this was the first feature length film with its lead character played by a realistic CGI. The animators were numerous, and their work shows. The apes, Caesar especially, had such convincing mannerisms and expressions that the interactions with human actors seemed natural. The human factor is emphasized as this startling intelligent being learns concepts like slavery, anger management, loyalty, and compassion.

With a diverse cast of human and ape characters, this movie moves along smoothly. Best known for his breakthrough starring role on freaks and Geeks, James Franco plays Wil Rodman, a research scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Surprisingly convincing, Franco’s performance has echoes of James Dean with a dash of Dean Jones. Playing off of CGI characters is like shadow boxing. You can’t see your opponent, but you can imagine where he is and where his next move will be. His father, played by seasoned veteran of the screen John Lithgow is a touching portrayal of a person slipping in and out of lucidity, as an Alzheimer patient would. Freida Pinto plays a Veterinarian love interest Carolina Ahranha, a role that seemed secondary and poorly developed.

Nonetheless, she was an adequate female figure for young Caesar to look up to. David Oyelowo (Last King of Scotland) plays a corporate greedy boss who is caught up in the politics of research funding, while the cure for Alzheimer’s is right around the corner. Meanwhile, the comedy relief is supplied by Dr. Rodman’s co-worker, Robert Franklin who is played by TV actor Tyler Labine ( Reaper, Boston Legal, Mad Love)

After attempting to protect one of his human family, Caesar ( amazingly portrayed by Andy Serkis )is incarcerated by Animal Control where Dodge Landon (Tom Felton of Harry Potter) and another sadistic caretaker ( played by Richard Harris son, Jaime) treat the poor creatures like they were felons. Felton’s character sneaks in a line from the 1968 release. As Caesar grasps his arm in defiance, Landon shouts “Get your stinking paws off me, you dirty ape!” This is the moment Caesar speaks his first word, “NO!”

Caesar realizes that the shelter is a death camp for animals, so he manages to procure the solution and genetically modifies himself further and his cell mates to an intelligence level high enough to orchestrate an “Ape Escape” through picturesque San Francisco. I think my favorite shot was the apes riding a cable car to the top of Lombard, purveying the city in defiance. They eventually seek refuge in the Redwood forest just North of San Francisco. There is a small patch of Redwoods remaining nearby SFU, but merely a handful and definitely not a grove. Sadly enough, one must travel through Mendocino Northward to find any substantial growth, and that too is dwindling.

With the final exodus of the apes, a sub plot is introduced explaining the cause for the beginning of the end for humanity. Go see the film if you want to know why, no more spoiler alerts. I’m outta here!

Too many Cowboys, Not Enough Aliens

Too Many Cowboys, Not Enough Aliens!

David Giarrizzo

A stranger with amnesia and a strange shackle on his wrist (Daniel Craig aka James Bond) stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution In 1873 in the Arizona territory. Before he can get there, he has to contend with all the venomous creatures on bellies and on horseback. The Claiborne clan try to get the drop on him, eldest Wes (played by veteran actor Buck Taylor of Gunsmoke) and sons who give him a great old fashioned shoot out, disastrous, of course for the boys and Dad. The stranger wanders into a young bully terrorizing the locals, to whom he teaches manners. Unfortunately, this youth is the local rich kid, lone heir to the Dolarhyde ranch, the local cattle land owners who also own the town. The cocky youth shoots a deputy and is locked up, much to Big Daddy Dolarhyde’s dismay.

Eventually, someone (cause Absolution is such a Mecca!) recognizes him as Jake Lonergan ,a rustler strong-arm , which lands him in Meacham’s(Clancy Brown of Highlander, Shawshank Redemption) jail cell where he tries to remove the strange shackle, where he is stuck in a cell next to the young Turk. . By all normal appearances this would be your typical Gold Boom Town, but this stranger soon finds out they have a secret that has eluded even the town Cattle Baron , Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) . Then, all hell breaks loose.

The town’s people hear a roar and look skyward to see lights like from “First Encounters of the Third Kind” appear deploying smaller jet like crafts. To the horror of the town’s people, the stealth bullet shaped crafts swoop the town, roping humans like cattle, dragging them up to the mouth of the Mother Ship. The stranger’s shackle begins glowing and he makes his escape from the jail house while all this pandemonium ensues.

Faced with numerous loved ones ( including the Sherriff) snatched into the air by these alien rustlers, Lonergan and Dolarhyde must join forces with the assistance of the local Doctor, an Indian Stepson of Dolarhyde, and a Gunslinging mysterious girl next door,

Ella Swenson( Olivia Wilde).

Like all Westerns, there is a formula which involves an anti-hero, a formidable foe alliance, a weak character, a love interest, and a mutual enemy to defeat. In this case, the enemy was virtually unseen. Visuals of the creature were as fleeting as the monsters from “ALIEN” with a “Predator” look, shown only in flashback scenes and shabbily drawn running CGI images. If the director’s (Jon Favreau of Iron Man )intention was to create more of a suspense with the lack of the creature on screen, it was poorly overdone. The alien’s absence only made the under budgeted visuals more evident. The character development seemed to dominate the story, even though the protagonist seems to be a bit unsympathetic to us, we still find ourselves routing for us stupid humans. It did have elements of Indiana Jones, especially the constant hat retrieval of Lonergan and the gratuitous explosions and gunfire.

Cast for his resemblance to Steve McQueen “The Magnificent Seven”, Craig has the cool calm which gives him a nice contrast to Harrison Ford’s gruff John Wayne impression. With the assistance of Speilber
g, we see Ford and a former James Bond on screen together again (Ford as Indianna Jones and Connery as his Dad) creating a complex combination that works well.

Produced by sixteen names, including Steven Speilberg, Ron Howard and the writer Robert Orci, this strange blend of Western Drama and Science Fiction( from a comic book) seems to be a new genre that hasn’t had its day yet. I was impressed by the acting, the lighting, and the camera work. The wholesomeness would appeal to a family, but I wouldn’t recommend it for children under 13 years of age. The on ship scenes of experiments and the drooling alien fangs gave me a bad dream or two. The concept is great and the cast was incredible, however, too many cowboys and not enough aliens make for a poor box office seller.