Phil Dreizen

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
December 20, 2013, 1:39 am

"...it has been established that the ape mob is under the command of a super-normally intelligent chimpanzee who has acquired the power of speech. This would suggest that the ape leader may be the child (thought to have been destroyed) of the two talking Chimpanzees, Cornelius and Zira, who came to us from outer space twenty years ago. As such, he constitutes a threat to the future of the whole human race..."

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a mess of a movie, that is really too ridiculous for logical discussion. Each Planet of the Apes movie is worse than the one before it. The first, one of my favorite movies, is a long way from this, the fourth and second to last in the series. With a such a silly plot, and a lot of Ricardo Montalban, I had hoped that it would at least serve as campy fun, and it does to some extent, but it isn't as fun as I would have hoped.

The whole movie does lead up to a very violent ape riot that I did enjoy, and maybe that's worth it. There's also a speech by Caesar, leader of the apes, who incites his fellow apes to violence - in English, which the other apes couldn't possibly understand - and reveals his plan to wait for the day humans destroy each other, and make room for the apes who will rise from what's left of the world. It's the kind of thing I had been waiting for all movie.

If you're watching the theatrical release, the only version available prior to 2008, you'll also see a second speech in which Caesar, changing his mind, calls for a more peaceful resolution to the day's violence. The test audiences of 1973 reacted negatively to the original ending, so the movie cuts in the the new audio with what video footage was available, making an already cheap looking movie look worse.

So the premise is this: in 1983 or so, a virus, from outer space, was brought back to earth by astronauts. Humans were immune, but the virus killed the entire population of dogs and cats. Humans sought to replace their dead dogs and cats with apes. It turned out the apes were so good at learning how to do things, they later became servants, and by 1991 they are treated as slaves. (We learn of all this via exposition by Ricardo Montalban).

The events of the previous movie, Escape from Planet of the Apes, happened 20 years ago. Cornelius and Zira arrived on Earth, from the future, and had a baby chimp, originally named Milo but now called Caesar. Armando, an ape loving circus trainer, has kept Caesar, an intelligent ape capable of speech, a secret the entire time. Somehow, Armando has concealed the enslavement of the apes from Caesar, but apparently chose to reveal it to him as he and Caesar walk around the the city promoting Armando's upcoming circus show.

The time loop of Escape from Planet of the Apes means that the apes of the future are responsible for their own existence. That was an unfortunate direction to take the series, because one of the appeals of the first movie is that it suggests humanity's self destruction, opening an ecological niche that was filled by the apes. Conquest continues to develop the poor direction from Escape, while introducing a new even more ridiculous element: that the evolution of the apes was spurred by their enslavement by humans, humans who trained them to be more human. None of this was suggested by the first movie

So while walking around the city, Caesar sees a fellow ape being beaten, and he can't help yell out "Lousy, human bastards" (an allusion to the original movie). Armando takes the blame to try to cover up the secret of Caesar's existence, leading to his eventual death, and Caesar vows revenge upon humanity. It's interesting that Caesar's rebellion against humanity is actually caused by the death of a human.

This all leads to the long bloody climax, in which Caesar and the apes take over the city, an entertaining spectacle - especially in the unedited version. It's a small conquest, but in a well delivered speech, to apes that don't speak English, Caesar promises that there will be more to come.

Caesar predicts that the humans will destroy each other, and the apes will be waiting for that day. Couldn't Escape and Conquest just have been skipped over? Can Battle for Planet of the Apes be any worse than this?

Some points of note:

  • The apes of 1991 are supposed to be your standard variety orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. But they all look like anthropomorphic apes from the original Planet of the Apes.
  • America(?) of 1991 is an Orwellian state. At least for apes - it's difficult to tell exactly to what extent humans are being oppressed. By the looks of the Nazi-like uniforms the security forces wear in the movie, it doesn't look too hopeful.
  • 1991 is quite technologically advanced: force fields and the "authenticator," a menacing looking truth extracting machine.
  • Apes make lousy slaves. The opening is full of scenes in which apes do human tasks poorly. They're scared of open flames. They overfill glasses of water. They can't comb hair very well. It seems to take almost as many security people to keep the apes in check as there are apes doing the manual labor.
  • Training apes consists of almost no positive reinforcement. They're often beaten, but rarely rewarded for doing something right.
  • We never see Caesar inspiring the other apes into a rebellion until the end of the movie. The apes just listen to Caesar for unexplained reasons.
Star Trek 2009 - Spock the killer
December 13, 2013, 3:21 am

