Collectively in all versions and sequels, The Planet of the Apes saga is well loved with numerous moments of grandeur, legendary quotes and ingenious storytelling. In 2011, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes took the science-fiction classic to a new level of intensity through riveting storytelling and state of the art motion capture special effects.
Actor Andy Serkis is never seen in human form, but his character Caesar, ruler of the Simian army is nothing short of amazing. No stranger to becoming beasts on screen having played King Kong and Gollum (Lord of the Rings) he controlled that film from lead human actor James Franco. Ending with a posse of Apes storming out of San Francisco to enter the surrounding forest left things ripe for a sequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just that and also far superior.
Set ten years after the events leading to the experimental drug going viral to evolve chimpanzees into hostile attackers with human attributes, the world is in turmoil. What humans are left after the virus wiping out millions are living in either poverty or isolation away from the thriving ape community. Caesar rules with an iron fist, his crusade simmers towards human extinction.
Looking back at the adaptation of Planet of the Apes in 1968, based on the novel by French author Pierre Boulle, it was groundbreaking winning an honorary Oscar for makeup achievement and starred the great Charlton Heston as Astronaut Taylor. Audiences and critics alike were shocked by the big reveal in the final beach scene which has since become iconic in cinema history. Four sequels followed, some hastily made to cash in on the initial revelation, while a short lived 14 episode television series prevailed, as did a animated Saturday morning cartoon.
1970 saw the gloomy sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes which Heston only agreed to appear in if it was a cameo and he was killed off. However, he featured heavily in the trailer so obviously executives did want the audience to know they replaced him with a lookalike. The plot focused on a weird, strange society of underground human dwellers fearing the apes above them. Logic and quality lacked but it was still a hit.
1971 was the year that attempted comedy took effect in the series with the obscure Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Apes go back in time to 20th century Los Angeles, the retro world is stumped with the arrival of two talking, walking chimpanzees. At first, novelty ensures worldwide popularity and no one is against their tenure except one man who thinks it might be a warning of a takeover of the human race. One of the time travelling apes is dressed like a pimp at one point, a jive talking primate with street cred. Actor Roddy McDowell must have been paid a lot or out of it completely.
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in 1972 was all about political upheaval in the futuristic world where apes are now considered the number one house pet. No dogs or cats to speak of which has turned many apes into slavery and degradation. This is the one where a young Caesar first takes a stand to revolt and fight against the current oppression, a subject taken to extremes in the current films. The once great Academy Award winning makeup was now also suffering as much as the puerile scripts. Detailed ape mannerisms were now mostly pull over monkey masks and hairy gloves. Certain filming locations included borrowed sets from the 1964 adventure, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Battle for the Planet of the Apes, in 1974, ended proceedings with Caesar attempting to provoke peace with the influence of the primate military, only head on into an ape civil war after humans storm their city for an absolute takeover. The charm of the original screenplay is all but lost with the epic mass of destruction badly constructed with minor thrills. A good original was milked to idiotic excess. The short-lived television series was commissioned in 1974 with 14 episodes and quickly failed to gain any audience traction.
Tim Burton brought his immediately heavily scrutinised version to the screen in 2001 with Mark Wahlberg replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger as the human lead. Fans boycotted the film and felt sorry for Charlton Heston in a role reversal cameo. However I really liked this attempt at igniting interest in the Apes. Underrated indifferences halted any proposed sequel continuation, not to mention poor box office and a ravishing from critics, except for myself. The choice of lead actress, no not Helena Bonham Carter as a primate that Walberg actually smooches reflecting an unusual emotional tweak, but former synchronised swimming glamour girl non-actress Estella Warren as a feral running around without much on with perfect hair and lipstick was eye-popping for all the wrong reasons. Going back to it now, I believe the film still holds interest with exciting action sequences until the regrettable, but always intended changing of the final scene. Why not just tweak it instead of obliterating it?
A decade later, 20th Century Fox deliberated releasing Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this new banana bending version enlightened a whole generation of fans and brought new viewers into the world of Apes taking over society. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will no doubt be one of the biggest movies of the year, an intelligent and phenomenal sequel already creating global buzz. Heightened into the old acting intensity he magnificently displayed in such hits as The Professional and True Romance, Gary Oldman is on the edge of sanity trying to prevent Caesar crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on horseback with his posse of angry mammals.
Ascending in prominent stateside roles, Australian Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Great Gatsby) also stars. The vitality of Dawn is incredible, a heart stopping forest hunt is another of the pressure cooker moments in this brilliant film. Andy Serkis has constantly been overlooked for an Oscar due to being a motion capture artist, but his performance electrifies the screen as Caesar. Staring into the distance applying war paint ready for an ultimate showdown, the audience will gasp, these current instalments, including an already slated sequel for 2017, would not be possibly as alive if it were not for his movements. Long hail the Apes.
Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.