Monday, July 24, 2017

CGI Ape-ocolypse Now, or Thoughts on War For the Planet of the Apes

Apes are already an endangered species; we’ve treated them horribly in real life, so why should War For the Planet of the Apes (2017) be any different, even though it’s a fight for survival between a new apex predator and, well, us?  The humans are suffering from a degenerative virus that will take away their speech and lower their intelligence in future generations while that same virus is raising up the so-called lower primates.  It’s like an ironic punishment from the Greek Gods, for our sins of hubris and over-reliance on CGI instead of good screenwriting and well-constructed plots.  You know, stories, you remember what those were like, you remember when stories were important.
But in the meantime we get to see monkeys riding horses, which is always entertaining, except what we’re really seeing is Andy Serkis in a gimp suit, riding a horse (and now that you mention it, there's no guarantee that you're even seeing a real horse).  The filmmakers have been so defensive about this new art form and how the human element shows through all these layers of digital artifice in interviews, but who are they really trying to convince?  They’re like the tailors from The Emperor’s New Clothes sewing beautiful suits from invisible thread.
All cinema is based on deception, acting is lying on a professional scale, but there’s an inherent unreality to digital art, it’s disposable and momentary; that’s why the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park (1993) look so dated and fake now.  Though I suppose we don’t have to ever worry about hitting the uncanny valley with monkeys because those faces will never be as familiar to us as our own.  But these digital ape faces will never have the charm and nuance of a human face covered with latex and yak-hair.  Compare Lake, a computer accurate chimp portrayed by Sarah Canning in this movie against Lisa Marie or Helena Bonham Carter in Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, or Kim Novak in the original 1968 version and tell me who would you rather watch onscreen?  Who is more interesting as a character?  You can see their humanity in traditional makeup; in obvious ways like through the eyes but also subtle cues from motions and gestures.  Those motions and gestures might be captured into algorithms, but you can’t replicate the eyes, because digital characters have no soul.
The original Planet of the Apes (1968) was a heavy-handed but entertaining metaphor for the Civil Rights movement, whereas this franchise isn’t really a metaphor for anything, only another example how modern audiences are easily entertained by expensive digital tricks.  I blame the rise of the video game culture, but what do I know. 

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