Browsing all articles from August, 2011

planetoftheapes

So yeah, this will probably happen.

That Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the thinking man’s summer blockbuster should come as no surprise to those who’ve followed the simian saga so far. Each film in the storied franchise contains plenty of thought provoking sentiment that you wouldn’t normally find in a generic blockbuster. It seems you can get away with metaphorical murder as long as your film stars apes in polyester suits.

Along with downbeat endings and chimpanzees that look strangely like Christian Bale, one of the hallmarks of the Apes series is a strain of deep-running social commentary that makes them strangely prescient in regard to real-world events. Well, either that or the films are recycling what’s gone before and history is condemned to continually repeat itself. For the sake of this post I’m going to assume it’s the former – despite naturally being of the glass-is-half-full disposition.

Anyway, here are four real world events, as predicted by the Planet of the Apes saga – even the not very good one by Tim Burton.

The Intelligent Design debate

Planet of the Apes takes a hypothetical large pole and uses it to skewer organised religion, taking particular care to smite the idea of creationism. Despite excavating evidence to the contrary, the apes in the first film believe they are the first race to gain enlightenment and they’ll go to any length to maintain that belief, including hindering their scientists and using fear to keep their people in line. Which adds an extra layer of cynicism and real-world relevance.

Unlike the film, there doesn’t seem to be a begrudging live and let live arrangement in real life. Though on the bright side, that also means we don’t have to wander the desert in a loincloth until we realise that we’re all completely fucked. I think the encyclopedia entry for ‘Small Mercies’ may need a new example.

Celebrity Culture

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Katie and Peter: The Final Chapter

A couple of talking chimps feted by sophisticated society for their lack of pretension and ignorance of social norms are eventually ostracised, when the true nature of their existence is revealed and people get a little bit bored of their earthy ways. Yes, the story of Peter Andre and Jordan’s financially incentivised romantic coupling is truly a film script come to life. In this case, the film is Escape from the Planet of the Apes. And just like real-life, this state of affairs becomes even more sinister when the well-heeled realise these actions could inspire the less intelligent of their race to do the same. This is further compounded when it’s discovered they’re breeding.

But that’s where reality and fiction diverge; The Only Way is Essex and the continued awareness of the existence of Peter Andrew attests that the real chimps’ ending isn’t half as bad as their fictional counterparts. As the unwritten rule of the Apes film dictates, it ends less happily for Zira and Cornelius. Sob. But as depressing as this cinematic ending is, it’s arguably not as miserable as watching ITV 2.

The Arab Spring

A dispossessed class, forced into mindless servitude, unite to overthrow their privileged masters. Despite an equal level of synthetic clothing, the plot of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t bear much resemblance to the recent London Riots – as the lack of basmati rice and stolen plasma screens attest. But it does bear more than a passing muster to the momentous Arab Spring revolution in the Middle East. Having been inspired by the radical actions of an individual, the dispossessed literally go ape-shit in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, rebelling against those who’ve enslaved them in a bloody coup that appears to take place in Milton Keynes.

Unfortunately there’s no third act in real life, so while the rebellion in ‘Conquest’ takes about 20 minutes, in real life we have the bloody actions of oppressors met with some stern words from the UN. I’m no mathematician but I suspect the percentage of this shit happening on Charlton Heston’s watch is about -100%.

George W. Bush’s presidency

dubya-apes

The Sit Down of the Ape

The prescient potency of the Planet of the Apes series cannot be denied. Even Tim Burton’s otherwise inept remake contained an element of foresight, ending as it did with a chimp reclining on a seat of power in Washington DC the very same year George W Bush took office. And while this ending was contrived and confusing, at least it only lasted a couple of minutes. The real life Commander and chimp’s term lasted for 8 shitting years.

The Planet of the Apes remake ended on a downer, mainly because it was so pants. Though all hope is not lost because the new film is very good indeed. So let’s make the most of it while we can as, according to ape lore, we have psychic humans with melted faces, the further intellectual decline of the human race, enslavement by smarter apes and a nuclear apocalypse to look forward to. That should make for some interesting reality TV.

super-8

But there are only 4 of them!

The following contains minor spoilers for Super 8.

Aliens are the new zombies. That’s not to suggest that there’s necessarily anything new about them (doubly so when it comes to Super 8, but we’ll get to that). But they seem to be the latest genre staple to get a shot in the arm since everyman and his dog, and Brad Pitt appear to be making films about the un-dead. And as with zombies, we’re seeing the charge from innovative filmmakers making the most of reduced budgets and summer blockbusters following behind with less offensive fare.

Super 8 slavishly follows the Spielberg template to such an extent that you can’t help but wonder if the Berg received the script and thought that someone was taking the piss. Then again, maybe he moved offices and forgot to tell anyone? Although he put his name to Transformers, so maybe he really doesn’t care. Either way, the film’s Spielberg-ness, which is undoubtedly the film’s strength – at least from a marketing perspective, and probably the reason it was made in the first place, is also its major weakness.

The basic premise of Super 8 – beyond the fairly innocuous storyline about a bunch of kids making a film – that a giant alien is going around a small town robbing cars and eating people doesn’t really gel with the formula established in Close Encounters and ET. Sure, each of those films had its darker aspects, with Richard Dreyfuss undergoing a mental breakdown and Elliott’s broken family, respectively, but as dark as they got, neither film featured the aliens abducting and eating their family members. This wouldn’t be a problem in itself but the fact the lead character is supposed to develop a sympathetic bond with the creature, which causes his eventual emotional catharsis, seems illogical at best, and pretty silly at worst.

