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Non-Review Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

The most evocative image in War for the Planet of the Apes is the United States flag, with an alpha and an omega scrawled across it.

This thematic juxtaposition is repeated throughout the film. The antagonistic human forces at the heart of War for the Planet of the Apes use the symbols as a logo. When they recruit apes into their ranks, they brand them with the symbol. When the audience is invited into their camp around half-way through the film, an oil tanker is marked the graffiti “the end and the beginning.” In some ways, this is a reflection on War for the Planet of the Apes as the final movie in a prequel trilogy, but it is also a much stronger thematic statement.

Cool customer.

At the heart of War for the Planet of the Apes is the idea that the apocalypse is not scary because it represents the end of something, but that the collapse of civilisation is so unnerving because it represents a clear slip backwards. The apocalypse threatens mankind with the idea that people are nothing more than animals, no better than their ancestors when push comes to shove. The apocalypse suggests that everything that has been accomplished can be lost in an instant. In the end, people retreat back to what they truly were, and it is horrifying.

War for the Planet of the Apes is not so much a movie about the collapse of a civilisation as a grim argument that the very idea of civilisation is transient and illusory.

Take a bow.

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Millennium – The Hand of St. Sebastian (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Hand of St. Sebastian closes out the first third of the second season of Millennium. It also marks the half-way point in the episodes credited to Morgan and Wong as writers over the course of the season – it is the sixth of a phenomenal twelve scripts credited to the showrunners, even outside their responsibilities as executive producers. In many ways, The Hand of St. Sebastian represents the point at which the stage has been completely set. It establishes the last of the basic ideas that the team will play with across the rest of the season.

The Curse of Frank Black and 19:19 had affirmed that Christian eschatology would be a driving force for the show, as if that had ever been in doubt. After all, the first season’s big two-part epic had been Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, an epic story about demons and angels. More than that, Morgan and Wong had revised the opening credits sequence of the show so that it ended with the promise that “the time is near”, an obvious textual reference to Revelation.

Circle of trust...

Circle of trust…

The Hand of St. Sebastian confirms what was inferred in Beware of the Dog when Frank pointed out that the ouroboros was “used as a secret symbol on early Christian graves.” Here, the Millennium Group itself is identified as an ancient Christian organisation, one interested in ancient Christian relics for their spiritual and magical uses. There is a decidedly pulpy feel to the second season; one that is particularly evident in The Hand of St. Sebastian, as Frank and Peter go abroad to do a modern day Raiders of the Lost Ark on a nineties television budget. Ambition is not the worst vice.

However, The Hand of St. Sebastian is perhaps most notable for putting the focuse squarely on the character of Peter Watts. Naturally, Frank plays a pretty vital role in The Hand of St. Sebastian, but the episode does a lot to develop Peter as a character. It builds off his powerful speech in The Beginning and the End to portray a man of faith searching for validation and meaning in the world. The second season really capitalised on the presence of Terry O’Quinn, recognising the actor’s immense talent and helping to establish him as a televisual talent to watch.

This is who we were...

This is who we were…

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My 12 for ’14: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The world has always seemed like it was on the cusp of something – like there was a powder keg ready to errupt. The infamous “doomsday clock” has never been further than seventeen minutes from midnight, and – outside of that brief moment of post-Cold War euphoria – mankind has always been living within a quarter-of-an-hour from the end of existence as we know it. Nuclear weapons. Global warming. Biological warfare. Economic collapse. All possible world-enders.

The new millennium has been dominated by the threats of terrorism and of global warming, unconventional opponents that can difficult to engage. However, 2014 brought its own particular brand of uncertainties and discomforts. In February, a revolution in the Ukraine sparked a political crisis in Europe, pushing Russia to loggerheads with Europe and the United States. Since August, Ferguson has been simmering away, the imagery of the protests burnt into the collective unconscious. The Syrian Civil War has faded from the front pages.

dawnoftheplanetoftheapes11

The word “revolution” seemed to simmer away in the background, with certain young activists actively travelling to Ferguson in search of their own revolution. Writing in Time magazine, Darlena Cunha compared the trouble in Ferguson to the civil unrest which gave rise to the American Revolution. Demonstrating no shortage of self-importance, actor and comedian Russell Brand published his own manifesto – helpfully titled Revolution – in whish he pledged to lead a global revolution.

