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Ok, that's all.
The rankings are determined by the objective and subjective quality of each film. Each franchise must be about five films or more, and still fresh in my mind. For example, not all of the MCU films are fresh in my mind, and hence will not be listed unless I choose to re-watch them.
Eligible (or soon eligible) franchises I could investigate: • Mission Impossible • Mad Max (After Next Film) • The MCU • The Bourne Films • Pirates of the Caribbean • Battlestar Galactica • Jurassic Park (After Next Film) • Indiana Jones (After Next Film) • James Bond • Highlander • Pirates of the Caribbean (Needs Rewatching)
Looks like it'll be a damn good year for science fiction!
This list is roughly in order, though it's far more solidified near the top than it is in the honorable mentions area.
Note: As the year's gone on, I've discovered upcoming films continuously. I don't know how the hell to structure this list anymore. I wanted to do it in order of most-to-least anticipated, but my anticipation for films changes constantly, and it's hard ranking one's I've seen with newer additions. I might just arrange it chronologically. . . .
I will still let myself add films throughout the year though, and I'll update the descriptions with my thoughts once I've seen the film. I'm also aiming to write and link to full-length reviews in the descriptions. I can't promise I'll write one for each and every title, but I will for certain if I see it in theaters.
Also see. . . .
The titles on this list are very loosely in some kind of order of anticipation, though there's a slight emphasis on newer shows.
Primarily this list is to help me keep track of where I am with the shows I'm watching.
Also see. . . .
If I give a film the rating of a "10" then by default I place it on this list. I may also select a few "9's", at my own discretion.
New rule: I've got to watch it at least twice to keep a movie on here. Just so I'm sure. (* = Due for a re-watch)
There is a degree of subjective taste involved, but I'm also looking at overall objective quality and the score's relationship with the narrative.
Note: This list is due for an overhaul.
Overall, this was a really strong year for film music. Part of me wonders if that's only an illusion that coincides with my heightened/realized interest in film beginning in 2016, and the newness of it all infatuated me. Perhaps I'm more in tune with the film score community than before. Perhaps the underwhelming nature of years prior to this are in line. Who knows?!
Multiple notable scores were produced this year, and even the honorable mentions are fairly strong. Scores such as The BFG and Fantastic Beasts were held back by presentation in the films, where major themes are mostly reserved for the end credits or soundtrack albums, not given a full statement or proper exposure in the actual movie.
There were a few strong franchise scores, but I tried not to include anything that didn't extend upon the previous material impressively, or just blow me away in general. This is why I left out Ottman's X-Men Apocalypse, Giacchino's Star Trek Beyond, & to a lesser extent Rogue One.
Also worthy of mention is McCreary's 10 Cloverfield Lane, Dario Marianelli's Kubo and the Two Strings, and Nicholas Britell's score for Moonlight, all of which I liked, but didn't find memorable/impressive enough to include. Alan Menken's theme for Sausage Party was also fantastic, but I wasn't really sure how well it'd fit with the list. I suppose I'll have revisit it.
I plan on revisiting, listening, or viewing the following scores for consideration on this list: • Pete's Dragon • Sausage Party • Now You See Me 2 (& 1 lol)
Best Film Scores of 2016 Best Film Scores of 2015 Best Film Scores of 2014
This list combines the objective and subjective quality of each film. Films that receive 9's or 10's are placed on here by default, and some 8's may be placed here at my discretion. They are ranked.
This list combines the objective and subjective quality of each film. Films that receive 9's or 10's are placed on here by default, and some 8's may be placed here at my discretion. They are ranked.
This list combines the objective and subjective quality of each film. Films that receive 9's or 10's are placed on here by default, and some 8's may be placed here at my discretion. They are ranked.
Over the years audiences have felt the warm, moist hand of destiny on the smalls of their backs. . . pushing. . . pushing. . .
Which is your favorite portrayal of the mighty Tick? SPOON!
Thank you, good citizen!
This Is Us: Pilot (2016)
Trite & Emotionally Forced, But Not Without Potential (Pilot Episode)
I haven't reviewed singular episodes for shows in the past, and I don't intend to make a habit out of this (it irks my obsessive-compulsive side), but I've got a lot to say here. Bear with me, even though my opinion may not be perfectly uplifting or agreeable. Don't worry, it's not all negative.
So obviously, this show is clichéd, and contains more than its fair share of eye-rolling moments. Some people might have a higher tolerance for that, but given all the praise it's been given I expected more.
The "we're all connected" text in the beginning tries suggesting that there's some kind of supernatural fate/destiny theme in store, which naturally disarms my suspension of disbelief. Then they proceed to rub salt in the wound and try to make it out as though it's a scientific profundity yet to be discovered, by citing Wikipedia. I can see someone pitching the Wikipedia bit to a studio as a joke, or maybe for an absurdist comedy show. . . but it doesn't work here--it's borderline insulting even. They haven't taken it too far just yet. Right now it all fits within the confines of everyday coincidence, and I'm hoping they try to play into that instead, and get some mileage out of reality, unless they can manage to do otherwise more cleverly.
The cast/characters are comprised of mostly pretty people, and even the people who aren't conventionally pretty look made-up, clean, and collected--or at least well within the comfort zone of middle-class suburb-dwellers. It doesn't seem outside the realms of possibility that they'd venture outside of this territory though.
Now for the biggest problem the pilot has: it's forced. The show has two moments that felt real (the "this is real" marketing bit is painfully miscalculated so far), and even then, it quickly undermines the only moments it has going for it by plugging in some clichéd underscore. There's a good moment for example with Milo Ventimiglia in the hospital, where his overwhelmed state with reality was strongly-portrayed, and Justin Hartley's meltdown was borderline brutal. . . but then the music comes in, and it's clear that the show doesn't trust the audience to figure out how they should feel by themselves. This was painfully distracting, and boiled my blood just enough to make a good scene into a loathsome experience. Put more simply, it undermines its few sincere moments by having low expectations from its audience's emotional intelligence.
