Hail Caesar: Superior Chimp

Director Rupert Wyatt Revolutionizes with Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Summer blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes reboots the sci-fi classic for the 21st century with in-your-face technical virtuosity. British director Rupert Wyatt cast prolific motion-capture actor Andy Serkis as insurrectionary lead ape Caesar, whose performance is enhanced by WETA Digital’s Oscar-winning visual effects (also used for Serkis's roles as the eponymous gorilla in King Kong and Gollum in Lord of the The Rings). After his intelligence is boosted via medical trials for an Alzheimer’s cure conducted by scientist Dr. Will Rodman, played by James Franco, Caesar ingeniously escapes, frees other apes from captivity and leads them in a revolution to overthrow humanity; Dr. Rodman and Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto) set out to save man from extinction. Inspired by Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel La Planète des Singes and made famous by the 1968 original film version starring Charlton Heston, few stories have proved so commercially and critically successful over the past four decades as this simian franchise—there have been seven screen adaptations. The LA-based Wyatt, who rose to acclaim for his low-budget 2008 debut The Escapist, talks hairy beasts and Hollywood.

Four decades on from the original Planet of the Apes film, did you see a particular relevance between the storyline and contemporary society that made you want to revisit it?
All of the films have touched on or echoed the zeitgeist to a certain extent. That’s the appeal of the mythologies; they use another species to hold up a mirror to ourselves. I would say it is a sign of the times, but in what the characters personalities represent, rather than a political situation.
In your film, genetic engineering rather than nuclear war is the basis for the evolution of the apes. Why that path?
That sense of nuclear annihilation was ever-present in the 60s, but less so now. Now society has other fears, environmental or economic, for example, that seemed more appropriate.
You used Performance Capture Technology for rendering the ape characters. What was that experience like?
It was very new for me but also for the technical team, as it was the first time they had exclusively used live sets or live locations but with performance capture characters. You’re not talking Roger Rabbit, you’re talking about having the opportunity for both of those sets of actors to interact with each other.
What made you decide to cast James Franco as Dr. Will Rodman in the movie?
I wanted somebody very believable and James is a very strong character actor. He gave a really believable performance and that is exactly what I was looking for.
You previously directed just one feature before Rise of Planet of the Apes. How did you find the transition to a Hollywood blockbuster?
On the one hand like winning the lottery, on the other like climbing a very long staircase. The actual practical nature of making the film is very similar, there are just more people involved. Hollywood is a very democratic environment to work in as a director and you have to learn how to collaborate and delegate. The ship is so big you can’t put every sail up yourself.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is out in the US today.

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