philosoraptor42: (Fatpie42)
[personal profile] philosoraptor42
When "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" started getting some positive buzz I made a point of working through the previous movies in the series. Having now seen the latest entry, it's time to rank the series:

8. Planet of the Apes (2001)

I didn't think this was all that bad when I first watched it, but then again I was less critical of movies in general back then anyway. This has not aged well. The first thing I noticed was the very obvious actors-on-springboards effect being used. I know that apes can jump higher than humans and clearly Burton thinks this effect is very dramatic, but it was so over-used that it quickly started feeling comical.

Even Paul Giamatti's orangutan character, who I remembered quite fondly from seeing this when it came out in the cinema, seems way too cheesy here. The purpose that Mark Wahlberg's protagonist serves is also hard to understand, not just because of his ridiculously uncharismatic and boring performance, but also because all the humans can speak and all the humans think being enslaved by apes is a bad thing. It's not at all obvious why he would be able to shake up the social status quo.

Burton clearly wanted to use this movie as an opportunity to shove together a bunch of quirky visuals, but I have to say it now looks particularly obviously like a set. And to be frank, I wasn't keen on his little touches. The ape with the music box getting his human with dwarfism to dance? It might have been a nice touch if the rest of the film was well-handled, but in this film it's just one more groan-worthy element among many.

The big thing to complain about here is the ending, but there's a very simple change which could save the ending. Take General Thade's name off the monument! General Thade is the big villain in the film and at the end of the story the apes are nowhere near mastering advanced human technology like computers and Thade is pretty much traumatised by his misuse of a ray gun. The idea that Thade could have flown a spacecraft in his lifetime (never mind all the other stuff that we are expected to believe he could have done to make the ending possible) is ridiculous. But the idea that apes could eventually master these things is perfectly reasonable. And you've got to give Tim Burton some credit in that, regardless of how little sense it makes, the ending IS a powerful visual. I immediately wanted to see the original movies to understand what it all meant.

Talk about unnecessary remakes... I mean, frankly ALL remakes and reboots are unnecessary until the point where they turn out to be good. And it turns out that Tim Burton's remake is frikkin' appalling.


7. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

It's confusing how so many of the Planet of the Apes movies have low age ratings. Admittedly the UK rating wasn't quite so confusing. Planet of the Apes was given an "A" for 'adult' (which meant children might need adult supervision). But in the US the movie had a 'G' rating. This low age rating wasn't consistent though. Somehow 'Beneath', in spite of moments of pure nightmare fuel, still kept the G rating and it wasn't until, Conquest, the movie preceeding Battle, that the rating finally went up to PG. But with Battle the rating went right back down again.

The reasoning was that the series had always been aimed at children and Battle was supposed to mark the end of the movies and the beginning of the tv series. So as a result, Battle, a film which really ought to feature a big violent conflict, is far tamer than Conquest before it. The budget also seems to reflect the tv quality that would come later.

All this being said, there's a reason why I prefer this to Tim Burton's remake. Burton's movie might be prettier, but Battle still has Roddy McDowall playing the character of Caesar and the characters still feel endearing. Battle retains the heart of the series, even if it lacks the excitement and the brains. I would argue that "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" owes a lot to the basic set-up provided here.

With all that being said, let me just make clear that "Battle" is a load of rubbish. But endearing rubbish. It's a terrible way to end the initial 5 movie series, but as a low point in a series now spanning 8 movies, it's not all that shameful.


6. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Beneath is a bit of a mess and it's unfortunate that all the best characters are pretty much stuck on the sidelines here. The movie is split up into the action back in the community of apes and the action in the forbidden zone.

Back in the community of apes we still have Cornelius (though not actually played by Roddy McDowall here) and the awesome Dr. Zira. Sadly their role is simply to introduce the brand new (out of nowhere) talking human character to the world of talking apes before sending him to the forbidden zone after Taylor (Charlton Heston).

There are a few political developments in the ape community, but those don't matter except to bring the apes to the forbidden zone later on. (And the logic involved there is a little hazy.)

Meanwhile in the forbidden zone we have some pretty crazy imagery involving some ultra-evolved humans who have been hiding underground. Unlike the non-talking humans on the surface, these guys have psychic powers. Unfortunately along with being cult-like, they are also rather lacking in personality. The other characters to keep us company in the depths of the forbidden zone are Taylor (played by Charlton Heston who really doesn't want to be here and who is giving all his salary from the movie to charity) and some other random guy who is essentially the exact same character as Taylor without the charisma. With Heston's lack of motivation, we end up with essentially TWO Taylors BOTH lacking in charisma. Which sadly knocks down the impact of the cultish creepy-as-hell underground-dwelling humans.

Nevertheless, the creepiness alone makes this worth a look. Sure, the film is utter rubbish and a bit of a slog, but it has imagery that will stick with you and, as part of a larger series, it's watchable.


5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

The latest film in the series is lacking in characters and has a ridiculous lack of decent female characters, but the two central performances from the characters of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Koba (Toby Kebbell) are amazing. Jason Clarke also isn't bad as Malcolm, the human stuck in the middle of the conflict between the humans and the apes.

There's some spectacular imagery and a few surprisingly powerful emotional moments and the movie owes a lot to those two fantastic central performances for that. However, the story is rather paint-by-numbers, owing a great deal to the basic template set up by "Battle for the Planet of the Apes".

