Walter Mencken 11:31 a.m., Feb. 1
Apes on the Brain
I pricked my finger and took a blood oath never to break an embargo by revealing my true feelings for a film before it opens. Something tells me 2oth Century Fox won't mind the following breach.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is better than Planet of the Apes.
I'm not talking about that Tim Burton atrocity. For what he did, they should have lopped Burton's hands off. That way he could never again masturbate in public. I know it's heresy, but this is one reboot that surpasses the original.
I worship the original to this day. It wasn't my first time seeing a movie twice in one week. That was Disney's The Parent Trap. Babe, no one ever called my mother Esther, took me opening day, and the following Sunday I dragged dad to a matinee.
I had revisited the same movie on more than one occasion, but prior to this, never five times in seven days. It happened twice: Woody Allen'sWhat's Up, Tiger Lily? and Franklin Schaffner's Planet of the Apes. Woody's re-dubbed Asian epic popped up for a week-long revival. The chances of it ever again seeing the arc light of day were slim, and I sensed this would probably be my only shot at seeing a 35mm 'Scope print. I'm still laughing!
Maybe the Chicago weather had something to do with my decision to spend a few hours of that beautiful Spring week inside the Nortown Theatre watching Planet of the Apes. After five months of arctic isolation, I was one little cub who couldn't wait for his hibernation to end.
The trailer made it look spectacular. Chuck Heston played the human lead. He had already spent a good portion of his career aping famous figures. Unless he received a personal invite to the Last Supper, there was no chance of Ben-Hur donning a monkey suit.
True to form, I was there first day, first show. School was still in session, so there were no weekday matinees. After an early dinner, a friend's parents deposited us at the box office for a 5 p.m. show.
I was thirteen and the ending of the film wiped me out. It was the boldest, most profound artistic statement my pea brain had yet to encounter. I was there for the 1:30 and 4 p.m. matinee performances on Saturday as well as the first Sunday show. I couldn't stop talking about the film and in order to shut me up, dad took me to a rare 7 p.m. school-night screening.
By now, my lips moved along with certain passages, but there was a word that I was having trouble with. I think I knew what it meant, but couldn't be sure. Dear old dad would provide a definition and proper usage. It's when Dr. Zaius speaks of emasculation. The whispered dialog between father and button-pushing son went something like this:
Scotty: What does that mean?
Larry: I don't know what emasculation means.
Scotty: C'mon. You know how to say it, you must know what it means.
Larry: I don't know.
Scotty: You're an adult. How can you not know what it means?
Larry: I don't know.
Scotty: Seriously, dad! What does it mean?
Larry: IT MEANS THEY CUT YOUR BALLS OFF. NOW SHUT UP!!!
The fifty people in the theatre quickly redirected their gaze from a seventy-foot Maurice Evans to my father crouching down in his seat. Laughter, mine included, filled the auditorium.
This touching Norman (or is it George Lincoln?) Rockwell moment came back to me after last night's screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I have this problem with suspension of disbelief, and as cool the makeup is, I never once believed I was watching anything but Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, and a bunch of veteran actors buried beneath tons of Max Factor and Ben Nye wigs. Rupert Wyatt's Rise had me convinced his crazed chimps were flesh and blood, not cartoons or costumed character actors.
There are things in the original the remake can't touch. No matter how sharp cinematographer Andrew Lesnie's hard-edged frames are, he's not Leon Shamroy. No one is. And James Franco's teeth are nowhere near as yellow as the giant Mahjong tiles sticking out of Heston's gums.
After social networking my thoughts, Christian Divine Facebooked the following: "Scott, unless this film actually has the same satirical subtext - no way."
It's there, but in a different context. There is no talk of inter-breeding or the like to qualify this a satirical reflection of our times. What this film does is make me believe that monkeys can overtake the Golden Gate Bridge.
I'll stop now because this is beginning to sound more like a review. Matt drew that honor and, not wanting to second guess him, I ran this post by him. We were both impressed and I can't wait to read his thoughts. I can't wait to hear yours, too, but please refrain from goddamming me all to hell until you've seen the Rise.
More like this:
- Humiliation, emasculation, and “that goddamn monkey picture!” — July 13, 2014
- Bully for Me — April 10, 2012
- Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes — Aug. 5, 2011
- Racism in the News — Feb. 27, 2009
- Charleton Heston and Guns — April 8, 2008