Reboot to the future: The Rise and Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In the month that marks the 48th anniversary of the first Planet of the Apes film and the start of the Year of the MonkeyJokerside’s Aperospective moves on to a new future. Following in the stinkin’ paw prints of its 70s forbear, the recent Apes reboot has proved that there’s big box office in telling the story of man’s fall and ape ascendency. And true to this conflicted and paradoxical franchise, inspiration for this the greatest phase of the Apes comes from the lesser 1970s films of the original saga….

Looking at Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

“Tonight we have seen the birth of the planet of the apes”

IT HAPPENS A LOT IN SCIENCE FICTION – SOMETIMES YOU’VE JUST GOT TO TAKE THE LONG WAY ROUND. 20th Century Fox, perhaps surprisingly, chose that route for their precious Apes franchise in the 21st century. It helped that the seeds were sown during the prickly blockbuster pre-skirmishes of the 2010s, before Disney Marvel and Warner Brothers fully locked horns in 2012, when Fox was still riding high on the wave of Avatar. In 2015, with the flawed Fantastic Four reboot securing both Fox’s highest ever trailer views and abysmal box office, you might think that things have complicated further.

But in choosing not to follow up on the perfectly fair box office of Tim Burton’s challenging 2001 ‘reimagining’, Fox was content to let the Apes take their own long way round. Perversely, this new franchise rose from the weaker entries of the original saga. It jettisoned the space flight and time travel of the original novel and iconic early films, and looked at the apes and humans we know now, with all the concerns and worries of our time. The apes were no long in a pipe-dream dystopia. Brilliantly, it told the story the right way round for the first time; an intelligent way to dodge the traps that Burton’s effort fell into. Prudently, it set a template that could roll on, at an unrushed rate, for decades. And astonishingly, just two films in, this reborn, refreshed Apes saga has already grossed $1.2 billion – that’s over double the rest of the Apes films combined (even adjusted for inflation, the new cycle is far ahead).

The third part of this retrospective looked at the turning point of the franchise. The masterstroke brought to bear by franchise writer Paul Dehn from the ashes of the Earth’s destruction after just two films. Not only was his solution a refreshing jump (back) into the contemporary, but quite possibly one of the truest, if inverted, adaptations of Pierre Boulle’s original novel. Escape from the Planet of the Apes set the course for two further films exploring, in rather sporadic fashion, the rise of the ape against the rather self-inflicted fall of man.

Having only previously glimpsed the start and the distant end of the ape story there was plenty to mine or originate. And while Escape set in motion a separate timeline, speeded up by the apes’ paradoxical return to the past, this new telling sits in a parallel timeline of its own. As such, the two recent Apes films make very loose remakes of the final two Apes films of the original cycle. To start at the beginning once again…

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

A new dystopia

“Plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall…”

The penultimate film of the ‘70s cycle quickly moved things away from the contemporary setting of Escape to the Planet of the Apes. Come Conquest of the Planet of the Apes it’s 1991, a good two decades on from Taylor’s initial flight and even further from that cynical astronaut’s (and Charlton Heston’s) mind. A blunt opening of the march of the apes finds simians clad in identical boiler suits. We’re watching history unfold just as Zira had described in the previous film. But typically, as much as the cycle of futility rolls on, things aren’t quite right. Perhaps due to that earlier paradoxical arrival of advanced Apes or perhaps a sign of the fickle yet inescapable hand of destiny, the timeline has accelerated beyond the one Zira related. This was screenwriter Paul Dehn’s third Ape film, and the chance for him to forge forward with a mythology removed from the source book and the established ape civilisation of the first two films.

But like the second film in the cycle, Conquest puts a lot of stock in continuity drawn the preceding film. Ricardo Montalban’s returning Armando provides the necessary recap and introduces us to the now grown Caesar, explaining recent history to the clearly sheltered young ape. Armando has to brief him on how to act like an ape in a world where circuses are things of the past and the timeline has rapidly accelerated into dystopia. Armando may be carrying circus flyers, but it’s a hollow action as he knows circuses are long gone. That disconnect between his actions and words strike him out as a relic in this dark world. And after he was cast as a saviour at the conclusion of the previous film. Armando is the pivot in the film series’ changing allegiance. Not only an ape-sympathiser only cast in a favourable light by a shift to make apes the heroes of the piece, but also the character who protects this ape Moses on his way to destiny. While the religious overtones are clear, civil rights remain the primary source of parody, satire and drama in this exploration of the near future.