Speaking of the music, I should clarify that the compositions themselves aren't bad. The end music is really well composed for example, and Siddhartha Khosla's name is worthy of mention, and perhaps eventually quite a bit of praise (I even let the whole musical cue on the DVD's menu play out before I started the episode). The music is however poorly spotted. Moments aren't emotionally earned, and don't respect the audience enough to trust them with an emotional reaction on their own. You can't blame the composer for poor spotting on the director's part, though, so again, the compositions themselves were fine.
The episode does make a few attempts to be self aware, makings fun of forced shows or programs perpetuated on air by low-standard audiences and their mindless consumption. It then proceeds to do exactly what it's trying to commentate on. The sad thing is that it's trying to be self-aware, but bypasses any amount of metacognition that would allow that to work.
The best part is the end of the episode, in which there's a twist/revelation that feels clever, and even exciting. This moment is by far the episode's saving grace, though not enough of one to let it off the hook for the forty painful minutes that preceded it. It probably didn't help that I finished the episode after re-viewing The Return of the King--the most singularly transcendent experience in cinema that I can fathom at the moment, with every frame being wholly emotionally earned and bearing a truly profound catharsis. And boy what a contrast this was!
I'm not prepared to make any accusations, but the current acclaim begs the question of artificially-inflated ratings. I can see how someone would like it, but you'd think that this low of expectations for audiences would irritate a few people at least. Far fewer are irritated than I'd expect is all, I'm not ready to put any stakes in that claim.
As bad as I think this pilot is, I think there's still room for a decent show here. A show is only as good as its high-points, and this is only one episode. I'll put myself through the first season at least before I let myself call a quits.
Here's to hoping for better with coming episodes.
Pilot Episode Score: 5/10
A Poetic Final Chapter
War for the Planet of the Apes isn't the masterpiece I hoped it'd be. As someone deeply invested in the characters however, it's still a highly satisfying, emotionally- profound final chapter for the trilogy. War also compensates for its relative lack of allegory/social commentary with an intricately complex (and rather poetic) character/story structure, adding new merits to the franchise even if dissatisfying others.
I've been studying/writing about the entire Planet of the Apes franchise for the month leading up to my first viewing of War. Down the line (probably when the director's commentary comes out), I'll revisit my thoughts. For now, here are my impressions.
Matt Reeves returns from Dawn with equitable ambition, making this the best-directed of the trilogy, addressing all of my primary issues from the previous film. Most notably, the pacing is better than Dawn's, with the emotional core always at the forefront and never sidelined. This film still doesn't have the unrelenting momentum of Rise, but it never dragged for me, and felt shorter than 2 hours (as opposed to the 2+ hour runtime). This was enhanced by the riveting (but admittedly sparse) action sequences, especially one not far into the film, which had me on edge. The sense of scope was far more realized in this film, venturing through different landscapes while not feeling claustrophobic, and implying a massive new world of unknown territory. Overall this was an ambitious film, but it didn't innovate from Dawn as Dawn innovated from Rise- -at the time shooting in the mud and rain, now opting for a tamer, snowy environment.
Visually, this is nothing short of a spectacle. The (borderline R-rated) Holocaust imagery is genuinely haunting and unsettling, and crafts a unique tone with the sci-fi premise. Chinlund's production design is more enthralling than Dawn's, even if more greenscreen was used to get the result, contradicting the ambitious physical sets from before. The cinematography by Seresin also improves here, achieving some rather interesting shots, if still less engaging than the symbolic photography from Rise. As for the CG, I'm blown away. As good as the previous films were, there were still moments in which the effects were noticeably computer-generated. In War. . . the effects are flawless--so seamless that I never once actually saw "CGI". The effects in here are no less than groundbreaking. Spectacle isn't everything though, as there were various, smaller directorial flaws woven throughout.
For one, the title card didn't match the style of the first two films, and the highlights of the former films' titles felt shoehorned-in. Also consider the distracting Coke truck in the middle of nowhere, and the ridiculously thin layers of snow covering the tunnels. How much effort would it have taken to show the characters digging or mining through stone? I can mostly excuse these smaller flaws on merits of the meticulously- crafted story.
This is the sole film of the trilogy which wasn't written or adapted from a draft by Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver, who retrospectively had a better understanding of the franchise's allegorical implications than Reeves/Bomback (who wrote this film). Now, Reeves knows how to create a brilliantly-layered story (not sure about Bomback), but his efforts left much to be desired in the way of commentary/allegory. There are clear (and often brutal) allusions to the Holocaust, with depictions of scapegoating minorities for predicaments the accuser is guilty of. In the way of contemporary commentary, the humans are trying to build a wall which ultimately proves useless (remind you of anything?). All in all though, it doesn't reflect the series' core allegory of racism very well, presenting nothing especially insightful or impressive. The final culprits are a handful of "Did they really just do that?" plot conveniences, mainly the tunnels with conveniently placed holes, but where the writing actually thrives in this film is structure.
In War, we're presented with an abundance of reversals/reflections on the former films' themes. Consider that for the first time since Rise, Caesar finds himself in a cage and inciting a revolution. We also see him abused with water, and fed slop. Also consider the dramatic irony/poetic justice of the virus: designed by humans, activating the speech centers/enhancing intelligence for apes, now doing the precise opposite for humans, effectively switching their roles in a quite literal interpretation of Planet of the Apes' core reversal. Additionally, Alpha Omega isn't just an easter egg--it's about this film as the end of a trilogy and the beginning of a vast mythology, accentuating the motifs within the film.
Character structure in War is also impressive. For example, Caesar kills Nova's father. This draws a parallel between Caesar and the Colonel (who previously killed Caesar's family). This turn not only reflects Caesar's disillusionment with humanity, but incites another parallel with his former opponent, Koba. Note that the now-orphaned Nova is a reflection of young Caesar, growing up and learning to sign with the reverse species. The performances are strong all-around, and there's not much new to be said (also I'm butting heads with IMDb's word limit). I'll add that I really enjoyed the tragic/comedic character of Bad Ape, and that Serkis was brilliant yet again.
I still find Doyle's score for Rise to be the best of the trilogy, but Giacchino manages a noticeable improvement from his work on Dawn. Though still simple in orchestration, the music feels far more realized/developed here, and some nice new themes are added to the fold. I would have liked to hear more Goldsmith sensibilities (and Doyle's themes), but what we got was fantastic nonetheless.
