Comics Review: ‘Planet of the Apes: Visionaries’

Rod Serling’s original ‘Planet of the Apes’ screenplay comes to life in a new graphic novel…

Planet of the Apes Visionaries

Cover art for ‘Planet of the Apes: Visionaries’ by Paolo Rivera (image credit: Boom! Studios/20th Century Fox, used for illustrative purpose only).

Written by:  Rod Serling (adapted by Dana Gould) / art by:  Chad Lewis / inks by:  David Wilson / colours by:  Darrin Moore, Miquel Muerto & Marcelo Costa

What’s it about?

A crew of astronauts find themselves stranded on a strange world where intelligent apes are dominant…

In review

In celebration of fifty years of Planet of the Apes, Boom! Studios present an original graphic novel that brings The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling’s original screenplay of Pierre Boulle’s novel to life.  Adapted by writer/comedian Dana Gould (whose writing credits include The Simpsons and Stan Against Evil) with art by Chad Lewis, Planet of the Apes: Visionaries is an interesting reinterpretation of what eventually became the first Planet of the Apes feature film.  On first thought, Gould may seem like an odd choice for such a project but given his professed love for Planet of the Apes and The Twilight Zone then it soon becomes clear that he’s perfect for the job.

As is well documented, Rod Serling’s screenplay for Planet of the Apes was rewritten by Michael Wilson in order to accommodate budgetary limitations but it’s evident here that an awful lot of Serling’s work was retained for the film and was simply retooled to fit a more modest production and entertain the masses.  The main differences are visual, given that Serling adhered closely to Pierre Boulle’s vision of a modern, industrialised ape society.  In place of horses there are motor vehicles (and helicopters) and instead of primitive stone huts there are skyscrapers, film theatres and nightclubs.  Reminding us that these are in fact apes, whilst adding a touch of the zany, is the sight of citizens swinging across the streets using monkey bars!  Like Boulle’s novel, the dialogue is a little more academic and in true Serling style accentuates the satirical and social elements, giving the story a slightly darker and more philosophical slant.

Another significant departure is the leading protagonist, named Thomas, who though sharing some similarities to Charlton Heston’s Taylor is largely a different character.  Taylor’s gruff heroism and misanthropic outlook was a perfect fit for Heston as an actor and screen presence (and Planet of the Apes would not have worked so well without him at the centre) but the ‘hero’ of Serling’s take on Boulle’s story is of a more scientific and anthropological disposition.

All of that doesn’t necessarily make this version of Planet of the Apes superior to the screen version, just a fascinating alternative.  The less technologically developed simian culture of the 1968 film is actually to its benefit, providing a primal feel and otherworldliness that make the final outcome all the more shocking and Charlton Heston’s performance unforgettable.

The interior art by Chad Lewis (inked by David Wilson) is appropriate with a loose, rough and slightly cartoonish style that together with muted, dreamy colours (provided by Darrin Moore, Miquel Muerto & Marcelo Costa) helps to evoke a pulpy, retro sci-fi feel with the ape character design more animalistic and simian-like in a way that could not have achieved with actors in make-up and prosthetics.  It’s fair to say that in the hands of previous Boom! Apes artist Carlos Magno Visionaries could have actually been even better, but it may have ultimately changed the tone and visual uniqueness of this particular iteration.

Aside from the story itself, Planet of the Apes: Visionaries contains closing thoughts from Dana Gould and Chad Lewis (backed up by some nice concept sketches) discussing various aspects of Rod Serling’s vision and their approach to faithfully interpreting and respecting his work.  They’re fascinating to read and Gould’s passion for the Apes franchise and his adoration of Rod Serling is particularly enlightening.

Boom! Have done great work with the Apes license and have produced some brilliant stories that have expanded and embellished the Planet of the Apes universe and Visionaries is no different, whilst the uninitiated may find it odd it’s well worth a look for Apes fans.

The bottom line:  Planet of the Apes: Visionaries provides an intriguing look at what might have been and a fitting tribute to fifty years of an iconic and beloved franchise.

