Last night I had the privilege of attending the opening night of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at my local cinema. It was sold out, and unfortunately I arrived just before the lights went down and the first trailers started to roll, meaning I had to sit in the very front row with not the most comfortable of angles to watch. However, this had no affect on my experience. I was totally captivated and in awe of what I digested from this incredible movie, but most of all by the stand out performances by Andy Serkis as 'Caesar'. A special mention also must go to Toby Kebbell who plays 'Koba'.
My love of Andy Serkis as an actor started 15 years ago, as I watched him bring the character of Gollum/Smeagol to life in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy masterpiece. To create this performance, Serkis was clad in an unflattering (and likely uncomfortable) bodysuit, allowing him to give the cast an on-set performance to play off of. No need for tennis balls on sticks, or crew members out of shot shouting his lines, allowing for the interactions we seen between him and Frodo to feel genuine. For Jackson and VFX team Weta, Serkis' performance could be fed into a computer in real-time and handed a rudimentary Gollum 'skin', which gave the filmmakers a grasp on how the completed scene would look on screen.
Fast forward 15 years, and the technology has improved at lightning pace. Since LOTR, Serkis has undertaken a host of roles via the technology. King Kong's ape, Tintin's Captain Haddock and Caesar in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series. It's the latter that I wish to focus upon, as I feel it represents a pinnacle moment for the technology.
Dawn starts and ends with a close-up on Caesar's face, and for the first time it feels like there's a soul lurking behind a digital character's eyes, the attention to minor detail is staggering. Shortly after, we have the first encounter between the apes and humans in what is a heart pounding and tense scene. This, in my opinion, is one of the standout moments of the film. Andy stands before his army of apes, and a small group of humans and dwarfs every single one of them. His ability to command an entire scene with one word "GOOOO!" is utterly captivating.
As the film progress, we begin to form an emotional connection with Caesar and his apes as they form a connection with the human cast. Forgetting the digital enhancements and taking them for real cast members. The film works because Serkis and the visual effects artists have reached a point where they can dovetail in perfect unison. There are moments watching Dawn when you can truly 'see' Serkis through his ape avatar, his facial movements, his puffing of the cheeks and chest. It's incredible to behold.
Throughout his career, Serkis has found himself largely snubbed by the mainstream awards, but this feels like it could be the turning point. This wouldn't be the first time that actors have taken Oscars home with the help of aethistic enhancements such as prosthetics or heavy make-up. Nicole Kidman in The Hours, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady all won for their standout performances, why not Andy ?
Perhaps, as Gary Oldman highlighted to digital spy, the academy just won't feel at ease with it.
"He's mentioned [in contention]," Oldman said. "There isn't a review that hasn't said how wonderful he is. The audiences and critics acknowledge the work, I just don't know if it's the sort of thing that the Academy will accept."
Still uncomfortable with the blurred lines between human performance, and digital aid. But this is a stand out performance by an ACTOR. Every movement, every expression, every slight muscle flex is Andy Serkis. His work will stand the test of time, and you can't read a review without seeing the unified praise of Serkis' performance. Yet an Oscar nomination for a performance capture-driven acting would be a significant acknowledgement and something entirely justified.
As Matt Reeves told digital spy;
"I think he's one of the best actors I've ever worked with, I think he's amazing. If you're responding emotionally to Caesar, then you're responding emotionally to Andy because he's giving that performance."
In truth, I hope that Serkis gets an Oscar nomination, but I know how highly the industry already holds his ability and performances. Serkis is a sole practitioner of the performance capture form, the poster boy for the technology on a whole. Thus any specific Oscar category (or 'assisted performance' strand) seems redundant.
Source for quotes: DigitalSpy