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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes posterSynopsis

The prequel to the 1968 film Planet of the Apes.  James Franco plays a scientist working in a lab using apes to test drugs.  One chimp displays unusual intelligence and it goes berserk trying to protect its child.  The chimps in the lab are put down.  Franco rescues the baby chimp which grows up to show high intelligence, he calls it Caesar. Franco’s dad, John Lithgow, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and Franco uses the lab drug on his dad, with amazing results.  Then Lithgow returns to his Alzheimer’s disease and he causes chaos in the neighbourhood and a young neighbour is attacked by the young chimp, Caesar.  Franco must send Caesar to a primate centre where he is mistreated by a bullying keeper.  Caesar turns on his tormentor and leads the other apes out of the centre into a pitched battle with the police on the Golden Gate Bridge.  The drugs Franco used are fatal to humans but apes are immune.  Caesar can speak.

Criticism

We’ve had lots of films about apes and monkeys. This presumably stems from our supposed close relationship with them (denied by some scientists).  In the 30s with Tarzan and King Kong we showed a sort of benevolent paternalism to them.  In the era of Greenpeace values, apes have done well, becoming heroes of the uncorrupted wilderness from Greystoke and Gorillas in the Mist to Instinct.  Naturally, people come off worse, apes are hairy noble savages protecting their Eden of primitive innocence.   Jane Goodall and other naturalists have tried to habituate us to our natural closeness to the apes which I’m not convinced by.  I’m sceptical about macro-evolution and incline towards some sort of Intelligent Design, but I’m not religious.  These films are sentimental Darwinist fantasies, yet chimpanzees are dangerous and savage and they will attack us.  They can also use bones as tools, not needing to touch the black momolith which in 2001 set hominids on their tool-using way to become human.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is disappointing compared with the 1968 film, though it’s better than the TV series and the awful Tim Burton remake. Rise Of is too much like a summer blockbuster with the appropriate simple sentiments that manipulate us into hating ourselves and cheering on the apes (Instinct and Gorillas in the Mist also did this).  James Franco naturally has a cute girlfriend who of course is on the right side, which is the cause of the ape.  There are the exceptions, we are meant to think that the planet would be better off without human hegemony.  The corporate businessman who runs the lab is of course on the wrong side, as are the vile zookeepers and aggressive neighbours. When Caesar is in the primate centre we get the stereotypes of prison movies: mistreatment of inmates and the gang that fights back.  In this film Andy Serkis models for the computerized effects, and this is just as anthropocentric as the 1968 film’s use of plastic masks.  At least the ’68 film could make its satirical point better in its pantomime outfits by exposing the self serving brutality of humans against other animals.  The snarling revenge of the apes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes undermines the ’68 film’s effectiveness as a parable since it is merely payback.  Chimps are not sympathetic candidates for good relations with nature.  In Rise of the Planet of the Apes human traits are superimposed on ape faces, usually a hateful glare, whereas in other films it’s an embarrassing sentimentality.

Surely there should be another prequel showing how the human race declines and how the apes take over, otherwise this looks like a hectic and not very convincing prequel.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes uses the Golden Gate Of San Francisco as a symbol of the new ape order just as the Statue of Liberty was used as an ironic symbol of our betrayal of nature in Planet of the Apes.  The film Rise of the Planet of the Apes plays with meaningful images, like the window frame of Franco’s house used as a symbol of hope  which Caesar chalks on the prison wall.   This is a nod towards the film Instinct which played with pretentious ideas about humans and apes.  Great to look at and entertaining, but it could have been a better film…

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Posted by on August 23, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2Synopsis

H.P. and chums finally battle the dark forces led by R. Fiennes as Voldemort with Helena Bonham Carter and co.  They attack Hogwarts and there is a final battle in which H.P. seems to die but meets Michael Gambon  and he survives though Voldemort thinks he has killed Potter.  Snape is killed and among the secrets about H.P. is that Snape loved Potters’ mother.  H.P. and co defeat the forces of evil.  At the end the adult Harry, Hermione, and Ron send their kids to Hogwarts.

Criticism

For me this film repeats the limitations of the other films which I’m told, are not as good as the books.  This public school farrago with painted hats once again has actors pointing sticks at each other but this time they bring in some Lord of the Rings type trolls.  Voldemort looks like a latex Quasimodo.  Potter and his cronies look like lottery winners in a special effects bonanza.  I’m bemused as to why this Tom Brown’s Schooldays with Dr Who, has caught on globally.  The franchise has simply grown by a sort of populist osmosis.  Like a house pet it’s been around for years and acquired a cosy familiarity.

It’s all safe and unchallenging, too comfortable with its middle class preening.  There’s nothing disconcerting or innovative.  It’s too rooted in the early 21st century to be able to say anything universal about childhood or our fantasies.  Still, crticizing it makes you feel like the Christmas party pooper, the guy who mugged Santa Claus.

Rowling has become Britain’s Disney and she may do impressive things yet, but these films lack the magic that many of her readers find in her books.  Can’t say I’m sorry to see the end of these films.  This is the last, isn’t it?.