Not long after screening this film, I wanted to watch it again. Had this movie integrated more intelligent commentary and allegorical content, this could have been the second masterpiece within the Apes franchise, next to the 1968 film. I just hope that Fox keeps their damn dirty paws off my Apes until there's another story worth telling.
Perspective & Possibility: A Shakespearean Spectacle
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an ambitious, nuanced, commanding endeavor. Though I find more enjoyment in the rampant momentum of Rise, Dawn is admittedly the better film--far more realized in allegory and character, despite falling short of its predecessor on less-consequential facets. Matt Reeves is perhaps the best director we could have possibly received for this film, and his efforts pay off spectacularly.
Reeves is not only a long time fan of Planet of the Apes, but he understands all its layers and nuances (as revealed via audio commentary). Overall, Dawn is more slowly- paced than Rise, yet no less mesmerising. The production design by James Chinlund thrives with history--all scenes but the skyscraper sequence were actually shot on a physical set or location, and the film breathes with natural lighting (including burning down the ape village set for real). There's a constant undercurrent of character-driven intensity from the apes in this film, and a level of technical innovation and ambition that's nigh-comparable to the likes of Avatar and The Lord of the Rings. We're talking shooting motion-capture in the mud and rain, sometimes shooting over a thousand takes, and monumental undertakings in editing. The craftsmanship here is unparalleled.
Director of photography Michael Seresin seems like a perfect successor to develop Lesnie's window/cage motif from Rise, seeing as how "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" highlights his repertoire. Unfortunately, I didn't notice much in the way of symbolic sensibilities besides that of Caesar's face opening/closing the film. Nonetheless, the shots are often beautiful and thriving with scope. The effects by WETA are even more astonishing than before, and there's no competition for their accomplishments here.
I have problems with select aspects of the direction though, such as elements of the combat sequences, but primarily, disparities within overall scope. Part of this film is trying to tell an epic, but another part of it is relaying a humble, transitionary story. That's a compelling idea in its own right, but sometimes the confines of the world got to me--with connective sequences from the ape village to the bridge to the human compound, making the world feel somewhat small despite the massive implications of the preceding pandemic. I'll also admit that though one-handed machine-gun-wielding apes-on-horseback are awesome, it's a stretch of reality. You can reasonably assume they reload off-camera, but still. . . . If anything drags in this movie, it's the battle sequences--as the real focal point of tension is the characters, and these sequences feel like a digression sometimes. Some more minor flaws include a handful of clichés, such as the introductory montage and opening/closing on Caesar's face, though are effective (or even powerful) within their individual contexts.
The initial screenplay was written by Rise's duo Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, later revised by Mark Bomback and Reeves himself when he entered the project. Though the plot's admittedly a cliché (taking after classic westerns), there's still a lot to praise. Foremost, there's the Shakespearean tragedy: Koba and Caesar, the story about two brothers (as distinguished by Reeves), their clashing philosophies, and inevitable betrayal. If you look closely, you'll also find a meticulous illustration of duality: Caesar and Koba, Malcolm and Dreyfus, humans and apes. . . . war and peace. This film is a multifaceted study on perspective and delusions of infallibility, exhibiting an entire spectrum of viewpoints across a spectrum of affiliations, articulating shades of grey that would normally be presented as a false dichotomy. In this we get a series of reversals, such as humans and apes alike struggling to stay united, humans realizing that they are too animalistic, and apes realizing they are too human. All of this is churning inside the beautiful, fleeting moment in which peace is a possibility.
This film also delves back into the franchise's signature sociopolitical commentary, with some light content on gun violence, racism, and international relations. It's still not quite as intricate as 1968's masterpiece, but it's worthy of the Planet of the Apes title.
Rise developed a thriving history behind Caesar that Dawn builds off of excellently. Caesar is a character defined by an internal study of duality: belonging to two worlds, and hence belonging truly to neither, dooming him to a certain sense of isolation. The apes on screen thrive with depth in their dawning civilization, and though apes can't physiologically produce vocalized speech or tears, these stretches of reality are executed mostly tastefully. The human characters however present an interesting flaw, in which I sympathise with them, but I don't especially "care" about them. They work well in their depiction of an emotional reality, and within their role in the film's themes, but they simply aren't as individually complex and emotive as the apes (which was a near-impossible balance to strike in the first place, given the context).
The human performance highlights are Oldman and Russell. Clarke is competent, despite a sometimes dry chemistry with the other actors. The only truly iffy ape performance for me was Thurston, who at times felt emotionally constipated--but besides that, the apes are great! Karin Konoval is delightful and has a touching scene with Kodi Smit-McPhee. Kebbel delivers a heartbreaking performance as Koba, exhibiting a perfectly messy fusion of hurt, anger, restraint, and obsession. Serkis is truthfully just as riveting without the CG, having seen behind-the-scenes footage. He's an incredible motion-capture actor because he's an incredible actor. That's all there is to it.
I don't like Giacchino's score as much as Doyle's (and I really wish he made an effort for thematic continuity), but it's still better than your average film score. The orchestration feels a little thin at times, or like a score to an animated movie, but the darker segments are fantastic--especially where Giacchino delves into more avant- garde, Jerry Goldsmith-influenced sensibilities.
This is easily one of the best Apes films, and is solidifying what's looking to be one hell-of-a trilogy.
An Electrifying Prelude & Rousing Character Study
Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn't an allegorical powerhouse like the 1968 classic, though it's still substantially more realized than 2001's abomination. What impresses me about this film however (and makes up for its comparative allegorical thinness), is its remarkable complexity as a character study. Spectacular action aside. . . . this film blew me away.
Rise is directed by Rupert Wyatt, and despite his relative lack of experience yielded spectacular results. This film has an unprecedented sense of momentum: everything from the montages to the tension to the seamless action leaves me utterly breathless, and paired with its relatively short runtime, flies by and boasts an extraordinarily high rewatchability factor. There are a few dubious edits here and there, sometimes in the cinematography, sometimes in the music, but is otherwise a very tightly shot and edited feature.