Planet of the Apes: Visionaries is published by Boom! Studios and is available in print and digital formats now.

Have You Seen… ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’?

Film and TV you might not have checked out but really should…

Conquest of TPOTA

The inimitable Roddy McDowall as Caesar in ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1972

Starring:  Roddy McDowall, Ricardo Montalban, Don Murray, Hari Rhodes, Natalie Trundy

Director:  J. Lee Thompson / written by:  Paul Dehn

What’s it about?

North America 1991 – sold into slavery like the rest of his kind, Caesar, the offspring of intelligent apes Cornelius and Zira, prepares to lead a revolt against his human masters…

In review

Taking place twenty years after the events of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the fourth entry in the original Planet of the Apes film series sees Roddy McDowall once again returning to the franchise – this time as Caesar, the son of Cornelius (played of course by McDowall in Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes) and Zira (Kim Hunter’s character in the previous Apes films) who was left in the care of circus owner, Armando (the late, great Ricardo Montalban).  Now fully grown, Caesar’s true nature as an intelligent ape is kept secret by Armando in a world where his simian brethren have been enslaved by man and under the cruel whip of their masters are trained and sold off as household servants and labourers.

Presenting a somewhat bleak scenario and with unrestrained parallels to slavery, racial prejudice and the indecency of those in power (the Watergate scandal unfolding at the time of the film’s release in June 1972), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is arguably the strongest, darkest and most thematically interesting of the Apes sequels.  The rise of a police state and the depiction of unabashed cruelty paints an ugly picture of humankind, putting the viewer firmly on the side of the apes and invested in Caesar’s journey from slave to revolutionary.

Whilst Charlton Heston was the indisputable star of Planet of the Apes, it’s Roddy McDowall that carried the franchise forward and his performance in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is the finest of the series – his whole career even – combined with the exemplary make-up design and Paul Dehn’s sharp script, McDowall tackles the part of Caesar with passion and conviction.  Supporting McDowall is Don Murray as the evil Governor Breck, whilst Ricardo Montalban reprises his Escape from the Planet of the Apes role as the benign Armando, proving that not all humans are brutal and unkind.  Rounding out the cast is Hari Rhodes as Breck’s aide, MacDonald – an African American who has some sympathy for the apes’ plight – and Natalie Trundy (who also appeared in Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes) as Caesar’s future mate, Lisa.

Working against technical and budgetary limitations, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes non-the-less boasts some simple but effective set design that’s bolstered by the use of exterior location shooting at Los Angeles’ Century City providing the film with an appropriately sterile, semi-futuristic look.  The Gestapo style costume design elements also help accentuate that sense of a near-totalitarian society.

The finale, where Caesar escapes interrogation and leads the apes in a revolt against their human overlords leads to an action-packed climax with a startling, yet poignant conclusion.  It also provoked controversy amongst 20th Century Fox executives, so alarmed by the level of violence in the original cut of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes that they demanded certain scenes be edited and for Caesar’s closing speech to be softened by the recording of additional lines by Roddy McDowall.  Thankfully the superior, unaltered version was restored for the film’s Blu-ray release.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes would bring the series to an entertaining close the following year but it’s the themes and Roddy McDowall’s performance that make Conquest of the Planet of the Apes a highlight of the series.

Geek fact!

Lou Wagner, Lucius in Planet of the Apes, cameos in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes as a chimpanzee restaurant server.

Also worth a look…

Battle for the Planet of the Apes : the final entry in the original Apes saga, which posits a more hopeful outcome where apes and humans may ultimately coexist peacefully.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes : the first instalment of the more recent Apes series, the Rupert Wyatt directed reboot of the franchise shares a similar premise to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

Film Review: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’

Matt Reeves and Andy Serkis prove that apes together are still strong…

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Amiah Miller

Directed by:  Matt Reeves / Written by:  Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves / 142 minutes

What’s it about?

