This week marks the premiere of the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the latest entry in the Planet of the Apes series. It’s seen by some as a reboot of the series or a prequel but it’s safest to state that the film is actually a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes from 1972, the fourth film in the series.
The original film takes place in the 1990s. An off-screen plague has wiped out all the dogs and cats and human now rely on apes as both pets and servants. One thing the film doesn’t elaborate on is how modern apes were transformed into nearly human forms and essentially alike. Remember that real-life gorillas are much larger than other apes, orangutans are aboreal and in this film they both are the same size and shape along with chimps. Also by the time the film opens the apes are no longer portrayed as pets but as lower-class slaves.
The arrival of Caesar, an intelligent ape who can speak and the son of Zira and Cornelius from the earlier films brings about a change to the order of things. With the aid of some human allies, Caesar leads the apes into a bloddy revolt and out of their oppression. After the apes win their freedom, he then tells the conquered humans that this act of rebellion will be repeated all over the world and will signal the birth of “The Planet of the Apes.”
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite films in the series. The premise that apes are mistreated and subjugated by humans and then liberated by an intelligent simian savior was an inspired explanation as to how apes came to dominate the world. The fight sequences between the apes and the police riot squads were very thrilling and effective. Roddy McDowall as Caesar is very convincing, sympathetic and his performance makes Caesar a distinctly different character than Cornelius. Ricardo Montalban as Armando the kind circus owner and Hari Rhodes as McDonald are also excellent as Caesar’s allies.
It will interesting to see if the new film, which star James Franco, can take advantage of the special effects technology and improve upon the source material to provide a modern-day science fiction classic. It seems very promising in that the previews have shown how Caesar was genetically engineered to become intelligent. That’s a plot point that removes any referenes to his time-traveling parents from the original series. At the very least it should make audiences forget the misbegotten film by Tim Burton that came out in 2001. It’s too bad that Burton’s film helped kill any enthusiasm for futher films given how low-key the marketing has been for the new film. Though it’s making its mark now, it pales to the omnipresent marketing push that the 2001 film had. Hopefully if the film delivers, word of mouth may recreate the Ape phenomenon.