The director of photography is award-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who is more than worthy of mention here. The cinematography throughout is breathtaking, with majestic wide shots of the forest, the ape compound, and the city in general. It's also rather intelligent in its usage of visual motifs, juxtaposing cages and windows throughout in a reversal on expected themes. Here, the windows represent false hope/freedom, and the cages represent incitement for revolution. My only issue in regards to cinematography is the "face falling on the camera" motif, which though interesting, is a little dubious. Thankfully, it's not obnoxious in context. Lesnie was actually DOP for the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which explains a lot), though he isn't the only carry-over from Middle Earth.
The special effects by WETA Digital are magnificent, and are some of the best out there. Though if you've acquired an eye for CG then you'll still notice it here in select instances. One potential mistake I caught is that the size of Caesar's eyes sometimes appear inconsistent, though that could be a misperception. It gets better in the follow-ups, but this film still boasts some of the best-looking apes in cinematic history.
The screenplay is by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and despite its simple plot, features compelling concepts throughout. Though not an allegorical heavyweight, the revolution on the bridge appears to be modeled after civil rights movement race riots and even contemporary police brutality, though it's not anything as profoundly realized and intricate as 1968's masterwork. Commentary on animal rights/testing ethics are also present, though it's the obvious choice and hence isn't particularly impressive. To the film's credit, the ape revolution is now more believable than it was in the original movies, with a sci-fi premise that bends reality no more than it has to.
The film still has its fair share of fun with delightful easter eggs for fans of the original, but more importantly presents us with a character worthy of study. Caesar is an exploration of duality and isolation. For one, Caesar is set up with a dilemma in which he has seen the good and bad of both apes and humans, inciting an inherent internal conflict which he does not yet understand. On the other hand, he is the only one of his kind. As the only ape born with the enhanced intelligence, he feels a certain kind of isolation. He's a character of two worlds, doomed not to feel at home in either of them. This kind of intelligent, complex character writing creates various avenues for subsequent films, and makes the film for me. One flaw worthy of noting is the dialogue, which at times is a little clichéd, and could have benefited from another read-through or two. The best characters in the film didn't actually need much dialogue though, so it's not as detrimental as it could have been.
The characters/performances are a little mixed in quality, but overall positive. The apes across the board emote spectacularly, enabling the audience to understand and sympathise with their characters without the need for dialogue. Andy Serkis in particular (another Lord of the Rings carry-over) is phenomenal as Caesar. His performance is the the epitome of physicality and expression, synchronously nuanced, powerful, and heart-wrenching. He nearly had me in tears at several moments throughout the film, masterfully unveiling the complex internal tragedy of his character.
First thing about the humans: James Franco is not the main character--apparently there's been some confusion there. He serves but as a transitionary lead, since the story is clearly about Caesar. That being said, Franco is fine in this film. I don't know if I've seen him better, but he's competent. Many of the other human characters (though good in their roles), are simply fulfilling archetypes. I quite enjoyed Brian Cox, Tom Felton, and David Oyelowo, yet they weren't any different than what I expected them to be. John Lithgow however is fantastic, and Tyler Labine as Franklin was very likable. Freida Pinto is fine, albeit kind of unnecessary and highlighting a lack of female characters with comparable depth to the male ones. That being said, the supporting characters we did get were sufficient, and it's better not to force in characters for the sake of a quota.
The musical score by Patrick Doyle succeeds brilliantly on a melodic level and proves to be quite memorable, despite bearing an almost-formulaic epic-inspirational style. It doesn't compare on the avant-garde spectrum established by Jerry Goldsmith, but provides propulsive percussion nonetheless, and serves the emotional, character- driven narrative excellently, better than most films of its decade I dare say.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of my very favorite action movies, but like most of my favorite action movies, it's actually far more than that. There are layers in this film from the intricate focal character to the intelligent, motivic cinematography, and it sustains the kind of intelligence that made Planet of the Apes great in the first place.
Jeff! This is Earth!
Year after year since the 1968 classic, Fox was determined to milk the franchise dry. So they did. Return to the Planet of the Apes is one of the laziest, most contrived productions I've ever seen, yet at the same time I was wildly entertained. I'm not gonna lie: this show had me in stitches.
To me, this show is the embodiment of the "so bad it's good" effect. Across the board, almost unequivocally, it's apparent that ZERO effort went into making this. Fox wanted money from kids, so they made a series of cheap advertisements. It's that simple.
As far as direction goes, they clearly tried to model the introduction off of Schaffner's direction from the 1968 film. However, revealing Ape City at the very beginning defeats the point of the long, drawn-out opening sequence, and effectively undermines any tension they would have had in its reveal. Further into the show, we are constantly bombarded with repetitive sequences of certain frames/animations, re-used in succession to create a kind of pseudo-tension, and above all to fill that runtime in the most cost-effective way possible. Besides that, you'll also get a good dose of still frames and bizarre zooms that get all snug-and-intimate with any given character's gawking, featureless face.
First thing you'll notice in regards to the writing is that continuity flies straight out the window into the blistering inferno that is the vague assembly of a plot--which is a bizarre amalgamation of non-sequiturs and fever dreams--most likely developed via the spinning thingy from a Twister ® game box. The episodes aired out of order, though even then the series is evidently trying to build off of the events of the first two films, bringing in Zira, Cornelius, Zaius, Nova, Brent, and even mentioning Taylor. They just seem to ignore that Nova died, and that the earth exploded, and how technologically advanced their society was, etc. . . . It's painful, really. Even when you watch the episodes in order (effectively establishing a bare-minimum level of continuity), the most bizarre nonsense comes into play, including: giant spiders, sea monsters, prehistoric dragon-birds, King Kong rip-offs, unicorn-bison (wait, really?), pimped-out airplanes, and the obligatory race of subterranean mutants. To think that this is somehow related to an allegorically-dense, sci-fi masterpiece is bound to disorient some from any sense of reality.
The conflicts within the show are comprised of petty squabbles and schemes of randomly determined significance. Unlike the 1974 series, there isn't enough competency to get by with its episodic nature as mere harmless fun, and it just feels contrived. The wealth of allegories formerly in the franchise are but a distant memory here, and any commentary that does attempt to surface is so devoid of intelligence or even bare-minimum subtlety. This series also mindlessly copies plot points from former entries, such as the "astronauts crash-landing on an upside-down world" trope for the fifth time, and where it doesn't copy, it supplements the plot with a mixture of generic and outlandish conflicts. Imagine something as generic as going out to get fuel, contrasted with fighting a dragon with a hot-air balloon.