...but Kirk says that in order to stop Nero they must go after him first. This culminates in an argument which ends in Spock ordering Kirk's removal from the bridge. When Kirk physically protests, Spock incapacitates Kirk and places him in an escape pod and jettisons him off the ship. Kirk awakens to find himself on the snow-covered world of Delta Vega, another planet in Vulcan's system. Picking up his gear, Kirk heads for the Starfleet station fourteen kilometers away.

memory alpha Star Trek_(film)

Of all my problems with Star Trek 2009 this is the one that bothers me the most. In many ways the movie works as a servicable action movie with some clever fan service for trek fans. But this here might break it for me.

It all happens so fast, you might not have had time to think about it as it happened. Spock has an argument with Kirk and instead of doing something as drastic as throw him in the brig (jail), instead launches Kirk out of the Enterprise onto a Hoth-like icy barren hellscape - one where Kirk can only survive through, as far as I can tell, sheer luck. Before the audience even has a chance to process Spock's villainous deed, one in which he essentially condemned Kirk to hypothermia and eventual death, Kirk must escape from 2 gigantic monsters that want to eat him (I assume).

I think the movie wants to sell the relationship between Kirk and Spock as being akin to two boys fighting in a school yard who later make up with each other and end up being chums. A coming of age story. What happens instead is that a person who supposedly follows a philosophy of peace leaves another person to freeze to death over a disagreement about what to do next with the Enterprise. How...logical?

So, Kirk escapes the monsters to find Nimoy-Spock living in a cave on the Hoth planet. The stretch of believability asked of the audience here, that Nimoy-Spock was just waiting in this particular cave, is difficult to fathom (of all the caves, in all of the planet, in all the galaxy, in all the timelines, he walks into mine?). The movie's fast pacing is designed, I think, so that the members of audience don't have time to think about it much. But I ask you: if you wrote this stuff, would you be embarrassed?

But far more egregious to me is that this scene between Pine-Kirk and Nimoy-Spock is meant to establish Pine-Kirk's friendship with Quinto-Spock. Which is terrible for at least 2 reasons. The first, as I keep mentioning, is that Quinto-Spock just abandoned Pine-Kirk to die. It's a nearly unforgivable act. You could end the movie here and make a sequel. One in which Kirk, after escaping from the barren wasteland that is Delta Vega, is consumed by his thirst for revenge, and seeks to destroy Spock (he tasks me and I shall have him!) We could call it "The Wrath of Kirk".

The second reason this scene is terrible is that it epitomizes the laziness of the movie. See, the movie doesn't have to do any work to build the friendship between Kirk and Spock. Instead the Nimoy-Spock tells the Pine-Kirk about the friendship that grows between the characters Kirk and Spock in the 6 movies and 2 television series the characters have appeared in previously. That's hours of story and character building that Star Trek 2009 can now skip. Pine-Kirk, and the audience members, need all they need to know, apparently. Spock and Kirk are supposed to be friends. That's all the relationship building the movie really does. After the meeting with Nimoy-Spock, Kirk is determined to be friends with Quinto-Spock. The guy who just left him to die on an ice planet. I guess Pine-Kirk thinks it's okay, because in an alternate reality some old guy just told him about, they're bff.

By the way: it is possible that Spock knew about the Starfleet base on Delta Vega and left Kirk on the planet knowing that Kirk could find his way to the base. I suppose then that he chose not to transport Kirk directly to the base with transporters...as a joke? I have to suppose that the human devouring monsters completely eluded the Enterprise sensors because...it's really cold down there?

</RANT>

review: up from poppy hill
May 29, 2013, 12:28 am

A pleasant, pretty, and sometimes touching movie. Understated for such a melodramatic plot. But not anywhere near one of Ghibli's best.