“They’ve made slaves of them”

A mysterious virus from space has wiped out all cats and dogs, but there’s little time to mourn under the monuments to lost pets. Humans brought apes in to homes as quick replacements – no wonder the dog barked at Zira in the third film – with their increased skills soon pushing them into menial tasks – although we are quickly shown the implications, like the simians unconditioned to fire in restaurants while the dystopian rattle of tannoy warnings and demonstration curfews rings out in the background. The way apes have taken a foothold in cities is Dehn’s light nod to the fascinating crux of ape’s inherent stagnation in Pierre Boulle’s original novel; their civilisation held back by their dependence on mimicry. Read more…

The Golden Age of Cybermen Part 2: From The Tombs to The Invasion

Golden age of Cybermen Tomb, Wheel and Invasion

Hey, it’s the 49th anniversary of the first broadcast of the second episode of The Moonbase! So when better for Jokerside to conclude its epic look at the Cyber-legion’s best days that began on the Doctor’s 52nd birthday. Having quickly assumed a dominant position these implacable foes marched through the late 1960s with an offensive of classic stories and iconic sequences. Jokerside stands in awe at the close of the Golden Age of the Cybermen between 1967 and 1968.

THERE WAS NO STOPPING THE CYBERMEN ONCE THEY’D STARTED. They’d found their nemesis in the Doctor’s second incarnation and were determined to defeat him. Or rather, repeatedly fail to factor him into their plans until he inevitably turned up to disrupt them. Part of the problem was that the species had clearly splintered into different nomadic factions before the destruction of Mondas in 1986. That’s the narrative angle, but in terms of the production, few alien races in the vast history of science fiction television had change built into their every appearance like the Cybermen. While the fundamentals remained, designers altered, amend and enhanced the design with every story. Sometimes they strove to make further allowances for long-suffering actors, sometimes they incorporated new materials or techniques. That’s a nice nod to the nature of the Cybermen but also a neat reflection of the change built into Doctor Who itself – could the Doctor have found his ultimate villain? If he had, he soon lost them as they dwindled to sporadic appearances after the 1960s.

Golden age of Cybermen The Tenth Planet and The MoonbasePart of the problem was that much like their cybernetic upgrades their appearances were more frequent than they were evolutionary. That’s in stark opposition to the Daleks, where each of the Pepper Pot’s early appearances scaled up the plot and threat in true sequel style. While the fiends of Skaro were first encountered by humans during the their hugely successful invasion in the latter years of the 21st century, human’s first contact with their cybernetic cousins took place a century earlier – the late 1960s or mid-1970s based on your UNIT dating conundrum perspective. And wonderfully strangely, that chronological first contact was the fifth time that viewers at home had encountered them in just over two years.

1968’s The Invasion was the Cybermen’s greatest adventure, an epic eight part serial that finally elevated them to the level of sprawling adventure that the Daleks had grown accustomed to. So perhaps there’s little surprise that it concluded their golden age, retiring them off to infrequent nemeses presumably without so much as a gold watch. From the start the Cybermen had lurked in the background, and come their Invasion they relied on human accomplices to delay their appearance for four episodes. Before that, we and the TARDIS crew had already seen them hatch devious schemes to take control of Earth in the future, even discovered them in a last stand hibernation on their adopted planet of Telos. It’s an odd and fractured timeline eminently irresistible to science fiction fans. And within less than three year’s they’d made enough of a pest of themselves, and posed ironically wherever they could, to ensure they’d joined the top line of Doctor Who foes. In fact, so thick, fast and irresolute was their onslaught that they quite reasonably accelerated the rate they reached retirement rate even quicker than the Daleks.

And what an exit strategy. After skulking, tomb building and space walking, 1968 finally found them, taking on the military might of institution-in-waiting UNIT. But first, things were going to have to get a lot darker before that dawn.

The Tomb of the Cybermen (Season 5, 1967)

Golden age of Cybermen 2 - Tomb of the Cybermen“We will survive”

Tomb of the Cybermen is a inversion of the classic base under siege story seen in the metal militant’s previous two two. For once, we’re on the Cyber terrors’ territory, although they’re hardly at full strength. This four part serial really finds them on their back cyber boot for the first time, with the events of The Moonbase revealed to be part the cyber race’s long decline. It wasn’t simply their previous encounters with two Doctors, although those are mentioned– these Cybermen are once again familiar with him – but their other intergalactic conflicts and significant losses which drive them into hibernation. It’s proves an illogical move.

