MAKING APES: THE ARTISTS WHO CHANGED FILM **** USA 2019 Dir: William Conlin. 87 mins
The original PLANET OF THE APES is now over 50 years old and it has become easy to overlook what a game-changing benchmark it was, not just for genre cinema as a whole, but also for its revolutionary make-up. This feature documentary is co-written by veteran make-up artist Thomas R Burman, who offers a personal, genuinely touching account of its impact on the industry through the decades. It opens with a potted history of movie make-up leading up to APES – including the early simians in THE LOST WORLD – while a rich line-up of renowned talking heads (John Landis, Rick Baker, Greg Nicotero, Guillermo Del Toro, Richard Donner, Steve Johnson, et al) provide context and career-shaping memories.
A financial risk for a studio (20th Century Fox) in dire need of a hit, APES was also a tall order for trail-blazing make-up artist John Chambers, who had made his name in the industry throughout the 1960’s but feared audience laughter at his pioneering talking apes. Burman, whose many subsequent credits include MY BLOODY VALENTINE and INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS (1978), was in his late twenties when APES provided his first movie credit, and shares lively recollections of the film shoot, with Chambers’ strong personality shining through via archive interviews and behind the scenes set footage. There are lovely anecdotes, like Jerry Goldsmith conducting his experimental score while wearing an ape mask (to get in the mood) while the second half covers the film’s influence on key practitioners like Rick Baker and APES’ own remarkably ambitious sequels. Things are brought up to date with the remakes and the evolution of CGI but, ultimately, this crowd-funded film is a moving story of Burman reflecting on his life’s work and rejoicing in his involvement with one of the greatest films of its time. It’s heartening to see this man, now a seasoned legend in his own right, choked up as he reminisces about a long-gone master of the art form who shaped his, and so many other careers.
Review by Steven West