Like most films into which studios and investors have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars, Rise of the Planet of the Apes gets more wrong than it gets right. Anyone who calls this ‘smart science-fiction’ was watching a different movie than the one I saw today. As a prequel and a reboot of a classic franchise that has already successfully repelled a reboot attempt, Rise had an uphill battle and it unfortunately tripped its way up that hill. (Edit: I should probably mention that I didn’t hate the film, I just thought it was dumber than it should have been.) Here are some simple suggestions of changes that would have made Rise of the Planet of the Apes less shitty. Oh, and SPOILERS.
- Lose the Fanwinks – Caeser playing with a Statue of Liberty toy was kind of subtle and not the focal point of a scene. Caesar’s first spoken word being “No” worked without drawing attention to itself as a reference to the word used to bully apes in Conquest and forbidden to be spoken by apes in Battle. But the other Apes callbacks and meta-textural references really stopped the film in its tracks. We don’t need Charlton Heston on the TV or for Draco Malfoy to speak the “damn dirty ape” line. Hell, I even found the whole “bright eyes” thing cringe-worthy.
I blame the comic book movies. Enough of this stuff. The fact that the film was not called Rise of the Apes was enough to tie it to its pedigree. Filmmakers need to learn that the best way to honor a beloved property like this one is to avoid pandering with things that take the audience out of the film.
- Drop the Scientists – Having James Franco play a scientist was laughable enough. What made it worse was the feeling that the screenwriters learned all they know about scientists from watching Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley in Splice. Those two should get together with Franco and I Am Legend’s Will Smith and create the world’s most laughable scientist pub-trivia team.
A brilliant geneticist working with chimps would not call them “monkeys” in the lab. Science isn’t always done at the behest of a greedy corporation where all managerial decisions are made on walks through the hallway. Scientists don’t test one subject, wait 10 minutes, and then bust into an office claiming that they’ve found the miracle cure for Alzheimer’s. And let’s face it, scientists and the executives who pay them do presentations with the same version of Power Point as the rest of us–they don’t spend millions on motion graphics. The science stuff was so laughably bad in this film that the movie would have been better without any of it.
- Cut to the Chase – I wanted the film to build up some investment in Caesar and it did that, but the 20-30 minutes spent dicking around with pharmaceutical politics were a complete waste of time. Not only was all of the science that led to Caesar’s origin (seriously, no one in the lab knew that their star test subject was pregnant!?!) laughably bad, it was all unnecessary. We get it, there’s a drug, it affects the brain, it made Caesar smart and then he resented being treated like a pet or a prisoner. THAT is the story. So get rid of all of the dry and goofy stuff that explains the mechanics of his genetic power. There’s an easy way to fix this and it’s called the pre-title sequence of 28 Days Later. They could have spent three minutes cutting together the story of the genetic research and the opening titles and dropped us right in Franco’s house with Caesar growing up.
- More Orangutans – The big red apes seem like they’d be harder to get right as CGI characters with all of that long, flowing hair and the stranger features, but damn if the FX team didn’t get those guys exactly right. Some of the chimps were a little plastic, but Dr. Zaius’ forebear was consistently amazing. One of the great things about the original films was their social commentary about race in the ape world, and while this film has a little of that, it could have used more orangutans.
I’m a huge fan of the original series. Hell, I sat through all five of the original films in the theater this spring during the Alamo Drafthouse’s “Day of the Apes.” I’d like to see this concept live on under the watchful eye of good stewards because it’s one of those perfect science fiction concepts that works as an allegory during any human era. I know that the Planet of the Apes universe has more to tell us about our own world, and that it can do so in an incredibly entertaining way again, but Fox needs to start by aiming a little higher. Maybe Apes 2 will ditch the humans altogether and give us a glimpse of the beginning of ape society as a window into the problems we create for ourselves in the real world. Now THAT is a movie I’d like to see–as long as there aren’t any human scientists in it.