THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: Humankind has a Chimp on its Shoulder

By Dr. Craig D. Reid

“Oh NO! There goes San Francisco, go, go  Chimpzilla.” After you’ve seen The Rise of the Planet of the Apes (RPA; aka Caesar and the Rise of the Apes) then the paraphrased words from the Blue Oyster Cult’s 1977 hit “Godzilla,” will make even more sense. As movie critics, one of the annual traps we run into every summer, in fact all year round, are the proverbial cinematic clichés such as, “Best Film of the Year…Summer…etc.” So here we go, let’s get that monkey off our backs because seriously, RPA, thus far, is the best film of the year…summer…etc. 

Being the screenwriter of an award winning film, what impresses me most about RPA is how the screenwriters, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Pierre Boule (1912-1994; credited via the Planet of the Apes franchise being based upon his 1963 novel “La Planete des singes“), plant all the necessary seeds that intelligently set up the first 1968 Planet of the Apes film. As my English mates and possibly Primates would say, “Jolly good show.” And indeed, RPA is a jolly good show, best of the year…summer…etc.

The whole movie is a basically a well executed plan, right down to one of the film’s featured publicity shots as seen above with chimpanzee Caesar leading the troops across San Francisco’s famous Bay Bridge with an Orangutan and Gorilla strategically placed behind him, the three main simian castes that eventually becomes scientists, politician and soldiers in the Planet of the Apes, respectively.

It’s also no accident that there’s a sequence of shots of Caesar with several of his fellow soldiers aping the heroic postures of the stalwart George Washington standing in a small boat as his brave colonialists cross the Delaware River en route to defeating the British. Similar to the American fighting the British, the main strategy employed by Caesar is of course guerilla warfare. 

In case you’ve been stuck in a slump proffering the ways of the three wise monkeys Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazarusa in a maxim of cinema ignorance (i.e. “see no movie, hear no movie, speak no movie”), Planet of the Apes was an original five films series (1968-1973; the perfect dusk-to-dawn movie marathon we used to do in the early 1970s at the local Drive-in) that chronicled the rise of ape kind and unkindly fall of mankind that centered around man’s stupidity and desire for nuclear holocaust (and it could still happen people).

This painful reality is slowly realized by astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston), who after taking off from Earth in the spaceship Icarus, lands on what he thinks is hundreds of years later (suspended animation does that you know) on a distant planet that has water on it. 

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, in RPA Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) is racing against time to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, not only to gain needed research funding for the pharmaceutical company he works for, but also because his father Charles (John Lithgow) is slowly wasting away from the disease. The character’s name is a nod to Charly (1968), a film about a mentally retarded man named Charly (Charlie in the book “Flowers for Algernon”), who is given an experimental treatment based on mouse research that turns the mouse and man into geniuses.

Rodman treats the newborn-in-captivity chimpanzee Caesar (as an adult played by Andy Serkis), who quickly starts exhibiting increased intelligence. As time goes by and Caesar’s intelligence increases, human authority locks him up. Now it turns into a prison film where Caesar is able to win over the hearts and minds of his fellow in-apes as they rise up against the inhuman treatment of their brethren. (I’m sure at this point PETA must be bawling in glee pointing the “beware” finger at researchers who experiment with animals.)

After their mass escape from prison all hell breaks loose as Homo sapiens and Homo simians are at war. Next thing you know the jerky humans who deserve what’s coming to them, get it and like a bridge over troubled waters, they will lay us down. 

One of the main ape characters from the early Planet of the Apes movies was the female chimpanzee scientist Zira (Kim Hunter), who in the third installment of the franchise Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1970), had a son named Milo, whose name was changed to Caesar in the next film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). In Conquest and the final chapter Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) we watch how Caesar unites the apes, defeats mankind, but then shows benevolence and compassion as he becomes like a Jesus Christ ape and spreads peace and unity amongst men and ape. It is thus obvious why RPA named the film’s main character Caesar.

Similar to the original Planet of the Apes film, RPA also features groundbreaking monkey effects, the original with award winning prosthetics and RPA with advanced motion capture technology that makes Serkis’s performance as the tortured monkey king hero Caesar more amazing and fun than a 3-ring Serkis. The CGI is so good that although we know it’s not real, it doesn’t distract from the story and believability of what is unfolding on the screen…a chimpanzee with a soul stirring level of emotion that is first rate and infectious as the Alzheimer’s drug that makes apes smarter.

According to renowned neuroscientist Dr. Silvia Reid, who has done 27 years of research studying brain and eye diseases (University of Illinois, Washington University, Yale and UCLA’s Medical Schools; found a cure for macular degeneration), she shares with me that the medical neuroscience theories described in the film were pretty good. Chances are the screenwriters at least took the time to either talk to a neuroscientist or read up a bit on the theories of neurogenesis.

It’s quaint that when things start getting nuts on screen, there a quick TV news item reporting in the background about the lift off of a rocket named Icarus on a mission to Mars to investigate the existence of what appears to be water on the planet. Besides some other well-placed shots, dialogue and clues that neatly associate the 1968 and this Planet of the Apes version, we are left with the plausible and scary reality as to how the apes can win. Déjà vu is upon us; let’s hope men are smart enough not to make this film real. 

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