Dawn is definitely a good film and I'm glad it's keeping the series going, but I hope later instalments can raise the bar in terms of writing and storytelling, to match the quality already present in central performances and effects work.


4. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

For some this appears to be the favourite of the initial 5-movie series. But while the relevance of the civil rights movement had been present in earlier films, here it becomes very on-the-nose. Almost like someone getting a loudhailer and shouting "DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE SYMBOLISM NOW?!!"

Nevertheless, what makes this work is the excellent performance from Roddy McDowall as Caesar. In previous films he played Cornelius, a mild-mannered scientist. But here in Conquest, McDowall plays Cornelius' son Caesar as he becomes an angry revolutionary with none of his father's pacifism.

I never realised that the milder speech at the end was a post-hoc addition to the film. The original cut of Conquest has a very frightening finale. Even with the milder altered version, I must admit that the ending stuck with me.

It's often said that you should remake bad films, or at least films with the potential to be made better. It's pretty clear that with the right talent to replace Roddy McDowall this film had the scope to be made much better. Arguably now it has been remade in the form of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" with Andy Serkis in the role of Caesar. It's not a shot-for-shot remake by any means, but I think we should be glad of that. Both movies have their place in the series, but Rise is a different take on this intriguing sci-fi premise.

Conquest looks distinctly unpolished and is somewhat lacking in budget. However, the central performance helps the audience to look past that and the message behind the film is strong enough to make this a very worthwhile watch in spite of its flaws.


3. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Charlton Heston is a bit Zapp Brannigan here. Black guy dies first. There's some awkward misogyny. Still this remains a very engaging sci-fi classic with some now-timeless imagery. And it's clear that the values of the civil rights.movement of the 60s are buried beneath the surface (as would become more overt in later sequels)

This is an intelligent sci-fi classic which became a surprise hit. Part of that is the award winning make-up effects which don't hold up brilliantly today, but are good enough to prevent it dating anything like as much as you would expect.

Admittedly everyone knows the 'twist' ending now because it is generally spoilt by the front of the DVD box, but I don't actually think the 'twist' is all that important to the film. It doesn't matter that we already know what is happening. What matters is that we are following characters who are coming to terms with what is happening.

It's actually quite interesting how Heston begins as a bit of a nihilist, with nothing but contempt for mankind or for notions of progress. He's a bit of a reluctant apologist for mankind, trying to justify a society he became an astronaut to get away from when he comes across the ape society which seems to hold his species in contempt.

There's a load of food for thought in "Planet of the Apes" and in spite of being rather dated, it's still an entertaining watch. I'm disinclined to consider a movie discredited by bad sequels, but I think it's fair to suggest that this film is increased in my estimation by its good sequels which would come to explore its themes more fully. I think that is fair since those sequels needed this film to set up those themes in the first place.


2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is not just a simple remake of Conquest, but an homage to the Planet of the Apes series as a whole. The first half is sadly lacking, not least because of James Franco's rather poor central performance, but in the second half, where Andy Serkis gets to take the limelight, the movie quality suddenly takes a leap forward.

On a second watch, I find myself looking back on this film remarkably fondly. It's not perfect by any means, but a lot of effort has been put into the little details and this sequel seems to understand the importance of the civil rights subtext (as all good POTA sequels really should).

There's one important moment in the film which has a big 'wow' factor, both for newcomers and fans of the series alike. I don't even think I need to say what that moment is, though if you are confused please ask in the comments. And it's a moment that could so easily have been misjudged. People might have questioned why they needed to escalate things to that level so quickly. Yet I've not heard anyone make that accusation.

In spite of an awkward first half, the second half has a real magic to it. Rise manages to take the best from the series and bring it all together, wrapped in a bow, to please fans and delight newcomers. In spite of a few missteps, the overall effect is remarkable.

One last point: While Rise marks the first POTA sequel to use CG effects instead of make-up effects for apes, it is also pioneering CG motion-capture just as John Chambers' make-up effects were pioneered for the first movie in the series. And thankfully a major difference is that the CG motion capture continues to be developed for these films, unlike in the old sequels where less and less was spent on make-up effects as time went on.


1. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

This isn't everyone's favourite, but then again this isn't everyone's list. This is my personal favourite POTA movie. I really enjoy the humour, but it's not all light-hearted. All through the film there's a sinister backdrop, as the humans' mistrust of the apes leads them to learn the truth behind their captives' origins.

Having already seen Conquest probably gave this a little more weight, since I had an idea of where things were heading. This might have seemed a little too chipper and cheerful otherwise. Except I think the darker side of the story is always present. Very early in the film one of the apes from the future is killed, so it's not clear that our protagonists are safe even from the start.

Still, things get very dark by the end, so perhaps my fondness for horror-comedies and black humour lends itself more easily to this sequel. Also this film has the biggest amount of emphasis on the very best character of the series: Dr. Zira. While Cornelius is important too, Zira seems the more headstrong of the two of them.

Escape had a seemingly impossible task of reinvigorating the series after Beneath. The ending of Beneath makes a sequel seem like an impossibility. So the very idea that Escape would be able to explore the themes in ways the previous sequel had almost entirely failed to do (as well as handling some "Terminator"-style time travel destiny ideas, decades before Terminator would ever do so) is a development few could have predicted.

Wonderful characters, very funny comedy, insightful social commentary, a cool time travel plot and some sinister ideas in the background. "Escape From the Planet of the Apes" is my personal favourite of the series.

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