This week we were lucky enough to be on the front line for a preview of Matt Reeve’s War for the Planet of the Apes. Unfortunately we’re sworn to secrecy when it comes to letting you know what we thought, but luckily for us, the director of The Batman was in attendance, along with his Caesar, Andy Serkis, and a new member of this Apes family, Steve Zahn, who plays welcome addition to the series in ‘Bad Ape’.
They were on hand, along with two Primatology experts, to offer an insight into the filmmaking process that goes into making movies in this endangered sub-genre; the intelligent blockbuster.
Adhering to a strict no spoiler policy, which is our equivalent of “ape not kill ape“, here’s an overview of what the panel had to say.
What the Apes franchise has managed to achieve with motion capture is extraordinary, and the experts echoed that sentiment throughout the session, but what Reeves wanted to accomplish was for the audience to be “looking into the faces of these apes and seeing ourselves”.
That’s not to say War for the Planet of the Apes is a direct allegory about the state of our world, a question that was put to Reeves, to which he responded that it was more about “what draws us into conflict? People talk about ‘the wall’ and what that means. Mark (Bomback – Reeve’s co-writer) and I wrote it three years ago, so all this stuff has just fallen into place.
How prescient of a vision the films turn out to be was addressed by the experts, who hinted that an “apes anatomy is there” in terms of being able to speak, but the “cognitive machinery won’t allow it”, adding that “seals or elephants could do a lot more than apes”.
So until we get the Planet of the Seals spin-off, we’re stuck with the next-best-thing in the form of Andy Serkis. When the filmmakers were posed a question about walking a fine line between human and animal, the mo-cap genius answered by admitting that “in this latest film he’s [Caesar] much more linguistically articulate”. This caused Reeves to bring up the fact that they constantly had to ask themselves “How casual can you get?” A scene in which the apes leave a location on horseback was originally prompted by Caesar saying “let’s go”, before they realised that this was way too human, amending the line of dialogue to simply read “come”. Reeves went on to say that he’d never yell cut if an actor was being too human, simply because “the way I work is that I like to explore”. The Batman is in very safe hands.
Serkis expanded on his role in the franchise, stating that he “approached him [Caesar] as a human in apes’ skin”, adding that “it has been a phenomenal challenge and a joy [to play him]. You don’t often get to play the entire lifetime of a character, and it has been a real huge emotional arc.”
It was then the turn of Steve Zahn, a new character on the Apes landscape, to shed some light on his methods for monkeying around. Asked about how he prepared for devolution he said “I was petrified. I spent hours on YouTube, watching every zoo video. I was fascinated by the chimp sat in the corner. The one who didn’t do anything. I was extremely excited and very nervous”. He was then addressed about whether there was much of himself in Bad Ape, Zahn responded “There’s a lot of him in me. I’m attracted to characters who are vulnerable and weak, and he was tragic and weak, and the humour would come out of that situation, and his awesome vest”. You’ll have to wait and see what he meant by that aside.
The final word was left to Reeves, who responded to being asked whether he was thinking about the narrative for War as he was making Dawn, by admitting that he “was so overwhelmed with the second film, that that’s all I thought about, but I knew I was going to bring it to the precipice of war”.
And that’s what he has done, so very beautifully.
You can enter the battlefield yourself when 20th Century Fox release War for the Planet of the Apes on July 11th.
Image: 20th Century Fox