Under attack by a ruthless colonel and his army, Ape leader Caesar embarks on a journey to bring an end to the bloodshed once and for all…

In review

20th Century Fox’s rebooted Planet of the Apes series (which began with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt) continues confidently with its latest chapter, War for the Planet of the Apes.  Quickly proving as captivating as 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s quite simply what every summer blockbuster should be – visually astonishing, smart and emotionally engaging with a strong emphasis on character and story.

Picking up two years after the close of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, war with humankind has driven Ape leader Caesar into hiding as he attempts to protect and ensure the future of his fellow apes against the brutal attacks of a rogue army platoon lead by the unsavoury Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), a particularly devastating battle pitting the two leaders against one another as Caesar sets out in pursuit of his enemy in a journey that will see him once again forced to fight for the freedom of his people.

There are further leaps in CGI here that further blurs the line between the real and artificial yet it’s the efforts of the performance-capture artists and returning Dawn director/co-writer (with Mark Bomback) Matt Reeves that really sells it, allowing the audience to become invested and care about the simian society and their struggle for survival.  As Caesar, Andy Serkis brings the experience of his craft fully to bear that, coupled with ground-breaking technology and Reeve’s intricate direction, delivers a powerful and emotive performance that drives the heart and soul of War for the Planet of the Apes.

Serkis is brilliantly supported by returning performance-capture co-stars Terry Notary (as Rocket), Karin Konoval (as Maurice) and Michael Adamthwaite (as Luca) but it’s the addition of new simian character ‘Bad Ape’ that’s a true highlight with Steve Zahn bringing a sympathetic edge to the kooky comic relief that’s a real joy to watch.  There’s also a wonderful dose of heart provided by Amiah Miller, who plays a young mute human girl befriended by Maurice and who Caesar reluctantly allows to join his quest against McCullough.  Along with Bad Ape, she becomes integral to the group and another great addition to the line-up of strong, well-written characters.  As the main antagonist, Woody Harrelson is a real coup bringing a steely eyed quality and cruel malevolence to the role of the Colonel, a character not without his own personal tragedy that helps to paint an unhinged but complex man of war.

As with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Matt Reeves (who has been tasked to take on The Batman) demonstrates an incredible talent for world-building, effortlessly marrying epic landscapes with thrilling action sequences and quieter character-centric moments that draws the viewer into a world that feels far more real than the average franchise blockbuster.  It’s all bolstered by a screenplay that’s layered and constructed with intelligence, accentuating the war film elements with shades of Apocalypse Now and The Great Escape and replete with callbacks to the original Apes series that will further please fans of the classic science-fiction saga.

The bottom line:  A stirring and visually impressive blockbuster with brains, War for the Planet of the Apes is another fine entry in the series.

War for the Planet of the Apes is in cinemas now.

War for POTA

Weathering the storm: Caesar (Andy Serkis) continues the fight for survival in ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, from 20th Century Fox.

Comic Review: ‘Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War’ #1

Written by:  Mike Johnson / pencilled by:  Angel Hernandez

What’s it about?

While investigating a rogue planet, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise discover the corpse of a mysterious alien being and several strange, colourful rings…

In review

Star Trek/Green Lantern is the latest of IDW Publishing’s Star Trek crossover events (with DC Comics), having previously delivered successful ‘team-ups’ with iconic comic book/science fiction properties Legion of Super Heroes, Doctor Who and Planet of the Apes.  Whereas those previous mini-series have featured the original and next generation Star Trek crews, Star Trek/Green Lantern opts to focus on the more contemporary cast of the rebooted Trek universe depicted in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness.

Written by Mike Johnson, the opening chapter of The Spectrum War gives readers a tantalising glimpse into a potentially exciting and epic comic book crossover as events are precipitated by Kirk and Spock’s discovery of the corpse of – unbeknownst to them – Ganthet, one of Oa’s Guradians.  Granted, this premiere issue provides a lot of setup and focuses heavily on the Trek universe but Johnson’s script incorporates enough intrigue, excitement and links to DC Comics’ Green Lantern that, although ultimately there are few surprises, fans of both franchises will find pleasing.

Johnson is no stranger to Star Trek having written many of IDW’s Trek comics and as always is true to the mythos of the franchise and faithfully captures the voices of its main characters.  Whilst it remains to be seen how well he handles those elements of the Green Lantern universe (and in turn, how seamlessly the crossover plays out) the fact that this premiere issue manages to successfully integrate power rings, Klingons and a finale appearance from heroic lantern Hal Jordan (I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how he and Kirk ‘get on’ and certainly how the Enterprise crew handle the ramifications of being selected by a power ring) so joyously gives no cause for concern at this stage.

Just as Johnson provides a solid script, Angel Hernandez delivers stunningly detailed art with decent character likenesses (and some striking images of the Enterprise) that, together with Alejandro Sanchez’s vibrant and sharp colours give the visuals a feature film quality that can often be lacking from such an ambitious project.

Overall, a crossover between Star Trek and Green Lantern is a suitable match with both properties having similar narrative and visual components with their eclectic mix of strange new worlds, weird and wonderful life forms and a positive outlook for a better tomorrow, even in the face of whatever dark and dangerous threats the universe has in store.

The bottom line:  IDW has delivered a strong start to their Star Trek/Green Lantern crossover, which thanks to a quality script and luscious artwork shows a lot of potential.

Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War #1 is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.

Angel Hernandez provides the wonderful art in IDW Publishing's promising 'Star Trek/Green Lantern' crossover.

Angel Hernandez provides the wonderful art in IDW Publishing’s promising ‘Star Trek/Green Lantern’ crossover.

Film Review: ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’

Year:  1970

Starring:  James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, David Watson, James Gregory, Linda Harrison and Charlton Heston

Director:  Ted Post / Written by:  Paul Dehn (story by Paul Dehn and Mort Abrahams)

What’s it about?

The sole survivor of a doomed expedition, astronaut Brent finds himself thrust into a world ruled by intelligent apes.  But nothing will prepare him for the revelations that lie beneath the surface…

In review

With 1968’s Planet of the Apes proving a hit for studio 20th Century Fox, a sequel was inevitably commissioned leading to the release of Beneath the Planet of the Apes in 1970.  Clearly weaker than its predecessor, Beneath is still a highly entertaining follow up with plenty to enjoy, retaining much of what made the original Apes a success.

With Charlton Heston only agreeing to return in a reduced role as the human astronaut Taylor, the lead position is filled by James Franciscus playing the part of Brent, the sole survivor of another space expedition to find himself in a world ruled by intelligent apes.  Whilst it’s a shame that Heston didn’t agree to a larger role in the film, Franciscus carries the lead ably and provides a suitably intense performance as the bewildered astronaut struggles to comprehend the reality of his situation and the revelations of the apes’ world.

Brent is joined by the mute human, Nova (with Linda Harrison reprising her Planet of the Apes role) as the pair search for the vanished Taylor leading to a reunion with chimps Zira (Hunter) and Cornelius (with David Watson taking the place of Roddy McDowall who was unavailable at the time).  Maurice Evans returns as Dr. Zaius, this time debating the war plans of James Gregory’s Gorilla General, Ursus (a role turned down by Orson Welles) – pressing for the elimination of humankind and the conquest of the mysterious ‘Forbidden Zone’.

Although the script does at times lean towards illogic and convenience (audiences in 1970 were less prone to nitpicking and more open to simply being entertained), like its predecessor, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is laced with social commentary featuring clear protests against issues such as the conflict in Vietnam and Nuclear warfare.  There are also some neat science fiction ideas as Brent ventures beneath the surface and discovers a colony of telepathic humans, it’s perhaps a little comic book in execution but all part of the charm.  Roddy McDowall is also sorely missed, David Watson isn’t a bad substitute but it was the delightful subtleties of McDowall’s performance that made Cornelius such a standout character in the original Apes.

Director Ted Post keeps things moving along at a decent pace, making the action sequences suitably exciting and tense and allowing ample time for viewers to appreciate the creative set design, which is once again laudable (the underground ruins are particularly effective) given the relatively low budget.

