Written By: Julia Siegel
New York Comic Con is known for its big TV panels, but this year, War for the Planet of the Apes took over as one of the hottest tickets to have. 20th Century Fox had a big, two-day event for its latest blockbuster, which is set to be released next July. A couple hundred lucky fans and members of the press scored tickets to the panel and exclusive footage screening on Thursday, October 6. The panel consisted of lead actor Andy Serkis (Caesar), director Matt Reeves, and producer Dylan Clark. The press was invited to Madison Square Garden on Friday, October 7 to interview the three panelists after Serkis’ panel at the theater. With first-look footage, a special scene, great commentary, and wonderful interviews, War for the Planet of the Apes took over Comic Con.
The panel event consisted of three special screenings and commentary about the new film in between. The film takes place two years after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and war is raging in the woods. Caesar is distraught and still haunted from murdering Koba. Serkis explained that, “Caesar’s feeling of empathy drains away,” which will lead to a darker spin of the character. Reeves, the producers, and writers even turned to inspiring Western, war, and biblical films like Bridge on the River Quai, The Ten Commandments, Unforgiven, and Ben-Hur for story and character inspiration, especially for Caesar. It’s obvious right away that this will be the old Planet of the Apes.
At the panel, a behind-the-scenes featurette of the making of War for the Planet of the Apes was screened. Reeves said that they wanted to show the Comic Con crowd how motion capture (Mo-cap) works, which is exactly what the featurette showed. Next, a seven minute sequence from the film was screened. As a tease, the scene is a tender moment between a few apes and a surprise at a fishing shack. The scene was shown as a crude, unedited, rough cut. Most of it was the actors in the Mo-cap suits rather than the CGI apes. It was incredible to be able to see the raw footage because it makes you realize that all of the apes’ facial expressions and emotions are portrayed by the actors, not by CGI.
At the interview sessions on Friday, Serkis said that he doesn’t think any differently when he plays a live-action role or a Mo-cap role, “The fact of the matter is, if I was playing that character and I wasn’t wearing a motion capture suit and I was just wearing a costume, you wouldn’t question it because you’d just think, ‘Oh, well, there’s this actor that’s playing this role.’ So, I guess where I’m going with this is that there is really no difference between playing a performance captured role or a live-action role on screen where you can see the actor’s face because what happens so brilliantly, and where the artistry of the visual effects works with Weta, the company that takes our performances and translate them onto the faces of the apes, they are completely honoring the integrity of the acting choices, the beat, the moments, the expressions.” This shows in all of his performances, especially when you get to see the raw Mo-cap footage. Reeves and Clark said at the panel that everyone on set was moved by Serkis’ performance in the new film. Clark even went so far to say that, “He deserves an Academy Award, and Matt deserves an Academy Award for directing.”
The panel also featured the first trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes, which has yet to be released to the public. It should be coming soon, so keep a look out for it! The trailer is incredibly intense and sets up a darker plot. I haven’t been a huge fan of the Planet of the Apes movies, but this trailer, plus the other footage that we saw, was so much better than anything from the other two movies in the new franchise. I am actually interested in seeing the new movie now.
One of the intriguing parts of the trailer is Woody Harrelson’s character, who the panelists said is extreme because the world they are in is extreme. They didn’t talk a lot about Harrelson’s role, but Serkis said during our interview that his favorite scenes were with Harrelson. “I know that there were moments where I was pushing him, and he really had to engage with me. So, I’m really looking forward to seeing those scenes,” Serkis said. Reeves also talked about his favorite parts of the film being very intense, big scenes, “…one of the things that I liked so much about the panel last night is we chose some clips that we thought, first of all, wouldn’t give away too much and also that would show the intimacy of things because we knew our trailer would have some big stuff which, by the way, doesn’t even scratch the surface of the big stuff that we have which is really cool…I feel like I have more secrets that I can’t wait to share and hoping when I do, people are excited about it the way we are.”
Reeves went on to say during our interview that besides the war aspect, the new film will be different than the others. “One of the things I’m most excited to share is the sense of humor. There’s a lot of humor in the film that comes from characters that are interacting with Caesar that are new. And, we have some new performers doing it, and I think when people see that, they are going to see some stuff that they’ve yet to see in any of these films,” Reeves excitedly shared. He also said during the panel that the film is epic, thrilling, and mythically surprising, so fans have a lot to look forward to.
Another difference of War for the Planet of the Apes is the terrain. Clark explained in our interview why the shoot was very difficult, “The ambition of War was such that we had many more locations to go to, and so the situations and circumstances that actors had to do their thing and was just challenging. So, it was a lot of snow, a lot of water, a lot of nights, a lot of punishment. As a producer, you’re always worried about safety; you’re always worried about actors just being able to inhabit the characters and stay in characters, but again, led by Andy who is one of the most amazing actors you could ever work with.” At the panel, Reeves and Clark discussed how they have to film every scene four different times. They said that they have to shoot the same shot with the actors, with no actors, with human characters and no apes, and a shot just for lighting reference. These four shots are layered to add every human and ape character while being able to maintain the same, genuine location and lighting. On top of the rough terrain, it sounded like this film was a beast to shoot.
Not only does Reeves like to shoot on location, he has had to film over Skype in the past. For Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Reeves re-filmed scenes of Serkis and Jason Clarke over Skype. He even had to re-film the ending with Serkis four weeks prior to the movie’s release in July 2014. Reeves described the process during our interview, “[Andy] was doing it at The Imaginarium, which is his studio, and he’s got these cameras all around. So I could talk him through a scene, we were nowhere near each other, and he could do take after take and I could say, ‘I really love that take.’ And then Andy would get the information from his Mo-cap cameras and give it to Weta [the visual effects company] and bam, we had the scene.” Reeves said the process was similar with scenes that involved both Serkis and Clarke, “So with Jason, I had to shoot him against a green screen to put him into some shots I already had for his shots. And for Andy, I could recapture his data, and then use the very same shots and just put a new Caesar into those shots. So then, the idea was that they weren’t in the same place at the same time, but in a way, they didn’t have to be because I needed to capture Andy in a Mo-cap studio, and I needed to get Jason in a green screen set.” It’s odd to think that part of the film was done over Skype, but it’s incredible that modern technology allows filmmakers to do that.
The other intriguing part of the panel and interviews was the role of Maurice, the orangutan. Clark especially loves Maurice, “There’s something special about Maurice, the orangutan. I love that Maurice is played by Karin Konoval, a woman, and so we always call Maurice a her, but Maurice of course is a guy. We just love Maurice and how thoughtful Maurice is, and the role of Maurice is to be Caesar’s conscience…and to help guide Caesar when he goes astray.” At the panel, Reeves talked about how Konoval spent lots of time with orangutans at zoos and has a “profound relationship” with them. The research that she put into her role is astounding and is showcased in the films.
War for the Planet of the Apes hits theaters on July 14, 2017.