Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Oscar Journey For The “Planet Of The Apes” Franchise

The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Wizarding World have nothing on the “Planet of the Apes” franchise in terms of longevity. Those filthy apes have headlined new movies for nearly 60 years. That lengthy tradition continues this weekend with the release of Wes Ball’s “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.” Along the way, this saga has garnered praise for being more thematically weighty than you’d expect for motion pictures focused on sentient apes enslaving humanity. There is one place the various “Planet of the Apes” movies haven’t been as massive as you might expect, though. That domain would be at the Oscars.

The original “Star Wars” movie in 1977 garnered a Best Picture nomination. Both “Avatar” installments scored nominations in the same category. “Planet of the Apes” is one sci-fi franchise that continually gets ignored once Oscar season rolls around. Granted, this saga hasn’t been entirely excluded at this ceremony. However, Dr. Zaius and Caesar haven’t secured as many Oscar ceremony invitations as one might imagine, let alone wins.

Especially surprising Oscar omissions are for the original, now regarded classic “Planet of the Apes.” This 1968 blockbuster starred a man (Charlton Heston) who’d already secured a Best Actor Oscar nine years earlier for his role in “Ben Hur.” Director Franklin J. Schaffner, meanwhile, had received high-profile Oscar nominations for two of his other 1960s feature film directorial efforts. More important than the Oscar-friendly talent in “Planet of the Apes” was that the Academy was open to heaping awards onto a genre film in the 1960s. Musicals like “The Sound of Music” and “Oliver!” took home the Best Picture trophy in this era of Oscar’s history, but science fiction? That was a step too far for the Academy to take.

Yes, the Academy did focus on some 1960s movies belonging to genre cinema. However, they had to occupy the right genre. Musicals and westerns had a long tradition in Hollywood and were rightfully recognized with multiple Oscar nominations. They were viewed as the “proper” kind of genre cinema. Sci-fi films, meanwhile, still had a stigma attached to them that limited their Oscar potential. Even Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking “2001: A Space Odyssey” missed the Best Picture nomination (it did, however, garner a Best Director Oscar nomination). If that masterpiece couldn’t get into the Best Picture field, there was virtually no chance for “Planet of the Apes.”

Still, the original “Apes” movie did get multiple Oscar nominations at the 41st Academy Awards. This initial film is still the only installment of the franchise to secure more than one Academy Award nomination in its respective release year. The film scored nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Original Score. Additionally, makeup artist John Chambers took home an honorary Oscar for his incredible achievements in makeup on “Planet of the Apes.” To date, this statue for Chambers is the closest thing the “Planet of the Apes” franchise has to an Oscar “win.”

It’s a bit befuddling that the original “Planet of the Apes” movie failed to get more prestigious love from the Academy. It’s much less surprising subsequent “Planet Of The Apes” films came up empty-handed in this regard. Specific titles in this original series, like “Escape from the Planet of the Apes,” have become acclaimed now with large cult followings. However, at the time, these follow-ups were viewed mainly as B-movie fodder and primarily got mixed reviews from contemporary critics. Even with outstanding makeup work across most of these films (looking at you, “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” as the unfortunate exception), there would be no more Oscar love for the “Planet of the Apes” movies for the rest of the 20th century.

This “Planet Of The Apes’s” cold streak did not suddenly end once a new millennium began, of course. The 2001 “Planet of the Apes” feature from director Tim Burton revived the Apes saga after decades of dormancy. Alas, it was an absolutely wretched film that garnered scorn from longtime franchise fans and casual moviegoers alike. If any aspect of the proceedings secured praise, it was Rick Baker’s extraordinary makeup effects. In the early 2000s, blockbuster films like “Van Helsing” were trying to prove that rusty CGI could realize anything on screen. If nothing else, Burton’s “Planet Of The Apes” movie proved that classic makeup effects could still lend tangibility to the unbelievable.

Despite its derided nature, how did this movie miss out on a Best Makeup Oscar nomination? Dismal reviews didn’t prevent movies such as “Click,” “Norbit,” and “Hillbilly Elegy” from getting into this category. The problem was simply that Burton’s film opened in a year when the category belonged to Best Picture nominees. “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “Moulin Rouge!” complimented their respective Best Picture nods with Best Makeup nominations that year. With only three slots in the category back in 2001, there was simply no room for the “Planet of the Apes” remake.

A decade after that lambasted remake, 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” emerged. This Rupert Wyatt directorial effort sought to restore the critical reputation of this saga. This time, the primates on-screen existed thanks to motion-capture techniques rather than makeup work. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” spawned an entire trilogy of new “Planet of the Apes” movies, with each one scoring a Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination in their respective years of release. These films each earned universal praise, especially the two sequels from director Matt Reeves, “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” and “War For The Planet Of The Apes.” However, they never scored further Oscar nominations beyond the Best Visual Effects category. To add insult to injury, none of these 2010s “Apes” films scored an Oscar in that category, despite winning the Visual Effects Society Award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature and the Critics Choice Award for Best Visual Effects for all three films.

Each of those installments lost out to slightly more grounded VFX-driven fare: “Hugo,” “Interstellar,” and “Blade Runner 2049.” Widespread acclaim couldn’t ensure these “Apes” movies a Best Visual Effects Oscar over beloved features, scoring more nominations outside of just Best Visual Effects at the heart of award season. Could the new installment “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” have a shot at reversing this cold streak? It’s certainly possible. At least the strike-impacted dearth of big 2024 blockbusters should help secure another Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination for this new film.

However, the end of 2024 will bring a slew of VFX-oriented tentpoles like “Gladiator II” and “Wicked: Part One.” Those productions could line up more with the broader interests of the Academy, and then, of course, there’s always “Dune: Part Two” to consider, especially after the first film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 2021. Only time will tell if the VFX work in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” can beat out these potential Oscar juggernauts. If it scores a Best Visual Effects plus another nomination in any other category, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” may give this franchise only its second-ever Oscar. That award would be the saga’s first-ever competitive Oscar win and would rightfully recognize the groundbreaking work the artists at WETA have been doing on this franchise dating back to “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.” Those damn dirty apes have been around for decades on the big screen. Clearly, longevity hasn’t been enough to deliver a slew of Oscars to the franchise’s doorstep, but consistency and quality might just rule the kingdom this time around.

Do you think the “Planet Of The Apes” franchise should’ve won a competitive Oscar by now? If so, what would you have given it? Are you excited for “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes?” Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter¬†account.

You can follow Lisa and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars & Film on her portfolio here

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