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War for the Planet of the Apes: Andy Serkis's incredible motion-capture performances that deserved an Oscar


We all love the Academy Awards, right? But sometimes you can't help but feel that dear old Uncle Oscar is dragging his feet a little when it comes to keeping up with film-making developments.

The Best Animated Feature category wasn't created until 2001, when Shrek won. Over recent years, there's been increasing clamour for the introduction of another category: Best Motion-Capture Performance.

Those folks who dress up in Lycra suits covered with reflective markers and wear cameras strapped to their heads are doing something very different from creating 'special effects', it's argued. Nor does the result count as 'animation'. They're using nothing more than movement, facial expressions and their voices to deliver extraordinary, nuanced performances that have opened up a whole new world of possibility for film-makers.

The undisputed king of motion-capture is Andy Serkis, who will once again be essaying the role of Caesar in the eagerly anticipated War for the Planet of the Apes. Call it 'cyber-thespianism', 'post-human acting' or 'digital make-up' (Serkis's own preferred term), this is nothing short of a revolution in cinema and these are Serkis's finest performances.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Remember the first time you saw Spielberg's original Jurassic Park? Who could forget that jaw-dropping moment when that stunningly realistic brachiosaurus ambled into view and took a mouthful of the nearest tree? "CGI has arrived!" it announced.

Nearly a decade on, this was the motion-capture equivalent. As with CGI, mo-cap had been used before, but never in such an innovative way. Indeed, there was a brief tease of Andy Serkis's incredible performance as Gollum in the previous Lord of the Rings film, The Fellowship of the Ring. But this was the first time he took centre-stage as a fully-formed, somewhat deranged character with two distinctive warring personalities, whose voice was famously inspired by the sound of Serkis's cat coughing up furballs.

King Kong (2005)

After the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson reunited with Serkis for his impressive King Kong remake.

It could be argued that the motion-capture giant ape with extreme anger management and jealousy issues was the best thing about the film. Having studied gorilla behaviour, Serkis delivered an extraordinary performance that was at once remarkably expressive yet recognisably ape-like, without a hint of anthropomorphism.

Interestingly, this is also a rare example of a film in which an actor dies twice, as Serkis also plays the ill-fated ship's cook, Lumpy.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

The worst thing about the original 1968 Planet of the Apes was the unconvincing rubber masks worn by Roddy McDowall and chums. Rupert Wyatt's prequel turned that on its head. This time, the human actors were comprehensively overshadowed by Serkis, back in ape form to play Caesar for the first time.

In mo-cap form and speaking only a handful of words, he brilliantly evinces Caesar's developing intelligence, his sense of betrayal, and his cunning in uniting fellow imprisoned apes for the big rebellion, without ever compromising the chimp's simian nature.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Serkis was as impressive as ever in a dual role as Captain Haddock and Sir Francis Haddock in Spielberg's rollicking and, frankly, Spielberg-esque CGI action-adventure adapted from Hergé's comic-book series. But it also underlined one of the key problems with motion-capture. While the process works superbly in bringing emotional life to non-human animals and inanimate objects, it feels rather unsettling and fake when applied to human characters.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

A newcomer to the Star Wars universe, Serkis's towering, malevolent, holographic Supreme Leader Snoke made quite an entrance in JJ Abrams' universally acclaimed first film in the sequel trilogy.

As the political leader of the First Order and master to Kylo Ren, this scarred, skeletal, terrifying figure is clearly set to play a key role in subsequent films. We'll next see him in The Last Jedi at the end of the year.

What’s your favourite Andy Serkis performance? Tweet us @Cineworld.

War for the Planet of the Apes lands at Cineworld on 11 July.