Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

“From Humans… Koba Learned Hatred”

Those viewers wanting to see Andy Serkis outperform himself as Caesar, and perfectly capture the famous ape’s rise from revolutionary leader to potential king of Earth’s dominant species, will not be disappointed with this summer’s simian blockbuster. Matt Reeve’s take on what makes for a science-fiction sequel, is darker, more stylistic and arguably more emotional than Wyatt’s surprisingly and refreshingly good reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Most of all, there is an underlying intelligence in both the script and its delivery that has appeased many of the saga’s purist fans.

But despite all this intricate emotion etched so magnificently on these motion-capture creatures, which pulls you in like nothing else before, I can’t help but feel it begins to overload the film with an obsession to display the characters, without much scope for the bigger picture. Therefore, the plot is slightly unambitious with a tinge of self-doubt, almost as if the writers Bomback and co didn’t want to make too many decisions and employ too many twists. This is disappointing considering that the array of gentle metaphors and nods to the original franchise are more than visually satisfying. But was I left feeling mystified and pleasantly bewildered in the way that true dystopian science-fiction should leave me? I will have to say no. In fact, I walked away from the whole experience feeling not so much shortchanged, but with a pocketful of unspendable currency.

After the release of the deadly virus that ironically turns from a cure into humanity’s biggest threat, the Earth is left with only pockets of humans left. One of these isolated areas is situated in San Francisco, just on the other side of the bridge from the new intelligent ape colony, led by the stoic and optimistic Caesar. The bridge that divides and joins the two species acts as a nicely digestible go-between for the two sides, commendably isolating the action to the woods, the city and the dam. This sets the film both as a prequel to older films, as well as creating a new timeline. On either side is the stereotypical family man, in this case Clarke and Caesar, and the pessimist, which is played by Oldman and the villainous Koba, who steals the show with his cunning and villanous motives.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a fantastic film and a stunning visual achievement, especially in terms of the apes themselves. But the fact that the apes were both more interesting and exciting to watch than the humans, is both testament to the groundbreaking use of effects and also a worrying finger that points towards a lack of scene stealing dialogue for Oldman and co to work with. This leaves me with a slight concern for the film’s longevity, as the technology and visual effects becomes older and less impressive, and the slightly predictable plot rises to the surface.

Shapstik Verdict: A more visually impressive and spectacular instalment than its predecessor. But for me, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is deceivingly visual in nature and lacks the dramatic pivots that are needed to make it a great in modern science-fiction. In so many ways it is the pinnacle of cinematic achievement, with enough intelligence and focus on the characters to ensure the action moves at fast pace. But after getting used to the visual effects, it all ends with a rather lacklustre, predictable and anti-climatic set of scenes that leave me wondering whether it truly deserves the plaudits it seems to be getting. 7/10

 

 

 

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Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

“I think you know what the problem is, just as well as I do”

It may be slightly too operatic for most of today’s popcorn munching 3D generation, but without doubt Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey is still one of the most intelligent and analysed films of all time. From the patient and chilling The Dawn of Man scene, through to the mysteriously metaphorical transcendence to the birth of a star child, which has left even the most hardened movie goer feeling like they just sat through a silent lecture on the philosophy of evolution.

But amongst all the layers and achingly patient space ballets, there is one defining image that became arguably the most iconic: HAL 9000. This bar-setting villain laid the way for countless copycat artificial intelligences for many years to come, with its calm and calculated tone and one, unblinking eye.  Representing the post-modern fear of relying on technology, its inhumane decision-making serves only to highlight the idea that humanity’s tools have far exceeded its ability to control them.