Fortunately, this base under siege story finds different dynamics at play. First the Cybermen have laid a delicate trap, one that adds terror to the early tension while providing a logical route to their reanimation. Secondly, it’s the human blend of archaeologists and logicians (and TARDIS crew) who are the invaders. It’s immediately obvious that the logicians aren’t seeking the lost Cyber races for an article in New Scientist and the human fascination with their master race cousins who quickly fell to myth would provide fodder for Cyber stories all the way up to Big Finish’s recent The Last of the Cybermen. Crucially that story featured companion Zoe Heriot, akin to a human calculator her entrance would be closely linked to the Cyberman, but that was for a future adventure. First there was the tomb that the BBC managed to banish to a tomb for many years…

Silver chic

“You belong to us. You shall be like us.”

These Cybermen are not nearly as modified as the last faction the Doctor encountered. Although they look slightly shabbier, that’s forgivable. Of two main differences to those encountered on the Moonbase, one is that they are repressed to the point of inert and secondly there is the emergence of an authority figure: The Cyber Controller. Noticeably different, he lacks the Cybermen’s typical handlebars, in their place an extended cranium to process and draw strategy from huge amounts of a data. A huge figure, happy to hibernate in a crouched position, he may be larger and have better squat control than a regular Cyberman, but he lacks their chest units. A rather striking and more mobile, athletic sort of figure, or possibly jumpsuit lanky, he seems to be an amalgamation of a Cyberman foot soldier and his race’s earlier Central Processing Machines. Cyber thinking had clearly become more mobile prior to their forced to retreat. Outside the television universe stories such as Marc Platt’s Spare parts would build central committees and controllers into the emergence of the Cyber race, but here the Controller appears to be a direct response to devastating and constant conflict with other races. And in their hives of sleep, his Cybermen swarm not around a Queen but a logician. And they’ve even brought little pets along to wake up to…
Read more…

“The Frankenstein Murders” – Frankenstein on TV and Film AD 2016

Victor Frankenstein 2016 AD

A special romantic catch-up with Jokerside’s favourite morality tale this Valentine’s Day! Love has a crucial place in Mary Shelley’s tale and Jokerside takes a look at 2015’s Victor Frankenstein on film and The Frankenstein Chronicles on TV through many glasses of pink sparkling wine. They’re needed. ❤ ❤ Spoilers abound ❤ ❤

WHEN JOKERSIDE LAST TOOK A LOOK AT CURRENT FRANKENSTEIN ADAPTATIONS TWO YEARS’ AGO, IT WAS A SUITABLY MIXED BAG. THE LONG-GESTATING AND HORRIFICALLY CONCEIVED I FRANKENSTEIN HAD DISAPPOINTED CINEMAS TO THE TUNE OF $70 MILLION. While on the small screen, scribe John Logan had sculpted one of the greatest Frankenstein adaptations in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.

Frankenstein’s creature is of course, never something that could or should be kept down. At the time, work was underway on Victor Frankenstein, a new big budget take on the legend, pulling together the great and good of BBC’s Sherlock, box office Brit and a script from Chronicle scribe, and son of a horror directing legend, Max Landis. It promised the biggest big screen splash since Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 gothic prize, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Hopes were very high. And on the idiot lantern, more promise lay in the rejuvenated ITV zeroing in on classic gothic horror. Alongside a dedicated stab at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a mysterious six part series called The Frankenstein Chronicles. The potential of these properties at the close of 2015 was huge, but as both took a barely faithful root to the story, could it be seized in a huge, stitched and unstoppable hand?

