You might not know this (or care) but there is a new Planet of the Apes movie on the horizon. Supposedly this will be a new “reinterpretation”, “reimagining”, or whatever you want to call it of the origin of the Planet of the Apes. There are some interesting actors attached to this apes remake including James Franco, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Andy Serkis (Gollum), John Lithgow, and Brian Cox just to name a few. News has recently popped up on several entertainment sites that the movie’s release has been pushed up, from November of this year to early August. There are all kinds of opinions already about this movie, most of them negative, and you’re about to hear mine!
First off let me just say that I am an avid Planet of the Apes fan. All five of the original movies left quite an impression on me in my teenage years with their scope and twisting continuity. I spent a good two years of my life obsessing about the apes movies and digging into their mythos. Those movies had me thinking differently about the sci-fi movie genre, and hell, movies in general. From my interest in the Planet of the Apes, and Charlton Heston I went on to discover a greater love for movies from the 60’s and early 70’s, especially other sci-fi outings like Soylent Green, West World, and the Andromeda Strain. The one thing that hit home with me, although I probably didn’t fully grasp it at the time, was the social commentary delivered in the planet of the apes movies. Complex, thought provoking themes that were mingled throughout what some consider to be a schlock premise. The futility of war, the arrogance of mankind in the face of nature, the destructive power of nuclear weapons, and all the intricate and ambiguous overtones that go along with those things. Long story short, I appreciate the Planet of the Apes series for what it is and what it was trying to achieve.
Now onto this new Rise of the Apes movie. When I heard the first hints about this movie, and read that James Franco was involved I was pretty excited. For the most part Franco has been making some very smart, calculated movie choices and seems to really take an interest not only in giving a good performance but the content of the script as well. Of course we all remember the last “reimagining” of the Planet of the Apes under the direction of Tim Burton. Now I love Tim Burton and most of his body of work, but that was not a good apes film. It was a soulless outing that relied exclusively on the novelty of talking apes in a world turned upside down, and offered up nothing in the way of thought provoking storyline other than vague themes of overcoming oppression. It was like Gulliver’s Travels, without the satire, just a few trips to some zany places. I still don’t think Burton’s apes can be completely admonished though. The makeup, costumes, and sets for that movie (as with most of Burton’s movies) were fantastic, visually it kept what was great about the originals and improved upon it. But visuals and special effects was never what the Planet of the Apes was about. It wasn’t a technically difficult sci-fi movie in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars, its strength was in its message. The talking apes weren’t supposed to enthrall the crowd with the mere spectacle of their presence on screen, these creatures that thought so highly of themselves and their post apocalyptic culture were meant to make us look at ourselves and think about our behavior and its impact on the world as a whole.
When it comes to Rise of the Apes, there are seemingly already several things stacked against this ape production. First off is the moving up of the release date. You might be thinking, “But hey it’s coming out earlier, that’s a good thing right? We’ll get to see it sooner!” Ah, not really. If anything it implies that the studio doesn’t have much faith in it and will move it up to a time when the summer movie heavy hitters are dying down, eliminating competition while keeping it away from the more intense holiday movie season.
Secondly there’s the talk that the apes in this movie will be CGI, or motion capture, or some other kind of digital effect. The Planet of the Apes movies are known for, in fact heralded for, their ape-man makeup. Eliminating this element of the franchise seems wrong, almost shameful. Regardless if such complaints are simply nostalgic or old fashioned the fact that the movie is now moving up its release date also means they have three less months for finishing those complex effects, which means it will be rushed, which of course means it will most likely be crap.
Third. This movie is an origin story, the name Caesar has been thrown around and was at one time part of the title (Caesar: Rise of the Apes.) The plot of this “new” origin has been described as: a young super intelligent chimp, Caesar, rallies his comrades and other apes to revolt against their human captors. Ok sure, sounds alright, except it really means this movie isn’t a true reimagining of the origin, it implies that it is more or less a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth segment of the original apes saga. In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes two of the apes from the timeline of the first two movies escaped the complete destruction of the world and are hurtled backward in time to the era when Charlton Heston’s character first left on his mission (stay with me). There the surviving apes are questioned with curious suspicion and misunderstood, flip flopping the premise of the first movie in a very creative way. Those apes of course are inevitably killed by an arrogant world that fears them, but they have a baby who survives and who is the subject of the fourth movie Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (pause for breath). In that movie chimps and other apes have replaced cats and dogs as the world’s most popular pets, the now fully grown evolved ape from the future has been renamed Caesar by his benevolent master. Soon Caesar embraces the legacy of his parents and more or less teaches the domestic, slave apes to be more self reliant and fight for their freedom thus completely altering the entire timeline of the Ape Multiverse in the process changing the way the apes actually rose to prominence (shew!). That movie completely sent the whole concept of the Planet of the Apes in a new direction while still bringing along the previous social and political issues of the other movies. This remake of Conquest, which Rise of the Apes seems to be, looks to be trying to utilize that innovative climax of the fourth movie, without the crucial continuity of the other films. Without having all the information about this film, Rise of the Apes sounds to me to be more of a Planet of the Apes rip off, rather than an actual part of the franchise. It’s almost as if the producers decided that they wanted to take the peak of the action from the original saga and redo it in a modern style. That idea of starting in the middle of your story might have worked for George Lucas and Star Wars, but the real impact of that peak in Conquest of the Planet Apes is lost when taken out of context, and we are left with what will most likely be another vague tale of generalized oppression as with the Tim Burton movie.
And lastly, speaking of not having all the information about this film, where is the information about this film?? It is now coming out in August of this year and we have very little information, images, script details, or anything else even remotely promoting this movie. That is perhaps the biggest clue that this movie will be terrible. From where I’m sitting it looks like the studio (Fox) is going to put a minimum of effort into promotion, move it to a timeslot that has weak competition, and simply hope for the best. With such low expectations from the movies producers how can I be optimistic?
I will however defiantly do my best to keep some hope out for this film, I love the Planet of the Apes series and I really think there is some potential left in the message and tone of the original movies. I would also like to see a sci-fi movie reclaim the genre’s place in legitimate cinema. Too often these days sci-fi movies are simply dull, action and effects driven “summer movies” with not much to say. If Rise of the Apes can bring back sci-fi that also has a message, that means there is also still hope that there is a movie going audience left who aren’t all glassy eyed morons mesmerized by big explosions, thoughtless dialogue, and CGI goofiness.
(Not that those elements don’t have a place at the movies, but when that seems to summarize most of the movies out there, things start to seem bleak.)
That is all!