WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – A HUMORLESS PATCHWORK QUILT OF OTHER MOVIES

SHORT TAKE: Beautifully shot with masterful technicals, I just wish they had spent as much time and effort on an original script.
 
SPOILERS
 
LONG TAKE: Eragon was a bad book and a terrible movie. It was the definition of derivative. It stole from pretty much every fantasy and sci fi story from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars – and they stuck poor Jeremy Irons right in the middle of it then killed him. I didn't think I would ever see a movie as derivative outside of an outright parody — and then along came War for the Planet of the Apes.
 
MY CREDENTIALS: I have seen every Planet of the Apes movie there is – some multiple times. No kidding. Many of the originals I saw in the movie theater, (circa 1968-1973) which gives you an idea of how long I’ve been following this story. I read the book by Pierre Boulet too. The first 5 (yes —- FIVE) were innovative and creative for their time. Certainly some of it was cheesy, the costumes limiting and it was pretty clear they were filming in Arizona and California. But come on! They had Charlton Heston who has played Moses, Ben Hur and the Voice of God – not to mention delivering two of the most iconic lines in cinematic history, both from the very first Planet of the Apes movie – “Take your stinking paws off me you d*** dirty ape!” and
 
 
“You maniacs! You blew it up!!!” the latter during possibly the top “gotcha” ever in any movie anywhere.
I have seen:
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Battle for the Planet of the Apes
(Featuring some of the most popular prepositions: of, beneath, from and for)
AND I watched the TV shows based on the movie: Planet of the Apes and Return to the Planet of the Apes. Not to mention the terrible 2001 remake Planet of the Apes which featured Charlton Heston AS an ape, as well as the recent reboots Rise and Dawn of P of A.
 
The first franchise starting in 1968 was clever, inventive and worked old school without CGI. The original used heavy hot difficult to emote facial prosthetics which took HOURS to put on the actors. The newer movies have the advantage of motion capture and CGI. But somehow something was lost along the way. Spoiled with the cinematic advantages, the film makers ended up relying so heavily on what they COULD do (to paraphrase Ian Malcolm’s character from Jurassic Park) they didn’t consider what they SHOULD do. In short – visually heavy these recent installments are plot light – convoluted perhaps but shallow.
In the original, the WOW factor came from the storyline. You think you’re on an alien planet but find primitive humans. THEN you find they are subject/slaves of intelligent clothes wearing speaking apes on horseback! THEN you find you’ve never left Earth at all. Because of the limitations of the prosthetics and clothing the actors depended on their ACTING SKILLS!
 
I mean, kudos to Andy Sekis in the reboots. He has become the “go to” guy for screen capture – from King Bohan in the videogame Heavenly Sword to Gollum, King Kong and now Caeser. But when you have CGI and motion capture to correct or enhance that’s cheating.
 
I guess it’s been redone so many times that the surprise element just doesn’t exist, but then I wonder why they bothered at all if simply the visual was all the motivation they had going into the project.
 
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a purist. My favorite Trek franchise is the Next Generation,  I prefer the Steve Martin Father of the Bride over Spencer Tracy’s, and while I recognize the flaws in it I LOVED Jurassic World. I just think you should have a really compelling REASON to remake a film, especially a classic one. And not just to show off your new technical toys.
 
The premise in War for P of A is that 10 years after the outbreak of the simian virus which wiped out most of mankind and raised the average IQ of apes and — somehow altered their vocal structure to allow them to speak – apes and man are fighting a war over the Earth. That somehow in all the vast emptiness that is now planet Earth these two remaining surviving groups are so intent on wiping each other out that there is no thought to just —- moving away. To India, England…Florida. No, these two survivalist groups have to duke it out in interspecies war —- right outside of San Francisco.
 
Homages are made to everything from Apocalypse Now to Moses to the Nazi Holocaust to Enemy Mine (a very old Dennis Quaid sci fi where a soldier is marooned on the same planet as an alien from the opposing side of a war and the human ends up adopting the alien’s child – cool movie but details are too involved to get into here) to Bridge over The River Kwai (where prisoners of war are condemned to build a useless structure by vicious captors with the cooperation of prisoners who, at the end, turn on their captors). And the mismash is dizzying and ultimately annoying.
 
Woody Harrelson’s character is the Colonel – an insane military officer who has gone over the edge and off the reservation, who holds an almost idolatrous worship-control over those he commands. Reminiscent much? The words “Ape-ocalypse Now” is even written on the inside wall of a tunnel.  You can't even tell the two movies apart from these photos.
 
If they had only gone just a BIT further they would have made a successful parody. Instead they have only succeeded in being objectionable. For example: In one scene the Colonel stands on a platform while shaving his head and “blesses” his assembled troops with the razor while the Star Spangled Banner plays against a backdrop of starving apes in a concentration camp-like prison for apes:  insulting Catholicism, besmirking patriotism, offending the military, and trivializing the Holocaust all in one blow. If the film makers were contestants in  “How many people can we offend in the shortest amount of time?” I’d vote War as the most pretenious and obnoxious based on this scene alone.
 
