RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: A History of PotA
A look behind the Planet of the Apes series / Words: Neil Moxham
PLANET OF THE APES: for one generation of movie-goers the name conjures images of Marky Mark in his long-johns and Helena Bonham Carter's odd-looking 'chimp'. Tim Burton's much heralded "re-imagining" in 2001, despite some otherwise excellent makeup and top acting talent, has gone down in history as a flop and a blot on the copybook of its legendary director. It's also a cautionary tale for the team behind RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES which hits Irish cinemas on 12th August; the latest revival of the original sci-fi phenomenon needs to succeed where its predecessor failed, by turning the franchise into a hit for its creators at 20th Century Fox.
The story of PLANET OF THE APES goes back to January 1963, when a French novelist named Pierre Boulle published his latest work to little fanfare. Boulle, once part of the colonial elite in South-East Asia, had endured horrific experiences during World War II as a prisoner of war and as a resistance fighter. The pretensions and triviality of post-war European society seemed absurd to someone like Boulle, who had seen the depths of human savagery and cruelty, and he wrote a series of books around the theme of morality. La Planète des Singes borrowed a science fiction premise to tell the story of a journalist who visits a distant planet to find animals behaving like humans and humans behaving like animals. It was a simple trick to make the reader see man's culture through the eyes of a stranger, and an idea that had been used many times before, such as Animal Farm and as far back as Jonathan Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels'.
The novel became an unexpected hit - Boulle didn't rate it as among his best - and was quickly translated into English variously as 'Planet of the Apes' or 'Monkey Planet' ('singe' translates from French as both 'monkey' - the ones with tails - and 'ape' - those without), and there began a scramble for the potential movie rights. Early plans would have seen a film using joke shop-type monkey masks in a low budget romp, but producer Arthur P. Jacobs showed remarkable vision and determination when he took control of the project. From 1963, Jacobs had pre-eminent screenwriter Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) work on numerous drafts of the script, commissioned a whole book of sketches on how the movie should look, persuaded Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston to take a big risk by committing to an unfilmable movie, and got repeatedly turned down by every studio in Hollywood, before cameras finally rolled in May 1967. By then Serling had crafted something very distinct from the original novel, set on a future Earth to underline the urgency of its message. Serling's dialogue was largely re-written by Michael Wilson - significantly, a victim of the McCarthyite blacklist of the '50s - adding much more humour, charm and emotion. The film also unveiled the ground-breaking makeup creations of John Chambers and benefited from the sublime camera work of veteran cinematographer Leon Shamroy.
The twin successes of PLANET OF THE APES and 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 began the golden era of sci-fi cinema, leaving behind both comic-book adventures like Flash Gordon and the poorly made (if more interesting) B-Movies of the '50s and '60s. By proving that a Hollywood studio could turn a profit on an expensive space movie, the 1970s were opened up to a run of bona fide classics culminating with, of course, Star Wars. But Star Wars owed another debt to Planet of the Apes; the concept of a film merchandise blitz was invented by Planet of the Apes in 1974, a full six years after the movie debuted. In the meantime, the wily Jacobs had engineered four film sequels, ranging from bleak horror romp (Beneath the..), direct inversion of the original story (Escape from the..), violent vengeance (Conquest of the..) to bland morality (Battle for the..), cleverly taking the concept full circle via time travel to show how Earth became a madhouse (...a madhouse!). At his premature death in 1973, he was planning a TV spin-off, and its eventual launch in 1974 coincided with the explosion in Apes merchandise; action figures, comic books, a rock album and every conceivable toy that could fit a Planet of the Apes logo were crammed onto the shelves for a few years. Unfortunately, many of the toys did not last much longer than the kids-oriented TV series or the
20th Century Fox spent thirteen years neurotically creating and then destroying successive attempts to make a new Planet of the Apes movie; scripts were written as early as 1988 and the task passed through the hands of such luminaries as Peter Jackson (in 1992), Oliver Stone (1993-1995), Chris Columbus (1995) and James Cameron (1996-1998) before Tim Burton was given the poisoned chalice and told to complete it within a year. The rushed production (when it eventually began) and the resignation of the original script writer led to a visually impressive but creatively unengaging finished product. Even though profits were healthy, audience reaction was muted. The clumsy tributes to the original film (re-using lines of dialogue, cameo roles from Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison) and the confusing final scene - intended as a lead-in to a sequel - failed to help a fairly mundane storyline that would have better suited one of the '70s sequels than a 21st century reboot. Plans for a follow-up, as well as a vast range of merchandise and spin-off comic books, were abruptly dropped.
