Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Monkey Shines: The Bizarre Logic of Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Posted by CinemaPsycho on August 14, 2011

Sometimes I think I should have picked a different moniker for my site. Lately it seems that, instead of being the crazy person who rants and raves about stuff, I’m actually the only voice of reason left. Although, if I think I’m the only voice of reason, then who knows, maybe I am the crazy one… I prefer not to think too much about it.

Such is the case with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which I finally caught up with yesterday. I’m not saying it’s a horrible film or anything like that, but I was pretty disappointed. It seems like the critics are raving about the effects, rather than the movie as a whole. And I kind of understand that, as the effects are really damn impressive. For me, the best special effects are the ones where you completely forget you’re watching a special effect, and you’re just seeing the thing you’re supposed to be seeing on screen. On that level, Rise works beautifully. It’s so well done that you just buy into the ape characters right away, and Andy Serkis’ motion-capture work as Caesar, our ape protagonist, is phenomenal and certainly Oscar-worthy. I have no complaints about the film on a technical level. It’s brilliant work, no question about it.

I just wish those effects and that performance were in a better movie. I honestly found this movie sort of baffling, in that it’s basically celebrating the end of human civilization. I know, it’s about the rise of the apes, I get that. Truth in advertising. But I found myself wondering why this particular story needed to be told in the first place (like most prequels). I recently watched the original 1968 Planet of the Apes again – I like the film a lot, even though certain elements seem pretty dated now, and Charleton Heston’s overacting can grate at times. The sequels, I’m not so crazy about, but I think the original still works, due mostly to a strong script co-written by the great Rod Serling. Rise made me wonder if the filmmakers involved had ever seen the original film at all, because they seem to have missed the point completely. More on that later.


What screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (whose last credit was 1997’s The Relic) have concocted here is the ultimate animal-rights revenge fantasy. Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is developing a drug to cure Alzheimer’s, spurred on by his own father’s (the excellent John Lithgow) suffering from the disease. They test the drug on apes, and when one literally goes ape shit and trashes the place, the experimental subjects have to be put down. But Will manages to save one baby ape, who he takes home and his father names Caesar. A few years go by and Caesar has grown intelligent, due mainly to his mother’s exposure to the drug. But an incident occurs with a neighbor that forces Will to put Caesar in an animal shelter, where he is abused and mistreated by humans and other apes. Eventually Caesar leads a revolution in which the apes escape the shelter and run rampant over San Francisco, which of course leads to their eventual takeover of the world. At the same time, in the exact same lab where Will works, a virus is being set loose that will lead to the extermination of most of the human population. So I guess the moral of the story is, we really shouldn’t try to cure Alzheimer’s.

Seriously though, Rise is just sort of confounding in its point of view. We are clearly meant to root for the apes here, even though the film constantly shows us that the apes are really no better than us when it comes down to it. We see apes beat the living shit out of each other, attack and kill humans, bite a guy’s finger off, etc. They hardly come off as noble creatures. Caesar is the only one who is “special” because his exposure to the drug has made him, well, more human. The others are just primitive animals, at least until Caesar steals the drug and exposes them to it as well. I can understand them wanting to escape the shelter and get revenge on their captors – that part, at least, seems justified enough. But beyond that, they’re simply running around and fucking shit up because they’re pissed off. I sympathized with them, but I didn’t feel that the movie ever really made the case for them taking over the world. Yes, humanity is certainly flawed, but we don’t really see the apes being much better than we are. Sure, they spare some people’s lives, but they kill others mostly because those particular individuals “deserve it”. So apparently the apes have the moral sensibility of Charles Bronson. Great.

I’m certainly not one to argue against animal rights, but I do think there are limits when animals are dangerous to humans. It’s like those assholes who raise pit bulls and insist “they’re not dangerous”, then one of them gets loose and tears some poor kid’s face off. Fuck that nonsense. And Rise shows us, over and over again, that apes are dangerous to humans when set free in society. So what exactly are we supposed to do, let them run around and attack people? That may be more humane to them, but it’s certainly not to us. I had to wonder why Will simply didn’t try to donate Caesar to a zoo in the first place, rather than an animal shelter, but either way it’s better than letting him bite people’s fingers off. The misguided argument that the film makes is that, because Caesar is abused, that gives him the right to fuck up the rest of the world. I’m sorry, I just don’t see that as rational. Hey, a lot of humans are abused in this world, and I don’t see anyone handing the keys over to them. It’s like cheering on the London rioters – yes, they’re pissed off and economically disadvantaged, but does that give them the right to victimize others? I don’t think any sane person would make that argument. There’s a difference between being angry and disenfranchised, and being a violent asshole. There are lots of things I don’t like about the human race, but if it comes down to “them or us”, I’m going to pick us, if you don’t mind. Rise basically has audiences cheering on their own extinction, and while that may be subversive, it’s also wrongheaded and just plain fucked up.

