Interview: Director Rupert Wyatt on ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ and The End of Cinema

Even with a single teaser trailer, director Rupert Wyatt has already laid further waste to Tim Burton’s abomination. While that’s not exactly a tough thing to do, Wyatt looks to have made a genuine Planet of the Apes film. Burton and co. missed out on what made the Apes series interesting: social commentary. Rise of the Planet of the Apes seems to be another man abusing science fable, and it fits perfectly into the Apes mold.

With further hating on Burton’s Apes film” out of my system, Rise of the Planet of the Apes looks to be what the fans want. Judging by the trailer, it isn’t about explosions, it has a doom-ridden atmosphere, and looks to be one of those films that builds up to a real bang of a climax like the other (good) installments.

I recently had the chance to discuss all this with director Rupert Wyatt, along with the trailer reaction, getting to make an inherently dark studio film, returning to social commentary, the hopefulness in the film, and how Justin Bieber is lending a helping hand to the end of cinema:

How do you think the trailer has been received so far?

It seems to have gone down very well.

Do you think it’s an accurate representation of the film?

I think it is. What I’m really pleased about is that they’ve taken the film seriously, which was definitely our intention. Trailers can be very indicative of what you usually end up getting, but what I quite liked about the trailer was the indication that our film had a very strong story.

The trailer sets up what seems to be an eerie atmosphere. Can you talk a bit about the mood of the film?

Is it dark? I don’t know if it’s dark. Well, it’s not literally dark [Laughs]. It’s the story of evolution, in many ways, with this one character, Caesar. It’s a transition from a certain world, which is a lot more brighter and innocent and more hopeful, to a world that is perhaps more cynical, violent and harsher. We definitely see that. It was always our intention to chart that visually as much as narratively. We tried to place it in the real world as much as we possibly could and make it as plausible as we could. In some ways, bearing in mind we’re dealing with real apes, that certainly takes us away from the franchise of dealing with humanoid apes.

Wouldn’t you say the film is inherently dark with the ending it has?

Yeah, there was a certain… what’s the right way to say this without sounding critical, because it’s not my place, but there was a certain camp to the Tim Burton film that this film doesn’t have.

Go ahead, you can say it’s terrible [Laughs].

To be honest, I haven’t seen it in a really long time. I remember going to see it at the cinema. I think everyone has to acknowledge that the effects and prosthetics in that film are pretty phenomenal, but for some reason, it was a story that played out in a world that wasn’t similar to our world, so we couldn’t really connect to it. In a funny way, it was much more faithful to Pierre Boulle‘s novel than the original film, especially with the ending. I understand the reasoning why they went there.

I always thought — and this is what attracted me to this film — to see the evolution from its inception and why an exploited species rises up against its dominators. To me, that is really dramatic and fascinating. To attempt to do that in a very real world setting is what I wanted to achieve.

Judging from the trailer, you seem to have gone back to what the series is about: social commentary. Was it important to make an Apes film with something to say?

We’ve taken a different approach to the origin of the mythology. It was apes being brought into domestic households and being enslaved, but we’ve taken a different approach, which is a more scientific approach with how the apes have evolved. I actually find that more plausible. To speculate on a period of time, we’d be talking about generations and generations of how a chimpanzee could actually evolve into a humanoid creature, which could cause a revolution. I think there needs to be some sort of scientific reasoning behind that, and that’s what we’ve gone for.

So you’re going for realistic science versus “movie” science?

To be honest with you, I think “science-fiction” is called science-fiction for a reason. I’m not a major fan of Arthur C. Clark, because I think his science is so phenomenally researched and plausible, that it becomes incredibly dry as a result. If you look at a Philip K. Dick story, he’s a fantastic science-fiction writer because he’s skirting away from the plausibility factor, because it’s all about story to him. He’s using it for a metaphor in our real world, so then we can understand it in that way. To me, that’s more interesting. I was trying to be as respectful and faithful to real world science as we possibly could, but that’s really not the driving force of the story.

Would you call the film hard sci-fi? How would you label it?

I don’t know. I don’t think I can. I’ve been asked that question before. Actually, when I was being interviewed for the job I was asked that [Laughs]. I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer to that, because it’s so many different genres. It’s a fairy tale, it’s a love story, it’s about a father-son relationship, it’s an action movie, it’s a dark drama, and it’s a cautionary tale. It’s all sorts of things. I think the best representation of this — and this is a very high bar to reach for — but think of a film like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. To me, that’s a fantastic story in terms of its canvas, but at its heart, it’s very much a human drama.

From what I know, most of the action takes place in the third act, so would you say the film fits the general idea of a summer blockbuster?

You’re asking all the hard questions [Laughs]. What we’re doing is laying the groundwork for, hopefully, future films to come that’ll deal with the actual conflict between apes and humans. We’re leveling the playing field, in terms of the film and what the story is. I think, at its heart, the real focus is the breaking of the bond between humans and animals, and seeing how that comes about with the betrayal of a species’ trust.

I’ve said this before, but it’s a very sad irony that our closest cousins, in a way, are exploited. There’s something fundamentally wrong about that, but also understandable. If we were to take this science-fiction story, you would understand why this species would rise up when given the chance.

Would you say the film is cynical about humanity, like the other Apes films, or a little more hopeful?

It’s a little more hopeful. It’s very important for a human audience to come in and watch this movie understanding that we… so often it’s very black and white to tell cautionary tales about how “science is wrong” and that we “shouldn’t tamper with things that we can’t understand the consequences of,” and so many movies go down that road. My personal belief is that that is a mistake.

The very reason we have evolved as a species is through progress, through research, and investigation. Einstein split the atom, therefore he believes he created something wonderful that would benefit all of mankind, but little did he know that it would inevitably be used for mankind’s destruction. It’s all about the individual and the society we make. There’s certain humans in our film that represent our worst instincts, but there’s certain humans that represent our best [instincts].

Is Will [James Franco] like a less evil Dr. Frankenstein?

If you look back at the original Mary Shelley‘s original Frankenstein, he’s as conflicted as that character. There is a real moral twilight to him. Will is a scientist that experiments on animals, and there’s a huge moral quandary to that. I’m sure if you ask anyone in that field how they feel about that, they would never be able to give a black and white answer about if they believe it to be right or wrong. It’s something that’ll keep them up at night. I think that’s where the drama in his character lies.

Would you say this is Will’s story, or Caesar’s?

It’s very much both their stories, in many ways. It’s the breaking of the bond between the two. As our human protagonist, Will is very much that. As our ape protagonist, Caesar is the leader. It’s their story.

Did you approach the film as a character-driven piece, like The Escapist?

I always think it’s a mistake for people and studios to believe that an audience is only looking for non-narrative action set pieces in their films. I think films like Inception have proved that you can earn a phenomenal box-office for telling a great story that’s told on a huge canvas. What I like to think is that this is a great story, but with an epic sensibility. That’s why I think Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time, because he’s always understood that, and more people should, or the money people should.

All you really need to know about Jack is his favorite movies are: The Last Detail, Rumble Fish, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Verdict, Closer, Shadow of a Doubt, The Long Goodbye, Spider-Man 2, Jaws, Adaptation, Get Carter, The Last Days of Disco, Carnal Knowledge, Almost Famous, Ed Wood, Ace in the Hole, Barton Fink, and L.A. Confidential.

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