REVIEW: TRANSCENDENCE (2014)

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Max Waters: I spent my life trying to reduce the brain to a series of electrical impulses. I failed. Human emotion, it can contain illogical conflict. Can love someone, and yet hate the things they have done. Machine can’t reconcile that.

Evelyn Castor: Can you?

Max Waters: Yes.

 

Director: Wally Pfister

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Synopsis: A scientist developing a new form of AI technology is shot at a conference. With only moments left to live he uploads his consciousness into his new technology as his wife helps him develop into a new form of artificial intelligence.

Review

A promising plot somewhat similar to last year’s Spike Jonze sci-fi drama ‘Her’, this film unfortunately doesn’t quite reach those heights. Opening with the clichéd narrative trope of the bleak ending we then rewind five years earlier to Johnny Depp’s Will Caster introducing his new technology PINN to a crowd of funders and fans of his work. We are also introduced to his wife Evelyn Castor (Rebecca Hall) who loves him and supports his work. A terrorist cell is also introduced that don’t want technology and computers to advance (for reasons unknown). One of the terrorists shoot Will with a poisonous bullet that makes him slowly die over the next few days. Will wishes to upload his consciousness into his new program and show the world how much his program will change the world.

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What follows is an over complicated clichéd story of the ghost in the machine. We have seen this before in 1993’s Ghost in the Machine and 1995’s Ghost in the Shell and I’m sure countless other science fiction films. This one doesn’t bring anything new to the genre with a plot that is filled with ambition but nowhere to go and a rather lifeless (pun intended) performance from Johnny Depp. This film had a lot of promise with the directorial debut of Christopher Nolan’s go to cinematographer Wally Pfister. The film’s visual composition is as beautiful as Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight however he could have used Nolan’s help with the narrative progression. Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany also turn in great performances.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

 

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

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“Wedded” – Angry priest after discovering future apes got married.

Director: Don Taylor

Cast: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman

Synopsis: After crash landing on earth, Zira, Cornelius and Dr Milo discover a planet ruled by humans.

Review:

After the shocking finale of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, this film had nowhere to go but the time travel route. With shades of Lost Season 5 and Austin Powers this film mixes smart sci-fi with inane comedy.

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The film opens with a spacecraft drifting in the sea. Soon we discover that Cornelius, Zira and (new ape?) Dr Milo have crash-landed on earth in the past, prior to the rise of the planet of the apes. Their destination is in fact the 1970s, with the retro funky soundtrack and comedic tone this franchise has found itself in a new direction, one vastly different to the two films preceding it. It is not for the better, nor the worst, merely an interesting side trip with two characters we have learnt to love over the past installments. From the opening scenes we can see that the ape costume design and make-up effects don’t translate as well in a modern setting away from the post-apocalyptic ape future. Also the apes find themselves in a predicament that is a stark contrast of how the characters were treated in the previous films.

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Zira and Cornelius discover that humans once ruled the earth and find themselves trapped in a zoo only to be tested on and researched. Although not as violently as Charlton Heston’s Taylor was in the original. Soon the two apes are welcomed into society and are the talk of the town as everyone wishes to get to know these two apes.

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Their welcome is soon turned to darker terrain as Dr Hasslein (Eric Braeden), fears for his planets future as Zira confesses how the ape war ended.

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This is smart sci-fi, only it’s mixed with silly humour and obnoxious characters that it can’t succeed as the previous films did. With its lack of action and twists, the film is enjoyable however after the last two entries it fails to rise above.

Rating: 2 Stars

REVIEW: BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)

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“In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium sized star, and one of its satellites, a green insignificant planet, is now dead” – Voiceover

Director: Ted Post

Cast: James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison and Charlton Heston

Synopsis: Astronaut Brent crash lands on a planet populated by humanoid apes. As he searches for his lost friend Taylor he discovers a buried New York city and a group of telepathic super-humans who worship an atomic bomb.

Review:

Reading the above synopsis one can see how quickly this franchise went from curious to completely insane. After the shocking finale of the first film the producers were insistent on not only another shocking ending but also a shocking beginning as well. After several rewrites producers agreed on this story of apes waging war on humans, telepathic super-humans, religious satire and the most nihilistic ending ever put on film. This film drove the franchise into much more crazier territory even though the first film was already highly unusual and inventive.

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The film begins with a prologue recapping the events of the first films finale. Taylor and Nova then ride off into the Forbidden Zone, where they discover the earth crumbling around them. Taylor then disappears as Nova rides off for help. We are then introduced to the films new protagonist, Astronaut Brent. His ship has also crash landed and we discover he was on a rescue mission to find Taylor. Initially he goes through the same motions as Taylor went through in the first only without a crew to interact with. Things move faster for Brent as he discovers the apes and their attitudes towards humans. New ape General Ursus represents the evil militant leader archetype who hates man and wishes for war without completely understanding the situation. Dr Zaius, Zira and Cornelius also return and continue the same beats as the first film. After Zira and Cornelius help Brent the film then begins to follow its own path.