Then there are the plot holes:
 
The Colonel kills any human showing the most telling sign of the secondary infection – speechlessness. If you couldn’t speak you were “euthanized” by firing squad. Heaven help you, I guess, if you just have laryngitis.
 
Why don’t the apes just leave – YEARS ago?
They are in the middle of a pine forest. What do the apes eat? What do the horses eat? There are no grain or fruit storages shown. No gardens. No one is seen doing anything but fighting or sleeping in rocky caves.
 
When held prisoner why would the Colonel not give the apes anything to eat or drink if he wants them to build a wall?
The apes desperately tell Caesar they are dying without water —- while it’s raining. Smart enough to speak and ride a horse but not as smart as a turkey – which will drown looking up in a storm.
 
Elephant in the room – how did apes acquire the vocal structure to speak in 10 years? The original virus was to improve the brain's ability to function – the central nervous system, not the anatomy. Apes' vocal cords do not fully close, nor do they have the jaw and tongue agility to form words. Basically it would be like giving your computer a software upgrade and suddenly finding it could now percolate coffee as well.
If they were trying to dove tail this new set of reboots with the old movies then they are about 2,000 years off. The 1968 version took place in 3978 but this reboot takes place pretty much now.
 
BUT if they were NOT trying to knit the two franchises together,  then WHY give two of the apes names of the leaders of the orignal films: Cornelius and Caeser? In the original Cornelius was Caeser’s father. Here Caeser is Cornelius’ father. I understand it could have been a name passed from father to son but for 2,000 years?! And then how coincidental that the little girl who Caeser adopts in the reboot has the same name as the young innocent woman that Charlton Heston takes as his mate in the original. And it’s not like Cornelius, Caeser or Nova are common names. These were specifically chosen. But no explanation is given for how or why the tie-in happens. And if they are just giving superifical nods to the original films it almost feels like a cheap attenpt at trying to link with the audience of the original – like begging for a complement. And even if these three characters were the predecessors of the characters from the 1968 movie, what are the chances that THEIR descendants would feature TOGETHER in an event hundreds of years later?
 
Then there are the missed opportunities:
 
The apes come across a lone man and kills him when he tries to defend himself. They find a young girl inside who has been rendered dumb by the mutated virus. This girl, named Nova, bonds with the apes in two days so closely that when one of them is injured and killed she is grief stricken. However, right after she first meets the apes, she sees the man they have killed and her reaction is: “Meh” – another dead body. So, obviously, the dead man  isn’t her father. It would be easy to believe a scenario in which the Colonel, having had to kill his infected son, couldn’t bear the thought of killing his daughter too so left her in the care of this soldier. Otherwise what is this “deserter” doing so relatively close to the compound? At no time do the Colonel and the girl ever see each other even when she is skulking about the compound to help the other apes escape, so it would have fit the narrative. Sadly, nothing is ever done with this set of circumstances. It is never explained WHY the girl was there with this lone man she hardly recognized.
Then there is an unknown force “from the North” which opposes these brutal tactics of the Colonel and attacks at the same time Caesar’s people are escaping. At no time do you ever see any of the soldiers of this new group. Faces are covered in masks and googles and decked out in Battle of the Budge white. At a critical moment Caesar pauses on a mound in full view of this new battalion. All eyes turn to him. I would have paid $50 for one of them to have uncovered their face and shown it was an army of apes — or even better and army of humans and apes working together. The first would have helped explain the future manifestation of the plotline – that while our protagonist apes are smart – the ones in the north are even smarter. The second scanerio would have been an interesting game changer – a different timeline wherein the secondary virus was cured and ape and humans were learning to work together finally.  But no such creative luck.

Instead the army raises their guns to shoot Caeser but a well timed deus ex avalanche comes along right then and takes out the force in white. We never do get to find out who the heck they were. Shame too. Might have made for a more interesting story.
 
They tried really hard to make a relevant movie which would justify this re-reboot of the original. But the most I got out of it was: Let's show off our really cool graphics?!
 
A parody would have been brilliant. Especially since – did anyone know – the Boulet book upon which 50 years of cinematography rests was a SOCIAL SATIRE?! Intended to point out the transient nature of intelligence which, if not used, could atrophy and be lost – and then developed by another group willing to take up the mantle.
 
The original had a handle on the idea that there was a satirical element to it and never took itself completely seriously.
Roddy McDowell, who appeared in ALL of the original movies except Beneath, and returned as the ape Galen in the TV show of the same name, even took his time expensive and uncomfortable getup onto the Carol Burnett Show. But these latest manifestations of the Boulet book take themselves so doggone SERIOUSLY it is painful to watch. I mean these guys glower…a LOT.
 
Guess no one making the movie got the joke so now the joke is on them.

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2 thoughts on “WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – A HUMORLESS PATCHWORK QUILT OF OTHER MOVIES”

  1. Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one? Thanks a lot!

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