The excellent new film purports to be a “re-imagining” of the origins of the Planet of the Apes saga. Set in the modern day San Francisco Bay area, the film is a vast improvement over the muddled mess that was the Tim Burton effort of a decade ago. The acting is fine and CGI apes look great.
To placate fans of the POTA series, they pay homage to the original in a variety of fun ways; “Bright Eyes” is what Taylor (Charlton Heston) is called by Cornelius and Zira in the first film, the guard is seen watching Heston as Moses – who sets his people free, in The Ten Commandments (an unlikely film choice for a low IQ guard at a primate facility), but it is the films plot and subversive message that is appealing.
The appeal of the POTA series has always been the subtext.
The original series dealt with the issues of the late 60’s: cold war fears of nuclear holocaust, the black civil rights, and protest movement doves (the chimps) versus war-mongering hawks (the gorillas).
These themes played themselves out across all five of the original films. The first two (Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes) are set in our distant future while Escape From the Planet of the Apes was the only movie with a contemporary (1974) setting, and Conquest was set in the (then) near future of 1991(a fact that is inexplicably obscured in later DVD releases of the film. If anyone out there knows why, I am interested.)
Conquest is the most revolutionary of the series with a full blown radicalism and pretty blatant references to the Black Power movement of the day. Caesar even appeals to a Black man ( it is unclear if the character is living in America ) with the plea “You of all people should understand.”
The racial elements are well documented in Eric Greene’s magisterial 1996 book Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture
The series tones down all the race war implications in the final installment, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, by having Caesar join forces with humans against war-mongering, troglodyte mutants and eventually a gorilla general memorably named Urko.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes on new subject areas, aging baby Boomers/ dementia specifically, and the touchy subject of IQ and destiny.
Freedom is predicated on intelligence. Being smart, it seems, is a necessary antecedent to freedom.
The stupid are slaves because they are stupid, and not the reverse. The Aristotelian logic of some being “slaves by nature” seems to be the argument.
This is not to say that those who are less intelligent will not have cultures of their own. They will and they do.The scenes of Caesar’s incarceration resemble nothing less than that of a prison yard, complete with overly macho posturing and gang-banger attitudes and behaviors.
Caesar’s politeness and intelligence are seen as threatening behavior by the low-IQ simians.
Only when the smart chimp uses his superior reasoning to divide and exploit the monkey house multiculturalism does he gain freedom from being a victim.
Some reviewers misinterpret the film to be more liberal happy talk against animal testing. This is simply absurd. The film seems to be an extended paean to the benefits of testing potential Alzheimer cures on apes for the benefit human superiors.
The film continues the science fiction tradition of masking uncomfortable “us versus them” issues in an era of political correctness that marks such discussion as verboten “crime think.”