Not only does it contain the most famous line to ever to be spoken by a computer in science-fiction, this scene was also light-years ahead of its time in the depiction of space. The overriding feeling of silence, of loneliness and detachment, are ingeniously crafted as Dr. Dave Bowman’s pod sits waiting at the entrance to the spaceship. I absolutely love the way that HAL, despite being able to communicate with the pod, condescendingly waits several moments before answering Dave’s calls, a human trait from an imperfect machine built by an imperfect species.

hal2

Whether HAL has gone “mad” or not, is up for debate, but perhaps the overriding goals for the mission, are simply a cover for its own development and mirroring of humanity, as its instinct for self preservation starts to dictate its decision making. This is seen further in HAL’s suggestion that Dave knows what the problem is, “just as well as I do”. The “I”, being the now dangerously autonomous intelligence becoming self aware.

It really is incredible how far down the rabbit hole one can go in just a two minute scene, but that is just testament to how incredibly ground-breaking Kubrick’s masterpiece was, and why it has more analysis on it than any other science-fiction film. If you haven’t seen it in a while, I think a re-watch is definitely in order, I know I will.

Hope you like my Movie Clip of the Week! Look out for next week’s coming soon!

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Ghostbusters (1984)

“Listen! …you smell something?”

For me, eighties film does not get much better than the library scene from Ivan Reitman’s perennial Ghostbusters.  It is such a perfectly balanced mix of comedy and horror that every line, every turn of the corner is as unexpected as the last. What makes it all work is the polar opposite attitude from the scientists. With Aykroyd’s feverish passion for the science, combined with Murray’s almost disinterested approach.

The intelligent, creepy and iconic music knits all the slightly claustrophobic camera shots together, as the three paranormal investigators shuffle and squeeze through the aisles, following the camera around the corners like a tongue-in-cheek take on Kubrick’s The Shining. The script is nailed on at the right moments to deliver an edgy yet appealing experience that, let’s face it, still scared the crap out of us when the ghost finally makes an appearance.

An iconic scene from a fantastic film, that feels like it was designed with Bill Murray in mind. I hope you enjoy watching it back like I did, and keep an eye out for next week’s Movie Clip of the Week!

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

“The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural.”

The Star Wars prequels get a lot of stick in general, and probably rightly so. But out of all the wooden acting, disappointing CGI and woolly Lucas-science, there is one shining light: Ian McDiarmid. His classic stage acting experience means that the lack of physical backdrops is no issue. His portrayal of Palpatine/Sidious and his seduction of Annakin does not just make Revenge of the Sith the best of the three prequels, but actually really underrated.

I have chosen the opera scene because it is not just a pivotal moment in the entire saga, but it also displays how simple but effective patient and thoughtful acting can be. The way McDiarmid tells the story gels so well with the ominous tones of Williams’ score, making the whole scene genuinely eerie and dark. More importantly, outside of the predictable nature of Annakin’s future, we are treated to something that feels genuinely new and interesting, and I for one cannot help but lean in when Ian first delivers the the opening line to the Plagueis story.

Tragedy

I will admit, Hayden’s acting is still dodgy, even if it is his best performance in the saga, and yes, this whole scene could be cynically seen as a trailer for James Luceno’s book Darth Plagueis (read it by the way, really good story). But let that not detract from a great plot anecdote in the Star Wars saga, something fairly rare in the original trilogy, which delightfully adds weight to the Palpatine character. Lucas may have fallen short in directing terms with the prequels, but it is moments like this that remind us all that his talent as a writer of original sci-fi cannot be ignored. Lucas cleverly introduces the story of Darth Plagueis to give the impression of myth and age, when in fact Palpatine is simply using his own memories to give himself the leverage needed to pull Annakin over.

First and foremost a politician, Palpatine is an expert in manipulation, and McDiarmid portrays the soon-to-be emperor so well, knitting every word and every gesture together. The defining moment when Annakin asks how to gain this special ability, McDiarmid absolutely nails the look of self satisfaction mixed with feigned surprise as he turns his head and says: “Not from a Jedi”. Already a classic Star Wars moment despite its intrinsic relation to the overall displeasure towards the prequels, and without doubt my favourite moment from the entire prequel trilogy.

I hope you enjoyed my Movie Clip of Week, look out for the next scene, and keep the suggestions coming!