Tag Archives: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Should SF Be More Optimistic?

A panel at Chicon 7 discussed whether science fiction has become too pessimistic. Dystopian dramas such as The Road, The Walking Dead, and I Am Legend seem to dominate today’s market. Is this a reflection of current societal woes, or a more widespread sense of doom towards the future by writers and producers? What part do readers and audiences play in contributing to the popularity of these darker stories?

My feeling is that modern science fiction is no more or less optimistic than it has ever been. Classics such as Metropolis, Dr. Strangelove, and Blade Runner have often painted cautionary pictures of the future, warning us of what might be, not what will be. I would argue that dystopian SF is generally more thought-provoking than utopian SF. The best literature relies on conflict to propel characters to change and grow. Utopian societies are often bland and uninteresting.

Things like Buck Rogers and Star Trek are loved by millions for their optimistic visions of technological innovation and political harmony, but even they have conflict to drive their stories. They are often criticized for their naïvety, too.

Taking a look at this year’s Hugo Award nominees, I see optimistic stories far outnumbering the dystopias. Among the novels, Deadline is really the only dystopia, and even it has an underlying optimism that says society will learn to deal with a zombie apocalypse with new medical testing and security technologies. Among the dramatic presentations, Game of Thrones could possibly be considered a pessimistic fantasy universe, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows certainly has some very dark moments before the forces of good spectacularly triumph over the forces of evil.

Last year saw pessimistic films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Contagion, but they were more than countered by generally optimistic offerings such as Source Code, Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Thor, Cowboys and Aliens, and Paul.

Science fiction TV has been dominated for several years by Doctor Who, the ultimate in optimism. Battlestar Galactica was certainly dark, but depicted the eventual triumph of humans. I think one reason Terra Nova failed was that audiences were not attracted to a world where running away from a dystopian society was encouraged rather than staying and working to improve it. Meanwhile, shows like Eureka, Alphas, and Warehouse 13 continue to offer lighthearted SF adventure.

To me, no matter how dark or depressing a science fiction story is, there is a fundamental optimism inherent in all science fiction. After all, science fiction (at least the majority that’s set in the future) imagines that there will be a future for mankind. You can’t get much more optimistic than that!

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For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

The deadline for nominating works for the Hugo Awards is March 11, 2012. Members (as of January 31, 2012) of Renovation, Chicon 7, or LoneStarCon 3 are eligible to nominate. For the Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, I have compiled a list of productions that could be considered.

A number of people are recommending Hugo be nominated. Hugo is by far my favorite film of 2011, but I just don’t see how people can consider it a fantasy. It’s got an automaton as a plot point, but that’s based on a real invention. I suppose Hugo could be considered an alternate history, but that seems to be stretching the definition too much.

A multi-part production such as Game of Thrones or Torchwood: Miracle Day can be nominated in the Long Form category if nominators feel that the mini-series should be taken as a whole, rather than as individual episodes. The dividing line between Short Form and Long Form is 90 minutes running time, but may be adjusted slightly one way or another if a majority of nominators place a borderline work in the other category.

My expectation is that Game of Thrones will be nominated no matter what, so I will use my nominations for other works. I will surely nominate Rango, and most likely Arthur Christmas, Puss in Boots, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and X-Men: First Class will make up my other choices. The Adventures of Tintin and Source Code would also be worthy, in my opinion.

For your consideration:

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adventures of Tintin  [Annie Award nominee]

Another Earth

Arthur Christmas [Annie Award nominee]

Captain America: The First Avenger

Cars 2 [Annie Award nominee]

Cowboys & Aliens

The Divide

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

Game of Thrones, Season 1 [Emmy Award nominee]

Gnomeo & Juliet

Green Lantern

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

In Time

Kung Fu Panda 2  [Annie Award and Academy Award nominee]

Limitless

Melancholia

Midnight in Paris [Academy Award nominee]

Paul

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Puss in Boots  [Annie Award and Academy Award nominee]

Rango [Annie Award winner and Academy Award nominee]

Real Steel

Rio  [Annie Award nominee]

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Source Code

Super 8

The Thing

Thor

Torchwood: Miracle Day

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Winnie the Pooh

X-Men: First Class

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver; directed by Rupert Wyatt

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.