Victor Frankenstein (2015)

It can’t be understated: the chance for Victor Frankenstein to astonish and amaze were immense. Max Landis’ script promised a new take, taking the slant of Igor, a part of the myth that might be film’s greatest addition. Cast as Igor was Daniel Radcliffe, he of extraordinary and erratic acting choices since his Harry Potter days, and James McAvoy, an actor fully capable of recapturing the arrogant vigour of Peter Cushing’s great Baron Frankenstein of the Hammer series. And best of all, Victor Frankenstein sucked up the great and good of Sherlock, the BBC’s astonishingly successful modernisation of the great consulting detective. Memorable Moriarty Andrew Scott took the role of devout adversary to the mad scientist, while Paul McGuigan took up the directing reigns. McGuigan’s work on Sherlock almost defied belief, you only need to compare his episodes to the original pilot to see the skill and talent he brought to one of genre TV’s biggest properties. All in all, there couldn’t be a better choice. The stars were aligning, and Promethean man did they take a long time to do so. It was announced in 2011…

Fall of man

Meet your makers

And once again, it can’t be understated: Victor Frankenstein, languishing as a flop that couldn’t achieve half of I Frankenstein’s box office managed to miss by a mile. It’s a classic morality tale of its own where in spite of the great talent involved hardly any of the individual pieces connected. The blame for its poor box office, $6 million under its budget, can partially fall to theatres, particularly independent British chains, that failed to support its release, as much Victor Frankenstein is yet another low flying warning shot at the British film industry that scripts need to be worked and worked and reworked again. Some of the dialogue and all of the opposition is toe-curlingly horrendous. And it’s a damn shame. Before we get onto the ‘Luuuurve’ that defines this peace, it’s impossible to ignore those problems.

In an adaptation that updates the action to full on Victoriana and roots it in London away from the early 19th century central European setting, Victor Frankenstein never promised fidelity. Least of all because it chooses to follow the story of Igor, forming the moral heart of a story where he’s saved by Victor and has the chance to save his friend in return. But if you’re going to transport Frankenstein, it needs a reason. It must come down to more than the grimy, evocating vistas of Imperial London. That said, McGuigan’s usual supreme eye for the visual is a bit off. Amid the hectic editing, the flourish isn’t there in what should be joyous romp of Grand Guignol. In the opening sequence, Frankenstein helping Igor escape his circus prison for the thrill as much as opportunity, there’s much leaping, fire and explosion, most of it with very little cause. At one point a strong man even tears a book, just because he can. This is a tale of grotesques and the chance to widen that circus metaphor is lost almost immediately as both Igor and his obsession Lorelei are sucked into society. The swagger of a multi-layered update managed by Guy Ritchie’s successful and stylish Sherlock Holmes adaptations isn’t given a chance to develop.

Flattened characters

Out in society, the quality of the dialogue plummets into light character definition and awkward plot propulsion. Unsurprisingly, the only character who can almost rise above it is McAvoy’s Frankenstein, greedily grabbing all the great with disconnected, moustache twirling arrogance.

However, this Frankenstein is neither the earnest and misguided delusional that Branagh portrayed, nor the brewing callous Baron of Cushing. A hedonist, his drunken blasphemy and questioning of morality in front of shocked Victorian ladies tire very quickly. The attempt to flesh his motivation out is flat, particularly given the by the numbers appearance of Charles Dance as his terror of a father. Is any horror safe from Dance these days? The later reveal that his dedication comes from the loss of his brother not only feels bolted on, but in opposition to the amoral character we’ve seen earlier.

But his motivation is the least of the film’s worries. Andrew Scott, such a charismatic actor is once again hamstrung by English malevolence that seems to leave him unable to move his neck as Inspector Turpin. His character journey, defined by blunt grasps at Christianity and endlessly repeating a mantra while his psyche slides doesn’t provide the strong moral argument the film needs. His short and ill-built raid on Frankenstein’s premises, almost out of nowhere, may bring all plot strands to a sudden head but creates false drama. Turpin’s loss of his hand and inexplicable loss of his eye as his career and mind fall away, usurped by his hitherto unambitious deputy doesn’t add up. Most bizarre of all is how he’s confident enough to scratch his face with his fake hand just days after the incident. That’s bound to send him back to hospital. Read more…

David Bowie: Enter the Duke – Station to Station at 40

David Bowie Station to Station at 40

Having looked at the film that spawned him, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Jokerside sneaks a look at David Bowie’s last great character, the Thin White Duke who was anchored in the extraordinary 1976 album Station to Station.

IN 1975 THE THIN WHITE DUKE WALKED FROM NEW MEXICO INTO THE CHEROKEE RECORDING STUDIO IN LOS ANGELES, DRAGGING DAVID BOWIE WITH HIM. The Duke would prove to be Bowie’s last great ‘character’ creation, a personality immersed in a concept album, but one of such magnitude it was no doubt part of the reason the artist retreated from major persona changes ass the 1980s drew near.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the album carried by that dapper, fascistic, enigma Jokerside looked at The Man Who Fell to Earth. Not only Bowie’s first major film role, but the glint of hope that broke through the drug-addled malaise that had brought him to the door of the dark and arcane, giving him just enough strength to assemble one of his greatest records; a 38 minute biography of struggle and a call for change.

