War for the Planet of the Apes, 2017.
Directed by Matt Reeves.
Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Judy Greer, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Gabriel Chavarria, Max Lloyd-Jones, Sara Canning, Aleks Paunovic, and Chad Rook.
The new Planet of the Apes reboot or prequel series, whatever you want to call it, comes to a conclusion with War for the Planet of the Apes, now out on a Blu-ray + DVD + digital copy set. While the film fell a bit short for me, I found the supplements worth a spin, and I appreciated director Matt Reeves’ thoughtful discussion of his approach to the movie.
Before Star Wars came along, the two primary franchises that captured my little-kid imagination in the early 70s were Star Trek and Planet of the Apes. However, being born in 1970 meant that I had to experience the former through reruns and the latter via the magic of Saturday movie marathons on the old UHF TV stations.
Apes was something that sat in the recesses of my brain for a long time. I think I mixed up the sequels with the live-action TV series, which also had some of its episodes edited into TV films, and the mish-mash just sort of sat there until I finally watched the other four Apes movies on HBO To Go last year and sorted that out.
I had rekindled my appreciation for the original movie with the two-DVD Special Edition that came out several years ago, and about three or four years ago I read the original novel. Both made me realize that I really didn’t like Tim Burton’s ill-fated 2001 remake.
I admit that I approached 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes with some trepidation. Why reboot a franchise that’s probably best left as it is? Still, I enjoyed it, despite my lukewarm feelings about James Franco, and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes revved my simian engine. It offered an intriguing take on the themes that have always run through the Apes movies and set me up for the latest one, War for the Planet of the Apes.
Where Dawn served up a big, bold story, though, War feels a bit small by comparison. Woody Harrelson plays a character known as the Colonel, who leads a group of soldiers who call themselves Alpha-Omega and who are determined to wipe out Caesar’s band of apes. When an attack leaves one of Caesar’s children and his wife dead, Caesar sets out with three other apes to exact revenge.
During their journey to the soldiers’ compound, the group comes across a mute girl who’s given the name Nova (one of many nods to the original 1968 movie) and another talking ape who calls himself Bad Ape. They also discover that a disease seems to be infecting humans, forcing the Colonel to have any affected soldiers killed.
Caesar ends up captured and his companions must free him. A ticking clock also emerges in the form of another army that is headed toward the compound to attack the Colonel’s forces.
While the effects have, unsurprisingly, grown by leaps and bounds over the past six years, making Caesar and his comrades look as if they are actual creatures who were filmed live, they’ve ended up being the only interesting characters in this story. The humans are all one-dimensional, with the Colonel clearly emerging as a riff on Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now and Nova not really serving much of a purpose except to introduce a plot device that conveniently solves Caesar’s need for revenge against the Colonel.
The climax of the story, as the other army arrives and the apes find themselves in the middle of the fight, features a deus ex machina that conveniently solves another plot problem and lets the apes leave for a new home. Director and co-screenwriter Matt Reeves notes in his commentary on one of the deleted scenes that the ending is a comment on the fact that we can’t control nature, but it would have been nice if the apes had done something to facilitate the conclusion, rather than simply watch it happen.
Given War’s box office success and positive reviews, I assume another movie (or two, or three) is not far off, and it will probably kick off a remake of the original film, since this trilogy formed a prequel to those events. At this point, though, my enthusiasm for more Apes movies has waned a bit; I would prefer to see more original storytelling.
This Blu-ray + DVD set includes the movie on both platters, with a few bonus features on the standard-def disc. A code for a digital copy is included too. The Blu-ray has the meat of the supplements, which include:
- Deleted scenes (23 minutes): Much of this footage still shows Andy Serkis and other motion-capture actors in their gear, which is interesting to watch because they’re clearly at the forefront of a new wave of acting. There’s optional commentary by Reeves that helps flesh out why these scenes were cut.
- Scene comparisons (22 minutes): Available only with the digital copy, this piece shows you the raw footage under the final CGI-ified version.
- Audio commentary: Reeves handles this track by himself, and he provides a worthwhile listen for Apes fans. While I obviously found this movie a bit lacking, I appreciated that Reeves is a thoughtful guy who does a good job of explaining his approach to the movie. I’m even willing to go out on a limb and say this track is comparable to the “film school in a box” commentaries found in Criterion’s releases.
- Waging War for the Planet of the Apes (29 minutes): This one covers pretty much everything you’ll want to know about the making of the movie. Anything not answered is probably covered somewhere else on the disc.
- Apes: The Meaning of it All (20 minutes): The cast and crew are interviewed, along with some Apes fans who have written a couple books about the franchise, to talk about the entirety of the nearly 50-year-old series’ place in pop culture history.
- The Apes Saga: An Homage (7 minutes): Here’s where you’ll find a rundown of all the references to the original films in not only War but also its predecessors. There are some not-so-obvious ones in here.
- All About Caesar (12 minutes): Serkis’s contributions to not only this series but also Peter Jackson’s King Kong and Tolkien films, and others, is something to be admired. This piece shines a well-deserved spotlight on him.
- WETA: Pushing Boundaries (10 minutes): Speaking of Peter Jackson, his effects company is spotlighted here.
- Music for Apes (6 minutes): The Apes movies have always had some unique musical scores, as noted in The Meaning of it All’s discussion of Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes score, and this piece explores what was created for this film. I admit I often don’t pay a lot of attention to musical scores, so I always appreciate these featurettes that pull apart what the composer was doing.
- Concept art gallery: This is broken into Characters, Drawings, and Paintings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★