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Caesar vs Batman: A creator’s tale

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Caesar vs Batman: A creator’s tale

Director Matt Reeves is all set to direct DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. film The Batman. It is the emotionality of the apes’ films that has given him a chance to do very engaging, immersive and a perspective-driven Batman story, he tells Team Viva

The director of the last instalment of the Planet of the Apes series, Matt Reeves, has been roped in for the next film in the Batman franchise, which has not been faring well. The next film is rumoured to be produced by Ben Affleck, who has previously played the lead in the series. Affleck’s lacklustre performance has been scrutinised repeatedly and the recent reports fuelled speculation that he would not  be seen as the saviour of Gotham city anymore. Reeves’ film will start shooting in the spring of 2019. Here he shares throwback vignettes from the Apes franchise.

How did you land up in the Planet of the Apes franchise? Had you watched the other movies earlier?

I have been a fan of Planet of the Apes since childhood. I was so obsessed that I wanted to be an ape as a child. It was like my Star Wars before Star Wars. The amazing make-up artist John Chambers was my grandest fantasy as a kid as he was in all of those films and I wanted to have a mask that could move. All such films have the masks but they don’t move. However, Planet of the Apes had different appliances, so you could actually articulate your mouth, which I found amazing. When I saw Rise (of the Planet of the Apes), I finally felt like an ape ‘smiles.’ Something that was totally unexpected was that it was the strongest emotional identification I had ever had with a CG character. I was amazed that “wow! How am I feeling this emotion from that character?” I was really excited about what they had done and then they came to me and asked if I would be interested in doing it. Of course, I said yes and that is basically how it all began.

The technology used in this movie is outstanding and the CGI received great reviews, even an Oscar nomination. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

It is pretty amazing, isn’t it? I think that very often people don’t understand the concept. They look at the movie and ask if I voiced the characters as if it were an animated film. Technically, there is animation but what they don’t understand is that the performance is about capturing a performance. When you’re seeing Caesar, Bad Ape, Emeris, you’re seeing the amazing photo real CG puppets as animated by actors, then the emotion of the actors is translated on these faces which is an entirely different anatomy. There is a lot of artistry that goes on by the actors who bear their souls. Then there are the animators who are very creative in figuring how to translate the emotion of the characters. There is artistry on both sides, which is amazing.

It is one-of-a-kind studio film in quite some time. It is so beautifully composed, soft in a way that even for a war movie, it is incredible. Can you talk about the process of getting this movie off the ground because it is definitely different from Dawn (of the Planet of Apes)?

Well, thank you. Each of these films is very different from the other, Rise is very different from Dawn, Dawn is very different from War (for the Planet of the Apes), but each of them really take you on Caesar’s journey. What Mark Bomback and I really wanted to do while writing this movie was, to tell a story that was empathetic to Caesar’s position. It was the last major test for him to become a seminal figure in ape history, which for us was like a Biblical epic.

It was fun since this movie was way different from the last one. Here, we felt like we can be really intimate and could have a spectacle. We could also add a fresh tone with a little humour and some tenderness which just hadn’t been in any of the other films.

There have been talks about War for the Planet of the Apes being a political film with a message for the world. Was the film inspired or influenced by the current events occurring around the world?

It is interesting because Mark and I started writing the script three years ago, so quite a lot of events hadn’t occurred yet though the central question I was interested in was the notion of empathy. With the idea of losing the ability to recognise yourself in your adversaries, it becomes easier to destroy them. The discourse between groups becomes coarse, demeaning where finding a commonality between us isn’t possible, which I think is one of the central themes of this franchise, Planet of the Apes.

What was so odd, when we were doing the war movie, was that the resonance seemed to be coming closer and closer. Weirdly, the events became more like the movie than the way around, it was a very strange thing.

Surely, we were aware of the writing atmosphere but we weren’t doing it directly. What was happening in the world had an absolute connection to the story we were exploring.

Does your take on the War for the Planet of the Apes, in some way responds to the original Planet of the Apes (1968) in terms of political message?

I have always looked at these films in relation to the original Planet of the Apes, especially with the mind-blowing ending of the 1968 film, where we realise that “oh! We destroyed ourselves,” is why is this planet like this. It is because our planet and evolution brought us here. You can’t do that ending again. You can’t surprise the audience again, that story is already out-of-the-bag. The interesting part is the opportunities that are presented to us since we know the ending. And that changes the narrative idea of the film.  It  questions, ‘Why did they enslave humans? When did they start treating them like cattle?’ People always compare the apes and the humans but to me, apes ‘are’ the humans. Especially in this particular iteration, often humans are viewed as villainous but we don’t try to do that, we try to show their perspective as well. The apes are also fallible. Caesar makes a lot of questionable choices. The idea is to draw the audience along so that they can also question the choices they are aligning themselves to. The idea is to wake people up.

The very secret of this franchise is that while looking at apes, they aren’t just looking at apes, they are looking at themselves. It is pretty rare for a summer franchise to be able to look at human nature as the subject of the movie.

You’re a director who has always worked with really nuanced characters, sometimes quite troubled ones where Batman fits perfectly. Are you treating this like a character drama?

Surely, that is exactly what draws me to it. I see a parallel in terms of the characters that Caesar and Batman are. They are both tortured souls trying to find a way to do the right thing in an imperfect world.

It is the emotionality of the apes’ films and of Caesar’s story that draws me in. I feel there is a chance to do very engaging, immersive and a perspective-driven Batman story that could be very emotional.

(War for the Planet of the Apes will make its Indian television debut on Star Movies on August 15 at 1 pm and 9 pm.)

 
 
 
 
 

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