Voyage of Time (2016)

voyageSometimes we can be such loyal fools, enthralled by past glories and ever hopeful of their return. I keep watching each new Ridley Scott film with such anticipation, and for decades was just the same with each new Prince album, or John Carpenter movie. Terrence Malick has made such genuinely great films, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line are amongst my all-time favourites and I really do like The Tree of Life: there is something endlessly fascinating about it, if only because it aims so high and just falls short. The idea of a section of that film, which depicted the formation of the universe/Solar System and the beginnings of life on Earth, including the Dinosaurs and the cataclysm that wiped them out, being turned into a full-length documentary film was just so enticing. But…sadly I must say it should have all just remained within that film. Sometimes less is more: funnily enough, that’s possibly very true for much of Malick’s output. 

Its taken me a few years to catch up with Voyage of Time, finally importing a German Blu-ray relatively cheap, but alas, I possibly shouldn’t have bothered. Even as a fan and frequent apologist for Malick, I have to admit, this is a pretty poor effort. Pretty and vacuous, its terribly inferior to Godfrey Reggio’s magnificent Koyannisqatsi when it could/should have certainly been equal to it, with something new to say (instead, I have to report that Koyannisqatsi possibly shares so much of Voyage of Time‘s ‘message’ and sentiment but got there decades before and said it much better).

I’m not really even sure what Malick was thinking; we have an irritating, typical-of-Malick-horribly-obtuse Cate Blanchett narration that says nothing, for no reason at all other than, presumably, to have her name on the credits to ‘sell’ the film. Any narrative flow for this voyage through the ages of the universe and Earth is repeatedly derailed by dropped-in sequences of present-day humanity that serve no purpose at all: one moment we are in the present, then back in the past, then back in the present. At least in Reggio’s film the scenes of humanity unwittingly lost in urban cages and horrible jobs etc served some purpose, some commentary on life out of balance.

As one would expect, the film looks very pretty but little more impressive than what we’ve already seen in BBC wildlife documentaries on television, and while the visual effects are quite astonishing at times, without a clear ‘voice’ or narrative to give them purpose, what’s really the point of them at all? There’s nothing here that Kubrick’s 2001 didn’t say much more succinctly and effectively. Maybe Malick finally found he had too much to say, or nothing at all to say. Again, like so many of his recent films.

I had expected to see an expansion of that Tree of Life sequence, showing the Big Bang, the formation of stars and planets, the wild primeval life of Earth, perhaps a glimpse of mankind and its glories in art and history and then the long slow decline of the universe back to darkness, some kind of cosmological model and perhaps a sense of our small insignificant place within it. I didn’t expect to see a poor man’s Koyannisqatsi. At least that film had meaning; instead Malick’s Voyage has no meaning at all.    

A Hidden Life Revealed

hiddenTerrence Malick’s  latest work, A Hidden Life, is a beautiful-looking film, but of course that is the norm for films from Malick, and it is also very long, again, the norm for Malick. Its musical score is utterly sublime in how it matches those striking images; sometimes original score (this time by new collaborator James Newton Howard) and often classical pieces, all, again, the norm for Malick. It also has monologues usually in breathy voiceovers accompanying that captivating imagery – again, the norm for Malick, but here, notably, they are fewer, sparser, less intrusive than in some of his films of late.

It is, without doubt, his best film since The Tree of Life and The Thin Red Line, having slipped into self-indulgence of late with recent films, succumbing to his own worst excesses. A Hidden Life may not be his best, but its certainly a return to form. Its certainly got a lot to do with the fact that this is his first film in many years to have a traditional, linear narrative. I’m sure critics will point out, possibly quite rightly, that the film would be just as good minus a third of its running time- I’m a fan of his work (both The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life are among my favourite films) and even I would appreciate some keener editing,  but hey, if its the price we pay for getting films such as this (essentially extended Directors Cuts minus the usually obligatory truncated theatrical cuts most directors are mandated to initially sanction) then so be it.

