WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: TRAILER COMMENTARY BY DIRECTOR MATT REEVES
- It's a Geeky world after all
- 12 Dec, 2016
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: TRAILER COMMENTARY BY DIRECTOR MATT REEVES.
20th Century Fox and director Matt Reeves revealed the first trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes today, the third film in the rebooted series starring Andy Serkis as Caesar, leader of the apes. As a lifelong Apes fanatic, I was thrilled to sit down with Reeves this week to break down the details of the trailer beat by beat.
Watch the commentary video above or read on for his full unedited quotes about the plot of the film, what was going on behind the scenes, and much more… Mild director-approved spoilers follow.
Two Years Later
"Caesar has been fighting, as we begin the story, for two years just trying to survive a war that he never wanted. And he and the apes retreated from the city into the woods and they are finding a way to survive there as he leads the war, from the apes’ perspective, from a hidden command base. The humans have been searching for Caesar. He's taken on almost legendary status because somehow -- though the army is armed with all kinds of weaponry from the armory, the apes of course only have scavenged weapons, they have weapons that they've made -- yet they're surviving in the woods and part of that is because of Caesar's intelligent command. And they believe that if they could find him, the apes would fall."
"In the opening of the trailer, this first shot was shot on Tofino -- beautiful location on Vancouver Island -- and of course it's evocative of the beach at the end of the original Planet of the Apes, but it's in quite a different context here because it's a war story. As the violence escalates, it becomes more and more personal for Caesar because he sees his apes being exterminated and he decides that he is going to go after Woody Harrelson, the Colonel himself, and he sets off on a kind of mythic journey. And his partners, his closest sort of allies -- Maurice the orangutan and Rocket and Luca -- they don't want him to go because they think that could be a suicide mission.
"They set off as a posse to go find the Colonel and as they make their way on that journey, the world gets bigger and bigger. They make their way from the Muir Woods, they move along the coast of California, which is what this is meant to be though we shot it in Vancouver. They cross terrain into the Sierras. One of the things that they discover along the way, they think they found a place where the humans might be. They're looking for the human camp which is always moving and they're looking for Woody Harrelson. Instead, they find this deserter and he pulls a gun on them and Caesar, in way we've never seen before, just kills him. And it's a haunting scene because you realize that Caesar has lost all empathy for humans.
"But very shortly after that, inside the structure that's right there, they hear more noises and they go in and find this girl. And Maurice the orangutan is struck because she can't seem to speak. And Caesar is like, well, we have to go. And she's like -- I say she because she is Karin [Konoval], who plays Maurice -- but of course Maurice is a male ape. He says, well, she won't make it out here alone, the girl. And we have to take her. And Caesar ends up not really so much agreeing but not stopping Maurice. What you're seeing here on the beach is that very unlikely posse. Here they are on this giant war revenge mission and they have this little girl hugging the back of an orangutan and Caesar is looking at Maurice, like, what are you doing to me?"
“One of the things that was thrilling for me on Dawn was to see [Karin] interact with Kodi Smit-McPhee. Their few interactions were some of the best scenes in the film, because behaviorally, the way that she reacts to Kodi and the way he related to her was so beautiful. [Co-writer] Mark Bomback and I, when we were setting out to write the new story, we knew we really wanted to tap into that vein because that was one of the really emotional and almost mystical places -- this connection between humans and apes that the films could explore. And this is an even larger part of this story. Amiah Miller, who plays the girl, she's a critical part of the story. She's part of a giant mystery but she's part of the emotional core. In the film, it's not just a war between humans and apes. It's a war within Caesar's heart for his own sense of humanity, for lack of a better term. It's really about him losing empathy. As he's driven to a darker and darker place, the presence of this little girl keeps that flicker of humanity somewhere alive in the back of his heart. And so she's a very, very important part of the story.
“One of the things that Maurice discovers when they find this girl is that she can't speak. And he doesn't know what that means. She not only is this part of the story that keeps Caesar's empathy alive, she's also part of a grand mystery that starts to unfold. Because as they're going on this revenge mission, they start finding clues to things that are going on with the humans that are enormous, and also they find clues as we get deeper into the film.