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Brent and Nova discover that New York has been covered by the Forbidden Zone. As Brent searches on he discovers a group of terrifying telepathic mutant humans who question Brent through telepathy and get him to try and kill Nova. Brent eventually discovers Taylor who is held captive and they wage war on the mutant beings while the apes also declare war and the film ends on a shocking note that in my opinion is a lot worse than the originals.

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This film is tight paced, gripping and filled with enough sci-fi satire to fill a book. Not only is the race theme satired again with the apes versus the humans but also religion gets satired this time as well with the super humans reciting a hymn and prayer to the atomic bomb.

Mendez: Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.

It is unsettling to watch these mutants pray over an atomic bomb and you have to wonder what was going on at this time for the producers, director and writer to come up with this stuff. Nevertheless it does make for an enjoyable sequel, with intense direction from Ted Post, a more epic scale and enjoyable twists. The only downside is the new protagonist Brent played by James Franciscus, who isn’t given much to do with his character but to wonder around in a loincloth and fight apes. Missing is Heston’s bitter Taylor from the original who not only had a great backstory and hero’s journey, but also an incredible performance from Charlton Heston. Franciscus can’t match Heston’s intensity and once Heston reappears you have no care for Brent or his closing scenes. The film could have easily been Taylor’s journey and it is this missing link that detracts from the films overall enjoyment.

Rating: 3 Stars

REVIEW: PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

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“Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” – Taylor (Charlton Heston)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

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

Synopsis: An astronaut and his crew travel light years from earth to crash land on a strange planet inhabited by humanoid apes.

Review:

The sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes has spawned four sequels, a remake and a current reboot, and is still considered the best of the franchise. Based on the Pierre Boulle novel of the same name we are introduced to Astronaut George Taylor played by a bitter cigar chomping Charlton Heston.

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Opening Monologue:

And that completes my final report until we reach touchdown. We’re now on full automatic, in the hands of the computers. I have tucked my crew in for the long sleep and I’ll be joining them soon. In less than an hour, we’ll finish our sixth month out of Cape Kennedy. Six months in deep space – by our time, that is. According to Dr. Haslein’s theory of time, in a vehicle travelling nearly the speed of light, the Earth has aged nearly 700 years since we left it, while we’ve aged hardly at all. Maybe so. This much is probably true – the men who sent us on this journey are long since dead and gone. You who are reading me now are a different breed – I hope a better one. I leave the 20th century with no regrets. But one more thing – if anybody’s listening, that is. Nothing scientific. It’s purely personal. But seen from out here everything seems different. Time bends. Space is boundless. It squashes a man’s ego. I feel lonely. That’s about it. Tell me, though. Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor’s children starving?

Heston’s Taylor is a bitter man who is no longer interested in humanity and wishes for more. Unfortunately he will get more than he bargained for once he reaches his destination.

We are also introduced briefly to his flight crew, John Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton) and Lietenant Stewart (Dianne Stanley) who doesn’t make the destination due to an air leak. Once they arrive on this new planet a century later Taylor continues to speak ill of the people he has left behind on earth, claiming man wouldn’t have made it. Landon believes man has survived but Taylor continuously laughs at him telling him to move on from humanity. The film introduces an interesting perception of the time and the social attitude of the 1960s. Did the creators of this film and the attitude of the people believe that man was no longer worth saving? Should we all abandon hope and move on from earth just as Heston’s Taylor had done. Interesting questions that only the best sci-fi films can ask and this is all in the first fifteen minutes. Looking back at this film from 2014 we all know the classic ending and where the series will go. However this film still holds up. Heston creates a powerful leading man who we follow despite his pessimistic sensitivity to humanity.

Taylor and his crew search the barren lands of this new planet for life and eventually find a small plant and then a pond to take a bath. It is here that the action amps up and the humanoid apes appear. As well as the humans who appear to be savage and dirty just like apes today. As the apes attack and capture the humans, Dodge is shot and killed, Landon taken and Taylor is shot in the throat left without the ability to speak.

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We are then introduced to Dr Zaius, Cornelius and Zira, humanoid apes who can talk and behave just like humans. The costumes for the time must have been amazing however don’t quite hold up today. Most of them look like Halloween masks with the mouths barely moving when speaking and the glue from the faces meeting the hair clearly visible. However none of this matters as we are completely taken in by the characters and plot movements. I could quickly let the effects go by a compelling story and interesting characters who mirror our own society without being too explicit.

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Zira sympathises with Taylor and with her husband Cornelius tries and saves him from his captivity by Dr Zaius. Zaius however is hiding a secret that Taylor wishes to uncover to unlock the key to what happened to the humans and how the apes came to rule. As the film builds towards its shocking climax these questions aren’t quite answered however we know that this is only the beginning of an incredible world that we will see unfold over the course of the next films as well as its remake and reboot. The questions this film asks leaves so many doors opened for further adventures that it is no wonder this franchise has lived on so well. Although only a few directors have been able to take this franchise into the high’s of this original adventure.

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With amazing cinematography, a wired performance from iconic actor Charlton Heston and a gripping tribal like soundtrack this film is truly a classic. One of the best sci-fi films ever created and also the beginning of a wonderful sci-fi franchise.

Rating: 4.5 Stars