In fact, with these conflicting aspects you can’t help but wonder who the film is made for. If the aim was the make it for today’s kids then why didn’t they set it in the present? The fact they’d probably end up making an alien happy-slapping film on their smart-phones notwithstanding. The real clue is in the title; if it were made for kids it wouldn’t it be called something else? Something that doesn’t raise questions like ‘when did the other 7 come out?’ or ‘where were all the superheroes?’

It’s telling that JJ Abrams decided to call the film Super 8. As mentioned, the story of children making their own zombie film on a super 8 camera really doesn’t have much relevance to the film’s plot. In fact it’s clearly more important to JJ Abrams on a personal level than it is in service to the script he wrote. In many ways this makes Super 8 is a really expensive fan film, with Abrams attempting an Amblin-era Spielberg film that features his own hallmarks: lens-flare, an alien that looks like a giant crab monster sucking lemons and a now-tokenistic marketing campaign that drip-feeds information to create mystery.

The recent Attack the Block seems like the next logical step from the Amblin films of yesteryear, and I argue is far more worthy of picking up the mantle. Sure, on surface level, the tale of a bunch of chavs fighting some hairy wolf-gorilla aliens bears little relation to most things, especially ET and its ilk. But, like ET, it’s also an examination of contemporary family dynamics and how they are impacted by the arrival of visitors from space. It just so happens that for many the modern family is so broken that kids are raising themselves.

Despite a fairly unique premise, Attack the Block is definitely beholden to the films of yesterday; it just knows how to tip its baseball cap without drowning in a pool of nostalgia. It looks backward but moves things forward. And is all the better for it.

trespass

1. Trespass

Eschewing the trend of getting hip young stars and writing stuff all over their faces (see also: The Social Network, Thor, The Adjustment Bureau, Hangover 2), Cage and Kidman’s big screen adaptation of the popular outdoor clothing brand harks back to the days when star-power sold a film. Unfortunately it doesn’t hark back to the days before Photoshop.

‘WHEN TERROR IS AT YOUR DOORSTEP YOU CAN RUN OR YOU CAN FIGHT’. Strangely, Kidman and Cage appear to be doing neither; they seem to be hunkered down, looking bemused in a dusty storage room – which may actually be a not-too-subtle comment on their respective careers. Ouch. Then again, they both possess strange waxy visages, so maybe it’s a film about trespassers in Madame Tussauds – a bit like a ‘Night at the Museum Nights’. ¬†Either way, the poster for the new Joel Schumacher film is not very good. And yet the world keeps turning…

adbuction-poster

2. Abduction

A film poster should capture the essence of the film it’s promoting. Some may tell you that that The Smurfs movie is one of the worst film posters of 2011 but, by featuring a bunch of small blue creatures acting like imbeciles, it’s simply fulfilling its remit of appealing to kids while acting as a red flag to adults. Job done.

Our next entry however subscribes to the kitchen sink aesthetic of ‘throw whatever you can at the screen and see what sticks’. It seems someone took that literally, as amongst helicopters, broken glass and guns they’ve actually got the wolf-boy from Twilight and stuck him to a building – albeit one that violates numerous laws of both planning and science.

If the Abduction poster succeeds in its remit then said remit is clearly: ‘a little bit of Inception, a little bit of Bourne and a lot of crap.’

straw_dogs_poster2011

3. Straw Dogs

The tagline’ EVERYONE HAS A BREAKING POINT’ will be familiar to anyone who remembers a time when films weren’t remade at five-year intervals, and posters didn’t contain the word ‘Facebook’. Straw Dogs 2011’s emulation of the original poster is bound to bring fans of the original just that little bit closer to theirs – though it does suggest a knowing awareness that the actual film will probably lack.

Strangely, Alexander Skarsgard’s face is only reflected in the broken part of the glasses, which suggests that he’s actually emerging from James Marsden’s eye-socket and not actually facing him at all. Perhaps Straw Dogs 2011 is going for a change of tack. Or maybe the film, like the poster, is unimaginative nonsense.

x-men-xavier

4 and 5. X-Men: First Class

Most people are aware that the ‘face-writing’ trend started with the poster for The Social Network. And while that visual trend gave birth to a host of imitators, they still maintained some level of stylistic appeal. The flip side of that coin, however, is ‘face-violation’ – as evidenced by the Straw Dogs poster and initiated by two of the worst film posters of all time*.

X-Men First Class is one of my favourite films of the year; it’s amusing, relentlessly entertaining and exciting. Yet the printed marketing for First Class was uniformly poor, reaching its nadir with the now-infamous Facebook posters that can never be unseen.

x-men-erik

I couldn’t really decide which was the worst, but as Professor X has no feeling below the waist, he’s probably resolutely unaware of James McAvoy’s face violating his nether regions. No such luck for Magneto, who suffers the indignity of a young Master of Magnetism’s face playing havoc with his flies.

It’s worth pointing out the ‘x-cellent’ (yeah, I went there) Total Film magazine covers that promoted the film, as they certainly ‘got it’ more than the film’s marketing department. I also suspect they may have influenced the equally charming retro posters for Captain America.

total-film-x-men1total-film-x2total-film-x3

* Despite currently being billions of years from extinction – or ‘1’ if you believe Roland Emmerich – I’m fairly sure the human-race will not suffer many film posters as bad as these.