And so, as the 50th anniversary of the book draws near, we find the Apes being thrown another unexpected lifeline after just ten years of penance. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has had a smoother run than its predecessor, but it hasn't been without a hitch. Director Scott Frank was in charge of the film for a year, during which time he also rewrote much of the script, before British director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist) took over and brought back the original writers, husband and wife team Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. Even the name changed from month to month during development; 'Planet of the Apes: Genesis', 'Genesis: Apes', 'Caesar', 'Caesar: Rise of the Apes' (as it was known during filming), 'Rise of the Apes' and finally 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'. That the producers would use the classic name and logo for the new film is no great surprise, given how embedded it still is in pop culture, but they have been more coy about how exactly Rise relates to the original movies. Writer Jaffa says he was surprised when initial rumours suggested it was a remake of one of the better sequels (Conquest..'), but he can hardly feign innocence when his main ape character is named Caesar and he leads his species in revolt, just as in that 1972 movie.
That remarkable coincidence aside, however, the 2011 Caesar is a very different creation from the child of time travelling apes of the future. An ape bred in a laboratory researching a cure for brain disease, he is adopted by scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) and brought up in his home before being confiscated and placed in a brutally run ape enclosure. As can be guessed, director Wyatt's main concern was that this should be a realistic and plausible story that also says something about man's morality - key elements missing from all but the very first Apes movie. The phenomenon of humans raising chimp ‘babies' is as much a fact of the modern world as the horrific experimentation on animals in the name of science. The ape makeup traditionally used has been abandoned in spite of the advances made by Rick Baker in 2001, and real apes were ruled out because of the hypocrisy that would be involved - Fox and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund are using the film to raise awareness of the plight of lab animals. Instead, Weta, the New Zealand digital effects studio set up by Peter Jackson, and made famous by his Lord of the Rings trilogy, have taken up the challenge of creating a virtual ape army. Andy Serkis drew on his experience playing Gollum and King Kong by donning the CGI motion-capture suit to portray Caesar. Also in the cast are Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto and acting veterans John Lithgow and Brian Cox.
Yet, while this is undeniably a reboot of a familiar idea, one which hopes (more subtly, after Burton's attempt) to spawn a new round of sequels, some of the same awkward tributes pop up in Rise. For a start, Will Rodman is named for Rodman (Rod) Serling, while character names like Landon, Dodge, Franklin, Jacobs, Maurice, Buck, Linda and even Cornelia (sic) are all loaded with nostalgia. More directly, a scene from the internationally released trailer shows an obnoxious animal keeper (played by Harry Potter star Tom Felton) hosing down his captor in his cell, and there is rumoured to be a scene showing television footage of Charlton Heston's astronaut character from the 1968 film leaving Earth. Wyatt, a fan of that original classic, has hinted that this in fact can be considered a prequel to that film, ignoring the lesser films that followed in the early '70s.
The more cautious approach explains why publicity has been relatively low-key and merchandise has been put on hold until the film passes the test at the box office. Only time will tell whether Rise got it right this time, but it has all the ingredients: a talented director, a thought-provoking script, a cast mixing experience with youthful enthusiasm, the most advanced visual effects seen to date, and a name associated with cinema gold.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is released in Irish cinemas nationwide from August 11th.
Story by David | 09:00 | Wednesday 3rd August 2011 | Movie
Great piece!Posted 21:47 | Wed 3rd Aug 2011
brilliant, great backgorund for the new movie, cant wait for it to be released. you could say am ape about potaPosted 22:53 | Wed 3rd Aug 2011
Ta!Posted 00:12 | Thu 11th Aug 2011
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