And that’s where Rise goes wrong, both as a movie set in the real world and as a prequel to Planet of the Apes. There are tons of inconsistencies between the two films that even a casual fan of the original should recognize. In the original’s future, the past has been covered up by the apes to somehow “protect them” from it; it’s implied at the end that a nuclear holocaust wiped out most of the human race and allowed the apes to advance physiologically over two centuries. The apes obviously don’t want future generations to make the same mistakes us humans once did. But in Rise’s version of the story, mankind’s screw-up allows them to become intelligent at the same time (coincidentally enough) that a man-made virus destroys most of the human population. So why would the future apes want to cover that up, exactly? They should be teaching their young, “in the year 2019 (or whatever it is), we rose up and conquered the Earth! We’re so awesome!” Isn’t their “rise” basically a triumph for their species? There’s no reason for them to want to hide the remnants of the past in the Forbidden Zone – they should be celebrating their history as conquerers of the human race! And they should be worshipping Caesar as a great historical figure – the first intelligent Ape who outsmarted his captors and led to them becoming the dominant species. He’d be like our George Washington, relatively speaking. Instead, the apes do everything they can to pretend the past never happened. For what possible reason?

Even beyond the logical inconsistencies though, Rise is inconsistent with the original in its tone. Sure, there are plenty of nods to the original in the most obvious referential ways, which mostly made me roll my eyes. How likely is it that two different people in two different times would say the exact words, “take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”? Really? Come on, that’s just lame “wink wink” writing. But the creative team here don’t even seem to understand the original on a basic level. Leaving the sequels aside, the original Planet of the Apes is an allegory, a topsy-turvy “madhouse” world in which the question is posed, “what if we were in their position and they were in ours?” The allegory can be applied to everything from animal rights to race relations, which is why it’s so brilliant and holds up so well today. It’s not necessarily supposed to be logical or even to make perfect sense. And it’s certainly not a celebration of the extinction of the human race – the famous ending, in which Heston explores the Forbidden Zone and discovers the remains of the Statue of Liberty, is meant to be a punch to the audience’s collective gut, a great “gotcha” in which we realize that the apes took over our world because, in the words of our cynical hero, “we blew it all to Hell.” This is not a good thing. We don’t root for the apes to kill Charleton Heston (unless you really hate Charleton Heston, that is), we are meant to think about the way we treat others and imagine ourselves in their shoes. And we are meant to mourn the tragedy of the loss of our civilization. By creating a prequel in which the apes are the good guys, Rise has it all backwards. In the original, we become the oppressed minority and we don’t like how it feels. In this version, we are the oppressors and we deserve our own demise. We’re totally fucked, fade to black, roll credits. Not only does it miss the point of the original, it makes the original pointless and destroys the message. Because now the apes are right in doing what they do – they oppress us in the future because we deserve to be oppressed based on what we’ve done in the past. Which wipes out the allegory of the original completely and turns it into another chapter in a revenge fantasy.

So… why did they want to tell that story in the first place? Why was it necessary to see that? Did anyone watch the original Planet of the Apes and think, “you know, this story is incomplete. I really need to know exactly why the human race fell and the apes rose to power, and I need to see it in explicit step-by-step detail.” No, because it doesn’t matter why or how, it only matters that it happened. That’s all we need to know. The logistics of it aren’t important, because again, it’s not a logical story. We don’t need that kind of explanation, because the story doesn’t require it. It’s meant to be a mind-bender, a “mess with your head” kind of Twilight Zone story that makes us think about the world we live in. If you try to explain it in real-world terms, you’re missing the point completely. The best science fiction stories are the ones that have a parallel to our world which makes us see ourselves from a different viewpoint. If you eliminate the parallel and make it our world, then there’s no longer a message to be taken from it. The original Apes makes us think about our own behavior and our society at large, and perhaps inspires a desire to change it before it’s too late. Rise makes us think that we’re just assholes, and there’s no future for us, so lights out, time for someone else to take over the planet. “Game over man, game over.” If you want to make a movie with that message, fine. I just don’t think you should call it Planet of the Apes.

So that covers that. In case anyone’s wondering where I stand on the whole Netflix DVD vs. streaming issue, I intend to continue with both formats. While I do enjoy the convenience of streaming (and the obscure films that can be found on it), as I stated in my previous column on the subject, I am also aware that not everything that’s available on DVD can be found on the streaming service. So why limit yourself to whatever happens to be available on streaming at any given time? I suppose you might want to do that if you’re a casual movie fan, and you just want to pay 8 bucks a month for something to watch. But if you really love movies and there’s a lot you want to see that can’t be found on streaming, my advice is to keep getting DVDs as well. I’m not thrilled about the price increase either, believe me, but as a film fan I’d like to keep my viewing options open. Yes, there are a lot of films on streaming, but I read somewhere that Netflix streaming has maybe 20 percent of the films that are available on DVD through the service. So why limit yourself to 20 percent of what’s available? Doesn’t make much sense to me. Not to mention that a lot of new releases take some time to get to streaming, so if you’re the kind of viewer who wants to see recent titles right now, you’ll just be frustrated by limiting yourself to the streaming option. I do like that they have a lot of recent IFC and Magnolia titles on streaming not long after they hit DVD, and I really like that they’ve added some Italian giallo and 70’s crime films to the service. I’m not putting down streaming, I just want to keep my options open, so I will continue to rent and watch DVDs as well as use streaming, and I suggest that serious film fans should do the same. Just my personal opinion.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

2 Responses to “Monkey Shines: The Bizarre Logic of Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. I’m working my way through the old ones and I purposely paid attention to Cornelius explaining their history. He says Aldo was the first to say, “No” but in the new movie, it’s Caesar who says no. And of course, Caesar is the child of future apes, not an ape that was tested on. So I don’t think Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a prequel. It seems more like a reboot, but starting off where the 4th movie was.

  2. young living essential oils said

    What computer does the revenge of the fallen game work well on?

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