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War for the Planet of the Apes producer talks the future of franchise

05.16.2017

War for the Planet of the Apes Peter Chernin interview Andy Serkis

This July, 20th Century Fox will unleash the latest installment in what has to be one of the more surprisingly strong franchise reboots in recent memory. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES will put the cap on what's seen by producer Peter Chernin as a trilogy of new APES movies, which of course kicked off with 2011's RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. That film was the first project out of Chernin's production company The Chernin Group, which he founded after spending many years as the president and COO of News Corporation (which owns Fox and a hundred other valuable assets). Chernin is quite devoted to making APES one of the smarter, more serious series of blockbusters in the marketplace, and based on RISE and its follow-up, Matt Reeves' DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, so far, so good.

By now you've probably witnessed the latest trailer for WAR, which brings the conflict between apes and man to a head. Caesar, once again played by Andy Serkis, is tasked with seeing that his species isn't wiped out by a maniacal Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who sees this as mankind's last stand against total annihilation. Not exactly carefree popcorn entertainment, and yet APES is easily one of the most anticipated movies of not only this summer, but the year.

As mentioned, Chernin views WAR as a completion of a trilogy of movies - but that doesn't mean there aren't more APES movies coming at us in the future. In the below interview, Chernin talks about the major stakes at play in WAR, whether or not we'll eventually see this series of films clash with the original PLANET OF THE APES, director Matt Reeves heading off to direct BATMAN and his potential return to the APES world, and more!

The stakes were pretty high already for the last Apes film, so how do you raise them this time?

We've always been trying to raise the stakes, and I think the way you raise the stakes is you plan the narrative to where it belongs. The last movie was showing the first conflicts between man and apes; this movie is all out war, it's really a war for civilization. The second way I think you raise stakes is you get more deeply invested in character. You will see Caesar go through a really complex character journey. He struggles through his humanity: What does he stand for, what does he believe in? In some ways this movie is a battle for Caesar's soul, and that really raises the stakes.

I think what you'll see with Woody's character is, most of the previous characters had some sympathy for the apes, and Woody's character has deep respect for the apes but he looks at this as a holy war. It's a holy war for the future of life on Earth. What I also think raises the stakes is, what you saw a little bit in the last movie is, neither side is perfectly modeled. You will see real dissension inside the apes.

How is the political climate of today reflected in the film? These films have always been reflective of the times they were released in.

If we were making movies that are intelligent and emotional and about civilization, they're obviously timely. And yet conversely, we haven't wanted to do things that have felt overt or too on the nose. We don't want to get cute by making Trump jokes. But I think by nature of an exploration of what leadership means, or what responsibility means, they end up becoming timely. They're provocative, and I think any film that is provocative in this day and age has some timeliness to it.

War for the Planet of the Apes Peter Chernin interview Andy Serkis

I remember talking to Matt Reeves at New York Comic-Con and he mentioned movies like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Apocalypse Now being inspirations for War. Those are pretty serious movies. How do you balance making a movie with heavy references like that while also making sure it's fun summer entertainment?

We have approached these movies with enormous respect for the audience. I personally think the audience is extraordinarily smart, very sophisticated and savvy. We never once approached these movies as, we have to dumb them down. If you look at the biggest movies of all time, they've haven't tried to do to that. Whether it's the Dark Knight movies, or two movies I worked on at Fox, Titanic and Avatar, we weren't trying to do that with those movies at all. They were great movies because we thought the audience was incredibly smart. We believe in these characters and we're the stories we're trying to tell in the most satisfying, exciting ways possible. And obviously we also think watching a bunch of apes running around the woods is pretty cool too, but we've never had a moment where we said, "We've got to dumb these things down." We obviously could have failed with the first one, the first one was pretty aggressive, bold. We were lucky enough for it to be successful. In my opinion, the second movie is better than the first movie, and we did 60-70 percent more box office. In my opinion. this movie is better than the second movie. We're just trying to make these things great, and if we're lucky the audience will continue to like them and we'll continue making them.

I agree that the second movie is better than the first one, and now there are huge expectations for War. Are you fully satisfied that this film will please the audience and leave them wanting more?

I'm incredibly satisfied with this movie. I think it's markedly better than the last one. What I'm most proud of is, there's never been any cynicism about this. We never said, "Let's rush out another Apes movie." We look at this as an incredible privilege to make important, great movies, so I'm incredibly satisfied with it. I think it's something really special, I hope the audience agrees. I hope you agree. [Laughs] The question of, will people want more will be a function of whether we keep making them better. If people think this one is better than the last one, I assume our box office will grow and we'll have the privilege of making another one. If the audience thinks we phoned it in or that it sucks, the box office will start going down and over time we won't get to make them any more.

War for the Planet of the Apes Peter Chernin interview Andy Serkis

Are you actively developing another Apes? I know you're waiting to see how this one does, but you know how it goes.

I wouldn't say actively, these movies are so hard to make. We still have, I think, four weeks left, and we're just starting our mix, we're still finishing effects shots. We've got a lot of work left, so I'd say 80-85% of our efforts are still focused on making this movie great. We're starting to think about what comes next, what comes next in the storytelling universe as it relates to the other apes movies, what comes next after this trilogy from a storytelling perspective, because obviously we know how it ends. We're starting to think about it, but we're dying right now trying to get this thing finished.

I asked Matt this too, and he was cagey about it, but will we ever see a re-telling of the classic Planet of the Apes movie, with Charlton Heston's character arriving and everything related to that?

I don't want to do a remake, but clearly our storytelling is leading us toward that spot. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was very much a conceptual imagining of, how can you get to a point where that happens, where Apes are the dominant species, so Rise was an imaging of how that might happen in the world today. We're obviously leading in that direction, toward the original Apes movie, and we felt we were on an inevitable clash between apes and man to see who is the dominant species. Obviously, War is the answer to that question. We're moving in that direction, but I'm not sure we're looking to re-tell that first movie.

Matt Reeves has moved on to another franchise, obviously. Do you guys think about bringing him back for future Apes movies?

I think Matt is an extraordinarily gifted filmmaker, and we want Matt involved on any level. We'd love for him to come back and direct the next one. Let's be clear, that Batman movie is a development deal, he hasn't started production. We'd obviously like his involvement on this, and I personally think this is a better franchise, but that's just me. We'd love Matt to be involved in any level, and if he says that he wants to devote his full time to Batman, certainly I love the guy and have respect for him and I give him my blessing.

One final question, unrelated to the Apes movies. You're producing the Fear Street movie, which a lot of people are interested in. What can you tell me about that?

I can't tell you much, but we're working on it really hard. We have the coolest idea ever for it. It's a hard thing to say in this business, but I think it's never been done. We're working on it really hard. I hope in the next few months we'll have something to announce, but we've got some cool, cool stuff for it.

War for the Planet of the Apes Peter Chernin interview Andy Serkis
Source: JoBlo.com

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