A curious note regards the title; A Hidden Life is true of the film itself- as is becoming increasingly so with Malick’s films, no doubt due to financing and distribution deals, the film has been awfully hard to see over here in the UK, not getting much of a theatrical release and only a belated release on digital platforms, forgoing any physical release on disc at all, as far as I can see, which is why I have had to wait until now, with it eventually airing on Sky Cinema. There is something clearly wrong with this world when Malick’s beautiful movies do not automatically get released on 4K UHD; some of his films could sell the format but remain utterly absent (I’d noted a digital 4K release on Amazon but, well, I’m old-fashioned and stubborn enough in my preference for physical releases to vote with my wallet).

My only issue with the film, really, is one the film can hardly be condemned for, as it more concerns the real events that it is based upon: the film is the story of  Franz Jägerstatter (August Diehl) who was an Austrian conscientious objector during the Second World War who, refusing to take the Hitler oath as a Wehrmacht conscript, was executed in 1943. His stand as a conscientious objector to Hitler’s rule was condemned in his own village, his family vilified, and his name forgotten until a researcher stumbled upon his story in the 1960s. Its a noble and uplifting story and I feel guilty complaining about it- its just that, for me, the film didn’t really get me ‘into’  Jägerstatter’s head, so to speak- a devout Catholic, it was primarily his religious convictions that formed the backbone of his defiance, which I couldn’t really accept. I was just frustrated that he could make his stand and risk the endangerment and safety of his wife and three daughters (indeed their suffering continued long after his was over) and I could never reconcile his ability to do that to his family in the name of his moral stand, no matter how righteous its may be deemed to be.

That is, clearly, more of an issue with my own point of view than the film itself and its true that the films narrative does raise the issue of his family’s trials back home while he was in prison; its perhaps my own religious conviction being rather more suspect, my own sense of moral code proving dubious.

Its a point made by a painter during the film, who is painting religious iconography and murals within a church, the artist casting doubt on how beatific it is compared to the likely realities behind them, and how churchgoers themselves may have acted in the events: “I help people look up from those pews and dream,” he says. “They look up and they imagine that if they lived back in Christ’s time, they wouldn’t have done what the others did.” Perhaps what Malick is doing is asking what we would do in Jägerstatter’s position: to me the truth is that there were no absolutes, and that I would have thought more of my family than my moral convictions and would certainly have signed on that dotted line that would have spared him. In all likelihood, the Catholic church is well on the way to making Jägerstatter a Saint someday soon, but some viewers might see him as something of a stubborn fool who abandoned his wife and children. Malick should perhaps be commended for keeping such ambiguities, if so intended, but it does leave the film, for me at least, one with a frustrating core.

Midway (2019)

mid1Its the damnedest thing- after Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and so many other cautionary, war-is-hell movies (which I would describe as sophisticated, grown-up war movies), I would have thought that a revisionary, brutal and sobering film about the war in the Pacific and in particular the battle at Midway would have been timely. Pick two characters, maybe a pilot for the air battles, and a naval gunner or engineer to depict the sea battles between the carriers/destroyers, and show the film from their perspective, focus purely on them. What they can see, what they can hear, what they feel. Forgo all the military planning, all the top-brass material, just show what it was like for the grunts following the orders and trying to do their job and somehow survive. I suppose what I’m suggesting is something akin to Dunkirk, but more focused and minus all that three-timelines nonsense.

And drop all the CGI hysterics, you’re going to need it obviously, but show it sparingly and effectively- narrow it down, less of the wide-angle video-game stuff and more of the brutal, vicarious you-are-there-and-its-bloody-scary stuff.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’m writing all this down, because Roland Emmerich’s Midway is not that movie. Its practically a pseudo-sequel to Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour from 2001, as if that film was critically lauded and wildly successful and everyone demanded a follow-up.  It has the same silly virtual camera moves and video-game CGI and clunky dialogue, and like Pearl Harbour, rather feels out of its time and awkwardly ill-judged. Sure, its a noble and well-intentioned effort but it just feels… wrong. Midway had the opportunity to be the anti-Pearl Harbour and blew it, pretty much giving us more of the same, as if that were A Good Thing.

