Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘WETA Digital

Triumph of the Apes

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Tim Burton must be feeling pretty useless right now. Between Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and the surprisingly great Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Burton is seeing some of his most successful films reinvented by writers and directors who evidently see them as something more than excuses for production design. It’s not that I don’t respect Burton—Ed Wood is one of my favorite movies, and Big Fish is up there as well—but the reinvention of these two franchises is one of the few bright spots in the recent history of mainstream movies, which otherwise are trending inexorably toward the rule of special effects over story that Burton, like it or not, helped inaugurate.

Still, special effects aren’t always a bad thing, as Rise of the Planet of the Apes demonstrates. This is an impressive movie on many levels, and I’m looking forward to sifting through the contributions of director Rupert Wyatt and writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, but much of the credit must clearly go to WETA Digital. The apes that they’ve created are so lovingly crafted, so expressive, and so engaging that they elevate the entire movie. And I suspect that the quality of the result—and especially of Andy Serkis’s lead performance as Caesar—freed the filmmakers to rely more and more on the apes themselves, with extended sequences of silent storytelling that wouldn’t work nearly as well without such convincing effects.

And many of these sequences are spellbinding. Wyatt is clearly a Kubrick fan—he’s described his vision for a potential sequel as “Full Metal Jacket with apes“—and his work here recalls the opening scenes of 2001 in the best way possible. It’s all utterly absurd, of course, and while many audiences will be inclined to find messages here about animal testing and medical experimentation, whatever allegorical meanings the movie contains are probably incidental, as they should be. Yet the film also seems genuinely curious about the lives of apes, and the storytelling opportunities that the new technology affords, with the courage to let long sequences play without dialogue, carried only Caesar’s expressive face and eyes. It’s a huge gamble, but it pays off beautifully.

Of course, this more serious, deeply considered story has to coexist with a parallel movie in which the apes escape, run amok, and attack police cars and helicopters. This bigger, louder movie is deeply silly, of course, but impressively executed. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a true rarity: a mainstream summer blockbuster that is more or less exactly what I expected, except much better. Watching the previews, I thought this would be a camp classic, or, at best, a movie in which massive resources and care were lavished on an inherently unworkable story. What I didn’t expect was that all the care and craft would pay off. It’s a genuinely good movie, and one that couldn’t have been made at any other time in cinematic history. Evolution, it seems, can be a good thing.

Written by nevalalee

August 12, 2011 at 10:18 am

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