Umi has a lot of responsibilities. Though she's only in high school, she needs to take care of her family, and the boarders in her house. Her father died in the Korean War, and her mother is studying in America. With so much responsibility, she doesn't have much time for herself.

In the background is Japan of the 1960s. It's transitioning into a more Western, perhaps more modern country. It's about to host the Olympics - so Japan's officials want to put a particular face forward to the rest of the world.

The "Quartier Latin" isn't something I completely understand. It seems to be semi-officially attached to Isogo High School, the school Umi attends, housing all the school's clubs. Inside, students observe the stars, debate ancient philosophy, publish a newspaper - all manner of scholarly activities. It seems like an awesome place. The film treats its residents kindly - though their interests are portrayed as a bit silly, and ineffective, we like everyone inside. In an American movie, I think they'd be treated as nerds and outcasts, but I don't get the sense the Quartier Latin is looked upon that way. Maybe anti-intellectualism is an American phenomenon.

The building itself is old, and falling apart, and the entirely male student body inside have left the inside in shambles, cluttered with dusty books, and papers. And so, the club house - a relic, and symbol, of a past that Japan is trying to move beyond - is marked for demolition. Trying to save "Quartier Latin" and, symbolically, a piece Japan's past, is one of the two driving forces of the movie

The other is the romance between Umi and Shun, a student who is involved in the Quartier Latin' journalism club. He publishes a secret letter of admiration for Umi in his paper, and she is drawn to him after she reads it. His quest to save the club becomes hers too. We see them subtly growing close to each other, and it's pleasant to see their unstated affection for each other. Their feelings for each other are never stated outright, until Shun makes the discovery that the two of them might be brother and sister. Then, after acknowledging their feelings to each other, they must struggle with what fate seems to have handed them.

The plot is melodramatic, even the characters in the movie know that, but it's played in an understated way.

This is the kind of movie in which things work out well in the end. I found the resolution of both plots touching even though I knew how things would work out. In large part the emotional effectiveness is due to the music, which is reminiscent of the music from earlier Studio Ghibli movies.

review: The NeverEnding Story
May 17, 2013, 4:24 am

Summary: A very good 1980's Dark Fantasy with some very powerful scenes. It may the the best movie of its genre.

The Nothing is devastating the land of Fantasia. It is spreading, destroying everything in its path. It has left the Empress ill, so even she is unable to save Fantasia. But there is hope in Atreyu, a young warrior of the purple buffalo hunting Plains People, who just might be able to stop it. He is, seemingly, their only hope.

This is the inner plot of Neverending Story. A simple plot to rest a movie on - on its own it isn't very special. That said, Atreyu's quest is somewhat unusual in its vagueness - usually a story like this would employ a straightforward MacGuffin for the hero to find, or have to deliver to someone, or have to destroy, that would stop the threat. Atreyu is given a magical artifact - the AURYN - but it doesn't serve as a MacGuffin. It mainly serves to mark Atreyu's importance and as potential phlebotinum.

In fact, the exact purpose of Atreyu's quest isn't revealed until later in the movie, tying the inner plot about Fantasia and the Nothing, to the outer plot about Bastian, who is reading the story we're watching.

Bastian is a boy with a healthy imagination - though it's distracting him from his responsibilities. He shares a house with his pragmatic father, who only has time for a breakfast made in a blender and includes raw eggs, and who reprimands Bastian for spending too much time in his own imagination. On his way to school he's intercepted by some extremely sadistic bullies, the sort that frequents 80's movies, being forced to hide in a strange bookstore managed by a curmudgeon who lambasts Bastian and his generation for not having enough imagination. After learning that Bastian is a fan of classic fantasy novels, the old man baits him into stealing a copy of the Neverending Story. It's through Bastian's reading of Neverending Story that we discover the land of Fantasia and the Nothing which consumes it.