Besides which, its clear that the more CGI you have in your film, the more the quality level falls and it becomes more just, well, an animated movie. Some of the visual effects/CGI in Midway is very, very good (some shots are breathtaking) but some of it is quite poor. It just seems inevitable, and some of the CGI in this is surprisingly woeful (some panoramic shots, for instance one during burials in particular, look like pre-vis work rather than completed shots). The CGI can be wonderful and enable shots/sequences impossible before but should be used sparingly to ensure impact and moreover help with the quality levels.  Naturally you lean less on the CGI and maybe you have more time for character study and acting performances and good writing… and maybe that’s why they lean on the CGI so much, because good writing appears to be unfashionable in film these days.

Anyway, suffice to say that Midway was everything I expected, its not a complete disaster and no doubt was well-intentioned, but a great cast is pretty much wasted,  some pretty banal dialogue at times doing them few favours, and, er,  leave it at that.

MIdway (2019) is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

 

 

The Thin Red Line OST by Hans Zimmer (Expanded La La Land Records edition)

ThinRedLine-Large__42863.1549393387I listen to this all the time. Not a week goes by that I don’t listen to the first two discs, which comprise the entire score by Hans Zimmer as originally recorded in Autumn/Winter 1998, following two years of collaboration between himself and director Terrence Malick. Entire films can be written, shot and released in the time it takes Malick to edit a film, constantly reworking scenes and often editing, completing and then re-editing them with alternate music- TRL was no different, and when it finally got released, Malick would of course have further tinkered with the score, returning to classical choices he perhaps always favoured (something that no doubt irritated his composers before and after) and thus relegating much of Zimmer’s score to the cutting room floor (or Avid dustbin, however that all works in this digital age).

That The Thin Red Line was one of Zimmer’s finest efforts is nothing new- it was always a major part of the success of this haunting and magical film. However it is clear from this remastered edition, in which the original intended score is presented across the first two discs that this score is truly remarkable and more special than even its fans possibly expected (as the late Nick Redman comments in the liner notes, a two and a half hour program that is almost two-thirds unreleased). Some of it is familiar from the film but omitted from the original soundtrack album release, and some of it is totally new, cut from the film and never heard before. As a whole piece of music, it is in my mind clearly Zimmer’s masterpiece, his finest work. Richly lyrical, emotive, deeply soulful, mystical even. I have found myself listening to it as a musical work all its own, completely independent of the film it was written for.

I keep coming back to it. Its almost an ambient thing, something of a mood. Themes are woven throughout, returned to, dismissed, then later reprised. In this respect it is fairly routine of Zimmer’s work, in which he often populates a score with one or two admittedly fine themes and then constantly reworks them, remixes them throughout the whole, but goodness me, those themes he came up with for The Thin Red Line are quite extraordinary.  I am constantly reminded of Matt Irvine’s record reviews column in Starburst magazine, particularly his review of Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture score, in which he commented that the music was so strong as a narrative whole that it seemed akin to a modern symphony, a classical work in its own right. Irvine was absolutely spot-on and I do think the same could be said of this score too.

The score functions in a similar way to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, in which it is mostly about mood and atmospherics, its music that you feel rather than even hear, sometimes. There are themes and leitmotifs just as in any score but they are almost secondary to the whole. One of the most iconic pieces of film music of modern scoring is the Journey to the Line track (as it was titled on the original OST album) which features here in an extended form with a different title- indeed this music is so popular and has been reused in so many trailers and temp tracks that it has become the bane of modern composers. Its interesting that in this complete score it turns up so often in so many different (sometimes subtly so) forms; woven throughout it forms the backbone of the score. Tellingly, it features in Nature Montage, the very opening of the score and a piece of music (some five minutes long) largely replaced in the actual movie. Its a lovely mood-setting piece, evocative of Witt’s dreamy, questioning narration (“What is this war at the heart of nature?”), the warlike, almost drone-like Journey to the Line theme falls to a lovely, soulful piece (Witts theme, really) that sets up the tensions of the film and the score as a whole. Its a genius piece to introduce the score and film and much of it all-new to our ears.

