War for the Planet of the Apes is already being touted as one of the best films of 2017. The third in the reboot of the reboot series, War for the Planet of the Apes sees Matt Reeves return to directing duties in a story that follows ape leader Caesar as he tries to protect his species from humans. We spoke to Reeves about the franchise, the genre he chose to work in for this movie and his upcoming Batman movie.
Culture Trip (CT): This series is one of the films we look for every summer. There must be different pressures with this one though, because when Rise [of the Planet of the Apes] came out, it was a great reboot and we saw the film for the first time. You then made Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which was a great sequel, but for this one there’s a lot more to do. Did you feel it with this film, the third in the trilogy?
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Matt Reeves (MR): Well I felt my own pressure, in that I felt that we could do a film that was better than Dawn [of the Planet of the Apes]. I wanted to push things further and I wanted to be more ambitious. That was my first of these films, and I felt like I learned so much in that period and also like there was an opportunity, because we were on the precipice of war, to do a war – or a film that was really about the war within Caesar. That that could present a test to Caesar that would enable him to sort of become a mythical figure, and to end the story in a way that was almost like a biblical epic, where he is the ape that will be remembered by all apes.
And so that’s an ambitious idea. So the pressure I felt was just ‘hey, I think we can go further and do more’ and do more tones too. I mean I think you know Bad Ape in the story represents a tone that we’ve never quite had. He’s a heart breaking character, and there’s a tremendous amount of emotion in the film which is what I think is the most important thing. But he’s also heartbreakingly funny and I think that’s a tone that we just haven’t had. You know the humour that’s in Dawn is dark humour. I mean Toby Kebbell was incredible. And that is a very chilling humour. But this has got a different tone.
You know there’s a there’s a kind of tenderness, there’s quietness in this film that despite the fact that we have battle scenes and that it’s a grander sort of epic story, we have moments of stillness that I think are arresting because you are watching the behaviour and interaction of humans and apes.
CT: One of the things we love about the series, and War for the Planet of the Apes in particular, is that even though it is a ‘blockbuster’, it feels like one of the most intelligent films of the year too. Is that something you strive for?
MR: I mean for me that’s the promise of the franchise, right? I mean the whole idea about a genre film is that if you can use the metaphors of that genre – the fantasy of that genre as cover for bringing in something that is real – then that becomes all the more exciting to me; the best genre films do that. And that’s definitely the history of this genre.
CT: The special effects are flawless, once again. We think about one of the scenes where we had Caesar riding a horse through the snow. And you wonder ‘how did they manage to get a monkey to ride a horse in the snow…’
MR: And of course, we didn’t… [Laughs]
CT: Exactly, so how did you go about putting those scenes together?
MR: Some of it’s happening again. The horses in many cases are actually there and there are stunt riders who are riding them. And then we are going into the volume and getting the actors like Andy [Serkis] for the horse chase. We had stunt performers who were riding them at full speed through the snow. So that was real. But then Weta Digital has to take Andy’s performance and replace that stunt rider with Andy’s performance.
There’s a light in the frame that you start looking for where the lines are right. And in most cases, not all, the horses are real. What’s so great about having that many real horses is that it’s great research for the places where the horses aren’t real. But it’s also a real challenge for Weta because when you have real horses you don’t want the ones that are computer generated to stand out. So it’s all about trying to get as much real in the frame as possible, so that way it creates a context where you can’t quite figure out what’s real and what’s not.
CT: You mentioned earlier how the war genre was something that you were looking to explore with this film. What is it about the genre that appeals to you, and in particular with relevance this franchise?
MR: I think the thing that I find resonates about Planet Of The Apes is that in looking at these apes, we’re really looking at ourselves, and I think that the idea of the resonance of a story where we’re looking at what draws us into conflict is very relevant today.
This is the history of us as a species; our ability to connect and come together. But you know, also very painfully, our ability to not see the commonality between us and to objectify, demean and to try to destroy each other. I think this is the duality of our nature and it’s our struggle as a species. And so that is the subject of our war movie. We’re having a war not only between the species, but within ourselves.
CT: Caesar is obviously central to the story in all the films. But is it just his journey, or can the films look beyond him?
MR: Oh no, it’s definitely not just his story. I mean this series was sort of the Caesar cycle. The defining series of stories that turned him into this mythical figure. But the idea of everything that grows out from that is that we’re still not in the world of the 1968 film. You know our apes are not like the apes in that film. So the fun thing that’s original for this series is that it takes the burden of what happens off the table.
It becomes a planet of the Apes. It’s conclusive. We know this, but that means that the subject instead becomes ‘how’ and ‘when’ stories. It’s about our nature. It’s all about what drives us and how we get from here to there. And to me, that’s a fascinating story.
CT: Finally, we know that your next film will be The Batman. What can you take from the films that you’ve done in the past to your next project?
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MR: I think I see a lot of similarities in terms of what the characters represent, in that they are both troubled characters who are struggling to figure out the way to do the right thing in a very imperfect world, a world filled with a certain kind of corruption.
To me, I think what I found drew me into this was the emotional aspect of telling that story, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity of finding an emotional way into that story. So you know, I think for me no matter what you do, you try to find a personal way in. And I’ve done that with everything I’ve done. A lot of people don’t see the connections between what it is I’ve done, but I’ve tried to make everything very ‘point of view’ driven, and that’s all about trying to create empathy in the audience for the character so that they can go through the experience of a character who’s not them.
And that process to me is the power of cinema. You know, we go to the movies. You get to go to the movies and be an ape. And I want people to go through that experience, and whatever I do, I try to use that as my guiding principle.
War for the Planet of the Apes is on general release from July 11
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