As animal-friendly as ever

The Browser's Ecstasy

It’s a breakthrough also in more ways than one: as movie technology it is the first animal movie to use computer simulated, not real, animals; it is the first mainstream movie story from the point of view of sentient animals.

If you are partial at all to animal movies but have been squeamish about their involuntary participation in a movie production, this is the movie for you. Not only were no animals harmed in this animal-movie, no animals were used. The movie is PETA-approved. And has just topped the box office. 

For me, it wasn’t anymore enough to see this line in the credits, ‘No animals were harmed during the making of this film’, because the animals in them, don’t know they are in a movie. They are trained over and over again to do a shot, kindly, I’m sure, by their handlers, but what’s the use if the animal has no clue she’s an actor, much less a star?

Though it’s telling their story, it ‘uses’ them to tell it. All the excitement and attention on the set must be good for the general boredom and neglect of the animal in question, but it’s still not a good enough reason to make them ‘act’ in a movie.  

The director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rupert Wyatt, felt strongly about this, and said in an interview: “It would be a cruel irony to tell the story of the exploited and repressed and use live apes to do so.”

Cutting edge movie technology comes to the rescue of animals. Using the kind of new CGI special effects that Avatar used, and blending it with motion-capture technology, this movie convincingly populates the screen with chimps, apes, and orangutans who storm the Golden Gate Bridge to do epic battle with humans.  

Though a kind of prequel to Planet of the Apes, this has nothing to do with that camp classic and its uneven sequels. And thank Caesar the Ape for this, because those movies had nothing but contempt for animals. It anthropomorphised them, as usual, to a fault. But there is a crucial difference here, something that makes Rise of the Planet of the

Apes brand new and significant in this genre’s cinematic history: the animals are not any longer the monsters humans wage battle against; instead, humans are the villains these animals need to triumph over. And the grand dénouement: they do! They do triumph!  
I might come off sounding gleefully misanthropic here, but just consider: all the disaster movies, all the monster movies, all the sci-fi movies have some animal-like monster(s) that humans go up against.

In Grizzly, it was a giant mutant bear, in the Swarm it was killer bees, in Jaws, the killer shark, in Snakes on A Plane it was, yes, what else, venom-spewing reptiles, in Anaconda, of course, an anaconda, then the homicidal dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and before all this,  those heavy mothers: King Kong and Godzilla. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this particular trope/convention of the monster-movie genre is finally reversed: we cheer for the animals, laugh and clap when the humans get their asses kicked, and go away with a wide, lingering smile when the animals are victorious in the end.

One of the things I was afraid of when watching this movie was that at some point in the plot the apes would split into good apes and bad apes and the humans will join with the good apes to destroy the bad apes. In point of fact, there was one such ‘ugly’ (i.e, dark and feral) fella being groomed in the lab whom I thought was surely destined to play the villain. But oh joy, this chimp turned out to be the one who gets to avenge all the ill-treated lab chimps when he pushes the greedy corporate lab honcho off the Golden Gate Bridge to his deserving end.     

Another thing I was glad about the way this plot unfolds: usually in this sort of movie, before we get to the part where the animals organise themselves into a force and outsmart humans, we have to sit through passages of cruelty to animals by those bad humans. While there is a little of that here, the animals overcome the odds quickly and empower themselves even before the interval! Besides, you don’t mind too much having to see animals suffer here because they are all CGI simulated.

Without making any fuss about issues of animal welfare or rights, or even drawing our attention to them, the filmmakers make their point in a way that will move even those who so far may not have shown any or much interest in the fate of animals, both in the world and in the movies.

It’s also so inspiring: the leader of the apes, Caesar, is like a Che Guevara hero; the  thrilling and spectacular image of the ape storming out of the foggy mists on the Golden Gate Bridge riding a horse as he swiftly and expertly cuts down his human-enemy is rousing, fulfilling. It makes you want to stand up and cheer for him and all his kind. Yes! you want to say. Yes!

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