POTA-nova: Caesar is home

Those of you who know me personally know one immutable fact: I am a PLANET OF THE APES (POTA for those in the know) fanatic.  The 1968 original officially ranks as my favorite movie of all time, and I am even willing to sit through all four sequels and not cringe…and, in fact, enjoy the experience.

Or…let me put it this way for folks who are a little younger than I.  STAR WARS is STAR WARS, but POTA is my STAR WARS.  Get it?

I love my apes.

I’ve been amazed at how many people have emailed me over the weekend, wondering what I thought about the new RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES movie.  It’s like when you get dumped or everyone finds out you have an incurable disease.  Everyone sends their empathy and healing vibes…  “What did you think of the movie?  Hope you’re okay.  Love and simians!  [insert xxoo’s or appropriate emoticon here].”

Of course, they all know that I am still not quite recovered from that one thing that happened 10 years ago.  No, not the thing in September.  The other thing.  The July thing.  The re-UNimagining, as I called it as my friend, Mike, and I drowned our disappointment in too many Taco Bell chalupas after wasting two perfectly good hours of our lives exposed to the piece of-  Wait.  I am gonna stop right there.  The pain.  Still there.  Still deep.

When I heard they were making another APES movie, I was angry.  Really.  I know.  Seems dumb, but I was.  People checked in then, too.  Poking around, on eggshells, like they were waiting to hear some diagnosis: benign or malignant?  At that point, I didn’t know.  I only knew I was angry for having to go through the process of finding out sooner or later.

In other words, I was going to have to watch the damned movie when it came out.

As the day drew nearer, I made plans to see it with my family.  Thought I’d make a spectacle of it.  Wear my Caesar the chimp as Che Guevara T-shirt and everything.  Make it a Rocky Horror-worthy experience, ready to ridicule and heckle in equal and liberal measure.

When the day came, though, I couldn’t do that.  That didn’t feel right.  It felt…disrespectful, I guess.  More, it felt like it feels when you’re meeting an old flame for coffee years after a bad break up.  Nervous.  But curious.  Wanting to make a good impression for some reason.  And nostalgic.  And wanting to remember the good things…find some meaning and end things–at long last–on a good note.

So I didn’t see the movie with my tribe.  At 9 AM on Friday morning (yes…there was a 9:15 showing.  Cuh-razy), I forgot my morning coffee time (and my work) and headed over to the local cinema to reunite with my oldest of loves.

And what was it like?

Awkward, at first.  But as I settled into my seat and the movie began, a sense of calm, and then familiarity, and then happiness settled over me.

There are a lot of not-so-great things I could say about the movie.  There is a list in my head of everything that was wrong with the thing.  And it’s not short list.  Its biggest offense is that the storytelling is kludgy.  There are altogether too many moving parts, and the script does an amateurish job of making them function in the same machine.  The engine runs, but it knocks…and it sputters at times.  And blows black smoke out of the tailpipe.  You get the drift.  End cliches here.


The sweet love that Andy Serkis and the WETA SFX folks make to create Ceasar makes it all worth it.

More, what the movie lacks in technical merit, it makes up for in heart.  For all its problems, the movie’s heart shows through, and that, too, makes it all worth it.

The movie has stuck with me in a very good way since last Friday.  And I know I want to see it again.  That’s a good thing.  I find myself pensive about it…contemplative.  That’s a good thing, too.

Mostly, I find myself remembering back to when my friend Mike and I were 10 years old.  That was the year we spent the entire 4th grade year–all of the long school bus rides, all of our sleepovers–planning how we were going to run away and steal a baby chimp from the Como Park Zoo.  We were going to live on our own in downtown Minneapolis and raise the chimp ourselves…and teach it to talk.

We were, to paraphrase Ceasar from CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, going to give our own rise to the birth of the planet of the apes.  Because more than anything, I suppose, we wanted it to be true.  I still don’t know why.  Taylor from the original ’68 movie would probably say even then we sensed that there must be something better than man out there.  I think we were just bored.  And more curious than a couple of shit-kickin’ hayseed kids from the boondocks had a right to be.

The best thing about RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is it brought that memory back to me.  It let me live in that fantasy again…if only for a little while.  Because Mike’s and my dream was the real legacy of POTA, anyway.  To unlock the audience’s imagination and get them to look at the world from a slightly different point of view.  It accomplished that in spades for the likes of Mike and me.

I mean, that’s what a good movie’s suppose to do, right?  Open a door into another world where we can escape.  Where our lives and minds are expanded, or we are at least afforded a measure of comfort.  Both, if the movie’s firing on all cylinders.  For this movie watcher, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES did all that.  I guess that makes it a good movie.

I don’t know if we’ve made the difference we were meant to yet, Mike and I.  If our living into this present is doing much to save humanity (which is the implicit message, right?  Save humanity from itself!).  But I think about a Mike and Bill in a parallel universe without POTA, and I am certain those guys don’t fare half as well as we have in this one.  And there’s still hope.  For Mike and me…as well as for the whole world.  And if not, POTA assures us that re-birth and evolution–even the simian kind–is okay, too.

So…simply…I loved the movie.  In spite of its quirks and hitches, it’s a thing of beauty.  And Andy Serkis deserves a freakin’ Oscar this time.

Long live, Ceasar!

P.S.  Ooo!  Ooo!  Yah, yah!