As we suffer the decline and near the end of physical disc formats and likely with it,  such perfectly curated score expansions such as this, it feels all the more special that we somehow got this expanded and remastered edition of this score.  It isn’t cheap, mind, and has come under some criticism. The new material is spread over the first two discs of a four-disc set, the third disc being a remastered edition of the original soundtrack album, and a fourth disc of Melanesian choir music- religious chants partially featured as source music in sections of the film. The inclusion of the original soundtrack is certainly well-warranted. It features music not used in the film, some music used in the film but not sourced from the original score, and edited suites unique to itself. While it is in truth the original album we fans loved for years, it actually feels like a standard third disc of alternates etc that an ordinary expansion such as this might contain. Whenever I listen to it now, that’s what it feels like. A collection of alternates and replacements to the score heard on the first two discs. The inclusion of the fourth disc is partially redundant -little of it was used in the film- but it was a major part of the films identity, and I believe Zimmer insisted on its inclusion, so who’s to argue? If nothing else, it makes the whole thing feel complete.

As far as soundtracks go, this is surely the release of the year, and having owned it a few months now, I often see it on my CD shelf and have a ‘pinch me’ moment of surreal disbelief. Its rather like La la Land’s own 3-disc set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Intrada’s 3-disc Conan the Barbarian– these are wonderful scores, some of my very favourites, and we have them in luxurious complete (or as near dammit) editions after waiting for years. Indeed, I would truly thought such releases were impossible, years ago. Just as films appeared in the cinema and then disappeared for years until eventually surfacing on television, so soundtrack albums were simple vinyl albums that came out during a films initial release and then quickly became OOP, relegated to second-hand speciality stores years later. We are very fortunate indeed now.

 

 

 

Criterion Badlands

bad1Put this one the 2019 list for sure; Criterion are releasing their edition of Terrence Malick’s Badlands on Blu-ray over here in the UK in May. I’ve never owned the film on any format -VHS, DVD, Blu-ray- so at least it’s not a double or triple-dip. In fact I haven’t seen the film in many years, not since I really caught the Malick bug with his later films (Thin Red LIne etc) and I’ve always been curious if I’d fall in love with it now I’m older (back then I had a distinctly ambivalent feeling towards it). Well, this is certainly the perfect opportunity to put that to the test.

Superman Again!

supestmJust when you thought it was safe to swear off expensive soundtrack purchases (the expanded Thin Red Line arrived on Thursday -yay!) La La Land land the sucker punch that is a 3-disc Superman: The Movie set.  Remastered from the original 2-inch, 24-track music masters no less, the leap in sound quality is said to be extraordinary (well, they would say that, naturally, but..) and the 3-disc set includes the original album assembly that I had on vinyl for my birthday back in (whispers) February 1979…

So here we are again, Superman: The Movie, some forty years later. Oh man, me and this music. While the Star Wars soundtrack, that I had on tape for my birthday the year before, probably launched me on my love of soundtrack music, it was without doubt the Superman score that cemented it- I must have played that album so many more times than I ever played Star Wars. Superman was just incredible, so soulful and romantic and exciting – I used to play the Fortress of Solitude track over and over in the evenings, just letting its mystical, almost-ambience wash over me. Curiously enough, I hadn’t actually seen the film either ( I had a choice between a cinema visit and a skateboard, and my only defense is the peer pressure of all my mates having skateboards) so when I listened to the score, it was my own images and daydreams rushing through my head, so I have pretty intense memories of listening to it.