The characters are also pretty weak. None of them have much personality with exceptions for characters who appeared in the movies or TV shows, and even then it's misconceived or inconsistent. In former entries for example, Zira is intelligent and headstrong, but in here she's anywhere in between that and worrisome and compliant. Cornelius went from quirky, curious, and reserved to sometimes commanding and authoritative. The astronauts aren't even two-dimensional in character, and the one human female character we do get is gone about as soon as we see her, and then shows up for the second half. The dialogue is even weaker than the characters, with multiple moments in which lines aren't so much as grammatically correct. For example, I'll quote Bill, and maybe you'll notice a basic grammatical error that's unlikely to be made by an educated astronaut: "The truth is, none of us is safe, Zira".
The voice acting is always somewhere between flat, awkward, and outright bad. The line delivery is so misconceived that it often had me erupting in laughter.
Listen. . . . I know animation is hard--even bad animation is tedious, but the animation in Return to the Planet of the Apes is astronomically lazy. I think the animators realized that they weren't getting paid for effort either way though, so they went easy on themselves. Throughout the show you'll find re-used animations and frames, and lead characters with either no character model, or character models directly plagiarized from other character models, and even the animation techniques themselves are inconsistent. I'll go ahead and quote a brief conversation about it.
Sister: "They paid their animators." (Sarcastically). Me: "Did they?" (Unsarcastically).
I do like the background illustrations and colors. There's some nice artsy-styled frames every so often, and some borderline-breathtaking backdrops. Those were nice to look at. But that's about all this show has going for it--that and its music, which is somehow the best part. Composed by Dean Elliott, the score is a generally well- produced knock-off of Jerry Goldsmith's original 1968 Planet of the Apes score, complete with no small amount of 70's cheese. It actually has some catchy moments, and utilizes leitmotifs and themes, which makes it leaps and bounds above the quality of the show overall. Even if badly spotted, there wasn't an opportunity for good spotting anyway. The opening theme is pretty decent too, so I'll take it!
This series isn't offensive enough to get a 1, and though its objective quality is more geared towards a 2 I'm gonna go ahead and bump it up for entertainment value. In my book, that alone puts it at a higher regard than 2001's Planet of the Apes. So I don't know about you, but I had a blast!
Planet of the Apes (1974)
Nothing Profound, but it Makes for Some Harmless Fun
Planet of the Apes (1974) is the first venture into television for Fox's once-lucrative Apes franchise, and despite the mixed results of some of their preceding attempts, managed to churn out an enjoyable albeit short-lived and somewhat mediocre series. It's not an allegorical powerhouse like the 1968 film, but it makes for some harmless fun nonetheless.
The credited creator of the short series is Anthony Wilson, who recruited eight directors and sixteen writers to develop fourteen, forty-five minute episodes. Though you'll recognize one or two characters from this series (Zaius, and maybe Urko), it is part of a separate continuity and shouldn't be confused with the original five-film run. While watching this, I wasn't analyzing it intensely or taking pages upon pages of notes. I just had fun with it. This series can be campy, episodic, and often cliché. Bit it gets to the point. It doesn't beat you over the head with anything. It just enjoys itself.
I didn't catch anything outstanding in the way of directing. It's competent given the material, but nothing that moved or impressed me beyond not being overtly bad. That being said, the cinematography is pretty good for TV, and you'll find some nice shots of the sets and nature scenes. The sets themselves are also well-made and do a decent job of implying a larger, more fleshed-out world. The prosthetics conceived by John Chambers are still generally holding up strong, though a slight decline in quality/care is apparent. The show is overall nice to look at, and complements the adventurous/lighthearted tone nicely.
Among my favorite episodes are "The Trap", "The Good Seeds", & "Up Above the World So High". The first of which places Burke and Urko in an interesting dilemma, and it's cool to see them try to cooperate and figure their way out. It also feels a lot like an age-old fable, such as "The Blind Man & the Cripple". "The Good Seeds" and "Up Above the World So High" are entertaining by sharing interesting visual concepts and delightful humor.
Like most television series this show shares several writers, but doesn't suffer from it very much as it was already episodic in format. This show presents nothing as profound as the original, but nothing offensive either. That being said, it doesn't completely ignore the franchise's core allegory for racism, and features interspecies friendships that explore this theme via metaphor. There's commentary on other things here and there, such as scientific experiments on animals and societal views of science, but nothing too substantial or overtly subtle. The show's meanings abide more so to moral lessons than complexly layered allegories. The series also has some interesting lore sometimes, and has a good sense of humor that's sometimes self- aware of its obscurity. Though, there are flaws.
Pretty much every episode, someone gets captured or hurt and they find themselves in a predicament that they wiggle out of by the end of the episode. There's not much of an overall plot, and character development is generally kept to a minimum. Then there's the fact that the "astronauts crash-land on ape planet" trope is still the core premise, and the protagonists still take awhile to figure out they're on Earth (despite that everyone's speaking English, and that there are humans). The show still greatly benefits from its overall simplicity, so the predominant flaws don't detract much from the ability to enjoy it.
As for the performances, Ron Harper and (especially) James Naughton are pretty funny as the astronauts Virdon and Burke. They're constantly spurting quips and remarks, that though cheesy, are very entertaining. I like McDowall's performance as Galen less than Cornelius, but a little more than Caesar. He certainly sets the air of a curious chimpanzee better than an ape revolutionary, and is a great companion to Virdon and Burke. Booth Colman is no Maurice Evans, but portrays a serviceable Dr. Zaius nonetheless. Mark Leonard is actually very good as General Urko, and keeps his campy villain role fresh. The various supporting roles throughout the episodes are competent for the 70's, and keep the acting overall pretty solid.
The series music is by Lalo Schifrin, Earle Hagen, and Richard LaSalle, with the main theme by Lalo Schifrin. The score overall is serviceable. Nothing too memorable, but it sets the tone and doesn't distract from the action on screen.
The short run the Planet of the Apes TV series had was all it really needed, since its episodic format could have ensured redundancy fairly quickly. For what it's worth, it's a lot of fun. This is by no means a must-watch (except maybe for Planet of the Apes buffs), but if you've got some spare afternoons to kill, then go for it!