“The revolution can not be boring,” Brand advised readers. They seldom are. Revolutions are typically bloody, brutal, violent, horrific. There is a reason that wars of independence tend to be followed by civil wars and internal strife. Although the idea of revolution holds a romantic allure, history demonstrates that revolutions seldom help those most in need of assistance. “Meet the new boss,” the Who teased on Won’t Get Fooled Again, “same as the old boss.” Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a harrowing and compelling exploration of revolutionary bloodshed.

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Non-Review Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Constructing a satisfying sequel is an artform unto itself. It is something that requires a great deal of skill. As with any aspect of filmmaking, building off an earlier film is a very difficult thing to do. Producing a sequel comes with its own set of artistic risks and challenges, its own obstacles and hurdles. Navigating those potential problems and finding a way to meet (and even surpass) expectations without straying too far from the framework of the original film is difficult.

As with making any movie, there are existing frameworks and structures that do a little help make navigating those problems a little easier. Perhaps the structure of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is the most obvious example. Using the trust established by the first film, the ensemble are split up to carry different strands of the plot, revealing scattered pieces of a larger whole, before reuniting for an epic finalé. Bryan Singer used this approach for X-Men II and How to Train Your Dragon 2 also followed it.

Playing him for a chimp, eh?

Playing him for a chimp, eh?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is in an interesting position. It is a sequel to a remake; a remake of a film franchise that was originally iconic and influential, before dying a slow and humiliating public death as the series diminished and collapsed. Not only does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes come with the expectations of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it comes with the revived expectations of the entire Planet of the Apes franchise; expectations restored by Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes chooses a very clever structure for this sequel, loosely following the sequel framework typified by Christopher Nolan’s work on The Dark Knight. This is a very clever approach, and it pays dividends. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an ambitious and exciting sequel, a wonderful post-apocalyptic epic and an engaging moral parable.

Going ape for it...

Going ape for it…

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Watch! New Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Trailer!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise cinematic treat in 2011, the second reboot of a franchise that had gone quite some time without a palpable hit. The movie was rare joy, rather cleverly anchoring its high-concept science-fiction premise in an engaging tale of a family divided, featuring a fantastic central performance from Andy Serkis as the somewhat forebodingly named “Caesar.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Dawn of the Planet of the Apes can match that quality, but the trailer looks like it hits the right notes – the word “family” gets repeated quite a bit, suggesting that the larger scale doesn’t mean we’ll drift too far from the themes of the original. While James Franco doesn’t look to be returning outside a small cameo on digital camcorder (although let’s not rule things out), the cast looks pretty solid. It’s a nice (nominal) lead role for Jason Clarke, and it’s always good to see Gary Oldman being unhinged.

Anyway, check out the trailer below.

My Best of 2011: Rise of the Planet of the Apes & Hailing Caesar…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is number seven. Check out my original review here.

If you had told me last year that one of the best summer blockbusters would be a prequel to The Planet of the Apes, I would have laughed at you. Hell, I’m still chuckling a bit now, trying to get over how such a strange concept on paper managed to work so well. After all, a movie about a bunch of damn dirty CGI apes taking their share of the planet from us humans, led by a chimpanzee on Alzheimer’s medication, sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. And yet, for some reason, it works incredibly well. I’ll concede that the plot is a bit ropey, and the human characters are quite underdeveloped, but I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes managed to grab its audience so well purely because it creates a fascinating and compelling three-dimensional lead character who we completely understand to and relate to.

Did I mention that the lead character is a CGI ape?

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Same Movie, Different Audience & The Variables of the Movie-Going Experience…

I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes again. I was with a relative who hadn’t seen it, and I thought I’d tag along. Part of it was to determine whether the fact that I so thoroughly enjoyed the film had been a fluke, perhaps due to relatively low levels of anticipation going in, but also because it was a good movie, and one I thought might be worth watching again. Truth be told, I enjoyed the film as much the second time, perhaps even more. However, something occurred to me while I was watching it – the audience I was with reacted quite differently to one or two key moments, which (to be honest) also impacted how I looked at those scenes. I don’t think it radically altered my opinion of the film, but I found it interesting to note how watching the film with a different group of people could lead to a slightly distinct viewing experience.

Paws for thought?

Note: This article, by its nature, will include spoilers for two key moments in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I suspect, if you’ve seen the film, you know which ones I am talking about. If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend you do before reading the article.

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