Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Late Night Thoughts on Planet of The Apes

Note: Once again these are just my late night musings. It's been a very long time since I've seen either Planet of the Apes.

I'm going around the river bend on this one as well I suppose. About a week ago I went on a bit of a Disney-fest and it made me ask the question what is my favorite Disney movie. Haven't got a clue. Ask me next Thursday. But the first movie I ever went to see more than once in a theatre is The Lion King and the second is Burton's Planet of the Apes.

Nominally lambasted as one of the worst remakes of all time I actually dug it the first time I saw it. And oddly enough I still do. Being the young blood I am I saw the remake first. The first one is one of the best examples of post The Time Machine pre Star Wars science fiction films out there.

On it's own merits I still like the Burton film, but I understand how the baggage of the original saddled it, like most Burton remakes it tells basically the same story in almost an unrecognizable way.

Bright Eyes
Perhaps the biggest difference is that the original tells a smaller and more intimate story about one man trying to survive in a world that laughs at all of his preconceptions. While the original does philosophize a bit about the larger implications of Taylor's arrival in the third act the plot itself is mostly about Taylor trying to survive and maintain a sense of self in a world where man's, let alone, the white man's, presupposed superiority is no longer a given.

In the 2001 version that's not really the point. Oh sure our protagonist will give some lip service to how loopy everything is, but by the beginning of the second act his quest to leave ape planet has been waylaid by a group of escapees, by the third act becoming more about upsetting the ape social order than anything else.

And I have to admit the original was smarter. See the apes assumed that since the future humans couldn't speak their language they didn't have the capacity for thought thereby making them lower beings. Re-read the fourth paragraph.

In the remake it's not really all that well established why humans are treated so badly. As the resident black guy sci-fi guy over here, the idea that societies tend to devolve into tribalistic racist clusterfucks without constitutionally guaranteed rights for minorities, both in the racial and democratic sense, is kind of where my head has always been but in universe it's not all that well explained, other than maybe generations of ape superiority propaganda.

Anyway the 2001 movie is bigger in scale, established early on that the events of the film don't just affect Leo. I'd even go so far as to say the movie isn't really about him. He's a catalyst and not much more. In the first movie the implication that man was once more advanced than really does nothing more than advance it's anti-racist message about prejudiced assumptions and provide a late in the game plot twist, I'm getting to Dr. Z. but the remake makes the "the humans were once on top and can be again" thing the plot. Nipping the growing sense of pride and species based nationalism in the bud before a full on revolution can occur.

And yes I suppose you can say that plot is cliched but hey I was 13, and  hadn't seen Stargate, Star Wars, or Dune yet.

And an army of chimps charging an exploding rocket engine sold me. Yes that was the scene that kept bringing me back.

And I can see how a lot of people get annoyed that the story focuses so much on Leo when ostensibly this is not his story. He kick starts events and in a way resolves them, at the end of the day he has the least meaningful change. It's everybody else who has to deal with the whole humans demanding better treatment thing, heck he leaves Ape planet more or less a ruin when he's through.

The General and The Doctor

As far as hammy villians go I love General Thade. Dude is nucking futs. And he is literally a stupider Dr. Zaius. And I mean that in a good way. At the end of the day Zaius was portrayed as a well-intentioned extremist.

"I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy." Couldn't agree with the doc more.

He takes no pleasure in opposing Taylor, but does so for two reasons. The first is that ape society, not unlike western society for a good chunk of history was based on the presumption of ape(white) superiority, and chaos would ensue if that presumption was brought into question. And yeah that provided the basis of a number of arguments on why both integration and emancipation were bad ideas. By the way it should be patiently obvious I have a passionate disagreement with those arguments but I will concede reconstruction and post-MLK's death 60's were kind of turbulent.

For new institutions to arise often the old and peculiar ones must be ripped apart.

Again for a movie with guys in monkey masks the first movie was deceptively clever and relevant.

The second is his own bias against man and god I don't know which hat to where. Greg the misanthrope, or Greg the social crusader. Oh screw it I'll do both. Hypocrisy thy name is Zaius.

I love Andromeda.

I like to think of it as a Star Trek AU. Andromeda's Klingons are a race of genetically engineered ubermenschs called the Nietzscheans who lay the rest of the remnates of humanity on Earth under their boot heels. My favorite character of the series Seamus Harper who carries a seething hatred of the bastards points out something.

"I grew up on earth I lived through Nietzschean raids,  and Magog attacks and famines and plagues and you know what? The Nietzscheans were the worst."
"Because they were so strong?"
"No. Because when push comes to shove they're human and nobody beats us humans at plain old nastiness."

Beneath all their superior posturing nietzscheans are humans and humans are assholes. No matter what it is damn near a universal constant.

Anyway my point is at the end of the day no matter who's spouting it, cultural and racial superiority is crap, because if you qualify as people you suck. At least the Athenians were being honest when they said "the strong do what they will and the week suffer what they must" rather than the usual clap trap I read in European and yes American justifications for imperialism and national self interest at the expense of everybody else. And yes I am pissed about the NSA.

Anyway where was I? Oh yeah. Thade. He's basically Zaius without the pretense or the brains and with an army.  He's a genocidal maniac, who wants to destroy all humans. Sure he waters down the message of people intellectually confronting their own biases but at 13 I thought a monkey swinging from a chandler in a rage was funny. Seriously though that scene demonstrated how intimidating and insane he was a character. Imagine getting a glimpse of one of Hitler's legendary rages.

This post got national socialist party real quick. Move on Miles.

Okay my point is that Zaius represents intellectualism of racism, for instance using science as evidence of racial inferiority, while Thade on other hand represents unquestioned hatred and sadism. He is anger incarnate.

I have to be honest the upon retrospect I gave the remake a bit of slack for it's higher production values. In terms of lighting and cinematography it looks pretty slick compared to the original but that being said narratively there is some weird stuff in the remake.

On almost every viewing I skip the first 15 minutes. I said said earlier it's not really Leo's story, but the movie spends a long time trying to set up a character which doesn't exist. Leo's arc is about him learning not to be such a bastard to the apes, and yes that message regarding animal cruelty was in the original, but I always felt that it was more so an allegory regarding race relations.  Especially since the original didn't actually deal with real apes.

In the remake a lot of that stuff felt out of place narratively with all the other stuff going...
You know what? This is starting to turn into a real review and I haven't seen either movie in years so I'm going to shut up now.

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