War For The Planet Of The Apes: 15 Things We Learned From the Set

We gleaned all kinds of stuff from our time on the Vancouver set of War For The Planet Of The Apes. Here's what we know right now...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Last October, Den Of Geek packed a bag full of scarves, gloves and woolly hats and ventured off to Vancouver. There, in a chilly woodland far outside the city, director Matt Reeves was in the throes of shooting the third chapter in 20th Century Fox’s Apes saga, War For The Planet Of The Apes. A sequel to 2014’s bleak, spectacular Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, it continues the saga of Caesar, the leader of the burgeoning civilisation of intelligent apes, and the seemingly unstoppable war sparked in the previous movie.

With the launch of the first trailer, the covers are gradually coming off what we’re hoping will be one of next year’s smartest and most satisfying summer movies. So from the dewy woods of Canada, here’s what we learned about the forthcoming Apes sequel…

True to its title, the movie will begin with a big battle sequence

You may remember that, at the end of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, one of the last exchanges between Caesar and human protagonist Malcolm (Jason Clarke) referred to an inbound army of reinforcements. War takes place two years after the events of the last film, and those reinforcements are on the hunt for Caesar, who’s become a kind of Osama Bin Laden as far as the humans are concerned.

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“They know he’s the leader of the apes,” producer Dylan Clark tells us, “and they think that if they kill Caesar then the apes will be in disarray. In this opening battle, they got close; they found a hidden trench that goes all along [the forest], and the apes hid their fortress back here somewhere… Because the human army is advancing to a great degree, some apes start to think maybe they should help the humans rather than fight them. Are they as duplicitous as Koba? No, but maybe more cowardly – and equally damaging.”

Some apes have turned against Caesar, and now fight on the side of the humans

In the sequence we saw being filmed, Caesar (Andy Serkis in his grey mo-cap suit) addresses some soldiers captured in the wake of that opening battle sequence. Among the military types is an ape who was fighting on the humans’ side; he’s one of the apes who were loyal to the treacherous Koba (Toby Kebbell) who sparked the whole war in the first place.

“The apes followed Koba,” Caesar says in his gravelly voice.” They tried to kill me. They fear I do not forgive, so now they serve you just to survive.”

Woody Harrelson plays a colonel bent on destroying the apes

Caesar’s nemesis in this movie is a human named the Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson. With the virus that created the intelligent apes and killed much of humanity a greater threat than ever, the conflict between species has reached a new height – and the Colonel is willing to go to any lengths necessary to save his own kind.

It’ll be shot on 65mm film

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes will join the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight as one of a handful of modern films shot on 65mm film. According to visual effects producer Ryan Stafford, the decision came from Matt Reeves’ desire to give the film an epic look akin to a western or a classic historical drama like Lawrence Of Arabia – David Lean’s name was one brought up by both Stafford and producer Dylan Clark, in fact.

…65mm will better capture the film’s huge landscapes

Wide shots are going to be a key component in War For The Planet Of The Apes’ storytelling, with concept art shown off during our set visit depicting wide, desolate landscapes. One shot shows apes on horseback riding across a beach – an unabashed homage to a classic moment from 1968’s Planet Of The Apes. Another shows an ape on horseback, riding straight towards us, clutching a burning flag. Still another depicts a prison made from huge concrete blocks, which is, we’re told, a place where Harrelson’s Colonel keeps a large group of Caesar’s captured friends.

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“It’s a couple of films in one, I think,” actor Terry Notary says of War. “It’s a road trip, it’s an escape movie, it’s a jailbreak movie, it’s a revenge movie.”

Producer Dylan Clark adds that a second major battle sequence takes place at this prison, which is probably where the escaping and jailbreaking all come in. As for the revenge, Clark’s understandably more tight-lipped: all he’ll talk about is a “tragic event” that takes place at some point in the movie.

…shooting on 65mm causes a few technical challenges

“65mm equates to 6.5K, and there’s not enough computers in the world to render the apes at that resolution,” Ryan Stafford tells us. “So we’ll be rendering at a much lower resolution, but we will have the O-neg, so to speak, at 6K so that way we can do really hi-res matte paintings and set reconstructions and things like that. It gives us a lot more flexibility in post to play with the resolution of those plates and bringing it down to our delivery resolution. So the highest resolution I think the movie will be released in will be 4K.”

There will be planes

“Humans have guns and planes, while the apes are growing in number,” Clark says of the coming battle. “They’re shooting guns in this movie, so they’re picking up stuff, but we’re keeping that balance where they act like apes and not like humans.”

A major sequence will take place in snow

Back when Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes was being finished, Matt Reeves poked his head round the door at Weta and said, matter-of-factly, “The next movie: snow. I want to put an ape in the snow.”

That simple-sounding image will form a major sequence in War, as Caesar goes off on a revenge mission across a post-apocalyptic America. Even with the advances in mo-cap technology that have gone on since Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes in 2011, these scenes of apes in snow give Weta a fairly major technical hurdle to clear.