Planet of the Apes (2001)
O, So Horribly Inbred!
How do I put this lightly. . . . I loathe this movie with the entirety of my being.
This isn't a Planet of the Apes movie. I can't just turn off my brain and enjoy a mindless "re-imagination" of one of the most thoughtful movies I've ever seen. Watching this movie made me feel physically sick. Writing about it made me feel physically sick. I was literally on the floor. I can't handle this movie. That being said, this movie isn't necessarily an assaulting kind of bad. Some will find entertainment value in it, at least it has a plot, and (generally) it has a nice aesthetic quality. But it's still bad.
Tim Burton is someone who I have a lot of respect for. I think he's a fantastic filmmaker, and more blame belongs to the writers than anyone else on this project. Burton's hands however still aren't clean, and he's committed his fair share of offenses here. On the commentary he actually explains that apes make him uncomfortable (which would explain the apes' performances), and he gave the impression that he didn't want to direct the film in the first place. It shows.
This is one of his weakest efforts in terms of direction. For example, we actually don't get to see all that much of the Ape City--only dimly lit, claustrophobic sets and homogenous formations can really be observed (though what we do see looks pretty good). We get a few wide shots, usually attached to other sets like the forest, adding a kind of close-knitness that detracts from its sense of scale. Making that issue worse, relatively little time is dedicated to travel, so even the military camps and the set from the battle scene don't feel very distant. This simply isn't the best effort Burton could have given, but was maybe the best we could've hoped for given the script.
The screenplay for this film was written by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, & Mark Rosenthal, the last two of whom worked on such hits as Superman IV! Now, to the writers' credit, at least there's a plot for the most part, but that's about all I can praise them on (if that indeed counts as praise). I'm not really quite sure where to begin with the flaws actually. As I watched the film I started making a list of questions regarding anything that disregarded logic or broke my suspension of disbelief. I can only use so many words, so I guess I'll just post the list:
Why send a baby chimpanzee into space? Or a chimp at all? Humans pulling the carriage instead of horses? Wild humans have the time and resources to curl and dye their hair? Where'd she get that 20th century hair dye? What's with the stoner apes? He's feisty? He just grabbed your leg on accident and looked at Thade all confused- like. Where were the doors in the houses? Why won't the humans talk? They're not mute so. . . . Why'd the one human signal not to talk, then? Do the apes not know they can talk somehow? They didn't seem surprised. If humans are lower on the evolutionary chain than monkeys, why can humans talk but not the monkeys? Are there talking monkeys we don't know about? Were there even any monkeys on the ship they came on? Considering the ship's population, they'd be really inbred by now right? How were the apes in that blast only stunned? Did they see the 1968 film? Did they even read the book? It's closer to the book, but still nowhere near it. Should have just called the movie something else, like: "Inbreeding: The Movie".
A few other points: There's some almost-commentary on religion, but nothing that pans out. Any allegorical content is an afterthought at best. It's tonally unsure of itself: half wants to be taken seriously, half cartoon. Mark Wahlberg's character really just doesn't care, and is too blank to be relatable. The apes might be talking about something expository or of their interest, and then Leo just mentions something unrelated that pertains only to him. It's almost pleading you to assume character depth for it, but you don't because there isn't any. The apes in this movie are completely cartoonish, including their preposterous fear of water (maybe they can't swim because their prosthetics will fall off, as my sister observed).
Mark Wahlberg and the Chimp are pretty damn cute, I'll give it that. Otherwise, Tim Roth is a cartoon. Paul Giamatti is a cartoon. Helena Bonham Carter is a cartoon. The humans are all bland. I suppose the actors are into it enough to pass as flamboyant caracachures. They sell it, but it's for the wrong movie. And I love Paul Giamatti. He doesn't belong in this movie, but I love him.
The wirework is pretty bad. The CGI is fine. Though the sets and colors are nice. If there's one thing I can give Burton credit for it's for making a (generally) good-looking movie. The prosthetics for the most part actually look pretty good, sometimes as good as Chambers' work from the 1968 film. Some of the makeups look out-of-proportion or bizarre though, like stuff conceived on mutations or not-to-be-named perversions-- genuinely concerning designs.
The score by Danny Elfman is simply fine. It's inoffensive, maybe slightly better than the average modern-age film score, but that's not really saying much. At least there's actually a melody (even if somewhat derivative of his Spider-Man score), and as bombastic and obnoxious as the drums are at least they have personality, though it's a far-cry from Elfman's best.
This is not a Planet of the Apes film. It's a movie with apes in it, completely unrelated to Planet of the Apes. If you're a die-hard Planet of the Apes fan, maybe watch it once. Otherwise, seek out the 1968 film. Don't bother with this.
Battle for the Budget of the Apes
Ten years following his revolution and a devastating nuclear war among humans, Caesar embarks on a quest to learn about his parents, and in doing so discovers the future. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is by nearly all means the worst film of the original five (though I've only seen the extended cut, so whether this version is better or worse than the theatrical I am unsure of). After "Conquest", the studio wanted to make a less-violent, less-provocative, and more "family-friendly" film (and for way less money). This resulted in the least-exciting, least-intelligent, and most cringe-worthy final chapter possible.
First thing: I should clarify for some viewers that the apes did not conquer Earth. Many people have pointed out how that wouldn't make sense, and that's because it doesn't, and didn't happen anyway. There was a large scale nuclear war among humans, so the apes moreso "inherited" the planet despite the misleading implications of the films' titles. I digress. . . .
J. Lee Thompson reprises his role as director for the second time with "Battle", and flaws that were only starting to peek into the limelight in "Conquest" have now manifested into their full forms. The central flaw, is overall laziness. For example, the film starts with about five-minutes of reused-footage from the former two films (making it even lazier than the opening shot of "Beneath"). To its credit, there's more reused footage later on that's incorporated more intelligently. Furthermore, there's also supposed to be a three-day journey in the film, but no attempt in editing or direction is made to assist the viewer's perception of passing time. The battle sequences are overlong (which causes them to become boring) and are comprised largely of close- ups and quick cuts. The swindling budget no-doubt influenced these points, but the prevailing lack of forethought/effort should be more than evident regardless.
