Late to the Party of the Apes

Yes, I know that the movie came out awhile ago now. Don’t look at me like that Caesar.

It's frightening.

It’s frightening.

Still, I think that I want to throw my two cents in on the glorious movie that is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In keeping with my petty cash metaphor, the first of my two pennies on the subject is about the plot – and why I think the loose interpretation of the series continues to be good. The second of the pennies is exclusively about CGI Monkey Facial Expressions.

It is widely agreed that the 2014 series is a loose interpretation of the original series movie – Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. I stress the loose interpretation, but there are still lines that can be drawn between the two of them. All in all I think that the newer iteration is tackling a different subject (I’m not just talking about the threat of fully-realized CGI Apes instead of the imminent incursion of people in monkey masks). For those of you who love the original series – please try not to bite my head off.

In the original series, the influx of apes before the rebellion is blamed on Americans using the creatures as pets – but soon after the purpose of the pets is warped into being easy enslaved labor. Especially in the modern day, the concept of apes being used for labor is so outrageous that I won’t even let PETA get out of bed to argue it for me.

Z Z Z Z...

Z Z Z Z…

See? Sleeping soundly, because we aren’t trying to make dogs work in a factory. Or make cats fix your plumbing. Not going to happen.

I’m much quicker to buy that the uplifted apes came out of an extraordinarily effective anti-Alzheimer treatment implemented through a virus. As a double wammy, it explains why apes could all become uplifted the minute one of them escaped the lab. If it wasn’t so sudden, I’d have to ask why we didn’t take action earlier.

All this also retools the movie to move away from the obvious racial implications of the first series. Now they focus on the fears that are all the rage in the media today. Superflus. Bioweapons. With Ebola tearing through the world, it feels pretty on point.

Ah, but its time for the second penny. While watching the facial expression of Caesar and his accompanying apes, I was left wondering “Why have I seen real non-digital casts of characters with worse characterizations and expressions than these apes?”

Well, I do have to concede that there were motion capture artists responsible for the facial expressions realized in the movie. With Caesar being captured by the talented Andy Serkis and the other apes by numerous other talents, no wonder it was fantastic.

Thanks, Alex!

Thanks, Alex!

No problem, guys.

But there was still something more to it. I think that in an environment where animators are constantly asking themselves what they should be doing with the motion and appearance of their digital characters – not just for the span of a scene, but for each single second – it puts pressure on the motion capture actors to give more thought into their second-by-second performance than even a live actor might put into it. They aren’t accountable for scenes, they are accountable for moments.

And truly, its something to see.



    1. I eagerly await the day that the alien drop ship cracks open on the steps of the white house – and out crawls a crew full of extraterrestrial apes. That movie would deserve an A+.

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