Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Dir. Rupert Wyatt. 20th Century Fox. 2011.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An exploration of ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’

‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ is a thrilling science fiction film created as a prequel to Franklin Schaffner’s 1968 original film ‘Planet of the Apes’. Rupert Wyatt uses the story of one man tirelessly searching for a cure to his father’s Alzheimer’s disease, to encapsulate the morality and potential consequences of exploitative testing on animals. Will Rodman works for a leading pharmaceutical company searching for a drug that causes the brain to repair itself. His discovery is undermined when his chimpanzee test subject becomes violent and is shot protecting her own baby. Will secretly rears baby Caesar when it becomes apparent the virus has transferred genetically to him. This is successful for a time however; the problems of owning an adolescent male chimpanzee with heightened cognitive ability lead to the confiscation of Caesar. Subjected to ill treatment, the story follows Caesars journey of becoming the leader of a revolt against the human race. This eye opening tale of human ignorance cleverly directs the audience against their own species in support of the great apes.

As a science fiction film, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ adheres to a series of the genres expectations.

  • The film uses the science fiction framework to develop a plot focusing on the intricate, moral boundaries of the relationship between humans and animals in modern society.
  • The special effects used for this film highlight the scientific dramatisation of the entire production as the audience witnesses the rapid evolution of Caesar.
  • Furthermore, there is the ultimate doom of a virus plaguing the world that is fatal to humans but cognitively revitalising for apes.

‘Some science fiction texts include animals that remain in the category of animal, yet whose newly acknowledged capacities for
cognition and communication position them for more equitable exchanges with human beings.’[1] ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ is a prime example of a film using science fiction tropes to form a story of animals equalling humanity due to their own technological developments. The cognitive ability given to Caesar enables him to access the virus to spread it across his own population. Essentially it is science and technology that create the framework and allows the exciting production of the film

‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ does not just tell the story of humanity becoming the victim of its own ignorance and technology. It cleverly manipulates the nature of the humans and the apes to ensure that the audience is willing their own race to be defeated by the apes revolution. An instant this technique is most obvious is during the rallying of the chimpanzees in the pharmaceutical company. Throughout the film Will’s manager, Steven Jacobs, is motivated by greed and shows nothing but callous indifference to the apes in his facility. In this scene the apes have a perfect opportunity to kill Steven but choose not to. Seconds later, Steven boards a helicopter without hesitation in order to brutally open fire on the animals that have, moments before, spared his life. Another example is when the next door neighbour pushes and shouts at Charles Rodman who is elderly and confused due to his Alzheimer’s. Caesar defends his surrogate Grandfather and as a result of this, is sent away from his family.  Incidents such as these determine the audience’s attitude towards the final events of the film. The typical generic ending of the fatal virus spreading across the world is consequently anticipated and welcomed by the human audience. Essentially, the manipulation of humans as ignorant versus the animal’s compassion encourages the audience to embrace their own fictional destruction.

An issue that furthers this attitude of the audience is the way that moral boundaries between animals and humans are consistently stretched. The film begins with relatively mild issues for example the problems associated with keeping a wild animal and the cruelty of ape keeper, Dodge Landon. However, it is these minor incidents that lead to Caesar’s final decision to insight an ape rebellion against the humans to reach freedom. The ultimate crossing of the boundary is dramatically encapsulated through Caesars actions of equality. His first word of English is to bellow the word ‘no’ to the man keeping him captive. During the final battle he also leads his army from horseback. Typically, these actions are ways that humans exhibit their own freedom and superiority. However, here they become instinct and natural for Caesar. Specifically, the notion of harnessing another animal for his own gain subtly emphasises the leaps of evolution Caesar has taken. These exhilarating and unexpected scenes demonstrate the complete blurring of the boundary between human and animal as well as demonstrating the power that scientists have given to another species. It is the cruelty and ignorance of humans that lead to these events so it becomes acceptable to the audience for this scientific phenomenon of apes evolving past humans, to bring the film to a climactic close.

The special effects required to fulfil the generic expectations of this science fiction film add another dimension to this argument. The dramatic effect of apes gaining extensive cognitive abilities and surpassing human intelligence is heightened through the complicated concept of human actors playing the animal characters. The irony is clear as it is technology that allows the animation of the actors that transforms then into the apes who then revolt against humanity. It is a continuation of the theme of science and technology blurring the invisible line between humans and animals used throughout the film. This animation technique directly challenges this boundary past the effect of the plot, but through the production as whole. This makes the apes in the film relatable for the audience as the animals played by actual humans become the heroes of the plot. It gives the audience a safer way to enjoy a film which demands them to actively support their own extinction.

The animals in ‘Rise of the planet of the Apes’ are represented as powerful beings and morally superior to humans. This attitude is reached through the careful manipulation of how the humans treat the animals and then how the animals treat the humans. Throughout the film the apes are shown in unnatural and cramped conditions at the mercy of humans due to society’s selfish need to progress scientifically at the expense of the animals. The test chimpanzee Koba represents the long standing exploitation of animals in the name of science. His scarred face and disturbed but passive nature demonstrate the physical and emotional damage inflicted through experimentation on animals. When he is given the drug that improves his cognitive ability the audience can truly appreciate the impact his tough, unnatural life has had upon him through the extent of his anger and distress throughout the final action sequence. Despite this, he still respects and obeys his leader Caesar and controls his instincts to kill all of the people he encounters. The same cannot be said for the humans as they open fire across all of the apes who are unarmed and trying to cross the bridge. This theme of the film represented by Koba, leads to the final message of the film which convinces the audience that the apes deserve to be placed hierarchically above humans and society should face potential extinction due to its own ignorance.

An interesting comparison to use when exploring the representation of animals in the ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, is the documentary ‘Project Nim’. Caesar is taught to sign and essentially evolve over a very short period of time with the help of science but within the safety of fiction. Nim however, is a real life scientific project that literally crossed the boundaries of human and animal whereas ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ could only fictionally symbolise this. Nim was raised as a human. This included being breast fed from his first human teacher, wearing clothes, drinking alcohol, smoking and interacting only with humans.  The same issues of keeping a wild animal and experimenting with them that appeared in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, also occurred in ‘Project Nim’. The generic limitations are where these similarities drift apart. ‘Project Nim’ shows the reality of what happens to scientific projects such as Nim. They are abandoned as soon as their usefulness dies. This notion is touched upon in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ however, the fantasy ending that science fiction allows ends this film with the apes achieving their moral victory. Overall, this comparison demonstrates the reality and fictional consequences of exploitation of animals in the name of science. However they both reach the same conclusion which is proving human ignorance.

Further Reading

Vint S., ‘The Animals in That Country’: Science Fiction and Animal Studies, Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 35, (July 2008) pp. 177-188.

[1] Sherryl Vint, ‘The Animals in That Country’: Science Fiction and Animal Studies, Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 35, (July 2008) p. 179.