Paul Dehn returns for his fourth Apes film in a writing role, but this time only for story. The screenplay for "Battle" is written for newcomers John and Joyce Corrington, and is rather capricious in quality. There are yet a handful of things to praise, such as the relationship and parallels between humans and apes, and the commentary on determinism/time-travel presented through the corny and belief-disarming tear coming from Caesar's statue at the end. The most notable strength however is its quotability. For example, the "All knowledge is for good, only the use to which it is put can be for good or evil" quote seemed rather insightful and wise, though within the same vein of this strength lies some of the film's greatest weaknesses.
The film is quite simply unsure of how to incorporate the same sensibilities of its predecessors, such as its allegorical content or theoretical musings, so it resorts to having the characters say the ideas outright in conversation. These ideas are often very interesting, but lose potency when presented in contrived dialogue, which is also at times aggressively expository. Further weaknesses of various trades are present as well, including the jump in Caesar's character development (from one film to the next) with little to no insight or explanation surrounding it, the campy, cringy mutants, and the irritating, preachy, theistic fable format.
Above any other offense though, the nuances of the franchise's central allegory have been sucked dry (along with the budget). The commentary on race has subsided more so in this film than in its predecessors, making way instead for its own internal form of racism. Not enough time has passed since the acquired intelligence of apes to accommodate for the severe class disparities among their society, and instead it comes off as an unintentional statement that some apes are less equal than others. Take for example the accentuated intelligence of orangutans contrasted with the caricatured gorillas, who in this film are basically just violent, unintelligible children. The 1968 film presented a layered relationship between class structure, social structure, and race with nuances and insight, but in "Battle" it's handled so thoughtlessly as to be potentially offensive.
The performances in this film are also at their weakest in the franchise, with scenes causing you to wonder if they actually considered doing multiple takes for anything. The actor who portrays Aldo is bad much of the time, though every so often he accomplishes a decent performance when it comes to menacing stares or general physicality.
Roddy McDowall is again fine as Caesar, Paul Williams is interesting as Virgil, and Natalie Trundy improves a lot in this compared to the former entry (still not a great as an ape, but not distractingly bad either). Many of the actors don't seem to have gotten the hang of acting in the prosthetics, not having fully developed the techniques that the actors crafted in the first film. Austin Stoker as MacDonald's brother was one of the better performers in the film.
The sets are actually very nice, and are maybe the one truly redeeming aspect of the film. The tree-forts and tunnels and location paintings are all exciting and interesting in their own right. The music by Leonard Rosenman however is some of the most lackluster of the franchise. Besides a singular theme that seems to be applied vaguely to "emotional content", the music was either borderline hokey or simply muddy and unmemorable. Upon further deliberation, it seems that this score along with Rosenman's "Beneath" have the least personality of the bunch. That being said, the score is still competent, and I can't hold too much against it for that.
As a Planet of the Apes fan, I've found myself obligated to multiple viewings of this film, and have even found it within myself to enjoy it. So if you're a Planet of the Apes fan, you may have a good time despite its flaws. . . .
But it's still not a well-made film.
The Last Solid Apes Film For About Forty Years
In the near-future (from where we left off), Simian Kind has been enslaved. The evolved ape son of Cornelius and Zira leads a revolution against mankind to emancipate the apes. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (the "of" should probably be a "for", now that I think of it) is definitely among the better Apes films. Even with various declines in production value, budget, and writing, this entry still maintains enough intelligence to be considered among the "good" apes installments. Also, watching humanity getting their ass handed to them is damn entertaining. I'll often watch this film for that satisfaction alone.
"Conquest" was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who went on to direct the fifth and final entry in the franchise. Despite liking this movie overall, I'm not completely sold on Thompson's direction (foreshadowing, perhaps). Throughout the movie, there are various elements that felt sloppy. For example, there's a jarring cut at the very beginning, from a montage with a full musical score to a scene devoid of music at all-- without bothering so much as to edit the music to fade out/reverberate. There's also some bad ADR, and a handful of those awkward 70's zoom-ins, but otherwise the cinematography is fine. The photography of the city for example really drives in a tone for the film, surrounding the viewer with concrete in virtually every direction. The director also makes a point out of using lots of megaphones and intercoms, making this future feel authoritarian and immobile (both physically and in their dogmatism).
There is however one really potent piece of direction from Thompson, and that is the revolution itself. The scenes of revolt were actually modeled after footage of race riots during civil rights movement, bringing a kind of violent, unnerving reality to this film and a racially charged undercurrent. This film can actually disturb you at times, and it's the film's greatest redeeming quality. I should also credit this film with being the second-most re-watchable Apes movie (the first being "Rise", go figure!), which could be attributed to its fast pacing/short runtime.
Paul Dehn is the writer for the third film in a row, and provides a serviceable amount of intelligence overall despite struggling to keep his act together on smaller details. For example, there are a few basic premises the film presents that are hard to suspend disbelief for. Like the virus that wiped out dogs and cats, the awkward, forced romance between Caesar and Natalie Trundy's Lisa, or how Caesar was unaware of enslaved apes until he got to the city. I mean, it's pretty convenient that Caesar has been shielded from the reality of enslaved-apes for his entire life thus far. That way we can put in extra exposition for the viewer! Small things like just talking about the circus rather than showing it are also a problem. Showing it would have provided a better insight into Caesar's reality and given more emotional weight between him and Armando. I can also see however how that could have come off as silly, and it's evident that the budget was dwindling.
In the long run, you really have to give this film credit for providing a solid foundation for the stellar reboot trilogy about Caesar. Even if Caesar's complexity isn't fully harnessed in this film, it implied a very layered character that would eventually be done justice. Caesar at his best is a character study on perspective, duality, and internal conflict, and there is definitely a presentation of those traits in "Conquest", albeit in a limited form. Also an impressive character is MaCdonald, who is not only likable but complex. There's a part of the movie where he talks about being a descendant of slaves, and this is where the franchises race allegory looks itself in the face. This kind of philosophy will actually help shape the duality within Caesar.
Though the character of Caesar is more complex than Cornelius, this is arguably McDowall's lesser portrayal. He doesn't grasp the full extent of Caesars internal isolation, conflict, and introspection, though he does a good job of reflecting Caesar's anger. Ricardo Montalban as Armando is at times shaky, and there are times when it sounds like he's reading the script for the first time. That being said, he remains charming in his role. Hari Rhodes is stellar as MacDonald, and Don Murray does a fine job as Breck. Natalie Trundy as Lisa is clearly uncomfortable in the ape prosthetics, and is pretty bad, as are many of the ape extras (who inversely seem to be overacting).
I like the costume design quite a bit, since it foreshadows the segregation within the apes' own society. It's a little more minimalistic than the outstanding costume design from the first film, but it complements the industrialistic setting well. The makeup here is not at it's best, but better than at its worst (that works for the whole movie, actually). The dreadful pullover masks from "Beneath" are thankfully gone. There are still lazier ape prosthetics/masks used for the extras when compared to the first film, but there's actually effort put in this time to make sure their eyes aren't caved in and hollow. Without a serviceable budget, it's inevitable that Chamber's makeup would diminish in quality.
The musical score by Tom Scott is actually pretty good. It thrives with a satisfyingly eccentric melodicism, making it a worthy gesture in the footsteps of Jerry Goldsmith.
Despite an often fickle presentation, "Conquest" manages to ride on a handful of strong merits that retain a level of intelligence in the franchise. I may like this film more than most, seeing as how I'm a nihilistic, iconoclastic maniac who finds the downfall of humanity highly satisfying (there might have been a less-scary way to put that), but the film has merits that can be appreciated by anyone nonetheless.
Part Romantic Comedy. Part Tragic Thriller. Somehow, it Worked.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes is an odd one, to say the least. There is a notable deviation in the franchise's tone up to this point, and though some might find it jarring, I found it rather refreshing and overall serviceably intelligent given the ridiculous premise. Though this film almost solely exists via a contrived, greedy studio request, "Escape" manages to be both clever and entertaining enough to pass as a solid franchise entry.
Don Taylor is the third director to helm this franchise, and does a competent job overall. It's well shot in a standard kind of way, but well-shot nonetheless. The beginning has a good reveal, and sets the dual tone of thriller/comedy, which I think Taylor handled well. I'm impressed at how coherent this film is with genre elements from comedy, romance, tragedy, thriller, action, sci-fi, etc. . . . though these genre influences will turn some viewers off no doubt. For what it's worth, I find it to be handled well, though nostalgia likely has a role to play in my ease with it. As for further overall flaws, this installment admittedly can be borderline campy at times. Specifically, the shot of the baby chimp at the end is rather lazily edited (despite being an important plot point). As per usual with these films, the most integral component lies in the writing.
Written by Paul Dehn, who first appeared in the franchise to doctor the Beneath the Planet of the Apes script, this film manages to retain its social commentary with intelligence and more subtlety than ever, whist retaining the franchise's tradition of tragedy. The commentary on racism is as evident as ever, though there's also commentary on bureaucracy, morality, and even animal rights. Something this franchise has done very well (particularly here) is it's diverse portrayal of ape and human characters alike, displaying diverse perspectives and moralities, as though to say that despite looking different, we're all similar. There is never a point in this franchise in which an entire species is scapegoated or deemed as the "good" or "bad" guy--it dabbles in shades of grey, just as real people do.
This entry also works as a very clever reversal on the circumstances of the first film, placing Cornelius and Zira essentially in the shoes of Taylor and Brent. The most notable aspect that portrays this is the trial sequence. This reversal also results in some quirky fish-out-of-water humor, but more notably, a conceptually compelling reflection upon the first film, which in itself was a reflection upon humanity. A reflection upon a reflection if you will, driving the concept to a new level of realization--just like the painter painting himself, painting himself, etc. . . . It fits an overarching theme of infinite regression, which ties into Hasslein's theory of time, which essentially lays the groundwork for the original series' overarching progression. If there's one great thing Paul Dehn brought to this series, it's giving this franchise a clear direction and building a timeline that is intricate and thoughtful, even if at times convoluted or contradictory. The question of how our choices affect the future is present through the remainder of the franchise, though is represented best in this installment.
The writing isn't perfect however. The salvaged spaceship and time-travel premise is a stretch to put it lightly (though given the previous installment, was a better explanation than what could've been hoped for), and the comedic elements are bound to be jarring for many viewers. The character of Milo also isn't as fleshed out as I'd like him to be, which is especially disappointing as he is one of my very favorite characters in the extended canon. They also go into more detail about the salvaging of the spaceship in the comics, but those are the comics: on this front, the movie failed. There is also a bit about Aldo's revolution, and this comes in later as an unexplained plot inconsistency. It can only be speculated about, and the comics provide an almost-explanation at best.
Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter are more endearing than ever as Cornelius and Zira. Zira in particular doesn't get much credit for being such a strongly written and acted character. In fact, I'd say this is one of the strongest female characters I've ever seen on film (and this was the 70's, folks). The human characters often work as reflections upon characters in the first film, and are generally competently portrayed, if slightly gimmicky at times. This film also introduces one of my favorite human characters in the franchise, which is Armando--a wise and sympathetic man played by Ricardo Montalban.
Because of the greatly reduced ape cast, the attention to John Chamber's prosthetics is at its best by default. No longer must we endure the dreadful pullover ape masks! Visually this is probably the least interesting film, though that attributable to the time period in which it takes place, and is understandable.
Jerry Goldsmith returns for his second and final Apes film, and delivers (arguably) the best score of the original five movies. Though his avant-garde score for the 1968 classic is a close second, his work on "Escape" is superior on a melodic and rhythmic level, portraying the underlying weirdness & suspense brilliantly alongside the comedic/romantic elements. I dare say that this is even some of Goldsmith's best work.
"Escape" is no doubt a step up from "Beneath", succeeding in being more subtle with its commentary, and arguably being less-dumb (it's better than mutants vs apes, but the spaceship/time-travel shenanigans are again, a stretch). I'll probably like this movie more than most, though I find it to be one of the franchise's stronger points regardless. This film has a solid recommendation from me, yet one should also consider that this isn't a stand-alone entry, and might have to decide whether they want to engage in the whole franchise first.