Somehow the overall tone of Atreyu's quest remains surprisingly light in spite of some very dark, powerful scenes. Early in the story, he and his horse, Artex, find themselves in a swamp that consumes any creature overcome by hopelessness. For some reason Artex is very hopeless indeed, and begins slowly sinking into the swamp as Atreyu, who is incapable of stopping it, has no choice but to watch his companion slowly die. It may be the best scene in the movie. Later, he meets a wise old hermit turtle, Morla, who is so gripped by madness from eons of isolation and boredom that she wants to see Fastasia destroyed by the Nothing just for something to happen at all. Another great, sad, scene is of the Rock Biter, who we first meet in the beginning of the film, who couldn't hold on to his friends as they slipped out of his hands and were taken by the Nothing. "They look like big, good, strong hands. Don't they?" he says, before resigning to being taken by the Nothing himself.

Fantasia itself is populated by strange looking, grotesque creatures that look amazing. Everything has substance. The style is ugly, and a little gross (as is typical in the Dark Fantasy movies of the 1980s) Creatures we like are certainly no exception: the Rock Biter, the Snail, the Bat, the Gnomes are all ugly. Even friendly and warm Falcor the luck dragon is ugly. The collection of creatures, the good citizens of Fantasia, waiting for the Empress at the Ivory Tower to save them, are the stuff of nightmares, with bizzare faces and shapes. Mos Eisley is tame by comparison. Fantasia is an amazing, wonderful, creepy place.

Near the end, Fantasia is destroyed by the Nothing. The Nothing, as turns out, is really the lack of imagination, hope, and dreams of a modern humanity that no longer has a place for Fantasia. But though only small fragments of his world remain, Atreyu did not fail in his quest. Ultimately, his purpose was to get the attention of Bastian, the boy reading the story (and by proxy all of us watching the movie). To save Fantasia, Bastian just needs to give the Empress a new name, which takes a certain amount of belief in the realness of the fantasy world he is reading. Reluctant at first, Bastian gives her a new name (Moon Child?? No one watching the movie could have understood what Bastian said), and saves Fantasia, restoring it to its former glory. Atreyu even gets his horse back.

While Bastian's arc lends the movie a cool postmodern twist, as a story it is much weaker than Atreyu's, and as a moral for Bastian it isn't very interesting. Bastian was never one who had to be reminded of the wonders of an imagination, and he never took his father's advice about being more grounded in reality. He changed in no meaningful way - he started as a boy eager to read about fantastic adventures and ended as one. (Or are we to take Falcor flying through a city street more literally, and say Bastian started as a boy eager to read about fantastic adventures and ended as a boy who lives in one? But what kind of moral would that be, that we should literally believe in the existence of the stories we read?) Clearly, the moral is as much for the audience as it is for Bastian, but we're an audience watching a fantasy story, so we probably don't need this lesson either. Maybe the moral is for all the parents whose children dragged them into the movie. It is interesting to note how the moral here is so different than another classic 1980's dark fantasty, Labyrinth, in which Sarah learns to grow up and accept reality as it is.

The story ends. So why is it the Neverending Story exactly? Is it that anyone who picks up the book reads the same story, and becomes intwined in its plot just as Bastian has? Or is it that, while The Neverending Story is read by Bastian, Bastian is in turn being watched by us, and - if we're willing to believe it - our story may be read and watched by someone else? Or is it, as Lionel Hutz says, just a big case of false advertising?

review: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
May 12, 2013, 10:26 pm

Summary: An underratted movie that deserves more praise.

*spoilers* *this post has spoilers*

The general opinion is that, for most of the Star Trek movies, the even numbered movies are very good, and the odd number movies are very bad. (see: Star Trek Movie Curse). I've tended to agree: Wrath of Khan, Voyage Home, Undiscovered Country, and First Contact are all movies I like. I recently rewatched Star Trek III two times in the span of a month - and I liked it more than I thought I would. I think it's evidence that the Curse isn't real.

The movie opens shortly after the previous one ended. The Enterprise is returning to Earth to recover from its recent battle with Khan. Kirk is miserable about Spock's death, and McCoy seems to have coped by going crazy. To make things worse, upon arrival at Earth, they learn the Enterprise is going to be decomissioned - so soon after Spock sacrificed himself to save it.