What’s notable about Beneath is that it’s somewhat darker and more adult than the previous Apes film, although a scene involving a half-ape/half-human child was deemed too controversial and eventually dropped, there is a higher level of violence on display particularly in the action-packed, blood (well, the customary red paint which was commonplace in film and television of the sixties and seventies) spattered finale and an overall sense of doom and finality to proceedings.

The bottom line:  Whilst nowhere near as good as Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is still an entertaining and action-packed sequel that’s worth a look.

Brent (James Franciscus) and Nova (Linda Harrison) venture below the surface in 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes'.

Brent (James Franciscus) and Nova (Linda Harrison) venture below the surface in ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’.

GBUK Film Classics: ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

Looking at some all-time favourites…

“Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!”

Year:  1968

Starring:  Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans

Director:  Franklin J. Schaffner / Written by:  Michael Wilson and Rod Serling

What’s it about?

A team of human astronauts find themselves on a world where intelligent apes are dominant…

In review

Whilst the Planet of the Apes franchise has seen a successful reinvention with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and last summer’s smash hit sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s likely that a sizeable section of the audience are unaware that there is indeed a franchise that began life decades earlier.

Based on the novel by French author Pierre Boulle (whose works also include The Bridge over the River Kwai), Planet of the Apes is the science fiction film classic that would spawn an enduring and popular franchise which by the mid 1970’s would include four sequels and two television spin-offs (one live action, one animated) as well as a plethora of merchandise.

Adhering relatively close to the main plot elements of Boulle’s novel, the film adaptation of Planet of the Apes diverges creatively to depict a more primitive ape society as opposed to the technologically advanced one described in the novel (and the initial script by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, which was subsequently rewritten by Michael Wilson) – primarily due to budgetary concerns and the practical limitations of the times.  This is however all in the film’s favour, giving it a more ‘primal’ feel aided by some basic yet wonderful production design.

Charlton Heston brings star power to Planet of the Apes and is a reliably strong lead as the cynical and misanthropic Taylor who finds himself the subject of controversy and scrutiny as an intelligent and articulate primate, captured and caged like an animal in a world where humans are the mute and lower species.  The real draw however are the ape characters – wise and humble chimpanzees Cornelius (McDowall) and Zira (Hunter) who fall foul of the hateful and cantankerous orangutan Dr. Zaius (Evans) as they befriend Taylor.  Of the ape actors, Roddy McDowall is the standout performer and would continue to delight and further explore the character of an advanced simian in sequels Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (he was unavailable for first sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes) as well as the short-lived live action television series.

Naturally, this brings us to one of the biggest highlights of the entire production – the incredible makeup and prosthetic design of the apes themselves.  Created by John Chambers (responsible for Mr. Spock’s iconic pointed ears in Star Trek) and complemented by Morton Haack’s costume design, the ground-breaking makeup effects still hold up today and would rightfully earn him an honorary Academy Award.

Whilst there are elements of satire and thought provoking exploration of themes such as society, racial prejudice and cautionary tales of the human condition reminiscent of all good science fiction, a large part of the appeal of Planet of the Apes is its pure entertainment value and the depiction of a believable ape society with its hierarchy split across three central ape creeds – the political orangutans, the scientific and academic chimpanzees and the militant gorillas.

Another key component of Planet of the Apes is the inventive and experimental Academy Award nominated music score by Jerry Goldsmith for which he employed the use of unusual instruments and unconventional techniques to help create the eerie and primal feeling of the ape’s world.

Planet of the Apes leaves the viewer with one of film’s greatest and most iconic twist endings, (retained from Rod Serling’s original script) – the revelations of which I shall not divulge here for those who have not seen this classic slice of SF cinema.

Standout moment

Finding themselves in a field where a mute and dumb human society is ‘grazing’, astronauts Taylor, Landon and Dodge are shocked to witness the arrival of clothed, rifle wielding gorillas…on horseback!

