Four Cracked staffers recently went to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. After drinking and talking about it for several hours, we came to one conclusion: We were going to need more drinks. Once we finished those, we came to another conclusion: Acting is no longer just an actor's craft. It's become a special effect.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- unless you're overly attached to the ancient craft of cinema as it's traditionally understood, like we are -- but it's pretty clear that Dawn's apes are doing to acting what Terminator 2's liquid metal robot did to practical effects like models, puppets, and guys blowing off mannequins' heads with shotguns. Don't believe us? Then how come ...
#4. Actors Are Interchangeable Now (in Their Own Film)
Robert Evans: When I heard John Goodman was taking on a role in Transformers 4, I was excited, because every whisper of Goodman activity sends an almost (OK, entirely) sexual thrill down my spine. The actual performance was just ... bizarre, though. The tone of his voice almost never matched the actual tone of the scene, or the voices of other characters in the scene.
How do you even make a robot cigar?
It sounded like they'd just had Goodman record a few choice phrases and looped them into the movie at random. Sort of like how all the little units in StarCraft say stuff whenever you click them, or how fake John Madden announces video game football. Only it was a movie, and they're not allowed to pull that shit in a feature film, are they? Yup! Goodman joined the cast in May, a month before release.
But Transformers 4 was basically a bad cartoon. Planet of the Apes: This One has drawn praise from critics and fans alike. Oscars are going to happen because of this thing.
"Whatever. You guys once voted for Crash."
And it, too, treats actors like interchangeable blocks. For example: Judy Greer is technically in this movie.
She's an amazing voice actor, and at least a decent regular actor, so I was excited to see her in this movie, too. Only she wasn't in this movie, not really -- she doesn't say or do anything. But I guess they mapped her face for one of the ape ladies, and that was enough to slap her name on some marketing. We didn't even get one scene where Gary Oldman choked an ape-lady out, and I hope the Internet never forgives this movie for that.
Caesar (the ape faced by Andy Serkis) is actually the only familiar character from the first movie. And since his face is 98 percent digital makeup, it's only "familiar" in the broadest sense. No human actors carry over from the last Planet of the Apes movie. Weirdly enough, the summer's other blockbuster, Transformers 4, also purged every actor from the previous films in the series. This used to be the clearest sign of a disastrous sequel. But today it's cruise control for record profits.
#3. Actors Don't Control Their Roles Anymore
Alex Schmidt: Serkis is one of the few actors returning for the new Apes movie. (This might be because he only ever plays apes.) And Serkis calls the results of performance capture "painting digital makeup onto actors' performances." He says ignore that binary blush, because "the authorship of performance -- everything you watch on screen that you feel and think about a character -- comes from the actor." He says his performance as Gollum was "fully acted," with mo-cap merely adding "an extra feel of reality." And he would know, because when it comes to techno-acting, it's not like Serkis is just some idiot.
New Line Cinema
"Oh yeah? Would an idiot wear THIS?"
It's also not like Serkis is correct. Because Randall William Cook, LOTR's director of animation, recently gave a blow-by-blow accounting of how Weta Workshop's 12-man team created parts of the Gollum performance themselves. What parts? Just minor stuff like performing all the original mo-cap for Serkis' Fellowship scenes for him (Serkis literally went through the motions about a year later). Also, the animators could completely change Gollum's blocking at any time. Or ignore Serkis' "too-busy facial performance" in key character scenes.
New Line Cinema
They did keep in the time he started masturbating on set.
That last choice was standard practice for the animators, because even by the third LOTR, their mo-cap tech wasn't advanced enough for facial capture. The team certainly tried to create visuals matching what they saw Serkis do on camera. But "even when we did reproduce Andy's expressions with perfect fidelity, Peter [Jackson] or Fran [Walsh] would direct the animators through two, three, 12, or more iterations, with the animators working directly for the director, refining a performance in Andy's absence."
Steve Lovegrove/iStock/Getty Images
"Did Andy come in today? Or did we key him out of reality again?"
And, remember, this is how animators handled a performance by the Daniel Day-Lewis of performance capture. What if you're an unknown mo-cappee becoming Wookie #7 or Navi #32 or Great Old One #[screaming], and the director doesn't quite love your everything? Yes, film editors have always impacted acting performances. Ideally they improve them while working hand-in-hand with the actor, and Weta's team clearly worked to do that with Serkis.
But in the past, if a performance choice wasn't there in the footage, the production team stuck with what the actor gave them or paid that actor a honey-wagon-load of cocaine and craft services bananas to do reshoots. Nowadays, if the new version of Kirk and Uhura sabotage a scene to defend racially harmonious smoochin', editors can turn that moment into a tepid hug without Chris or Zoe even knowing.
CBS Television Distribution
"Jesus between us, Lieutenant."