RISE OF THE APES EXCLUSIVE: Director Rupert Wyatt on the Film, Its Themes & The Sequel - BEWARE SPOILERS

RISE OF THE APES EXCLUSIVE: Director Rupert Wyatt on the Film, Its Themes & The Sequel - BEWARE SPOILERS

Rise of the Planet of the Apes reaches theatres today, and CBM editor Ed Gross caught up with director Rupert Wyatt to discuss the film, the themes he wanted to deal with and the direction of the potential sequel. Beware that there are spoilers in this conversation.

In the days leading up to the release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it's obvious that Rupert Wyatt is feeling a mix of apprehension and exhiliration as he awaits the world's response to his reimagining of a classic scifi film series. From the earliest rumors of its development and right through much of production, there was a palatable sense of skepticism surrounding the film, with many people immediately dismissing it in much the way they had Tim Burton's 2001 remake of the 1968 original. But then the trailers started to be released and the skepticism began leveling off to the point where now, just as it reaches theatres (and fueled by almost unanimous critical praise), Rise of the Planet of the Apes is being perceived as a potential sleeper hit of the summer.

RPOTA Article 1    "I've watched versions of this movie as it's constantly evolved, it must be coming up to 400-500 times," muses Wyatt, who had previously directed the prison film The Escapist, "so when your face is up to the glass.... well, I guess that's the challenge of filmmaking. You have to have the distance and that space to always have the conscious awareness of how people perceive the movie, and what people will pick up on and what they won't. And there are moments where you think, 'That's not working' or 'That is working,' and then you'll screen it again and the opposite is true. At the end of the day you have to put it out there and see how it floats. That being said, two nights ago I watched it at the premiere, with a big audiences, and I loved it. I enjoyed it. And that's not always the case. I've sat there on tenterhooks saying, 'God, that was a mistake,' but I think the beauty of this film for me is the story. It's a great story, and we've had so much fun and so many challenges that we've overcome in telling that story in a way that's never been told before. To be part of that is great."

   As is fairly well known by this point, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is a chimp who has been genetically enhanced through the experimentation of Will Rodman (James Franco), who in searching for a cure for Alzheimer's unlocks a means of increasing the intelligence of apes, which in turn paves the road to humanity's eventual downfall. As the story evolves, Caesar goes from being a rescued infant to a member of the Rodman family to "prisoner" of an ape sanctuary that is anything but, and, ultimately, the leader of a revolution. The latter, it should be noted, is a role that he is gradually pushed towards until he has no choice but to grab it and push back.

RPOTA Article 6    "Through it all," Wyatt points out, "he's hanging on to his belief in humanity to the point where -- and it's very subtle -- there's a reference costantly through the film to go home, which bears out at the end of the movie. Home is one of the first words he's taught by Will, but as you watch the movie you see that, in a sense, humanity is not there to help him or protect him or look after him. That humans have been represented by his surrogate father, and he realizes he is on his own. That's when a certain choice is made and that's where we see the beginnings of the revolution."

"This movie is an escape film," proclaims the director. "It's about a species finding a place where they belong. They're not part of our world; they don't belong in prison, they don't belong in a science laboratory. They belong in a world in which they can adapt and grow. And at the same time, we've made them smarter than they could ever have been. That coupled with the fact that because they're stronger than us, they can therefore become evolved... potentially more evolved than us."

   One of the challenges Wyatt had to meet was to always keep in mind that Rise of the Planet of the Apes had to be designed as a summer blockbuster; an entertainment that would pull a large audience in to watch a movie that would excite them, would be visceral, visually ambitious and a spectacle.

POTA Poster 1    "But Planet of the Apes was a great blockbuster; the Star Wars of its day," he emphasizes. "It had people lined up around the block going to see it, but in Hollywood sometimes I think we lose track of what movies are for. They're not video games; they shouldn't be video sequences strung together in one line. They should be, at the end of the day, great stories. That's why I think the filmmaker of our time, and will always be considered the filmmaker of our time, is Spielberg, because he has that ability to tell wonderful stories on a large scale, and that's what we were aiming for with this. We wanted to tell a great story.

   "Not to get too crazily off track," Wyatt laughs, "but I was thinking as I was making this film that it's like all of the great mythologies. If you look at the Christ story or any kind of aspects of religion, it's sort of, like, before Christ there was John the Baptist,and in a way Caesar's mother was John the Baptist, the one who is speaking about the revolution. John the Baptist is trying to break the bonds and he fails -- much as Ceasar's mother fails to gain her own freedom from the lab -- and then the Messiah comes later. This was one of those great opportunities for telling a story where we have terrifically rendered characters who happen to be apes, and the future ape civilization that is to come will look back on those ape characters and see them as the heroes of the revolution, and they'll build statues to them. That's what I always had one eye on while I was telling the story -- where are we going? Because we want to grow and evolve in, hopefully, the films that will come after this to the 1968 original, where it will all fit together."