In 1975, Bowie had talked of personal cost of assuming the Ziggy persona, not his first alter-ego but the first that could sustain a globe-straddling phenomenon. Bowie had in part become Ziggy, a character defined by excess and in that assumed position Ziggy had entered the United States. As a pre-fabricated star on the scale of Elton John, it was a constant performance. Within months Ziggy had morphed into Aladdin Sane, he of the more familiar lightning bolt make-up, popularly thought of as Ziggy on Tour. The album that followed lacked the concept cohesion of The Rise and Fall but was breathtakingly expansive, already foreshadowing the disco glam of Diamond Dogs and the plastic soul that would follow in 1975’s Young Americans. 1975 was also the year, on the back of Diamond Dogs, before the release of Young Americans Bowie also declared rock n’ roll a “toothless old woman”. Well, he steered clear of rock for a good few months.

America

“In this age of grand illusion”

But what a difference a couple of years made. Aladdin Sane showed how quickly the America that Bowie couldn’t take to had almost instantly informed his writing, recorded in bursts between legs of Bowie’s first American tour. At the tail-end of ‘75, having been consumed by and a consumer of New York and Los Angeles, Station to Station would both compounded his American adventure and set him on a path back to Europe. The album that emerged in January 1976 wasn’t just a break but also a cathartic expression of Bowie’s persona and measured record of his transition from the soul infused and drug ravaged Young Americans period through to the Europe that would foster his ground-breaking Berlin trilogy. The worst, the best, the necessary change.

And to carry that change, a new persona developed from the wake of filming Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. One of the most involved, impenetrable and controversial of his career. So, just who was the Thin White Duke?

David Bowie Station to Station at 40

The Thin White Duke

“Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes…”

In context, the character of Thomas Jerome Newton outstayed his welcome following the wrap of The Man Who Fell to Earth in late summer 1975. Mostly tellingly, in Bowie’s fractured mind. It wasn’t just the “side effects of the cocaine” but part of a long slide that had seen Bowie vacate New York, sink deep into ancient philosophies in Los Angeles and subsist almost entirely on dairy products. Much of this period is difficult to tie down to fact, between Cameron Crowe’s infamous interviews and countless recollections from friends, Angie Bowie and the singer himself; an unreliable witness at the time, and particularly when he had an interviewer to play up to. Relocating to New Mexico to film The Man Who Fell to Earth was a form of “purification”. It was a glance back from the brink that consequently Bowie took to the recording studio for the first time in nine months to express as much the legacy of his recent interests as the alien that stayed within him. Despite the break and the subsequent work that would appear, Bowie’s last notable studio session (he had some failed dabbling with Iggy Pop in the interim) had been to record Across the Universe and Fame with Carlos Alomar and John Lennon. And although Bowie would refer to the latter as “a nasty little song” it certainly laid some groundwork for Station to Station.

So a steep task and fractured mind confronted Bowie, and the character of the Thin White Duke developed in response. It wasn’t Newton totally, that passive outsider, unable to resist. The Duke was less passive, more snarling, more insightful and self-analysing. The Thin White Duke has been variously described as aristocratic, Aryan and zombie. Many sporadic TV appearances throughout 1975 show a frosty, cold, wry and occasionally disorientated Bowie. One highlight is the wonderfully terse satellite link interview with Russell Harty – glossing over, chiding and ribbing in equal measure. He’s mostly articulate when not pausing, a dead-eyed stare levelled to the middle distance. There were controversial comments made during the period, including those connected to fascism, but later strongly dismissed by Bowie.

And unlike many other of his other personas, a lot of confusion arises from Bowie’s considerable backtracking after the event. It’s certain that the Thin White Duke ran throughout 1976, anchored around the recording and quick release of Station to Station. And it’s certain that this is the persona Bowie remembered least about. A fascinating transitory character, often overshadowed by the recordings either side, there was a root of the Duke’s soul-searching in Young Americans and a significant hangover in the influential Low, a record that also still unmistakably carried the profile of Thomas Jerome Newton on its punning cover as the Duke faded from view. Read more…

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