Caesar, his posse, and the girl discover what they initially think is a human deserter but it's actually another ape who is hiding. A little hermit ape played by Steve Zahn. He takes on the name Bad Ape. He is evidence of a larger world of apes because he's not one of them. He can speak. Basically what has happened is as the virus spread among the humans, it actually spread to other apes. Here is an ape from the Sierra Zoo who has learned how to speak. Caesar is stunned because this implies that there are apes out there all over the world that might be gaining intelligence. And yet they weren't raised as part of his community and so weren't instilled with Caesar's values, and so the implications are enormous. And Bad Ape as he calls himself -- and the reason he calls himself Bad Ape is because he was kept in a zoo and as he suddenly gained the ability to understand and to be able to speak, he listened to the humans to learn and they were constantly chiding him and saying ‘bad ape’ -- he's a really funny but heartbreaking character as Steve plays him. He refers to himself as Bad Ape because that's what his captors referred to him as.”
“As the film begins, we're in the Muir Woods. We actually start the film from the human point of view and we're moving up the mountain through the woods looking for Caesar, who is rumored to be commanding the war from some hidden command base. And they spot an ape trench … and they basically set out a giant attack.
“We discover that there's a small group of apes who are working alongside the humans. They are turncoats. It's a small number but they've taken on these names from the humans that are very demeaning. They refer to them as the Kong, like King Kong and Donkey Kong, and in fact, the apes that are with them, they bring along with them because they can reveal ape strategy -- might help to give an advantage -- but also because they're like pack mules. And from Donkey Kong, they call them in short, Donkeys. It's a very demeaning term.”
“Basically because it's a war movie it's very much about survival and what you would do to survive. It's revealed at the end of that scene there's Gabriel Chavarria, who's a wonderful young actor who is one of the young soldiers. He's captured at the end of this battle and he faces down Caesar and it's revealed to him that the reason these apes -- the small band of apes on the human side -- is because they were the followers of Koba [from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes], and they couldn't imagine that Caesar would ever allow them back into the fold. Just in order to survive, they're willing to prostrate themselves and it's a pretty cool part of the story.
“Koba's presence is huge in the film. He really haunts Caesar. In Dawn … Caesar was the bridge between humans and apes. He was both in a way because he was raised by humans but also clearly an ape. But he was also neither because he never quite fit in with either community. But he was the bridge that could have led to peace. Koba was treated so horrendously by humans that he could never find any empathy for them. Caesar, as this story begins, is haunted by the fact that this war began and he feels like it [his] blindspot in not being able to anticipate exactly how darkly Koba felt about humans, and that if he had done that, that maybe this war could have been avoided. He really feels guilty. As the story continues, he starts to understand -- because the war is so dark and seeing the apes take so many losses and all of the tragedies that the apes go through -- he starts to lose his empathy for humans and in a way starts to become Koba. So Caesar's arc starts to become Koba's arc. … You're seeing in real time as Caesar loses any ability to empathize with humans and starts to hate them. And so Koba haunts him and we have some presence of Koba actually in this film in many ways, like these turncoats and in these glimpses of him that Caesar has because the war is not between humans and apes alone, but it's also within Caesar's heart. It's about [whether he can] hold onto any sense of his empathy and his humanity, for lack of a better term.”
“The waterfall here is where the hidden command base is. We shot this in a beautiful place in Vancouver called Othello. It was raining so hard that our equipment almost got swept away. It was an insane experience. But it was quite beautiful and wonderful to capture on film. And essentially, almost like those images from Last of the Mohicans, there is an ape community behind the waterfall, and that's how they've been able to hide all this time.
“And of course as you're seeing here, a small band of special ops soldiers have discovered it and are coming in and that's when we have the big reveal of Woody and Caesar [facing] each other for the first time, very early in the film. And it begins this epic struggle between the two of them. This was a fun scene because special ops, each soldier does their own camo. It's part of what you do, you're expressing yourself on your face. And so I said to Woody, you should just do it. And he came out of his trailer and he looked like that and I was like, this is very cool.