A surprise visit from Spock's father, Sarek, reveals that Vulcans can dump their memories (or "katra") into nearby living beings before they die. Sarek appears about as angry a Vulcan can be, because he believes Kirk shouldn't have abandoned Spock's body on the Genesis Planet. To see if Spock might have dumped his memory into Kirk, the two mindmeld, and we're treated to a great scene in which Kirk relives Spock's final moments. Kirk's whimpering "No..." as he relives his helplessness is something we never get to see our heroes do in traditional action movies. Usally such pain would be accompanied by anger and frustration - so that the hero appears powerful instead of weak. But between Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock, we get to see Kirk showing the rawest, purest kind of pain, multiple times - and Kirk becomes a more compelling character for it. Shatner is really good at pulling these scenes off - he really deserves more credit as an actor.

It turns out Spock's katra isn't in Kirk at all. Instead McCoy's bizzarre behavior is due to having to keep all of Spock in his head. And so we have our story: to honor their friend's memory and customs, Kirk and McCoy must go to the Genesis Planet to fetch Spock's body and return it to planet Vulcan, along with his katra. Standing in their way is the Federation, who incompetently is restricting access to the Genesis planet to everyone other than a helpless science vessel commanded by a sheepish captain. There's also Kruge, a (rogue?) Klingon captain who wants to learn the secret of the Genesis missile.

Kirk and crew steal the Enterprise to get to the Genesis Planet in a sequence that exemplifies what makes the original movies so much fun to watch. As an audience, we know they'll be successful getting the ship out - so the film chooses to make the escape funny and casual instead of working off of manufactured tension and suspense.

Meanwhile, on Genesis, Saavik and David Marcus (Kirk's son) beam down to investigate an unexpected life sign, and discover Genesis has regenerated Spock, but he's an empty shell - a rapidly aging young clone of Spock with none of his memories. They also learn that the Genesis Planet isn't going to be around much longer. Soon after this discovery, Kruge arrives at the Genesis Planet (before Kirk does), destroying the poor science vessel the Federation left to fend for itself.

Kirk and Kruge face off. Kirk wins. But in the process he loses the Enterprise, and he loses his son. By 2013, blowing up the Enterprise is practically a Star Trek movie tradition. But here, this is the original Enterprise - the one we watched in The Original Series. (NCC one seven O one. No bloody A, B, C, or D*) It's a big deal, and effectively done. And the special effects for the explosion are apporopriately dramatic. Kirk, McCoy, the crew, and the audience watch as the Enterprise crashes into the dying Genesis Planet. And while David was never a character I was attached to, his death is lent power by the way it's filmed and by Shatner's performance. When David dies we hear no music - just the brutal sound of his being stabbed and his dying grunt. There is no music either as Kirk learns David died, and falls to the ground, shattered, crying, and impotently repeating "Klingon bastards, you killed my son."

In the finale, Spock's empty clone - now conveniently the same age as the original Spock was when he died - is returned to Vulcan, and a Vulcan ritual (influenced by the TOS episode Amok Time) is performed that puts Spock back together. The movie ends as Spock is reunited with his fellow crew members, and there's just a lot of love and joy in the reunion.

At the end of all this we end up with Spock, alive, and mostly well. If anything, THIS is the movie's flaw. Bringing Spock back cheapens the impact of his sacrifice in the previous movie, even if the contrivance to get it done was well executed and mostly fit into the Star Trek Universe.

As to the contrivance itself - the Vulcan katra: how is it that humans didn't know about it by the time the movie takes place? Also, why would the Vulcans be interested in retreiving the dead body of Spock - you would think only the katra itself would have mattered..

Finally, it's also worth noting that Search for Spock is responsible for introducing a lot of things into the Star Trek canon. Including:

  • The Excelsior class vessel, which seems to be the workhorse ship of Star Fleet in TNG
  • The Klingon Bird of Prey - the most commonly seen Klingon ship therafter
  • It's the first time we see Earth Space Dock, the model for all other Space Stations
  • While the Klingon language was introduced in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," this is the first time it gets a formal grammar and a very rich vocabulary.

NOTE: this is the first time I've ever written a movie review. In the future, I don't know that I'd write a synopsis as I did in this one. It's a lot easier to just write a review assuming whoever is reading it knows the movie well, and just jump into it. In fact, I would have spent more time with analysis had I skipped the synopsis, but I exhausted myself....