Oh well. Here we go again…

Thin Red Expanded

thinredost1This may prove to be the soundtrack release of the year. La La Land Records have confirmed a 4-disc set of Hans Zimmer’s gorgeous score for The Thin Red Line is going to be released next week. The film is one of my favourites and so is the soundtrack, so this is great news. Its also, I believe, the last project from the late Nick Redman, and is surely a marvelous way to celebrate him and remember his contributions to film music ( I believe a dedication to him has been added to the inside inlay of covers being reprinted to fix a typo that slipped through, which is a lovely gesture by the label).

There does seem to be a little bit of a backlash though from the film music community. Of the four discs two have been previously released – the soundtrack album and a later compilation of Melanesian chants, of which I think just three are from the film (I have the soundtrack album, naturally, but never bothered with the other). The main draw of course is the full score on the first two discs, hugely expanded from the original album and featuring some alternates. As a souvenir/record of the music this set is fantastic, but some music fans have balked at the high price ($59.98) considering two of the discs are nothing new (albeit they have been remastered). I suppose this is the problem with some releases, especially as there is a tradition of including original album assemblies for completists’ sake (this may be a legal requirement, too, I’m not sure). Most of the time it’s fine, the new material heavily outweighing the old (I’m thinking of the 3-disc Star Trek:TMP set, which included the original 1979 album but that was lost in all the new goodies) but two discs of old/two discs of new, considering the price point of the set,  seems to be annoying some. I think they just need reminding how sublime this score is- its some of the finest music ever written for a film.

thinredost2Foolishly, perhaps, as I have always adored this film and its music I’m pretty much at the ‘whatever the price, I’m in’ set, but it does mean I’ll have to reign in purchasing other stuff (and indeed just cancelled two pre-orders on Amazon). I’d rate this set as one of the biggest, most important and unlikeliest releases ever- up there with the aforementioned 3-disc Star Trek: TMP and 3-disc Conan the Barbarian. These are all releases that, when the actual films came out, you would not have dreamed were possible. I suppose what may be troubling fans is all the rumours of six hours of music cooked up by Zimmer that some had hoped we’d hear something of, and initial word of a 4-disc set for TRL had some -hell, me too- wildly speculating about contents. Well, the final tracklist has brought us back to the real world, but it’s not too shabby at all and really, an expansion of this was so unlikely I still have to pinch myself. There is some utterly gorgeous, beautiful music on this set for the first time.

Unfortunately, I will likely have to wait until March for it to arrive over on these shores- expect a review then!

Horner’s Apollo 13 expanded

apollo-13-expandedCue a really neat segue from my last post, and its proposals of lunar excursions in the next two MI films, to the confirmation that Intrada over in the US has released an expanded and remastered 2-disc edition of James Horner’s Apollo 13 score.

Regular readers here will know of my affection for James Horner’s music, particularly his early scores back when one great score followed another and it seemed like he could turn his hand at anything. There was a time that I’d buy a James Horner soundtrack blind, and go watch a film just because of his involvement.  Apollo 13 was released in 1995, just after Braveheart and Legends of the Fall, and just a few years before Titanic would really change everything (I mean, he was popular back then but Titanic would launch him beyond the stratosphere). There is some really great music in Apollo 13, but the original album release really confounded fans, being a strange mix of dialogue, pop songs, sound effects and score, relegating the score music to just a few tracks. Well, it looks like that horrible piece of corporate thinking has been rectified at long last with this edition, combining a disc of the complete score and a disc of Horner’s original aborted album assembly from all those years ago. Why exactly it has taken so long for this to happen is baffling but I suppose with how things are now with CD sales we should think ourselves lucky it’s finally here.

Its certainly a nice start to 2019. I’d really like to see new editions of his Field of Dreams and Legends of the Fall scores, so fingers crossed we have more releases of Horner’s work over the coming year.

