Damned Dirty (and Wonderfully Realised) Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a prequel to the Planet of the Apes series, is out in UK cinemas on 12th August 2011. After Tim Burton’s re-imagining of the original in 2001 received a mixed reception, one wonders whether there really is a desire for another Apes film. Nonetheless, the 2011 film, directed by Rupert Wyatt, offers an intriguing concept. The film will attempt to enlighten viewers about how the apes managed to take over. Set in the present day, the film will no doubt fill in some of the missing detail of what happens on Earth prior to the year 3978 (the setting of the original film).

It remains to be seen if the film can rival the calibre of its predecessor. Perhaps what is more certain is the high quality of effects the film is likely to employ. Whether or not you are an admirer of Planet of the Apes (both versions), it is difficult to deny that the apes in these films are fantastically actualised. John Chambers won an honorary Oscar for make-up achievement in Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 film. Writing in Sight & Sound in 1968, critic David Wilson credited the make-up department with making the apes “totally persuasive” (vol. 37, p. 156).

Tim Burton’s version employed a considerable amount of effects. Nevertheless, the director relied upon the prowess of Rick Baker to produce the make-up for his simian characters. In his Variety review, Todd McCarthy states: “Rick Baker’s ape makeup creations are wonderfully varied — all manner of simians are present and accounted for – and represent a definite leap beyond what was possible 33 years ago”.

For the 2011 film, Wyatt has engaged the services of WETA Digital to produce his apes. The team responsible for Avatar have used motion capture to generate the apes; the simian make-up and costumes of the predecessors are nowhere to be seen. The concept art for the film looks impressive in the clip below. Planet of the Apes was one of the most enduring science-fiction films of the 1960s. The unnerving depiction of an ape on horseback is just one of the film’s memorable images. The 2001 re-imagining offered a distinctive look, as well as highly realistic make-up. If nothing else, Rise of the Planet of the Apes will offer viewers the same distinguished level of effects we have come to expect from the series. This seems to be the overarching legacy of the science-fiction franchise.

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