The “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” will amaze you with the technological achievements. If you saw “Avatar” or “Lord of the Rings” you’ll be delighted to see the leap forward. The chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas look real enough and are expressive, but then there’s the story and some small practical matters. Can you like a movie that impresses you technologically while asking you to suspend common sense and logic?
Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have written a script that is competent, but not particularly intelligent or witty. Director Rupert Wyatt, who at the Caltech panel discussion last month said this movie was inspired by Project Nim, a chimp named Oscar and some early chimpanzee research, had paced this film well but it doesn’t got fast and furious enough for you not to ask, what about…?
The capture of the chimps, supposedly in Africa but more likely in Oahu, is bloodless. Babies aren’t pulled away from their dead or dying mother chimps. The adult chimps are captured in nets and then plunked down in metal boxes.
By the time we get to America, the chimps are confined in glass cubicles (because glass is so easy to keep clean and hard to break?). The chimps leave no fingerprints, grease marks from other parts of their body or wet smears from their mouths or noses. Wish my dogs could do that trick.
The chimp Bright Eyes has been given a new drug, ALZ-112, by scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) and she has shown improved cognitive skills as well as green flecks in her eyes (hence the name). It doesn’t seem that the doctors are teaching the chimps anything except a pyramid game although it’s not clear how the apes understand the motives behind this even with the food reward.
Could you put that game in front of a five-year-old human child or even a surly human teen and see if they intuitively know what you want. Why would a wild animal want to do this odd task for humans?
When Bright Eyes is about to be displayed as an example of the wonders of ALZ-112, she becomes violent. It doesn’t help that the animal wrangler is using the kind of snare pool an animal control officer might use for a small to medium sized dog of 20-40 lbs when Bright Eyes might weigh closer to 150. Hint: Never use a snare pole in which the animal can reach you with its forelimbs. That’s plain stupid, even for a scientist at a research facility with magic glass.
Bright Eyes crashes through the glass on her mad rampage, but the other chimps haven’t thought of that yet. She goes off everywhere except where her baby is. If she were human, we might call that child endangerment. Still the experimental subjects (about a dozen) are all euthanized because no one wants violent chimps.
Wait, isn’t that why most people give up their exotic chimp pets? Because after about three years of age, they become too strong physically to handle? Remember Michael Jackson’s Bubbles? If you watched the documentary, “Project Nim,” you’ll also know this. Getting bit by a “friendly” chimp is generally frowned on by institutions of higher learning and the people in charge of workers comp.
If you weren’t living under a rock, you might recall Charla Nash was attacked by her friend’s chimp in 2009. She required a face transplant. You might remember St. James Davis who was attacked at the Animal Haven Ranch right here in California (30 miles east of Bakersfield). The attack took place in 2005 when Davis and his wife LaDonna were visited their former pet chimp Moe (who did not participate in the attack).
The movie depends upon you thinking of young cute harmless chimps. On discovering the baby chimp, the animal wrangler “realizes” Bright Eyes wasn’t made violent by the serum,; she was “protecting” her new baby. Unable to put down the cute chimp baby, he gives Will the scientist that task. Will takes him home and the baby becomes Caesar. At home we learn one of the reasons, Will is working on ALZ-112 is because his father, Charles (John Lithgow) is suffering from the disease.
Neither Charles nor Will seem to be able to sign using ASL, but Caesar does and instead of signing back Charles and Will talk to him.
An injury to Caesar leads Will to the zoo where he meets Caroline (Freida Pinto) who becomes his girlfriend. She’s a primatologist who seems to know nothing about Project Nim, Project Washoe or much else besides the chimp gesture of supplication.
Oddly enough none of Caesars other confrontations, violent actions–including jumping through thick glass panes ever again causes Caesar bodily harm. Caroline also understands sign language, but doesn’t seem to sign herself.
Together Caroline and Will attempt to take care of Caesar until after a violent outburst where Caesar is protecting Charles, results in Caesar attacking the neighbor who is a pilot. Caesar is impounded and sentenced to a chimp center run by John Landon (Brian Cox).
At the primate center, Caesar meets an orangutan who was in a circus and therefore understands sign language. When’s the last time you saw any circus animal trainer signing ASL to their animals? Sure people train animals, including dogs with hand signals and word commands but ASL? Really?
Caesar is shocked and depressed at living in a cage and recess time in the play area is just a chance for the bullies to come out. In this case, he meets the alpha male. We know that Caesar will think of some way to rise in the ranks.
Under the cruel, sneering treatment of one human attendant, Landon’s son Dodge (Tom Felton), Caesar rebels and eventually even rejects Will when Will attempts to bribe the center director and spring his foster child. Caesar makes a choice. Betrayed in the world of men, and seeing his fellow primates poorly treated, he chooses to help his new tribe.
He has, we soon learn, been planning the great ape escape which involves some incredible homing instincts that might challenge a human and a homing pigeon. Caesar seems to be able to navigate San Francisco and its outlying areas in a manner that defies Google maps, GPS and any group field trip. Once out and loose, the apes, even those recently sprung from the local zoo seem to follow Caesar willingly without a side trip for say a snack, a pee or to wonder at all the new and interesting things out in the world–from cars to bicycle to bridges and guns.
Some of these animals have been gassed into super intelligence via a stronger variation of the ALZ-112 (which is based on a virus) now available in aerosol form but not all. By the time great escape begins across the San Francisco Golden Gate bridge to the redwood forest, somehow the number of chimps has multiplied as if chimps can now breed and bear young on the run in a few hours.
If that doesn’t bother you, consider that these apes just needed a virus to learn how to speak. So why use sign language to begin with? Didn’t researchers such as Beatrix T. Gardner and her husband R. Allen Gardner decide to use ASL in 1967 because of the failure of other chimpanzee-human communication projects (Gua and Vicki). They concluded that chimps physically are unable to mimic human sounds. In the movie, viral induced evolution is fast and fortunate.
You wouldn’t want the sequels to require subtitles? Wouldn’t that be a buzz kill?
Andy Serkis as Caesar brings the intelligent ape to life just as he did with Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” although his posing gets to be a little much (like ape voguing now that voguing is out of style) and the special effects are really the best part of this movie.
This movie was meant to explain, as the title clearly states, how the apes rise to take over earth and we even get a nod to Charlton Heston who was in the original “Planet of the Apes” film. The ending acknowledges differences between humans and apes something that somewhat contradicts the original premise–that experimental drugs can be effectively tested on chimpanzees.
In real life we have the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine advocating that we follow other nations in outlawing the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments because even after decades of research no viable vaccine has come from these tests.
You might not know about the failure of chimp biomedical research but most people have a rough idea how animals multiply and know that keeping glass clean around mammals is a time-consuming chore. I can imagine the mothers, maids and window washers watching the scenes in that research facility thinking: “Damn. What fool would put mammals or primates in glass houses?”
Don’t worry, the apes don’t throw bricks in the glass houses, they use their own bodies instead–even leaping down three stories, and that alone should make you really wonder about their intelligence and why bullets kill them, but not shards of thick glass.
The “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” counts on the demise of humans as an intelligent species in more ways than one. For a movie about enhanced intelligence in apes, it doesn’t seem to put much faith in the intelligence of the humans it is meant to entertain.