Three reasons it’s a classic…

  1. It depicts a believable society of intelligent apes, thanks to a successful blend of production design, incredible makeup effects and the delightfully nuanced performances of actors such as Roddy McDowall.
  1. It features a wonderfully eerie and inventive score by Jerry Goldsmith.
  1. It delivers a shocking and memorable finale which stands as one of the most iconic moments in film history.

Did you know?

Screenwriter Michael Wilson was blacklisted by Hollywood for being a communist during the era of the McCarthy ‘witch hunt’ trials.

If you like this then watch…

Planet of the Apes (2001) : flawed though it may be, Tim Burton’s reimagining is still worth a look and evokes the spirit of the 1968 original by featuring superb makeup design and a mind boggling twist finale that still provokes discussion today.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes : the Apes saga begins anew with this smart reinvention that replaces practical ape makeup effects with remarkable motion capture performances melded with breath-taking CGI.

Taylor (Charlton Heston) befriends chimpanzees Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) in the classic original 'Planet of the Apes'.

Taylor (Charlton Heston) befriends chimpanzees Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) in the classic original ‘Planet of the Apes’.

Film Review: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (spoiler free)

A sequel worth going Ape for?

Starring:  Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell

Directed by:  Matt Reeves / Written by:  Mark Bomback and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver / 130 minutes

What’s it about?

A decade after leading his ape brethren to salvation and the decimation of the human population by the onset of the Simian Flu virus, Caesar finds that the ape society’s peaceful existence is soon threatened when human survivors are discovered…

In review

Summer 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (directed by Rupert Wyatt) proved a successful revitalisation and reinvention of a classic science fiction film franchise.  A surprise critical and commercial hit for studio 20th Century Fox it was a case of “if at first you don’t succeed…”, granted it took over a decade for a second attempt (following the poorly received Planet of the Apes ‘reimagining’ from director Tim Burton) but well worth the wait.

The new Apes franchise was already off to a good start and the saga’s second chapter, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes managed to live up to the hype and the wave of positive opinion that emerged from the film’s theatrical release earlier this year – where it grossed over $700m at the box office.  It’s a sequel that builds upon the creative and narrative foundations of the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes, bettering it on every level as every sequel should, yet rarely achieves.

Moving events a decade on from the closing frames of Rise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes allows us to see an evolving and growing ape society living a peaceful (at times fractious) existence under the leadership of the elder, more seasoned Caesar with loyal allies Koba, Maurice and Rocket still at his side.  Believing that all of humanity has succumbed to the Simian Flu, the ape society’s security is threatened when, by chance, human survivors are discovered.  With a human colony desperate to utilise a nearby dam to provide them with power, a reluctant and uneasy alliance is formed and deceits eventually bring both groups to the brink of war.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is obviously a visual marvel – much as Rise was upon release – made possible by the continuing refinement of digital effects and motion capture technology.  It’s all handled capably by director Matt Reeves who is no stranger to large scale environments and the demands of a multi-million dollar effects-laden project, having cut his teeth on the J.J. Abrams-produced Cloverfield.

Yet there’s much more to Dawn beyond its visual aesthetics and technical accomplishments.  This is a film with dramatic and narrative weight with some great and well defined characters – both ape and human.  Andy Serkis once again proves that motion capture performances are just that – beneath the digital exterior lies expressions of thought and emotion that truly make the ape characters believable and Serkis is arguably at the forefront of it all.  Gary Oldman gives another reliable turn as Dreyfus, the emotionally tortured leader of the human survivors, but Caesar’s true counterpart lies in Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, a man who he finds holds similar values of family and society.  One of Dawn’s biggest draws however is the rebellious and volatile Koba, brought breathlessly to life by Toby Kebbell with a performance that is truly electrifying (and at times terrifying) and adds further weight to that believability of these characters.  Along with Sirkis, he is an incredible talent and a joy to behold.

