Queued Up: New Year’s Treats and an Interview with Oscar-Winner Joe Letteri

COLLISION COURSEAnother Earth straddles the line between indie think piece and cerebral science fiction. Aspiring college genius Rhoda tries to secretly make amends to a withering composer whose wife and child she killed in a drunken car accident. Meanwhile, a second Earth has been spotted in the sky slowly moving towards ours (first discovered on the night of their collision), with scientists believing it mirrors our world even down to the people. Are alternate versions of the two protagonists waiting up above? Framing the earthly with the otherworldly, this gradually unfolding tale intensely explores the ideas of atonement, moving beyond tragedy and what could have been possible if you could take back the mistakes you have made.


ALL HAIL KANG AND KODOS — The Simpsons juggernaut keeps rolling along, although the release of past seasons has begun to slow down. If you’re a rabid fan, then you’ll undoubtedly want The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season for the entire run without commercials and with commentaries and deleted scenes… all right, I know what you really want is the limited edition 3D packaging featuring everyone’s favorite martini-sipping alien conqueror Kang on the cover. (What, no love for Kodos?) The show was past its peak by this point, but Season 14 did serve up fun guest nods by Lenny Kravitz, Tony Hawk, Mick Jagger and other notable celebs.


LAUGHTER YET TO COME — Thank the stars that Comedy Central resurrected Matt Groening’s Futurama. Fox never gave this series much of a chance during its original four-year run, bouncing it around in their schedule. But it has thrived since its return, and (good news, everyone!) the latter half of Season 6 has just arrived on DVD as Volume 6. Sci-fi and computer geeks are going to get this humor more than mainstream folks, and that’s fine with me. The in-jokes are great, and this particular half of the season cleverly references everything from anime to Tron to Betty Boop.


HISTORY OF THE WORLD, COLIN’S NOTES VERSION — I caught Colin Quinn’s one-man show, Long Story Short, on Broadway last year and enjoyed his snarky and insightful comments on the history and evolution of the human race. His thoughts on how we have made scientific progress yet innately remain the same beasts are pretty accurate, and his ability to reduce countries into individual personalities, as show director Jerry Seinfeld notes, make this 75-minute piece move along at a breezy pace. The disc also comes with some interesting behind-the-scenes footage of Seinfeld directing Quinn along with a few interview extracts that offer some amusing musings on the material.


Interview: Digital Monkey Business

I normally dislike reboots or remakes, but Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a vibrant reimagining of the fourth film in the franchise, showing us how the simian uprising first occurred. With Andy Serkis in the pivotal role of Caeser, the highly evolved chimp who challenges mankind’s cruelty, the film delivers fantastic effects while tugging at the heartstrings. Oscar-winning senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri chatted with The Aquarian about bringing the apes to life for this high-powered fantasy film.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes has a plethora of effects and very realistic looking apes. What was the biggest challenge for you here?

It was definitely Caesar. He had to carry the film without any dialogue, and you had to have this ape that looked like a real ape but also looked different than a real ape. We had to subtlety make him more human. We really didn’t want to mix up the idea of ‘more intelligent equals more human,’ but on the other hand it’s hard to get away from that. If you’re going to have an ape that has these really expressive eyes that can show understanding, you have to read those in the same way as you would read human eyes.

That’s where the similarity lies between humans and chimps and lots of other species. You can look at an animal and know when it’s looking back at you, so that’s not too hard to do, but we needed to make sure that audiences understood that what a chimp was doing actually meant what they thought that it meant. With a real chimp, if you understand their behaviors, sometimes when they grin that’s actually showing fear or alertness, whereas you want it to look more like a smile. So we had to make these adjustments between what a real ape does and what you as an audience would think an ape would do without making it look like a guy in a rubber suit. We didn’t it want to be just totally human, so we spent a long time working with Andy to find that fine line.

In your opinion, why is Andy Serkis a motion capture god?

It really comes down to something basic: Andy is a really good actor. More importantly, Andy really understands how to play a character other than himself. He can project beyond who he is to make a character come alive, and I think you tend to appreciate that more when you see a character that is so totally removed from what you would expect to see from an actor in makeup because then you really understand that that’s the core of the performance that you’re seeing.

You’re working on The Hobbit right now. Are there any new breakthroughs happening on that?

We’re still in the middle of it. We’re using the same technology that we used for Caesar to do Gollum, which is great. This all started with Gollum, but we just could never figure out how to do the capture on the stage together with everything else [as we did on Apes]. So Andy would perform on the stage and would have to go back and re-perform later and match everything that he did, and we would have to fit it all in after the fact. It was great to finally have it all come full circle, especially with Andy because he had just done that with Apes and it all made sense.