Human-ape saga reaches climax


When French science fiction writer Pierre Boule’s Planet of the Apes was first filmed in 1968, it tapped into a widespread concern that civilisation was endangered by racial and ideological conflict.

The clash between humans and the animals they closest resembled put notions of superiority into question.

Since then, of course, human and animal rights are taken for granted but that hasn’t stopped public fascination with the idea of apes becoming equal to humans, but without changing their physical appearance.

Some interpreted this as demonstrating that either group could achieve dominance through their use of social power rather than their innate superiority.

The first series of five movies, made from 1968 to 1973, also played up Cold War themes and the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

In the original, a human astronaut travels into the future and finds himself in a society where intelligent apes oppress mute primitive humans.

In subsequent films, audience sympathies were moved from one side to the other as the power balance between humans and apes changed to suit circumstances.

A remake in 2001 failed to generate much excitement in a new round of clashes between civilisations far in the future.

But the latest series, launched in 2011, started with the idea of humans developing a superior form of ape through the use of genetics. Thus Caesar becomes the series’ central focus as leader of the apes, enhanced by modern film techniques, pioneered in New Zealand by Weta Digital, that depicted the animals more realistically.

Since then, three films have chronologically gone through the Rise (apes survive a virus that kills most humans) to the Dawn (a group of humans try to co-exist with the flourishing ape civilisation) and finally War for the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox).

It picks up two years later with Caesar (Andy Serkis) still leading his clan and seeking peace with what’s left of the humans.

One of the remnant groups is highly militarised under the leadership of the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who tries to wipe out Caesar’s clan.

A revenge attack fails and Caesar is captured along with most of his clan. They become enforced labour in concentration camp conditions with obvious parallels to the Japanese prison camps of World War II (The Bridge on the River Kwai comes to mind).

Meanwhile, with more parallels to World War II movies, a small group work on a rescue plan (The Great Escape).

The Colonel reveals the simian flu that earlier wiped out most humans has mutated to a form that destroys speech and mental ability. He kills anyone who shows such signs, including his own son.

To complicate matters, a third force representing humans who see the Colonel as a deranged renegade are planning to destroy his forest fortress in the frozen north.

Here the Vietnam war provides the parallel with Francis Coppola’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as Apocalypse Now (the filming of which resulted in a prizewinning documentary by Eleanor Coppola — see Clips column).

This all sets the scene for the climactic battle scenes everyone has paid to see.

Rating: Mature audiences. 140 mins.

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Nevil Gibson

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