A planet where apes evolved from men? Well, not exactly, if you follow the film versions of the Planet of the Apes series. Based somewhat on the fourth film in the series Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of how tinkering with genetic make-up of a species might just lead to humanity’s demise.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes re-rebooted the more-than 40-year-old franchise and sets the stage for the much buzzed about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (we liked it a lot). It also gave an opportunity to show the nuance and artistry involved in performance capture, courtesy of Weta Digital and Andy Serkis
For its initial Blu-ray and DVD release, director Rupert Wyatt sat down with his film and talked about the production in his stand-alone commentary. Along with some gushing over James Franco and an answer to the greatest meme of 2011 (“Why cookie rocket?”), Wyatt examines the technical side of the film as well as the performances for both human and non-human characters.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Commentator: Rupert Wyatt (director)
1. As many know, all the apes seen in this movie are 100% computer generated, including the apes in the opening scene during the capture of Bright Eyes. This chase sequence was meant to echo the original Planet of the Apes during which the apes hunted the humans.
2. The early scene in which Will (James Franco) realizes that his drug worked on Bright Eyes was shot in post-production because Wyatt wanted to see the moment of discovery launch the film.
3. Bright Eyes is given her “fizzy drink” in a Gatorade bottle because, during the research for the film, Wyatt learned that captive chimpanzees love sugar, and Gatorade is one of their favorite drinks.
4. Robert (Tyler Labine) is the only primatologist working at the lab, and he is differentiated from the other scientists by wearing green clothes instead of blue.
5. The only scenes of Caesar that Andy Serkis did not perform was when he was a baby because he was too large to appear where the baby ape does. Instead, the baby chimp was animated using a real newborn for reference in order to make the typical jittery movement of a baby look realistic.
6. Andy Serkis improvised the moment where Caesar gets in the back seat instead of the hatchback of the Jeep.
7. When Charles (John Lithgow) gets into his altercation with Hunsiker (David Hewlett), Caesar is putting together a model of the Statue of Liberty. This was a nod to the iconic imagery from the original film, as well as a thematic note on liberty and freedom framed by Caesar’s intelligence.
8. There were long debates on whether or not Caesar should bite off Hunsiker’s finger. Wyatt chose not to have the finger come off because he felt it would turn the audience against Caesar too much. (Funny enough, I always thought he had bitten off the finger and spat it at Hunsiker, but by watching the shot frame-by-frame, I now see it is still attached.)
9. Other debated topics on set included how much and what type of clothing Caesar should wear (so as to not make him look like Clyde from Every Which Way But Loose), how many times apes should be struck or shot on the Golden Gate Bridge (because audiences reacted more negatively to apes getting hit than people getting hit), and whether Caesar should push Jacobs (David Oyelowo) off the bridge at the end.
10. The stubborn court clerk that gave Will a hard time about filing for his appeal was played by Karin Konoval, who also played Maurice the orangutan. Wyatt brought her back after her ape performance capture to play a human because he liked her so much.
11. Wyatt pays homage to several films in the movie. The shot of Caesar walking through the tunnel to the common area filled with apes for the first time was a nod to Maximus (Russell Crowe) entering the arena in Gladiator. Dodge (Tom Felton) and his buddy bringing the girls into the facility at night is a nod to McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) sneaking his girlfriend and her friend into the hospital in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Hearing only the apes’ calls through the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge is a nod to the army in Zulu only hearing the enemy’s voices.
12. Not only did actors play the apes physically with performance capture, but they also provided their calls. The actors’ voices were modulated in post production to sound more ape-like while preserving the emotion of the performances.
13. When Koba demonstrates his intelligence, proving that ALZ-113 works, he is writing Jacobs’ name on a board. Originally, they planned to have him operate a robotic arm, but the people who were supposed to bring the arm to set that day fell through, and the crew had to improvise.
14. The doors to the cages of the ape facility were removed for all performance capture shots because it was difficult to animate through them. The apes were then animated into the scene, and digital doors and mesh were inserted over them.
15. There is relatively little dialogue in the film, as well as long stretches with little or no spoken words. For example, just past the half-way point of the movie, when Caesar goes through his plan to steal the ALZ-113 and release it on the apes, there are five minutes and 45 seconds (from 1:02:51 to 1:08:36) with only one line of spoken dialogue (and it happens off-screen).
16. Rodney (Jamie Harris) is seen watching a Charlton Heston movie (The Agony and the Ecstasy) on the television because Wyatt wanted to add Heston into the movie without being too gimmicky. Conversely, Dodge is heard watching Dancing with the Stars.
17. Although the climax of the film seems to have an awful lot of apes running about San Francisco, Wyatt planned this based on real populations of apes in America, in particularly a facility in San Bruno that houses 70 to 80 apes. Taking the entire country into account, there are approximately 3,000 great apes in labs across the U.S. About 300,000 chimpanzees alone are found in the wild.
18. The climax on the Golden Gate Bridge was shot on a 400-foot set, which was a world record at the time of production.
19. The shot of Caesar riding the horse across the bridge, calling to the other apes to attack, was put in the film to echo the gorillas riding horses in the hunt of the original Planet of the Apes.
Best in Commentary
- “I set out to make as reality-based a story as I possibly could, and everybody thinks of Planet of the Apes and their preconceptions of what that is being slightly camp and the heightened reality of it. Someone like James Franco, you have the opportunity to keep everything plausible.”
- “He’s broken Rocket. Now it’s about rebuilding him. And what better way to do that than with cookies?” (The answer to the ultimate meme question.)
- “I’m really excited about what is to come in terms of the relationship between Koba and Caesar.”
Like many of you, I was a real fan of this film when it was released in 2011, and I’m greatly anticipating a whole series of excellent Apes films in the future. Even three years after its release, it’s a great movie to watch with or without the full soundtrack.
Wyatt gives some nice information, though he falls for some common issues that plague commentaries by newer directors. Occasionally, Wyatt will devolve into explaining the obvious things happening on the screen, though he usually recovers from this quickly. Similarly, and especially near the end during the freeing-of-the-slaves sequence, he disappears from the audio track. I’m assuming he was just getting caught up in his own movie, like I was.
Ultimately, Wyatt’s commentary runs about average in the general scale. It’s worth listening to if you’re a fan of the film, but aside from some trivial points of interest, a lot of the information he gives out has been heard before. This is expected for such a potent film, but it can lose some of its newness luster. Still, any excuse to watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes again is a good one, as far as I’m concerned.