One of the most popular complaints from Internet users prior to the film's release was the illogic of humanity being subjugated by apes when we outnumber simians by such a large margin. There is, however, an element introduced in Rise that begins to level the playing field.

   "Our story is told in a microcosm," says Wyatt, "but we need to be aware of the world at large. To do that in such a way that in the next film you'll understand how things have changed."

RPOTA Article 5    Emphasizing that this is all conjecture at this point, Wyatt nonetheless shares some thoughts on directions that the possible sequel could go in, beginning with the fact that it will probably take place about eight years after the events of film one -- essentially a generation in the apes world -- thus allowing Caesar to remain a relatively young leader.

   "So the great thing," he smiles, "is you can have the next generation of apes who have grown up within the paradise they find [at the end of the first film]. You can have a new generation evolve who have inherited the genes, and they're the ones that are going into battle; they are the ones displaying real fear as young soldiers when they're going into battle. Think Full Metal Jacket... that kind of urban environment not dissimilar to Western forces going into Baghdad. Remember when the soldiers were finding gold telephones in Hussein's home? It would be the same way that the apes would understand our species through what we've created -- whether it be TV or cooking or whatever it may be.

RPOTA Article 10    "There's so much we can do," Wyatt enthuses. "Whereas the story of the first film plays out as a fairy tale, the next film will play out as a Shakespearean scifi drama where you'll have Caesar as the leader of this revolution, but Koba would be the one leading his own troops wanting to wipe out humans in a genocide. But Caesar is more conflicted, and maybe Caesar needs Koba's assistance in terms of the conflict. And Maurice is his advisor and he's telling him to combine forces. Caesar needs the allegiance of the two, although he doesn't believe in what Koba believes in, which is complete genocide."

   The question is where does Will Rodman fit into a sequel, if at all? "The relationship between father and son is so strong, so it's a possibility," he allows. "But you could always portray the human face through that of a resistance leader or the guy who is trying to find a cure for the virus [that's killing humans]. Maybe it's a little bit like 12 Monkeys, where every human has gone underground to avoid the virus, and when they come up to the surface they're wearing gas masks. In a way, that would de-humanize them and would make us really follow the apes. That's what interests me. This shouldn't be apes as our enemy, this should be about the idea of a whole new civilization coming into being. With the beauty of modern cinema, we, the audience, have an opportunity to witness that."

   One thought that has to be kept in mind is that even in the original film series, the audience was pretty much cheerleaders on the side of the apes. "Well, they're a mirror to ourselves," muses Wyatt, "and the mythology is so great. It's like a primal instinct in us to kind of look at them and think, 'Do they have a soul? Do they think like us? And if they do, what are they thinking?' This franchise, this story, tells us how they are thinking."

In watching the film, there is an interesting pacing structure in that the first portion more or less speeds through its development (though never at the expense of story or character) until the point where Caesar is placed in the sanctuary, which is when things slow down so that the audience can fully embrace the reasons behind the need for revolution.

   "I guess you could say the film is broken down into three very distinct acts," notes Wyatt. "The first act is the young Caesar growing up in a human world, which is a very personal story. What's interesting there is that this is a summer blockbuster, but it just so happens our big special effect is a character that we're trying to model into the audience's experience into not being a special effects. We want our audience to believe in him. We don't want people to think it's a CGI spectacle, but a real character. The great dichotomy of that is, where is the special effect? Where's the summer blockbuster about it? Seeing that first part of the movie, it's very intimate and very personal and it's really the foundation of our story, so it's important. It was always challenging to think, 'How long will we have before an audience starts to wonder where their blockbuster is?', which you have to respect. So the great opportunity we had was to break the story into three acts.

   "The first act, as I said, is where it's like Rear Window; it's him looking at the world and seeing the qualities of human civilization. he sees the quality of the families and how good we can be. The second act is a prison movie. It's the idea of the outcast, the one who doens't belong to either species and is making his way in a much darker world and making the choice to rise through the ranks of his own. And harnessing who they are and becoming their leader in order to then take us into act three, which is the beginnings of revolution."

RPOTA Article 2    And as that revolution takes place, there's an interesting example of Caesar's own innate humanity, showcased in a closing scene between him and Will in which their roles have essentially reversed and Caesar has become the "father."

   Wyatt details, "At the moment Caesar is taken into the primate facility, Will puts his hand out and says, 'Trust me,' and Caesar takes that hand because he believes in him. He loves him as a father, so at the end to reach his own hand out to Will, he becomes in a way the leader of his own peole, but also the father of his own people, and he shows Will that."

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