This post was contributed by KCRW’s Jenny Radelet. Follow her on Twitter.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

On Tuesday, I went to the Fox lot after work to check out Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Got to the screening room, found a seat, and saved one for Matt Holzman – who, btw, never showed. A man took the stage and said “Welcome to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” I laughed out lout. Why was I the only person here who thought this was a hilarious joke?

Because I’m at the wrong screening. I really was in a screening of the new Apes movie. The first ever public screening of the yet-to-be finished film. Turns out that the guy in the guard kiosk had sent me to the wrong place. Why the lady with the clipboard at the theater let me in I do not know.

I was (am) so excited for Ralph Fiennes and his adventures with the lobby boy, but instead I was about to sit through 2+ hours of apes with machine guns. I decided to stay…I was too late to get to the other side of the lot for Budapest. And anyway, I was in the first screening of a major motion picture. So that’s cool.

So how was it? Well, no spoilers here. I signed a non-disclosure agreement (another opportunity for me to realize I was at the wrong theater, but alas), so I can’t say anything about the plot. But I will say that watching it was a really, really cool experience. This was a SUPER rough cut with mostly pre-rendered CGI effects. Most of the ‘apes’ were still just actors in their mocap gear (btw, I learned on Tuesday that ‘mocap’ is short for motion capture and if you use it you’ll sound really cool like you know all about mocap and stuff).

Andy-Serkis-ApesIt was totally fascinating to watch the ‘ape’ actors, including Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Nick Thurston and Judy Greer. Of course I’d seen clips of actors doing mocap before, but to watch them in context of the entire film was different. It was truly some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. They’re using their faces, bodies and voices to really bring humanity to digital characters. You just don’t realize it when you’re watching the final product, because your brain sees an ape and thus tells you, “APE.”

I actually think it would be a really interesting to tell the story with the apes being played by actual humans instead of using mocap to create digital non-humans. Andy Serkis could have played the entire population of Noah’s Ark and I would have empathized with him.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes out in July (I think). I’ll probably go see it once it’s in theaters, just to compare with my experience this week. It’s so easy to dismiss films like this as over-the-top action movies with not a lot of heart. I have a feeling, now that I know what went into creating those machine-gun-wielding apes, that I’ll appreciate the finished product a whole lot more.

And I’m still dying to see The Grand Budapest Hotel. Hopefully next week.

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