Thursday, March 5, 2015

Conquest of Planet of the Apes Through a Kid’s Eyes

We timed this one exactly right, while my daughter was learning about the Civil War during social studies class.

In hindsight, it probably was a bad idea to suggest she mention to her teacher that she’d seen a film about the slave trade, race riots and civil rights without telling her to reference that it was symbolic or an allegory.

Why we don’t get more letters sent home from school, I’m not sure.

As I said last time, Roddy McDowall deserves an insane amount of credit for these movies.  The praise I gave Kim Hunter for creating a believable character applies, but for Roddy, it goes well beyond that.

In what is essentially the same make up (Caesar is slightly darker than Cornelius) McDowall created two completely distinct characters.  There is no mistaking in voice, mannerisms, or bearing of the pacifist, subservient to his wife but with a rebellious streak scientist of the first three Apes films with his son, who is commanding, street smart, yet brooding and haunted by his own conscience.

With only gestures and expressions, Caesar emotes fully through the layers of hair and latex:

The resigned shrug when put into the breeding room.

The comically exasperated eye roll when handed a strainer by one of his new soldiers.

The shattered animalistic grief at the loss of Armando, and also the sheltered but free life he'd led.

The cross eyed screams when tortured, before speaking his first admitted words, “Have pity.”
That defeated whisper carried an equal amount of believable despair as the enraged, “Lousy human bastards!” carried bile and outrage. 

Actually, I considered using that second one for the key surprise statement, except that it wasn’t confirmed in story, and a much quieter one symbolizes the key turning point in the saga.

Ricardo Montalban was still, obviously, awesome showing Armando as a man of guarded pride, who always has a contingency plan- much like Zira did, as my daughter pointed out.

Hey, the governor’s aide is the friendly, laid back Professor from Real Genius, and Mr. Carlson is selling slaves.  Those guys have quite a range don’t they?

I am proud to say that long before the authorities figured out how to find Caesar based on the falsified shipping manifesto, my daughter blurted out, “There are no chimps in Borneo!”

That’s my girl.

She enjoyed the real baby apes, because they’re adorable.  Duh.

She was also thrilled to see female orangutans for the first time. 

The male to female ratio in ape society was far worse than even the levels I saw in engineering school.  No wonder their society was on such a reduced scale in later films.

The key statement for the fourth film was a tiny one, but very important.  For one thing it finally gave my daughter something close to a more pleasant ending. (Or at least a “not every single character I liked died ending.”)  The fact that she, like the rest of us, was firmly rooting for the apes by this point is another testament to the performances of those prosthetics covered actors, and the writers for making the humans the oppressors, tormentors and racists.

The other reason is this single word, delivered by actress Natalie Trundy, who traded in her Mutant robes and good Scientist Lab coat from the last two movies for a fur wrap that goes all the way around in this one.
Being married to the producer has perks I guess, but as a newcomer to the ape side family, she did an excellent job. 

Her first spoken word is a heartrending plea, which I believe is what changes the Planet of the Apes saga from a predestined circle of tragedy, to an altered timeline with eventual harmony and healing.  It is also why I prefer the theatrical end of the movie, to the more gruesome and fatalistic original cut. 

Yes, I know the screenwriters were constantly trying to make it into a circle. I don’t care. They aren’t their stories anymore, once they’ve been released (and especially since they kept adding on sequels) they became all of ours.

More pontificating on this next time:

Key Surprise Statement:




longbow said...

The first time I went to Century City in L.A. I looked around, realized where I was and made a mental note to not come back at night

Jeff McGinley said...

It's amazing how many real places there are in movies. I got really excited the first time I drove over the LA "River". Sadly I saw neither Harley riding cyborgs or giant ants.

thanx for sharing!