Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 29, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 12:58 pm

One of the primary imperatives of the Hollywood film industry is to make money, just is it would be for laxative or automobile manufacturers. Unlike the lonely art of literature that only requires a computer or typewriter to get started (or even a pen or pencil for the Luddites among us), film-making is an expensive proposition. The average budget for an independent film is $750,000, something that is beyond the means of most aspiring filmmakers. For the big production companies that will spend $80 million for a film like “American Made” that opens today, the emphasis is on hiring “bankable” stars like Tom Cruise who plays the drug dealer and Oliver North operative Barry Seal. That $80 million was almost as much as Congress voted for Nicaraguan contra funding in the year that Seal was involved in a sting operation against the Sandinistas.

Once you have the bankable star, you need to consult with the studio’s top financial geniuses who likely will recommend bankable genres that are geared to the youth market that will see a film multiple times and that consumes large boxes of popcorn given its youthful appetites. Just yesterday, when I went to see the film that is the subject of this review at a Manhattan AMC Cineplex, I decided to pick up a small box of popcorn even though I knew it was be deluged with salt—a means of luring me back to the concession stand to slake my thirst. When the concessionaire told me that it would cost $8.37, I decided against the purchase since the raw materials only cost AMC ten cents.

The youth market is drawn to two kinds of films like moths to a flame. The first are those that are based on Marvel comic books and others in this vein. The second are sequels to a successful film largely based on the Marvel comic book or videogame sensibility such as Transformers or Mortal Kombat. Closely related to this genre are remakes of classic films such as Star Wars or The Magnificent Seven that are generally inferior to the original.

Ostensibly a remake product of the bookkeeping mentality, the film I saw yesterday was the third in a recent series of Planet of the Apes films. Since I had not seen a single Hollywood film this year, I realized that I would look like an interloper at the December NYFCO awards meeting unless I came up with a few plausible nominations. Unlike my colleagues, most of whom are trying to make a living as reviewer, I am under no obligation to see something like Transformers. In fact, when I received a pass years ago to see films being shown at AMC theaters after becoming a member of NYFCO, I almost never used it.

Despite having all the earmarks of Hollywood commercialism, “The War for the Planet of the Apes” is a singular instance of art trumping commerce.

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1 Comment »

  1. “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a singular instance of art trumping commerce.”

    As I watched the film unfold, I kept wondering, how did Reeves get the money to make it? The depth of characterization is extraordinary, even Harrelson’s Colonel “has his reasons” as they used to say. Someone said on Twitter that the character of Donkey, who is only onscreen for about 5 minutes throughout the film, has more depth than anyone in “Wonder Woman”.

    The pacing of the film is also remarkable, especially the scenes where Caesar and his comrades travel to the Colonel’s compound. There is no urgency to drive the narrative forward though unnecessary conflict and violence to keep the audience engaged because the characters and their journey do so much more effectively.

    Much of it evokes the best of Peckinpah and Kurosawa, where things happen to provide us with a feel for time and place, the relationships among the protagonists and the intensity of their quest. While I’m too old to really like the extensive use of CGI to substitute for the real natural environment, the CGI landscape of this film is skillfully used to amplify the somber experiences of the apes.

    The sequence whereby the apes discover the young girl who has been stricken with the regressive virus, Nova, is one of the most compelling that I have seen in recent memory. The subsequent encounter between Caesar and Donkey near the end is a classic example of how film, at its best, can visually convey complex emotional interaction in just a few seconds. The dialogue between Caesar and his comrades with “Bad Ape” in his mountain retreat is engrossing.

    Kurosawa was known for making great films about the human condition, with all the personal and moral dilemmas that come with it. Reeves and Bomback have paradoxically done the same in “War for the Planet of the Apes”. In addition to Serkis, Karin Konoval also deserves praise for her richly textured portrayal of Caesar’s close friend, the orangutan, Maurice.

    Comment by Richard Estes — September 29, 2017 @ 7:44 pm

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