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“Taking the apes out of the equation, snow’s difficult to make it look real,” Stafford says. “Shades of white are very, very difficult – it’s difficult to shoot, it’s difficult to light, it’s difficult to render. Throw the apes into the mix, and it just becomes a very new territory. We can send the performers through the snow, but they move differently, they’re on crutches, their foot sizes and fists are different. So we have to abandon everything that we did in-camera and create it all digitally.”

“So we’re shooting motion-capture actors in the snow,” Dylan Clark says, “which is fun and terrifying, because we can’t even get through the mud on time. So we’ll be shooting here for 16 years.”

“That’s a joke,” Clark quickly adds.

Wait, what was that about Caesar’s revenge mission?

Ah, glad you asked. Koba may have been the one who hated humans in the previous film, but as the war between man and ape reaches new levels in this chapter, Caesar’s attitude towards our species begins to harden.

“Caesar, having always tried to find a peaceful solution to conflict, is then thrust into a position where his emotions overtake him,” Andy Serkis tells us between takes. “He finds that he can’t disassociate himself from his desire for revenge against human beings. That’s a big switch for this character, because up until this point, Caesar’s always tried to stand between the world of man and animal, because that’s exactly what he represents. Now he can no longer do that. So he goes on a trail, a journey, into a very dark place, where he seeks revenge on humankind.”

It sounds a little bit Apocalypse Now

Funnily enough, producer Dylan Clark brought up that very film, as he told us that Colonel Kurtz, the maniacal character played by Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic war movie, was a template for Woody Harrelson’s military leader.

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“We looked at Colonel Kurtz,” Clark says, “and one of the most interesting pieces of that character was, before Charlie Sheen goes up river, he goes through the dossier, and he’s looking at all the stuff that Marlon Brando was before he became the monster that is Kurtz. We thought there were a lot of interesting character traits in there. He was a Navy SEAL; he just had a very specific viewpoint of how this war needed to be fought. The audience looked at it through Sheen’s eyes and saw the horror of it.”

So War For The Planet Of The Apes will be quite a harsh movie, then

It certainly seems like it. Andy Serkis echoed the producers’ suggestion that something “cataclysmic” happens to Caesar that sparks his revenge mission. Dylan Clark adds that, at some point, events force Caesar to “do something horrible”. It’s not all doom and gloom, though; like the last film, War promises to offer lots of starkly beautiful images, like the ones we described in that concept art earlier. Another great sounding idea is the apes’ hidden fortress, which Clark says is hidden behind a waterfall.

“That was one of Matt’s great ideas. He wanted to start this movie in a location that felt familiar to the last movie, so it feels like we’re in the woods again,” Clark says. “But after this epic battle, we start to take the audience and the apes into something that we haven’t seen before. In this movie, we really thought long and hard about how we can give the audience something that looks totally different.”

There are lots more ape characters in this one

According to Stafford, there are 15 named ape characters in War – more than there were in the previous two movies. One is a character called Spear; another, currently unnamed ape is played by actor Steve Zahn. We’re guessing he’s important to the plot, because the producers are very vague about who he is.

Terry Notary makes incredible ape noises

Seriously, those noises you hear in the movies? They’re largely created by the actors themselves without any digital augmentation, and the sound is positively spine-chilling in real life: howls, grunts, what he calls ‘hoots’. It’s properly intimidating stuff.

Actor Karin Konoval based her character Maurice on a real orangutan

Maurice is one of our favourite characters in the Apes franchise; a quiet, wise orangutan, he’s the teacher and sage among Caesar’s group. The actor who plays him, Karin Konaval, explained to us that Maurice is based on a real orangutan, Towan, who lives in a zoo in Seattle.

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“That’s where I found the soul of Maurice,” Konoval tells us. “Since 2010, when I met him, I continued to get to know orangutans whether I was doing another [Apes] movie or not. They became very strong in my personal life, and getting involved in the conservation movement as well. Anyway, I do continue to visit with them in Seattle about every six to eight weeks.”

Konaval was brilliant, and made us want to strike up our own friendship with an orangutan.

War is far from the end of the Apes franchise

If you were thinking that the current Apes run might conclude as a trilogy, we have news for you: Dylan Clark says that the current movie won’t be backing directly into the events of the 1968 original.

“This is a complete story, but we also think we’ve done enough to introduce other avenues to go down,” Clark says. “That would leave a lot of time to spend exploring an interesting drama before the astronaut lands and discovers that the planet’s been taken over by apes. […] We know where that story goes, but what we really like is seeing a nation of intelligent apes start to realise what kind of power they have in their society and how it interacts with humans.”

Clark wouldn’t be drawn on how many movies might come after War (“We kind of take it one by one, he says), but if you’ve loved the Apes saga so far, then rest assured that, to provide a final quote from the producer himself: “This is definitely not the end in terms of Charlton Heston showing up.”

War For The Planet Of The Apes is out in UK cinemas on the 14th July 2017.

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