Thursday, August 11, 2011

Another Apes Tale

I have, on more than one occasion, sat through all five of the original "Planet of the Apes" films. To be fair, it wasn't any sort of torture. It was purely by choice each time, and it was a choice that I relished in spite of the potential campiness of the proposition. It was, for me, like reclaiming my youth. These movies formed the architecture of my early adolescence, and though I have certainly found things to cling to in the pop culture stratosphere beyond the story of man's eventual enslavement to a race of super-intelligent apes, the remote still stops when one of them comes around.
For many sci-fi nerds of my generation, "Star Trek" was the drug of choice. The three-year run of the five-year mission of the Starship Enterprise was more powerful than dylithium crystals for many of my associates. Even though I still hold James Kirk and his crew in great esteem, I never bought myself a gold uniform and tucked my pants in my boots. I did buy a gorilla mask for what at the time seemed like the most ridiculously steep price of forty-nine dollars and ninety-five cents. I remember the total precisely because I had to drag my pennies down to the magic shop to scratch together just enough to bring it home.
I made Dymotape labels with quotes from the Apes saga and stuck them on my bedroom door. My brothers and I took turns reciting the plot details to my very patient mother as each new film padded the post-apocalyptic universe. The TV series just made me sad because I knew that it was a surrender to the fact that the demand could no longer support feature films, but a show shot on the Twentieth Century Fox back lot might just fill the bill and keep Roddy MacDowall off the streets. And so I waited. And when I heard that Tim Burton was going to bring his own unique vision to the "Planet of the Apes," I was heartened.
That didn't last. Mister Burton's vision couldn't get me past all the obvious comparisons to the original. How could you ever see that ending again for the first time? Impossible. The original five films made a convenient loop, with very few threads left hanging. Why start it up again if there was no hope of doing things any better the next time?
How about using digital apes? Now we have the "reboot." Attempting to insinuate itself neatly into the stream that would have been "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes," this new "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" attempts to explain where all these very clever chimpanzees originated. The original story was that a plague killed off all the dogs and cats, forcing humans to invite primates into their homes to fill their petless void. Over time, these pets became servants, and then slaves. Eventually, these slaves lashed out against their masters, and as this burgeoning freedom movement for apes came about, so did the eventual nuclear annihilation of most of the human race. The apes continued to evolve until finally they were left in charge of the planet. The one we blew up.
Now we're supposed to believe that that kid who got his arm sawed off in a canyon a year ago is a really clever scientist who figures out how to cure Alzheimer's and, by the way, make apes super-intelligent and computer generated. The whole thing feels like a really scary PETA commercial, and in the end we discover that it's genetic engineering that will kill us all while leaving all those chemically enhanced simian geniuses to rule the world from the redwood forest just north of San Francisco.
For the record, my son loved it. I wished that I could have seen it with my brothers. Then we could have gone home and told my mother all about it.

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