Planet of the Apes, the 1968 cult film, has four sequels, one remake, and now, with the (in critical parlance) “gone bananas” and “chimpocalyptic” prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there are seven versions, total.
Is no one but me terrified of apes?
I cannot see the Rise, because every time I see actor Andy Serkis alone, pretending to be an ape, I feel the nausea and fear I have long associated with both apes and, worse, humans dressed as apes.
As a child, I would visit west Montreal’s Belmont Park, long enough ago that freak shows were still an attraction. One of these shows involved a girl named Natasha in a bikini being turned, by a barker-cum-Dr. Mesmer, into a huge gorilla.
Yes, it was all done with lights and veils, but that monster broke free of its cage and charged the tent!
A half hour later, I was still running and feel I could have made it to the south shore had my family not intervened.
To this day, even the moulting, dwarf gorilla mascot of a Queen Street surplus store sickens me, and I cannot be alone in this.
The terror in the movie’s commercials is derived from the mere sight of the apes, filmed with the same camera technology that James Cameron pioneered in Avatar, running wild and punching grown men in the chest.
As in life, the mere sight of gorillas, safely presented behind Plexiglas or in their habitat, is blood-curdling because of the way they stare at you.
Not like apes in the mist; not mournfully, but with an acute and quite natural loathing: a look that they usually terminate by vomiting into their hands and eating it, salaciously.
In an interview promoting the film, lead actress Freida Pinto says our ongoing fascination with this franchise is “the curiosity that lies in the original story, in Darwin’s theory.”
This is a good explanation, especially now, as certain conservatives are putting Darwin on blast, and repudiating his theory, yet again.
Surely you have all had the argument, usually with a drunk man, that, “If we evolved from apes, how come there are still apes?”
That’s a good question, along the lines of, “What if we are all ants, and huge humans are watching us?”
Because if you have ever looked into an ape’s eyes, there is no mistaking the thrill of recognition. And the desire to murder. All of us.
And why not?
We have treated non-human primates very shabbily indeed. We slaughter them, we neuter them, we use them for cruel and trivial experiments, we diaper them and use them in movies. We anthropomorphize them and are surprised when they eat our best friend’s face. (See the true and terrible tale of Sandra Herold’s chimp Travis.)
And our collective conscience is heavy.
Think of King Kong. As John Belushi, impersonating Dino De Laurentiis, said, “The ape die. Everybody cry.”
And in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, James Franco’s character is an cheerleader for the apes, urging his friend Caesar to escape those fuzzy, military-industrialists who are always capturing aliens and mermaids for their nefarious experiments.
On one level, the latest version of the Planet of the Apes series is a simple reflection, as with this summer’s masterpiece, which features ape-like villains, Cowboys & Aliens, of our desire to sit in a cool theatre and watch some epic ape ass-kicking.
On the other hand, why are the aliens and apes here now, together?
Movies are, axiomatically, escapist.
When we go to see The Change-Up (in terms of variations on the Freaky Friday plot, this movie is the Googolplex), we are mildly entertaining the idea of living in another, better body, like the futuristic characters of Kurt Vonnegut’s story Unready to Wear.
But when we see films that obsess on the horrific idea of payback – alien and ape style – are we repenting, en masse?
As we sit there, screaming, are we collectively becoming the sign that Vonnegut proposed humanity leave on earth: “Sorry, we screwed up.”
Or, finally, are we at long last, trying to right a long list of cinematic wrongs?
Thanks to animal advocates, and more critically, to computer technology and Cameron’s lens, we will no longer need to make an ape act, which was plain cruelty, the worst of which being the demand that a chimp be so gifted he can pretend to have amiable feelings toward Matt LeBlanc in the 1996 baseball flick Ed.
Ironically, with the rise of this movie’s unreal-real apes, we finally see nature red in tooth and claw.
Nature hates us: That is simian law, the very law that would have us, the true “damned, dirty” fiends, look for liberty only to find her, marooned, broken and no longer on offer.