WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) – #MOVIETRAILERMay 10, 2017 Phil Parker 0 Movie Trailers movie trailers, Planet of the Apes, promos, screenwriter, Woody Harrelson
War For the Planet of the Apes
Does a good movie trailer usually mean it’s a good movie?
Watching this trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes got me thinking about the correlation between the quality of a trailer and the quality of a movie. As a screenwriter, who spent some years as a promo producer in his former life, I tend to have a pretty good idea (or at least I like to think I do) of which films are going to rock and which are going to suck based on their trailer. Promo/ trailer producers can be very good at hiding crappy movies behind great trailers, though, and of course what films are good or bad can be highly subjective, but my point is, that almost without fail, trailers I’ve liked turned out to be movies I liked, and vice-versa. Is there a confirmation bias at work here? Do I go into the movie wanting to love it or hate it? There may be some truth to that, but I also know my opinion can still be changed once I walk into that theater. It just all depends on the screenwriter.
Trailers should tell stories.
The first trailer I watched for War of the Planet of the Apes was the one above, and it blew me away. It grabs you on an emotional level and makes you care in less than 30secs, using footage of a group of rather downtrodden apes gazing up hopefully at their rebellious leader, Caesar, while voice-over clips from the previous Planet of the Apes movies play:
“Do they look like just apes to you?”
“He saved our lives”
“He was remarkable”
“APES TOGETHER STRONG!”
And that’s when we see the apes have captured a platoon of human soldiers. Normally, being humans ourselves, you’d think we’d empathize with the captive humans, but the promo producer, skilfully using the screenwriter’s work, has shown us that Caesar is a good guy: he’s smart; he’s more than an ape; he’s saved human lives and he’s a leader. That’s all great character building stuff that a screenwriter would establish in Act 1 of a screenplay. Then the trailer really deepens our empathy for the hero by giving us Caesar’s selfless motivation:
CAESAR: “I did not start this war. I fight only to protect the apes.”
At this point, if you’re not already rooting for Caesar and his underdog apes, then you might be a big game hunter at heart. Just sayin’.
Give me a great bad guy!
But every good film needs a good villain, and that villain can’t be completely unsympathetic. They must believe they are doing the right thing just as much as the hero, and we, the audience, must understand and somewhat empathize with them – “if only they were going about it a different way, I might give them a pass.” So when Woody Harrelson, evoking some of Ralph Fiennes creepiness à la Schindler’s List, tells his stormtrooper-ish army…
“Sometimes we must abandon our humanity to save humanity”
… that rings a bell with us humans. It’s a statement about a necessary evil, one that humans have used for eons to justify war. Even a Democrat would be hard pressed not to agree with that on some soul-crushing level. This cold, calculating, yet understandable logic of Woody’s vs Caesar’s is further highlighted:
CAESAR: I offered you peace, I showed you mercy.
WOODY: You talk about mercy. No matter what you say, you would replace us. That’s the law of nature. So what would you have done?
So the screenwriter has done their job. Their antagonist has a motivation that we can empathize with. It’s reminiscent of anti-hero stories, like Walter White’s or Dexter’s – at some level, you’re not sure who the bad guy is. You want both sides to win. It’s like watching a football game between your two favorite teams. They can’t both win, so you just want to see an awesome game and enjoy the emotional tug-of-war that comes with it. Best of all, the screenwriter drives home how personal the protagonist vs antagonist struggle really is:
WOODY: Did you come to save your apes?
CAESAR: I came for you.
However, combine this with interspersed graphic titles like “FREEDOM” and “FAMILY” in the trailer, along with shots of children bonding with monkeys and of apes in concentration camps, and it’s pretty clear who we’re meant to root for. And it works. We anthropomorphize the animals which allows us to identify with their underdog struggle, even though that struggle is against us.
Themes help us care.
The use of imagery in this trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes and its thematic resonance with current-day events is also what made the original Planet of the Apes film from 1968 so powerful. As blogger Craig J. Koban says in his review of that film:
“…the best sci-fi works are ones that are allegorical and use their fantastical themes and stories to comment on contemporary settings and times. APES does all of that: It’s a twisted hybrid of nightmarish Orwellian class struggle; a Darwinian tale of survival of the fittest; a wacky and warped construct of Evolution gone backwards and amok; and it also manages to look at issues of slavery and subjugation, not to mention the relevance of science in a world where the religious theocracy has a viselike grip over its civilians.”
And the trailer for War of the Planet of the Apes hints at all of that, especially with the line:
CAESAR: “No matter what you do, you will never be one of them. You are ape.”
Will my self-declared, God-like powers of deduction stay true and prove War for the Planet of the Apes to be a really good movie based on the trailer? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
I’ll tell you what though, if I had seen this War for the Planet of the Apes trailer first, I might have had a completely different opinion! Lol.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Looking for a screenwriter or a copywriter who knows how to tell a good story? Read more about screenwriter Phil Parker.