“Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” Those famous words are uttered by George Taylor (played by Charlton Heston), an astronaut held captive by gorillas in Franklin Schaffner’s sci-fi classic, Planet of the Apes (1968). Adapted from Pierre Boulle’s novel, La planete des singes, the film tells the story of a group of explorers who crash land on a strange planet in the distant future only to become prisoners to a hostile band of apes who have evolved into a dominant species, capable of human-like speech and intelligence.
Inverting the evolutionary relationship, the story invokes many sociopolitical issues ranging from faith to science to intolerance. And is widely considered one of the Greatest Movies of All Time.
As a result of its popularity, Planet of the Apes spawned numerous sequels – Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) – all of which chronicled the rise of intelligent apes and the downfall of mankind as witnessed by astronauts like George Taylor and John Brent and apes like Zira, Cornelius, and their son Caesar. However, none of the subsequent stories were able to match the quality, the camp, or social significance of the original. Not even Tim Burton’s woeful re-imagining in 2001, which had him ready to “jump out a window.”
This week, director Rupert Wyatt takes another crack at the franchise with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an origin story that nods to Conquest and the rest of the series by attempting to re-enact the beginning of the end. Starring James Franco and Freida Pinto, Rise takes place in modern day San Francisco, where a young scientist named Will Rodman is developing a cure for Alzheimer’s and testing it on apes. Specifically, a test subject named Caesar. However, Rodman’s cure has dramatic and dangerous results, not only improving brain functions in Caesar, but also, helping to create a brand new breed of ape.
While the film displays a tremendous amount of special effects, including Andy Serkis’ leading performance behind the ape, Rise is entirely too predictable and shallow. Overwhelming audiences with CGI, it comes across as more of an appetizer than an entrée. And misses out on an opportunity to say something beyond the celluloid. Beyond the simple fact that animal cruelty is bad.
Meanwhile, a terrific ape movie goes largely unnoticed.
Directed by Academy Award winner James Marsh (Man on Wire), Project Nim documents the true story of a chimpanzee who became the focus of a landmark experiment in the 70’s – a study that attempted to show whether an ape (Nim Chimpsky) could learn to communicate and behave like a human if it were raised like one. From good intentions to heartbreak, misguided ego, and jealousy, Project Nim is an unsettling portrait of human nature. And much more in line thematically with Planet of the Apes, showing the real dangers of human superiority.
It may not be the remnants of the Statue of Liberty, but the results are shocking and true. And in a bitter irony, all attempts to make Nim more human end up making the humans less so.
-Mark Sells, “The Reel Deal”
This Week’s Pick:
Last Week’s Pick:
Film Event on the Radar:
Gattaca. August 10th. Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Echoing the themes of Planet of the Apes, this underrated sci-fi drama brings to light many ethical questions involving nature, science, and human superiority. The film depicts a future, where genetic make-up is the key to advancement in society. And in order to achieve his dreams of space travel as a Gattaca navigator, a less than perfect man named Vincent hires a DNA broker to secure a specimen from a paraplegic who happens to have superior genetic materials. However, one week before his flight, a Gattaca mission director is murdered, prompting a deep investigation into the background of every member of the program, including Vincent, whose hopes of space travel are put in immediate danger. Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Tony Shalhoub, and Alan Arkin, Gattaca relies on terrific ideas, characters, and plausible science rather than special effects wizardry. Even though there are occasional flaws in the plot, this stunning debut from Andrew Niccol’s is a highly engaging parable of human engineering.
Following the film, Nicol Garneau PhD, curator of human health with the DMNS, will lead an open discussion.
For tickets and schedule details, visit the Denver Museum of Nature & Science home at: http://www.dmns.org/learn/adults/sci-fi-film-series/gattaca