“The movie does have an Apocalypse Now structure in a way in that Caesar is making his way up the river, so to speak, but in this case it's into the mountains and through the snow and into the beach side to find the Colonel. And along the way he discovers more and more evidence of the Colonel's atrocities. And just how extreme he is. And when he reaches the Colonel, he comes to understand that he is a Colonel who is extreme because of the extreme circumstances the humans are in. He's become almost godlike to the humans. This group that follows him, they are the Alpha Omega, which is actually a reference to Beneath [the Planet of the Apes]. But that's the beginning and the end, because this group believes that if they succeed then the humans will survive. If they fail, the humans will end and the human race will vanish. It will become a planet of apes.
“One of the things about Woody's character is that he is extreme and he's ruthless but nothing he says is false. In the trailer, he makes a reference to if we lose, it will become a planet of the apes. And one of the nice things about these movies is because they exist in a larger landscape in which the original film exists. We know that what he's saying is true. It does become of a planet of the apes. And so even though he does very extreme and dark things, he doesn't do so without justification. In that sense, he's not a villain, but he's an extremely tortured, dark character, and Woody was just incredible and it was great to see them acting opposite of each other. One of the things in a war film is that you have [the] spectacle of the battles but what matters is the drama at the forefront, the intimate battle of wills that exists between Caesar and the Colonel. Between Andy and Woody, it’s the core of the movie and the way they face each other off is pretty compelling and exciting to watch.”
“The Colonel has his forces amassed in a camp that was an armory and after the crisis, they took over the armory and turned it into a relocation camp and the sick were housed there. The world that has fallen is a constant reminder under everything that happens and the troops that are this sort of hardened unit -- the Alpha Omega -- who follow the Colonel almost like a god have all amassed here for the fight. And so this is him sort of facing them down. He comes out in the morning and they do their morning moto, which is what the Marines do every morning. Blood makes the grass grow, we make the blood flow. But they're pledging their allegiance to the Colonel and his mission, which is to save humanity.
“We see Woody staring at an image of his son and in a way that evokes sort of Gary Oldman's character from Dawn, but it's actually quite different and much grander and much darker because it's not just a story of loss, it's a story of something more, which I won't give away at this point except that it's part of a larger puzzle about what's happening to humanity. It's a very big part of the journey that Caesar is on, the journey of discovery to determine sort of what's happening in this world. … This fight for humanity is not just against the apes. There's something even greater going on and it's really about them finding a way through this. The humans are in a very, very tragic situation and that's why they're fighting as brutally as they are. Because wouldn't you?”
“One of the things that I really wanted to do was to take us out of the Muir Woods and into other environments. Ryan Stafford, who is our VFX producer, reminds me that the moment we finished Dawn I said to him glibly, okay, apes in snow next. It's funny because I don't remember it that way at all, but that's what he claims happened. It did find its way into our thinking as Mark Bomback and I were writing. How can we take this and push it into the realm of the mythic? Take this story and have Caesar's search lead him out of the rainy woods along the coast and into the Sierras, into a place that felt very mythic? And so we took our mo-cap cameras and we shot our mo-cap actors in the snow. We were in Calgary and Whistler and it was really snowing and it was really cold.”
“One of the great things for me from the beginning about getting involved in this iteration of the franchise is that the original film exists. Because it means we already know the ending. It does become of a planet of the apes. And so the question then is, how? And when stories are about character and about philosophy and they're about emotion and psychology, the story is completely informed by knowing what the end is. You're never not aware of the trajectory we're on, and that informs each and every move that we're making because we're revealing how it gets to be that way. That's part of the mystery that's being revealed to Caesar as the story progresses and as he encounters the Colonel. As he encounters Woody, Woody reveals where the extremity in his actions come from -- the chilling thing is that as he reveals the justification behind all these chilling acts … nothing is a lie. You realize that he's not crazy. It's just that the world has gone crazy, the world is extreme.”
War for the Planet of the Apes will be released on July 14, 2017.
alk to Senior Editor Scott Collura on Twitter at @ScottCollura.
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