My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Last night I had the opportunity to see an industry screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Before the film there was a panel discussion with Andy Serkis, Director Rupert Wyatt, and Supervising Sound Editors John A. Larsen and Chuck Michael. After the film Serkis stuck around to answer audience questions.
This was a fascinating look into how they captured Serkis’s performance as Caesar the chimpanzee. In fact, they made a point to call the process performance capture rather than motion capture. They showed three sets of scenes comparing the raw footage of Serkis in his performance capture suit with the rendered final product. It was obvious that the digital artists were able to capture Serkis’s nuanced acting remarkably well. The panel pointed out that although the technology is relatively new, this kind of acting goes back to ancient Greeks who routinely used masks in their theater productions. They also likened it to shadow acting in other cultures and to something like John Hurt’s performance in The Elephant Man (1980) where prosthetics covered his head. The term digital make-up was how they referred to the process.
One of the things Serkis revealed was that he was starting a performance capture studio in England. He said that in 5-10 years the industry would fully embrace this technology just as it has embraced all new technologies from sound to digital cameras. He said that younger actors who grew up on video games would have no problems accepting performance capture as just another tool to help them enhance their craft. One of the breakthroughs in Rise is the ability to film outside of a green-screen stage. This enables the performers to fully interact with each other in any type of setting. As the technology progresses, I’m sure we will see even more innovations to improve the quality and reduce costs.
It remains to be seen whether the acting community accepts performance capture enough to nominate someone like Serkis for an Oscar. Certainly Serkis’s co-star, James Franco, supports this, as he recently wrote in an editorial for Deadline. I suspect that it’s not in the cards this year, but one day it will be.
As a reboot of an established franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes far outshines the Tim Burton effort in 2001. Rise takes the original fourth movie, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and reimagines how intelligent apes could plausibly replace humans.
I found myself liking the film more this second time than when I saw it last summer. Serkis’s performance certainly is the heart and soul of the film. It’s not often that an actor can get an audience to root for the end of humanity. John Lithgow as an Alzheimer’s sufferer provides a poignantly emotional counterweight. The film does have some rough spots, mostly in the stereotypical portrayals of the greedy corporate CEO (David Oyelowo) who will do anything for a profit and the abusive animal keeper (Tom Felton) who together do most of the damage in provoking Caesar to rebel. But then, without them there would be no story.
How the rebooted scenario will play out in future films will be interesting to see. Serkis told the audience last night that while they were watching the film Wyatt had been telling Serkis his plans for the sequel. Of course, Serkis didn’t even hint at what those plans were, but he certainly looked excited at the prospect. As a lifelong fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise in general, and this new version in particular, I’m looking forward to more adventures of Caesar and his descendants.