Monday, 11 August 2014

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes [2011]

I grew up with a variety of sci-fi based television programmes compiling the ambient background noise of the early evening, post school-day twilight. One of which was The Planet Of The Apes; hirsute men and hour-glass women parading about under the watchful eyes of more men and women hidden behind rigid, expressionless 'ape masks'. An undiscovered world, ruled by a curious species, able to communicate efficiently, albeit with great hostility. The ever present, but slightly adapted theme throughout all of its modern reincarnations.

Planet Of The Apes could not divert my child-minded focus from Star Trek and The Simpsons (regular after school and tea-time television offerings); so when Tim Burton re-booted the story with 'Marky-Mark', it failed to peak my matured interest. Come 2014 and the newest release, complete with improved motion capture technology and a more aggressive strive for 'epic-ness', I gratefully snatched an opportunity to catch up on what I had previously ignored in "Rise Of..." to equip myself for an anticipated cinema visit.

Upon viewing a 2011 release almost 3 entire years down the line, I did find myself admittedly underwhelmed by the spectacle. With any special-effects equipped movie, a certain degree of superficial judgement comes as standard and this sitting was no different. I found it difficult to allow the computer generated imagery to go unnoticed in its inability to completely blend itself seamlessly with the environment and actors it engaged with. It is always a matter of depth; of lighting; of texture. There forever appears a general flatness to CGI elements when the entire film screen is not treated with heavy falsification of hue, saturation and shadow. To incorporate such visuals amongst the sunny, brightly lit lab interiors or 'San Fran' skyline was always going to be a difficult task. That being said, as nit-picky and 'snobby' as I am being, this detail by no means prevented my overall enjoyment of the film.

It is credit to the director and writers (Rupert Wyatt, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Pierre Boulle) that reliance upon visual effects was not the path taken, instead (and quite rightly in my opinion) it was a tool in which to support the telling of a story deeper in layered narrative than surface sheen. From very early on, the focus of plot development is with relationships. A seemingly crazed ape in the testing lab, reacts violently to handlers causing all to be put down, only for it to soon be realised that her behaviour stemmed from a protective instinct towards her offspring (a fact that had apparently gone unnoticed by a building full of scientists!). Juxtaposing this natural trait is the will to nurture and cure a sick and dying father; similar in so many ways to the mother protecting her young, yet opposite while portraying the young protecting its parent. This human relationship sets up a sense of greater complexity of emotional interaction between character elements, building towards the central union of scientist, Will Rodman (James Franco) and growing ape, Caesar (Andy Serkis).

It is the consistent underlying emotional bonds throughout that keep you glued to the action and rooting for the animals to triumph over their captive adversity. Both animals and humans display moments of conflict within their species, focussing your attention and support on the central union all the while revolutionary action takes place.

[SPOILER ALERT] With the apes unifying and overthrowing their captors (with no great complaint from the viewer), releasing a seemingly deadly virus in the process, you are left feeling indifferent and yet with a mild sense of satisfaction. Having grown to sympathise with the apes plight and relating to their initial child-like innocence, one would struggle to feel any opposition to the non-fatally aggressive fight for freedom (I say non-fatally as it is largely the will of Caesar for "ape no kill human", although some humans may meet their peril).

On any other occasion, a film that left me feeling indifferent would probably also leave me feeling dissatisfied. In almost all narratives, especially those hinged upon conflict, there requires a black and white perspective; a good vs evil paradigm promoting your support for the triumph or appetite for the failure. ROTPOTA (as I would like to hence-forth refer to it) could arguably promote one side over the other. It could also arguably promote one side more than the other at different moments in the plot. It is fair to say that a clear sense of one or the other is subjective and entirely related to the individual's perspective when viewing. But it is my perspective that neither good nor evil (whichever way around you feel the need to attribute it (maybe even good/evil vs evil/good?)) are victors. And in that I found myself indifferent to the success or failure of good or evil; and still rather entertained.

ROTPOTA does not do much for 'strong female characters'. Neither in ape nor human form. Freida Pinto plays a role so insignificant, it almost goes forgotten upon recollecting events. Her most notable moment: an act of distraction whilst on the bridge amidst the chaos of marauding apes and a stand off with law enforcers. A moment that freed James Franco giving him a chance to confront his friend Caesar and understand the motive behind the madness. It is a shame for the movie that all female figures play such a small role. Perhaps it should not be thought of as a negative point; but in our day and age, there is inescapable focus on the equal roles of men and women. A focus this film does not share. It could be highlighted that (and potentially quite rightly) that firstly, amongst a considered primitive social group, the male protagonists will dominate and females will play a lesser or invisible role; and secondly that female roles within ROTPOTA are significant even if not as loud and evident as the male leads.

The movie finishes on a 'cliff hanger' (or something related to branch hanging...?), ready and prepared for the follow up. Of course, at the time of writing this, I am already well aware of (and in fact have seen) the preceding instalment, so such a finish was entirely expected. With the apes now wild and free and a debilitating virus sweeping the globe (spreading directly via the airport courtesy of the grumpiest of neighbours who got sneezed on) the tone and indeed direction is set for what is to come. All hail Caesar, ruler of the trees just the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge...