Over the years I have re-watched the original 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, partly out of nostalgia, as it reminded me of Saturday afternoons at home, where it was shown on TV every couple of years. But it has seriously grown on me as a film.
The original had an amazing soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith of mostly experimental percussion. It was influenced by earlier modernist composers like Edgar Varese and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and was a style of film-scoring that was used a lot in the late sixties – particularly by Goldsmith. Hearing it, paired with images of men struggling through a desolate landscape, is evocative both of an era of movie-making, and of a particular type of epic journey, that staring up at the midday sun, gasping for water, solar flares spinning over the camera lens.
Also, the key sociological themes of the film about the unthinkable, impermanent nature of human civilisation, and the role of truth and versions of history when it comes to maintaining social order, can never really date, and will pretty much always be relevant, as long as the earth is turning and human beings are on it.
Finally, there is something about monkeys that strikes a special chord with viewers: muscled out of the civilisation game, experimented on by various industries, and basically not treated as you would a near relative, them gaining the upperhand is not such a far-fetched and implausible idea. It is just a matter of how.
So I was pleased to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes turning up on the big screen.
James Franco is great. The CGI is used well, and not too over-the-top. There is an element of realism in the film, which is a strong-point of good, young directors in Hollywood at the moment (and one of its saving graces). The film as a story also goes against the grain of being a staid rehash of something old. There is an innovative and fresh feel about it, and it is cleverly constructed, in the same way that Inception was.
The trailer (depending on which one you see) is slightly misleading, as it seems that most of the film will be about humans and monkeys fighting, which is not really the case: the main story lies with Caesar and his relationship with his mad-scientist type father, as well as the slow and gradual bonding of Caesar with other monkeys, as an organised, revolutionary movement.
There are a few links to the original Planet of the Apes film like Caesar building a cardboard model of the Statue of Liberty, and a quote from the original, uttered by a lesser character; but the film didn’t really need them: it stands up so well on its own, that people can watch and enjoy it without having a clue about its history. It also manages to end on an epic suggestion, that does capture the impact of the original, that you honestly do not see coming.
And its also an enjoyable film, which really is the most important thing for a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s not everyday that you get to see monkeys tram-surfing up the hills of San Francisco. So do yourself a favour, buy yourself a choc-top and some popcorn, and get behind those monkeys.
You won’t be disappointed.