This could be a great year for soundtrack albums, with a rumoured three or four-disc edition of Hans Zimmer’s sublime The Thin Red Line score possibly getting announced next week. As both film and score are among my very favourites, if this actually does happen I think this blog will go into some kind of meltdown…  and a depressed funk if it doesn’t.

All Things Shining

all thingsI’ve been reading a book about Terrence Malick- well, to be more precise, its a book about Malick’s films, as he is so media-shy and prefers to maintain some privacy, and it consists of interviews culled over the decades from his associates, freinds and people who have worked with him on his films, and therefore offering glimpses of how Malick works. The book is All Things Shining: An Oral History of the films of Terrence Malick, by Paul Maher Jr. – I bought the kindle edition as it was only £2.30 compared to something like £16 for the paperback (there is another book  that treats Malick’s work in a similar way, Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected, which I also have my eye on).

Its a very interesting and revealing read. One passage caught my attention in particular, during the chapter about The Tree of Life. The film’s cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki had this to say about the film, commenting on audiences walking out during performances (something I myself experienced when I saw the film at the cinema): “This reminds me of all the movies that I loved (in the ’70s) where we left the theatre and discussed and disagreed. We carried the experience out into the open. Things were not over explained and you went out with your freinds after and tried to make sense of something…” 

It made me think about how much films have changed from the 1970s to now- I’m not necessarily defending Malick’s obtuseness here as he has rather run astray with his way of making movies since then, so that even for a fan they can be infuriating (The Tree of Life is more a tone poem than a narrative but is clearly Malick’s strongest film post- Thin Red Line.) His films do, however, demand some attention and active work from his audience, whereas the standard way of making films now is to make them simple, make them loud. Back in the 1970s, films often had conflicted characters, genuine twists and some unfulfilling endings. We see less of that now. Indeed, when discussing contemporary films at work or with freinds, there may be some debate on whether a film is good or not but we seldom have arguments about what a film meant or what the director was trying to say. One of the things I love about BR2049 is all the layers of  subtext and threads of meaning in the film. I have previously mentioned here on this blog the anecdote of a frustrated forum post written by an American viewer who, at the end of the film where Deckard asks K why he did what he did, and who Deckard was to him, was left aghast and horrified when K just shrugs and after a silence changes the subject. We don’t need the film to spell that out- well, we shouldn’t, but modern audiences prefer to be told, not left to flounder at interpreting complex ambiguities of a film. It ruined the film for this forum writer, which struck me as typical and oddly funny.

Actor John Dee smith had this to say about The Thin Red Line as it approached its premiere and Malick was ordered to cut the film further to ensure it came in under three hours: “(Terry) doesn’t think this mainstream formula clustering bullshit audience he’s dealing with would benefit from it. He wasn’t just telling a story, he was fleshing out the human psyche. I don’t think America is ready for his work, and he probably doesn’t think so either.”

For some odd reason it had me thinking about the comparisons between Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Back when Interstellar came out, there were all sorts of ridiculous allusions made to the film being equal to or the successor to 2001, and it got me into quite a few arguments at the time. 2001 has something to say and a brave way to say it, and while Interstellar is a film worthy of some admiration, it doesn’t really have much to say and confuses much of what it does say. Contemporary audiences however seem to think that the film is very clever and challenging but they haven’t seen 2001 at all so really have no way of qualifying that judgement in my mind. However, I hesitate to recommend they actually watch 2001 because I really don’t think they’d manage it- would they even get through the Dawn of Man sequence? Kubrick’s film was odd back in 1968 and while it eventually found its audience I think it’s doubly odd compared to modern films, its pacing and ambiguity the absolute anathema of today’s audiences. Well, the majority, anyway, I guess you have to be wary of absolutes.