 

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 posterSynopsis

Ralph Fiennes leads a Capone like committee of baddies who are out to get Harry Potter.  We see H.P. himself at his house and he must escape from Fiennes’ pursuit. Lots of pals assume H.P.’s appearance to throw pursuers off the scent.  H.P., Ron and Hermione  disguise themselves as adults to get into the Ministry of Magic where they take a locket. Then they go from place to place and camp out in a tent  Ron gets jealous and quits, leaving H.P. and Hermione to bond. Then H.P. and Hermione turn up at his parents’ on Christmas Eve and are attacked by a snake. Then they’re in a forest and H.P. gets a sword from a frozen pond and he’s rescued by the returning Ron.  They then chat to a sorcerer in his lonely house who tells a story of three brothers.  Then they’re attacked by Snatchers and taken to H. Bonham Carter’s jail where Dobby rescues them and he’s killed by Helena B.C.  Then R. Fiennes steals Michael Gambons’ wand, and we wait for Part 2.

Criticism

If you try to critcize H.P. you feel like a mosquito trying to topple a brick wall.  There are a few enjoyable scenes:  the tale of the three brothers is done like an Indonesian shadow puppet theatre, it reminds me of Regers’ 1950’s fairy tale silhouettes.  The scene in the forest is quite atmospheric, the Forest of Dean in the middle of winter.  The rest is underwhelming.  The three leads are charisma deficient, prolonged scenes with them are an ordeal.  I watched this with a couple of H.P. fans and they told me that new material has been interpolated, other scenes have been changed from the book.  This is curious, since J.K.R. is known as a control addict, one of the reasons she split Book 7 into two films is to get the details from the book.  It seems the romance between Hermione and Harry threatens to elbow aside any fidelity to the text, not that it’s any great loss.

I think I’ve alluded to this before, but the curious thing about a story dependant on magic is that it can undermine narrative development because it pre-empts conflict and its resolution.  When you know you can always escape a situation, then is there any reason for engagement in the first place?  The scenes are disjointed from an overall incoherence so that they do not achieve the cohesion of successive episodes.  They are more like set pieces embellishing the real interest in the story:  the sexual tension between the three adolescents.  After all, the childhood audience for H.P. has grown up with these three leads so that’s the central concern, isn’t it?  If (like me) you don’t read the books then this film does not stand on its own.  There’s cross referencing and reporting back from the other books but the viewer hasn’t got that luxury if he/she watches this on its own.

Another problem with this and other films is the comfortable familiarity of the scenes.  We either get modern British houses, public school Gothic in Hogwarts (but not in this film though) and a lonely ramshackle house in the middle of a bleak moor, a real forest and the Ministry of Magic entered by toilets.  We get jumps from place to place without any underlying continuum (which we get in the Alice books).  There is rationed visual novelty in each scene and what inventiveness there is, gets repeated in all the films:  the moving paintings and newspaper pictures, the Dr Who hi-tech wands, the oversized python.  There is plenty of gloominess which surrounds the eruption into hi-tech jinks which are merely frenetically extra contextual.  The Ministry of Magic looks like a mixture of a Victorian municipal palace and a posh toilet.  Dobby the elf looks like Vladimir Putin as a garden gnome

What. H.P. can offer is the chance for a well known actor to inject some of their own skill into the scene, and that can be a pleasure, although John Hurt only gets a few minutes.  There’s a real shrewdness and sharpness in some of the group dynamics but it gets spoiled by the three leads dumping their amateur acting across scene after scene.  Finally it’s all too much an expression of Britishness in the naughties, and those limitations will become starker as time goes by.  Arthur Mee with 21st century knowingness.

 
 

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Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes posterSynopsis

The 1968 film of the Pierre Boule novel about astronauts stranded in the future when the world is ruled by apes who have taken over from self destructive humans.  Apes replicate the cruelty of humans by treating humans as mute slaves lower down the evolutionary ladder.  Astronaut Charlton Heston is captured and then escapes with the help of sympathetic simians who show him archaeological remains of hi-tech humanity.  Heston finds the Statue of Liberty on a deserted  beach, symbol of a post apocalyptic future.

Criticism

This is a gripping sci-fi film.   It has tensions between the cynical Heston and the more idealistic astronauts.  It has satirically inverted role play between simians and humans:  the apes replicate human vanity and cruelty vis a vis the rest of nature, this is down right Swiftian.  There are no special effects to get in the way, so we can follow Heston through this nightmarish dystopia in an austere setting like the Palaeolithic era.  The first sight of the apes on horseback is quite scary and novel, and it’s nice to see the tables turned on predatory humans.  There are good satirical points made at the expense of fear-induced taboo, racism, and self serving arguments for caste arrogance over a slave culture.  It makes us uneasy as it exposes the arbitrary  symbol mongering of our rituals.  The ape settlement appears to be a sort of visionary anthropological experiment.  The caged humans are like a stage set for do-it-yourself performance art..

The film could have tried to make the Simian world more alien.  At times it looks like a Western in fancy dress, and of course there has to be a love interest between hero Charlton Heston and one of the captives.  This film was made in the same year as 2001, by contrast it wants its astronauts to be old fashioned heroes rather than the cerebral astronauts of Kubrik’s film.  Interesting to see that humourless monument, Charlton Heston, playing a cynic who becomes a hero in spite of himself.

Planet of the Apes seems to have become something of a sci-fi template setter:  the horsemen in Zardoz wear masks and remind us of the apemen on horseback, there are naked plebs threatening a tyrannical social order, there is the clinching monument that symbolizes catastrophe and dystopia.  Here it’s the Statue of Liberty, in Logans’ Run it’s the Washington memorials.  Not a discarded supermarket trolley in sight!

 

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