(2011; directed by Rupert Wyatt)
As I said yesterday, I hate this movie. Mindless Hollywoodity, apparently written by people with no experience of science, of animals, or, for that matter, of humans. Each character is built from simplistic motives, the kind encountered frequently on TV, but rarely in life. Good guys and bad guys. The story serves the CGI, rather than the reverse. They should have replaced James Franco with asparagus. Same performance, though the asparagus would have provided more nutrition at lower cost. (I liked John Lithgow, though; his acting felt like an organic intrusion into this plastic world.)
Of course the movie made me think of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, of which it's a remake. I don't love that movie either; it, too, is simplistic, each character defined more by his function than by any underlying reality. Yet Conquest remains a more nearly authentic movie, because it's so clearly about racism and riots in the US. It shows us slaves, many of them with black faces, literally cast off their shackles. White fascists in riot gear try to gun them down. Our culture has a long history of perverting Darwin’s ideas to show black people as subhuman primitives. Conquest turns that racist stereotype on its head. It makes the slaves literally apes, but also shows them as more intelligent and compassionate than their masters. In the end, the slaves take over. In 1972, white America would have taken that as a threat. I believe that's part of the reason the studio eviscerated the film, taking the shock out of its violence and maybe the sting out of its subtext. Even in the gutted form we have, the movie is about something real.
I didn't see such a core in Rise. At the heart of Rise, I saw nothing.
It seems telling that the movie makes so many references to its predecessors. IMDB lists 24 examples of names and such taken from the 1968 original and its successors. These have the unfortunate effect of keeping the superior original always in my mind. I’m amazed it didn’t have the effect of making the screenwriters more ambitious. Planet of the Apes was a rich slice of thought, drawing on the speculations of Einstein, the cultural history of evolution, the science of the ancient Greeks, and more. But this is what I mean by Hollywoodity: Rise draws names and images from its sources without bringing in the related ideas. It’s a mash-up, not a story. The creators have seen better works; they just haven’t understood them.
In my view, none of the sequels and remakes is worthy of the 1968 movie. But that’s a rant for another day.