Comparing the original Planet of the Apes (PA) to its reboot/prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes (RPA) is like comparing a painting of a banana by one artist to that of a riper banana of a different artist. Okay, that analogy may be out there but I think it fits. The tone combined with the visual effects these two movies offer is quite different yet both serve the viewer an enjoyable experience.
Right off the bat you can tell that both movies are completely different. As you watch PA you are first struck by the unsettling score that is filled with clashes and bonging and no melody or tunes you can latch onto. It creates an atmosphere that is alien and foreign. Yet RPA’s score is that of a traditional summer blockbuster film filled with brass and percussion instruments set in place by a steady and pulsating beat.
Even still, Charlton Heston’s opening monologue in PA, where he contemplates about the war loving nature of man, gives us a notion of the film’s morality. This is in stark contrast to RPA’s opening scene where we see chimpanzees being hunted, captured, and experimented on by humans. RPA’s opening clearly shows us it’s morality is about the tampering of nature by mankind. These two morals, like many science fiction films, reflect on our modern fears and scientific advances. For PA it was nuclear war and for RPA it was environmentalism.
PA is also more monologue heavy compared to RPA which is more action heavy (thanks in part by our mostly mute protagonists). Even so, we get a riveting performance from PA, especially from its lead, Charlton Heston. He can be hammy at some parts but for the most part he just sells it. He’s a man desperate to live and to retain his identity. His plight for survival feels real and even through his slight douchbaggery at the beginning may be offputting, we slowly grow to embrace the man to survive in this madhouse of the world. Maurice Evans, as Dr. Zaius, is convincing as well by playing an ape desperate to preserve tradition and faith in apekind. He makes a great antagonist without being too villainy or one dimensional. With these two and the supporting cast, we get great dialogue exchanges such as when Zira realizes how smart Taylor was, the courtroom scene, and the climax in the cave.
As mentioned, RPA is more action oriented but this partially translates into the big jailbreak scene. We have seen many jailbreak movies or scenes in jails and concentration camps. We even seen toys escape from a school in Toy Story 3. However, this is probably a first in seeing apes critically think and plan their escape from their respective madhouse. It’s one of the best parts of RPA as we see Caesar transform from a docile chimp to a natural born leader.
The special effects of these two films are as contrasting as their storyline and delivery. In PA we see massive use of makeup. I read on IMDB that the makeup budget consisted of 17% of the entire budget. That’s ridiculous. Some people may find the makeup ridiculous or distracting but I didn’t find it that way at all except for the kissing moments between Zira and Cornelius. True, the facial expressions may be lacking but personality quirks and expressions still came through thanks to the good acting. In RPA, we see the still revolutionary method of performance capture applied heavily. The characters in RPA may be lacking but damn does Andy Serkis really sell his performance as Caesar. Everyone talks about this but I can’t get over those eyes, they just say it all.
But of these two films, it is the original that’s superior. RPA is great but it’s still a very typical summer blockbuster film that does not have many things that stand out from the rest of the crowd. RPA also suffers from rather poor characters that I just can get behind or sympathize (except for the apes…maybe that was done on purpose???). It’s PA that really stands out. This shouldn’t be surprising given the nature of the film’s history but having finally seeing it recently, I can finally understand what the big deal of this film is. PA could have easily been a flop amidst the other science fiction films of the time. But the makeup, the characters, the style, and the story really come together to create an entertaining and great storyline filled with tension, humor (both intentional and not), and ending with an unforgettable ending that is parodied to this day. This banana is delicious.