Reflections on “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011)

and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014)

 

 

 

 

When I first heard that the “Planet of the Apes” franchise was to be re-booted, I have to admit I was somewhat sceptical! After all, the sequels had not lived up to the promise (and delivery) of the original and the re-make of 2001 left me cold. Therefore, it was with considerable doubt tempered with some hope that I went to see “Rise”, and I was delighted I did so.

 

Although frequently referred to as a re-boot or a re-imagining of the original, I think it’s more of a new start, offering as it does a valid explanation for the beginning of the saga.

 

 

“Rise” focuses on the way humans treat other species of life on our planet – with superiority, contempt and a sense of “ownership”, emphasising man’s arrogance and his willingness to use other species for his own ends (especially that of making money).

 

We follow Caesar from his birth through infancy to adulthood and independence. His advanced intelligence is due to experimentation with drugs intended to reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s, and he is brought up by Will Rodman, the scientist responsible for the development of the drug.

 

However, because of an incident due to a combination of protectiveness, overreaction and insensitivity, Caesar is removed from Will’s tender and loving care and instead encounters another callous and abusive side of human nature. He is forced to fight for privileges, his dignity and indeed his own survival and that of his fellow simian inmates in a sort of “animal sanctuary”, leading to revolution and escape.

 

 

Fiercely critical of man’s inhumane attitude toward animals, the film is equally critical of the reason for their mistreatment – big business and making money at the expense of others.

 

By extension, the film deals with the ways in which minority groups (represented by apes) can be treated by society as a whole – deprived of (equal) rights, treated as inferiors and considered as chattels to be done with as those in authority please.

 

While the original incorporated several themes and managed to combine serious comment with a certain lightness of touch and a fairly camp (at times) style, this film is much more focused (on a smaller number of themes) and intense as we are made to feel and share Caesar’s outrage, and see and understand his reasons for rebellion.

 

 

The film clearly warns against certain human attitudes and arrogance, and implies that there may be a hefty price to pay for our “interference” in the nature of things as well as for our haughty contempt for the dignity and independence of our fellow citizens of Earth.

 

 

“Dawn” advances the storyline and looks at relationships between humans and apes (though also human with human and ape with ape), and how easily the seeds of conflict and war can be planted, with hope being offered by just one ape and one man.

 

 

We re-join Caesar and his band some eight years after their escape to the Redwoods. In the meantime, mankind has all but wiped itself out through a virus (a derivative of the original medication to combat Alzheimer’s) and resultant chaos and anarchy. (This is brilliantly and succinctly covered during the film’s titles, using much the same technique as was used at the end of “Rise”).

 

We see Caesar ruling fairly but quite discreetly over his group, who appear happy enough to get by.

 

We (and the apes) then encounter a small group of humans (seeking a dam and the hydro-electric power it can produce in ape territory), and in this encounter an ape is shot by a panic-stricken human. This incident leads to distrust and expulsion. However, one of the humans, Malcolm, manages to regain the apes’ trust and a delicate pact is made but is threatened by distrust, experience, arrogance and ambition on both sides, leading eventually to battle and war despite the best efforts by Caesar and Malcolm to find a way to co-exist in peace.

 

 

This is clearly an allegory for the ways in which nations can slide into aggression through mutual distrust, shared history and a mutual lack of understanding and willingness to share.

 

The film also appears to suggest that mere access to weaponry can lead to an excess of confidence, confidence and arms which may be insufficient when faced with an enemy who feels aggrieved and fights with heart and determination, feeling it has nothing to lose. This is embodied in the scene in which an ape plays up to the low expectations of the humans, only to overpower and kill them.

 

Each side of the conflict in “Dawn” has its peace-makers, individuals who see a way forward, a way for co-operation and harmony (while respecting one another’s differences), but each side also has its warmongers who refuse to let go of the past and who only see a way forward by removing the other side, each displaying the arrogance, blind ambition and short sightedness of the other.

 

Caesar learns an important lesson that ambition and selfishness are not characteristics that are restricted to humans. Leaders are followed by citizens for a variety of reasons – fear, respect, and admiration – but great leaders take on the mantle of leadership in an attempt to do what is right for their people, not through selfish ambition.

 

 

Once again, this is an intense experience, focusing on the nature of relationships and the need for mutual respect, though this may be complicated by fear, history and ambition.

 

 

I thought the direction and writing in both these films were first class, maintaining pace and clarity while developing important and worthy themes which are as relevant today as they were when touched upon in the 1968 original. The acting, particularly by those playing apes, is quite stunning. I have seen Andy Serkis in other productions, but his talents really come to the fore when he is obliged to express emotion visually rather than depend on vocal communication.

 

My thanks for taking the time to read this page – I hope you found it of some interest.

 

You may be interested in my page on the original “Planet of the Apes”.

 

I can be contacted at stuartfernie@yahoo.co.uk .

 

Stuart Fernie

 

Links to my other pages

 

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