I think we have lost something though, the way most films are now. Clearly they are chiefly entertainment and intended to be popular and therefore financially successful, and being simple and undemanding seems to go hand in hand with keeping the majority of viewers happy. Perhaps the biggest culprit is the high budgets and the need to be hugely popular (rather than mildly popular) to recoup such huge investments – just witness the problems BR2049 had. I think if we could get more financial restraint more risk or openly ambiguous/complex films might have more chance of success. Conversely, I think it’s such a shame that you simply cannot make an intelligent big-budget film like BR2049 and still get an audience, and for this you have to blame either the audience itself, or society in general, or Hollywood’s slow decline into crass stupidity in its blockbuster school of film-making that makes popcorn movies really popcorn for the mind.

Or do we just blame George Lucas and Star Wars? I don’t think that’s fair (and there’s also an argument that Star Wars actually saved Hollywood and ended a steady decline in cinema audiences etc) but there is some validity to the view that Lucas began a trend of making entertainment via escapism and less of a tie to reality and issues beyond the auditorium. The problem is that escapism can slide into crassness, dumbness and stupidity, particularly if you make the package so loud and spectacular that audiences get carried away by the experience and not having to think- and films these days are so very loud and spectacular.

I rather suspect that future of serious and challenging cinema lies away from the multiplex and perhaps in the domain of Netflix and Amazon Prime, if they get enough time, and don’t get pulled into competing with all the fireworks of cinema offerings. A Terrence Malick film for Netflix might be something to see, I think.

The Apes of Wrath: War of the Planet of the Apes

war.jpg2017.69: War of the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Here is that rare thing- a blockbuster trilogy that embodies high-quality, intelligent film-making with each film getting better than the last. Part of me pines for a fourth entry or even, perhaps, a second trilogy that could  revisit and follow the events of the Charlton Heston original film, but part of me thinks that would be tempting fate in this world of franchises of ever-decreasing quality. Better perhaps for the studio to quit while it’s ahead. This is a great movie; I’d hate to see it spoiled by lesser entries.

The revelation of this film, particularly considering its title, is just how intimate it is. If this is a war film, it’s one more akin to Malick’s The Thin Red Line than, say, Rambo. It’s a surprisingly quiet, internal film- a film of quiet rage, and sacrifice.  There’s something of a Western about it, too- perhaps even Eastwood’s Unforgiven- its a much darker blockbuster than I expected.

Not that the film is perfect- it falters in a few respects. There are a few moments in the script where it stumbles markedly- a scene in which one of the apes gifts the human girl a flower from a tree too easily prefigures that same apes death with the subtlety of being slapped in the face with a wet kipper. Its an awkward moment of manipulation. that does so much of the rest of the film a disservice, but on the whole the film works splendidly, and for the most part you even forget that 90% of what you are watching probably resides in a computer somewhere.

Ah, yes, the effects. While I always seem to be moaning about CGI spoiling the quality of movies, as they often seem to be used to replace quality drama and screenwriting through spectacle, rather than actually support said drama/screenwriting, I have to admit that used properly CGI can really move film-making to some other level of cinema, offering realities that could not exist elsewhere. These recent Apes films have been pretty astonishing, frankly, on a technical level, bringing to the screen something utterly impossible just years ago, but this third film is really something else entirely- powerful, quality film-making featuring characters that simply don’t exist but which somehow out-act most ‘real’ actors (maybe it’s finally time for a Virtual Actor award from the Academy).  It’s not lost on me that this same year I marvelled at the creation of a gigantic ape in Kong: Skull Island. Regardless of the quality of the drama, there were moments watching this film, as with the prior films, that I just gasped at the marvel of how ‘real’ the fakery seems to be. It’s a modern sorcery and I have to wonder where it will all end.

I feel I must also mention a simply wonderful music score from Michael Giacchino- in a climate in which most blockbuster soundtracks just sound like background noise, it’s lovely to report that this is a genuinely moving score of orchestral  music with strong themes and intelligence. A definite throwback to the glory years of the 1970s with Williams, Goldsmith and Barry in their prime (the score does in particular carry nods to the music of John Barry).

On the whole, one of the films of the year for me.