That’s what is most enjoyable about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, amongst some of the more comfortable ‘by the numbers’ popcorn blockbusters that were also released this summer, it is a film with not only spectacle, exciting set-pieces and jaw-dropping effects but a laudable measure of heart and soul as it explores themes of family and survival and brains as it conveys a narrative that is beyond a mere case of ‘good’ apes versus ‘bad’ humans.  Just like the original Apes franchise explored these themes of society and the human condition, so does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The bottom line:  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a strong contender for film of the year, beyond its incredible technical achievements it has a resonance and depth that many other summer blockbusters fail to accomplish.  Not to be missed.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download now.

The incredible Andy Serkis brings the Ape leader, Caesar to life in 20th Century Fox's spectacular 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'.

The incredible Andy Serkis brings the Ape leader, Caesar to life in 20th Century Fox’s spectacular ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’.

What are your thoughts on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?  Leave your comments below!

Five worthy ‘threequels’

The third entry in any film series is by large considered a disappointment and whilst in some cases this is certainly true (“hello” to Superman III and Jurassic Park III), there are some ‘threequels’ that threaten to stand toe to toe with numbers one and two.

With the recent Blu-ray release of Iron Man Three, I thought I’d look at a selection of five other noteworthy threequels that are far from disappointing…

ONE:  ALIEN 3 (1991)

Follows:  Aliens (1986)

Lt. Ellen Ripley crash lands on the Weyland Yutani prison colony “Fury” 161.  Although her companions are killed in the crash, Ripley is not the only survivor…

Aliens would always have been a tough act to follow but Alien 3 was definitely a step in the right direction, not bigger in an attempt to outdo James Cameron’s blockbuster, but much smaller and more claustrophobic and visceral in the same vein as the franchise’s 1979 progenitor (Ridley Scott’s Alien of course).  Directed with a smattering of art house flair by the then 20-something David Fincher, the Alien 3 that audiences eventually saw had risen from the ashes of a troubled production but stands as an underrated piece of cinematic SF horror that’s oozing with atmospheric chills and should really have been a conclusion to the Alien film series.

Charles S. Dutton’s Dillon aside, Sigourney Weaver is supported by a wealth of British acting talent – Brian Glover, Charles Dance, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb and Paul McGann.  Coupled with Fincher’s youthfully artistic direction Alien 3 has its own distinct flavour.

What came next:  Alien Resurrection (1997) – a sequel too far?  Whilst Alien 3 was ‘arty’ in the best possible sense, Resurrection overstepped the mark and resulted in a poorly conceived and over ambitious mess that lead to the guilty pleasures of two Alien vs. Predator films.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) faces her worst nightmare - again - in 'Alien 3', directed by future Oscar nominee David Fincher.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) faces her worst nightmare – again – in ‘Alien 3’, directed by future Oscar nominee David Fincher.

TWO:  STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984)

Follows:  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The crew of the Enterprise are mourning the loss of their shipmate, Captain Spock but when Doctor McCoy begins exhibiting strange behaviour, Admiral Kirk is compelled to defy orders and return to the Genesis Planet…

As established Star Trek fans will know, the most recent J.J. Abrams film is not the first time the franchise ventured “into darkness”.  Both Star Trek II and Star Trek III dealt with some dark yet mature themes including regret and loss, whilst still retaining the core ideals of hope and humanity that Gene Rodenberry had envisioned.  It made sense that the franchise grew with its audience and had relevance in the often dark 1980s.  The Search for Spock – despite relatively little screen-time for Leonard Nimoy’s Spock (he was busy behind the camera this time out) – showed us that Star Trek had matured without forgetting those afore-mentioned ideals that made it so appealing.  A large part of what makes it work so well is that you cared about those original characters and rooted for them as they banded together at the risk of losing everything for the sake of their friend and comrade.

The Search for Spock also features a (just) pre-Back to the Future Christopher Lloyd as the enjoyably maniacal Klingon Commander, Kruge.

What came next:  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) – “the one with the whales” ranks as one of the most commercially and critically successful of all the Star Trek feature films (and the second to be directed by Leonard Nimoy), it brought levity in spades and upheld the key elements of Gene Rodenberry’s vision whilst paving the way for the franchise’s return to the small screen with the immensely successful Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Kirk (William Shatner) together with his shipmates steal the Enterprise, risking all for the needs of the one...

