Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) – Arrested Arrested Development

Reboots are predicated upon the idea that franchises have natural lifespans. The cycle begins with a single luminous idea that is transformed into a film, a book, a game or a TV series.  The brilliance of the idea is such that its chosen media vehicle becomes a huge success.  Desperate to cash-in on the success of that idea, its owners will then sanction the creation of sequels, prequels, spin-offs and media tie-ins that make them a lot of money whilst devaluing the original idea thanks to over-exploitation, over-familiarity and the corrosive inertia of too many bad decisions.  Down on its luck, the franchise then lies dormant until people either forget the bad decisions or a new idea reinvigorates the old one allowing the franchise to be re-launched, re-imagined or re-booted.

In 1968, Pierre Boulle’s 1963 science fiction novel gave birth to a surprisingly thoughtful and visually striking film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Planet of the Apes was such a success that it went on to spawn four cinematic sequels and a short-lived TV series, by which time the idea was well and truly played out (for a great overview of the original films, check out Matt Singer’s piece here).  Mindful that TV repeats and home video cinephilia had transformed these old films into objects of cult veneration, studio executives hired Tim Burton to helm a ‘re-imagining’ of the original franchise.  However, far from re-invigorating the franchise, Burton’s under-written chase picture only served to bury it beneath an avalanche of sneers and titters rendered all the more toxic by that Simpsons episode. Planet of the Apes!  What a stupid idea for a movie!

Fast-forward ten years and trailers for a new Planet of the Apes movie began to appear in theatres and websites.  The trailers for Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes featured lots of CGI and a gorilla attacking a helicopter. When I first saw this trailer in a cinema, people laughed. However, far from being risible, Wyatt’s finished film is nothing short of a triumph. A delicious surprise given its recent cinematic antecedents, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the most effective and thought-provoking Hollywood films to appear this year.

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District 9 (2009) – Stand By For Level 3

Summer 2009 saw the birth of an interesting piece of terminology.  Reflecting the success of titles such as Iron Man (2008), Terminator Salvation (2009) and the Transformers series, “robots hitting each other” has become a short-hand way of referring to the kind of shallow and crassly commercial genre film-making that is currently dominating Hollywood release schedules.  Films not merely unintelligent but actually hostile to thought.  Films designed to eliminate critical distance through the sensorial onslaught of bloated running times packed with explosions, violence and spectacle.  Films that are the cinematic equivalent to the US using loud music to drive Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican embassy during the invasion of Panama.  Given a cultural climate in which Hollywood is essentially using psychological warfare against its own customers, it is only natural that many of us should yearn for something more.  Ever since the first trailers dropped, Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 has presented itself as a summer film with that little something extra : Science fiction that rises above robots hitting each other to become genuinely thought provoking and intelligent.  However, the reality of District 9 is that what ideas it has are used up in the first twenty minutes, after which the film collapses into a mire of clumsy metaphors, poorly written characters and the kind of plot you would find only in the most hollow-skulled of video games.

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