The Minimum Effort Ep.5: Alien Covenant

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In space no one can hear you snore…

Join Ben and Lewis as they take a pretty critical look at Ridley Scott’s latest offering- Alien Covenant, complete with literary references, religious allusions, and flutes.
There’s also a brief rundown of the new War for the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk, and the Emoji Movie trailers.

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The Best Laid Plans of Apes and Men

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self portraitI’ve been pretty bored this summer, and there’s only so much South Park a guy can watch in a day, so last weekend I decided to get a couple of mates together and go to see ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. Now, I’d been looking forward to this film for a long time, ever since I saw ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ in 2011. I was really excited because Hollywood had finally managed to make a really good reboot of the franchise (Something I’d lost all hope for after Tim Burton’s pretty awful attempt). And I’m glad to say that ‘Dawn’ didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think it exceeded all my expectations.

I first fell in love with the ‘The Planet of the Apes’ franchise when I saw the 1968 original at a fairly young age; I think I was six or seven… Let’s say seven. Anyway, it was like nothing I’d seen before. It was creepy, exciting, intelligent, and the script was brilliantly written, with some great, memorable lines. Obviously not all of this occurred to me when I was about 7 years old, but I was still fascinated by this upside down world where ape ruled over man. The fact that I have always loved sci-fi might have helped with my interest. I don’t know why, but it’s always been my favourite genre, even if it used to scare the crap out of me, and to be honest some of it still does. Just not in the hide-behind-the-sofa kind of way.

Anyway, now the context’s out of the way, to the review! Like I said, the film exceeded all my expectations. The story was really well crafted and it was very believable, which isn’t an easy task to accomplish in a Sci-Fi movie.  Now, I’m not saying that it didn’t have its flaws. I personally thought that some of the plot points were a little clichéd, and since I’ve seen them used in quite a lot of other storylines, I could easily guess what was about to happen at times. That being said, there were more than enough twists and pieces of brilliant dialogue to cancel the cheesiness out. And to be honest, I was glad that they kept the plot relatively straightforward, since these days a lot of writers seem to think that you need a complicated story in order to make a great novel or movie. That’s simply not true. This film managed to keep its story straightforward and still deliver the characterisation and emotional impact needed. And due to this, I think it’s one of the best ‘new’ films I’ve seen for a very long time. You may be wondering why I decided to call this review “The best laid plans of Apes and Men”, well in the film there are so many times where the apes and humans come within reach of living peacefully together in this world, but just as it seems to be going well, violence and prejudice rear their ugly heads. This is made even more tragic by the fact that you know it can’t work out, the victory of the apes is written in the concept’s history. (So much so that I don’t class that as a spoiler)

A recent, common theme of films and TV programmes is to make them dark and gritty. And while some people may get sick of this often grim, realistic viewing, I can’t get enough of it. I love the grittiness. ‘Dawn’ certainly didn’t let up on the darkness, and for good reasons. The world that the humans and the apes once knew is gone, and they both have to adapt to this new life. When the film begins, the apes are enjoying their time without humans (who they see as nothing but a threat) and you spend the first twenty minutes or so in their company. This means that our first glimpse of this new world is through their eyes, and I think this immediate connection with the apes is one of the reasons why I liked them so much more than the humans in the film. You see, in ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ the apes aren’t the antagonists, and I’d go so far as to say that most of the time they are the heroes of the story, whereas in the old films (Especially the first two), they were portrayed as the villains. The new films muddle this black and white morality into a whole bunch of different shades of grey (Not quite fifty though, sorry). There are mixtures of good, evil and misguided characters on both sides of this conflict, and none of them can be labelled as one or the other as even the most villainous characters, like Toby Kebbell’s Koba or Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, have their reasons.

“There’s good and evil on both sides of every war ever fought”Jorah Mormont, Game of Thrones.

Speaking of my attachment to the apes, it definitely would not have been so heartfelt if wasn’t for the superb acting of Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell and the other motion-capture actors. They were simply incredible, as was the work of the animation artists who transformed them into their Simian characters. As I’ve mentioned, I felt far more sympathetic towards the apes, especially in one particular battle scene, which was as horrific and heart-breaking as the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.

Whenever I watch a film, the soundtrack always plays a big part for me. If I love a film, it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll love the soundtrack too. And I have to say, I was very impressed by the music in the film. I’ve narrowed down the reasons why I loved it so much to three main points. One, the ominous, droning music in the beginning scenes was almost certainly inspired by the music used with the apes in ‘2001: A space odyssey’, it’s a primal, disconcerting sound, and it fits these scenes perfectly. Two, the tension the music builds in this film is phenomenal, but it doesn’t overpower the images, it enhances them. And finally, there are some really cool musical references to the Jerry Goldsmith original ‘Planet of the Apes’. Which, as a big fan of the franchise, I absolutely loved, and If you’ve seen the original before you see this film, you’ll get what I mean.

Speaking of references to the old films, the film had some pretty sweet Easter eggs here and there, which they also did in the previous film. However in this one, they’re not as blatant or as tongue in cheek. Instead, I think they’re more nostalgic. Here’s a quick bullet point list of some I noticed.

  • Caesar was the name of the Ape in the fourth film ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ and the fifth film ‘Battle of the Planet of the Apes’. Which are very similar in their premises to ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ respectively, but for some reason these recent ones aren’t labelled as remakes…
  • There was a glimpse of one of the “Scarecrow” markers from the original, which mark out the “forbidden zones”.
  • Also, the apes ride horses to get around.

That’s just about all I can give you without the risk of spoilers, but you can see what I mean by the neat little references.

And for my last point, the CGI was absolutely incredible. It was seriously some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen in a film, at most points I completely forgot that the apes weren’t really there. They were so lifelike, which really allowed you to get attached to the characters. I know it’s probably quite a strange thing to pick as the stand out piece of CGI, but the fur on those apes was so detailed that at points I thought they’d used animatronics instead of computer animation. As well as the fur, motion capture has come such a long way in terms of facial expressions and movement, it really was amazing. Massive thumbs up to the artists!

Anyway, whoever you are, you need to see this film. It’s visually stunning, the dialogue is great, the story is extremely entertaining, and at points it can be pretty poignant. It’s definitely the film of the summer, if not the year, and I’m almost certainly going to see it again.

-Lewis