Kailey is sick this week so Doug Dillaman fills in along with special guest Sarah Watt from the Sunday Star-Times: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Calvary are reviewed and Dan interviews Dan Barrett from Weta Digital about performance captured apes. (Sorry, this one is a bit epic. We need a clock in the studio.
It may be playing in cinemas but I’m not entirely convinced that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – and, by extension, the forthcoming Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again – is actually cinema. At least not cinema the way that this particular old geezer remembers it. First, let us put aside the technological innovation for a few paragraphs and focus on the story. These films have been been created to deliver an experience to existing fans of the Lord of the Rings films and is arguably even more tailored to their needs than, say, the Twilight franchise is to their fans. It certainly makes as few concessions to the neutral.
Fans from Bratislava to Beirut want to spend as much time as possible in Middle Earth and writer-director Peter Jackson delivers – to the extent that several familiar characters make inelegant cameo appearances and the audience gets to spend considerable time acclimatising. It really doesn’t matter that I think the whole thing faffs around for far too long and already feels hyper-extended. Criticising The Hobbit for length is falling in to the trap of reviewing the film you wish you were watching instead of the one in front of you.
Like students swotting for exams New Zealand film distributors seem to have run out of year for all the films they have to release so there are some really big names being squeezed into the next two weeks. If you can’t find something to watch on – the inevitably wet – Boxing Day next Monday, then I suspect you don’t really like movies at all. And if that sounds like you, why are you still reading?
The biggest of the big names this Christmas has got to be The Adventures of Tintin. Despite Steven Spielberg’s name on the tin, it’s almost a local production when you consider the technology and skills that went into its manufacture, so we all have a small stake in its success. Luckily, Europe has embraced it so a second film has already been confirmed – and will be made here.
But enough of the cheerleading – what did I think of it? It’s good, really good. The performance capture and character design works better than ever before, Spielberg has embraced the freedom from the laws of physics that animation allows and throws the camera around with gay abandon – but always with panache and not to the point of motion sickness. Many of the visual gags are terrific and Andy Serkis as Haddock proves that there is no one better at acting under a layer of black dots and ping pong balls.
Back in 1968 the world was amazed to see a simian-looking creature displaying rudimentary (and yet clearly) human qualities. But enough about my birth, I’m here to talk about Planet of the Apes, the nightmarish vision of a world turned upside down: apes that speak, humans that are mute and enslaved, orangutans doing “science”. And of course, the big shock back then was that “it was Earth all along” – we’d caused this catastrophe ourselves with our environmental pig-headedness and our nuclear arrogance. The success of that blisteringly effective original prompted several sequels to diminished effect – although the sight (in Beneath the Planet of the Apes) of Charlton Heston pushing the final atomic button to destroy the planet in disgust at the whole sorry mess was seared on to my childhood brain forever.
In 2001 the series got the re-boot treatment courtesy of Tim Burton, a miscast Mark Wahlberg (when is he ever not?) and the final triumphant display of latex ape mask technology. Now the apes are back and there’s no sign of rubber anywhere to be found – except in some of the human performances perhaps. Rise of the Planet of the Apes serves as a prequel to the Burton film rather than a total from scratch effort – although there’s no equivalent in the original series – and the film does a terrific job of setting up a story that many of us already know as well as fondly honouring many details from the original series.
Someone described melodrama to me the other day as “unearned emotion” and that’s a helpful way to look at a few of this week’s offerings. Firstly the glossy adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel of romance and tragedy at the circus, Water for Elephants. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson plays veterinary student Jacob who, after the death of his parents, runs away to join Christoph Waltz’s struggling Depression-era circus. There he falls in love with Waltz’s downtrodden but beautiful wife Reese Witherspoon (and also Rosie the downtrodden but beautiful new elephant).
Director Francis Lawrence makes a token attempt to show us the gritty and desperate side of Depression life but in the end the high fructose corn syrup of traditional Hollywood romance smothers everything. Pattinson remains dead behind the eyes as always, Witherspoon fails to convince as an acrobat and Waltz repeats his Oscar-winning psychopathic Nazi from Inglourious Basterds only without the great Tarantino dialogue.
“We had this incredible week. Cameron was there, Peter Jackson was there (who’s directing one of the three Tintin films), and Steven Spielberg was there (who’s directing another). All in the same room!”
Spielberg was in Wellington?![via Black Magic]