Some musings on Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

So, earlier this week, we got to see the theatrical trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 20th Century Fox’s latest attempt to jumpstart the classic sci-fi movie and merchandising Planet of the Apes franchise that has earned them a decent amount of coin over the last four decades or so.

Perhaps still stinging from the puddle of liquefied dogshit that was the 2001 remake of the original Apes film, those of us who count ourselves as unabashed fans of the property greeted news of this latest effort with the usual amounts of fanboy concern. Our hopes were buoyed, if only slightly, upon hearing the news that this new film would, rather than trying to be a full reboot of the saga, instead attempt to act as a prequel to the storyline set into motion with the 1968 Planet of the Apes and followed up with varying degrees of success in four sequel films (along with a live-action and an animated television series, depending on how hardcore you are about such things as continuity and whatnot).

“But, wait, Dayton,” I can hear you saying, “Aren’t the third, fourth, and fifth films prequels?” Why, yes, class, that is in fact correct. Those films are prequels, set as they are thousands of years prior to the events of the first and second movies, though they were made long before the term “prequel” became synonymous with “Instead of having an original idea” in Hollywood-speak. Eventually, we learned that this new film would in fact be, for all intents and purposes, a remake of the fourth film in the original saga, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is also known as The One Where The Apes Kick All Our Asses Because Payback’s A Bitch, Bitches.

The story was to be updated, of course, differing from the original in many ways, not the least of which is how apes eventually/suddenly get smart enough to Kick All Our Asses. Well, that, and the apes all don’t walk around wearing those god-awful jumpsuits.

Okay, then. Before we go any farther, here’s the trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, comin’ at ya in August:

So, there we are. As I mentioned over on Facebook the other day in response to a thread where someone had linked to the trailer, there was something bugging me about what I’d seen. I’m not saying I think the flick’s gonna suck or anything like that; as an Apes fan from way, way back, I welcome new stories in this setting. I want this new version to succeed, knowing full well that it will be a different take on the material and likely will not connect in any meaningful way to the Apes movies, TV episodes, comics, and so on of my childhood. With all of that, something didn’t feel right to me as I watched the trailer, and at the time I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Then, after thinking about it, I realized I was overthinking the whole thing, and missing the obvious answer.

I don’t care about Caesar.

At least, not yet, I don’t. Why should I? Who is he? What’s my connection to him? In the original Conquest, Caesar is the adult son of Cornelius and Zira, whom we met in the Planet of the Apes and came to like and respect because they befriended our hero, Colonel Taylor, and later Brent in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and they help our heroes to escape from Dr. Zaius and the gorilla soldiers hell-bent on hunting them down.

After Cornelius and Zira (and Professor Milo…sorry about your luck, dude) time-travel to 1973 Earth in Escape from the Planet of the Apes and are now living among “us,” the tables are turned and we find ourselves rooting for them to elude the authorities and protect their newborn son, whom everybody wants dead since they view him as the potential key to eventual ape uprising and human downfall. When they’re killed at the end of the movie and we see young Milo (later named Caesar) calling for his mama, we know that the stage is set: This little chimp is going to be bad news in a sequel or two.

By the time Conquest rolls around, humans are pretty much total dicks and using domesticated apes as slave labor. So, when the revolution finally starts we’re cheering for Caesar to lead the apes on a campaign to come and Kick Our Asses.

Now, what about the new Caesar? Beats me. So far as I can tell from the trailer, he starts out as a regular old chimpanzee who benefits from the effects of medicines that rewire him at the genetic level, stimulating his brain in such a manner that he begins to learn and eventually to reason. Then he gets pissed, and everything goes to hell from there.

What we don’t yet know is, should we be sympathetic to his “cause” the way we were with the original Caesar? There, we had ties to the three previous films to help set us up for Conquest‘s turning point in the overall story, complete with flashbacks and other nods to the prior installments to ground us so far as the ongoing storyline was concerned. We’re waiting for the revolution to start the instant we see the grown-up Caesar getting his first looks at human treatment of his simian sisters and brothers from other mothers. We want 90 minutes of Caesar and his pals Kicking Our Asses because that’s what we’ve got comin’ to us, yo, and the sooner we get that over with, the sooner we can get on to the time period where Linda Harrison runs around in her fur bikini.

For this new version, we have none of those connections; this seems to be little more than a standard sci-fi “When Animals Get Smart and Attack” movie, like Jurassic Park or Deep Blue Sea or any one of a hundred other flicks you could name. The main difference here is that it’s got the whole Planet of the Apes branding going for it. It’s hard to screw something up when you’ve got that going for you…at least, it should be if your name’s not Tim Burton. Is the character portrayed by James Franco one with whom we want to sympathize, unlike most of the humans in Conquest who more or less deserve the ass-kickings they get? From the trailer, one gets that impression.

Of course, maybe my concerns will be addressed in the actual film. Of course, maybe I’m just an over-worried fanboy with too much time on his hands this fine evening.

Maybe my questions/concerns won’t even matter, because this new take on the idea will be able to stand on its own. That’d be cool, too.

Guess we’ll find out in August, eh?

Anybody else wanna talk Apes? On that note, I’m happy to say that I’ll be doing just that on Friday, June 10th, as I sit down as a special guest to record a special roundtable episode of The Chronic Rift podcast with host John Drew (drewshi), with Planet of the Apes as the topic du jour. More info on that, including when the podcast will be available for your listening pleasure, as I get it.

Lay it on me.

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