Kirk (William Shatner) together with his shipmates steal the Enterprise, risking all for the needs of the one…

THREE:  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

Follows:  The Dark Knight (2008)

Bruce Wayne must once again don the cape and cowl to prevent the terrorist Bane from fulfilling the League of Shadow’s plan to destroy Gotham City…

Whilst many will argue that The Dark Knight is the best of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was the perfect conclusion and brought the focus back to Bruce Wayne’s story (despite less actual screen time for the Batman himself), bringing everything neatly full circle.

The film features arguably the strongest cast performances of the trilogy and a villain that literally stood toe to toe with Gotham’s Dark Knight and high stakes throughout to the spectacular and gripping finale.

For more on the Dark Knight Rises, check out the GBUK retrospective here.

What came next:  Man of Steel (2013) – although Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga concluded with The Dark Knight Rises his creative presence is felt in the recent Superman reboot, having served as producer and sharing a ‘story by’ credit with screenwriter David S. Goyer.

Another superbly cast ensemble  for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan's well crafted Batman film trilogy.

Another superbly cast ensemble for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s well crafted Batman film trilogy.

FOUR:  GOLDFINGER (1964)

Follows:  From Russia With Love (1963)

007 must foil gold magnate Auric Goldfinger’s plot to irradiate Fort Knox’s gold reserve…

Goldfinger is generally regarded as the finest of all Bond films (for me it’s in contention with From Russia With Love) and identified as the point where Bond-mania truly exploded.  It established the template from which (for better or worse) all future Bond films would follow:  the pre-credits mission, a grand and operatic theme song, the gadgets, a compelling villain and an action packed climax as 007 leads a final assault to thwart the plans of said villain.

Gert Frobe (despite being dubbed due to his lack of coherent English) brought true presence and gravitas to the role of Goldfinger, a master villain able to match Bond whit for whit.  Sean Connery excels as the iconic super spy, his performance confidently infused with charm and vigour – leaving you in no doubt that (as good as Daniel Craig is) he was and likely always will be the best screen 007.

And of course who can forget that legendary Austin Martin…ejector seat and all.

What came next:  Thunderball (1965) – considered by some to be the downward turn in Sean Connery’s tenure it’s still a top spy adventure bolstered by Academy Award winning effects, another magnificent score from John Barry and yet another sexy Bond girl – this time Claudine Auger’s ‘Domino’.

Expected to die...James Bond (Sean Connery) faces the challenge of one of his greatest foes - Aric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).

Expected to die…James Bond (Sean Connery) is challenged by one of his greatest foes – Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).

FIVE:  ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)

Follows:  Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a surprising entry in the original Planet of the Apes film series not only in that it’s superior to first sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes but also for the fact that it’s a film of two very different halves.  The first ‘half’ is fairly light (even frivolous) as the evolved apes Cornelius (Roddie McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) are welcomed with open arms by the media and general public, being treated like celebrities before the sinister workings behind the scenes of the U.S. government lead to a much darker second half as Cornelius and Zira (the latter having just given birth) must run for their lives as they are hunted down.  At this point it’s a film that can be taken much more seriously and throws an uncomfortable spotlight on the uglier, inhumane aspects of human nature.

What came next:  Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – arguably the best of the Apes sequels it continues the darker tone of the latter parts of Escape as humanity’s subjugation and mistreatment of apes (a comment on slavery, a subject directly referenced in dialogue by one of the film’s African American characters) leads to a violent revolt by Caesar (another wonderful simian performance from McDowall), the son of Cornelius and Zira.

'Escape from the Planet of the Apes' starts out fun before exploring darker territory as the film progresses to it's tense and shocking climax...

‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ starts out fun before exploring darker territory as the film progresses to it’s tense and shocking climax…

Do you have a favourite threequel?  Share your thoughts below!

Also on Geek Blogger UK:

Blu-ray review: ‘Iron Man Three’

Blu-ray review: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

GBUK film classics: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

GBUK film classics: ‘From Russia With Love’