Director of War For The Planet Of The Apes watched classic war movies for inspiration

Simians and humans continue to be locked in fierce confrontation in War For The Planet Of The Apes (above), the third instalment in the current Planet Of The Apes series.
Simians and humans continue to be locked in fierce confrontation in War For The Planet Of The Apes (above), the third instalment in the current Planet Of The Apes series. PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Prequel trilogy of the Planet Of The Apes series concludes with War For The Planet Of The Apes, featuring epic combat scenes

Apart from book adaptations such as The Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit, it is rare that a film trilogy begins with the end point already apparent.

Such is the case with the current Planet Of The Apes series, whose latest instalment, War For The Planet Of The Apes, opens in Singapore tomorrow.

Its director Matt Reeves, who also helmed 2014's Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, says: "The fun thing about these movies is that we start by knowing the ending because of the 1968 movie."

The 1968 movie, called simply Planet Of The Apes, featured Charlton Heston as an astronaut who discovers a planet of intelligent apes which turns out to be Earth.

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It went on to launch a series that includes four direct movie sequels, two television series, Tim Burton's big-budget 2001 remake and the current trilogy of prequels, which began in 2011 with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Reeves says: "With Rise, you already knew that the world would become a planet of the apes. The fun was watching how it becomes that planet. And that is true for all these films."

 

We struggle within ourselves and the battle between our rational side and our instinctive side is the light and dark in all of us. It is a very, very powerful story and I think the Planet Of The Apes reflects that battle.

DIRECTOR MATT REEVES on why he thinks the Planet Of The Apes series has been so captivating

The prequel trilogy concludes with what is essentially a full-on war movie, which opens and closes with epic combat scenes.

British actor Andy Serkis, 53, who takes the lead role of the highly intelligent ape Caesar, says: "When Matt Reeves first sat me down and pitched the movie a couple of years ago, before we even had a script, he explained that it was like a cross between The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957) and a biblical, Moses- type of story.

"There are also elements of mythic Western and of Clint Eastwood films. It was so great to play my character on a huge canvas like this," says Serkis.

He portrays Caesar by way of performance-capture technology, a process which records his expressions and movements before adding computer-generated effects to the character.

Serkis cut his teeth as a performance-capture specialist playing Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings movies and also the title role in Peter Jackson's 2005 version of King Kong.

As War opens, the canvas portrays simians and humans locked in a fierce confrontation. They have been fighting for two years, ever since the conclusion of Dawn.

Reeves, 51, says: "I watched a lot of classic war films, such as Paths Of Glory (1957), The Bridge On The River Kwai, Apocalypse Now (1979)... What excited me was this idea of bringing in some great spectacle."

The Colonel, the main bad guy, played by Woody Harrelson, resembles the terrifying Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.

Harrelson, 55, says: "The Colonel is a guy who really thinks only in military terms. War is what he understands. Having seen that apes are taking over the world in the wake of the simian flu, he feels it's his duty as a human being with those skills to do all that he can to save humanity.

"You could easily look at the Colonel as a bad guy in the film, but I look at him as a guy who feels called upon to do something great and essential in this dark time that humans have found themselves in."

He is a worthy rival to Caesar and the two go head to head throughout the movie, leading towards a memorable final confrontation.

It is a piece of myth-making that is vital to Reeves, who regards the trilogy of prequels as a story about the creation of the Caesar legend.

"Caesar comes from these humble beginnings in Rise and leads a revolution. He is just the leader to navigate towards peace in Dawn, and he fails," the director says.

"In War, I wanted to put him through a last test that would make him become the seminal figure in all ape history; all apes would look back towards him and say, 'He is the one. He is the one who did this for us.' He is the ape Moses! And I wanted to leave that story in a place that implies a long future ahead."

With Reeves due to helm the next Batman film starring Ben Affleck, a new director will carry the Apes franchise towards the conclusion filmgoers know as the 1968 movie.

Rise and Dawn did well at the box office, with the first part taking around S$650 million worldwide and Dawn chalking up about S$980 million.

"I think the reason the Planet Of The Apes series has been so captivating for people is because, really, it holds up a mirror to us as humans," says Reeves.

"We are apes, first of all. And we often forget that we are animals.

"We struggle within ourselves and the battle between our rational side and our instinctive side is the light and dark in all of us. It is a very, very powerful story and I think the Planet Of The Apes reflects that battle.

"It is a pretty exciting franchise to be working in, where you get to tell stories that, on the surface, seem sci-fi, but, at the core, are about who we are."

•War For The Planet Of The Apes opens in Singapore tomorrow.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline 'Apes film a war movie at heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe