Seemingly coming out of nowhere to be one of the surprise sci-fi smashes of the summer, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes blends thought, thrills and tension, largely thanks to a strong understated cast, including the sublime Andy Serkis, a high concept, seemingly provided by the Force spirit of Michael Crichton, and of course, relatively unknown director Rupert Wyatt…
How did you get involved in Rise?
That’d obviously be a question for them, for the producers. I was working on another project for Fox, on another script, so I knew the executives there – I knew [co-chairman] Tom Rothman. I actually read the script three years before that. It was a very, very different incarnation of the script, so I was aware of the project and knew that the director they had – my predecessor – had left. They decided to green light the film and push it out there that they were looking for a new director, they started to call people in – and I was one of them.
The original script was actually a script that I didn’t really go for because I felt it was too domesticated in a way. It was a very closed story between man and ape, and although it was very interesting I felt that for a movie of this scale and ambition it couldn’t really sustain all of the things that it needed to sustain. So I was very pleased when I read the script again later that they had gone some way towards opening it up and telling the story in the real world and in a contemporary society, and that’s what really intrigued me. Everyone knows the myth, the iconic story of Planet Of The Apes, but what I’ve always found really fascinating is how this civilisation came to be, and how we, as the Alpha of our world became usurped by a species that we exploit and dominate, much as we do with most species.
Was it important to have the film be contemporary and have it judged as a being apart from the original films?
Not really, it certainly plays on very similar themes and we’re building towards the 1968 film. For me, science fact is more interesting than science fiction – by that I mean I love the writing of Philip K Dick more than the writing of Arthur C Clark, so to get that sense of heightened reality you have to contemporarise it and play on the themes of our world, that’s so much more interesting to me and that’s what we attempted to do with this. There is science at the core of this story, but at the same time we’re also taking a big leap in terms of speculative ideas and finding cures to diseases that don’t have cures. Though it’s a contemporary world, it’s a world of fiction – as it should be.
The movie deals with some big, juicy themes, was that something you always wanted from this movie?
I’ve always pushed for that – I’m not the writer of the script, so I come to something that’s already fully formed. But it’s important for me to take that as a document – and I have to remain true to it obviously, but at the same time I’ve really tried to relate certain aspects of the story to certain themes of the other films, such as Charlton Heston on the beach at the end, really raging at our civilisation for imploding upon itself, and we are very much that society on the brink. If there films after this it would be very, very important to explore more of this, to explore that idea that as a world we stand on the precipice – our world could end by way of pandemic, it could end by way of nuclear conflict, it could end by way of environmental collapse, economic collapse, drought and all sorts of places where we could go wrong. I think it’s interesting in the way that we’ve brought about an extraordinary evolution without our own species but at the same there’s a dramatic cost to that, and it’d be interesting to see whatever civilisation came after us, how they dealt with it and how they considered it.
That is a real challenge, it requires you to remain true to the script and the script’s intentions, and the studio’s intentions of how the film should be perceived, and at the same time doing exactly what you’re saying – being ambitious, pushing the envelope. Films of this size need to make money because they cost such a huge amount of money, and there’s no escape from that – it’s a cost based industry. So it’s all about finding those places and those oppourtunities to be that little more ambitious than the numbercrunchers feel one should be, and it’s a challenge and it’s really interesting in many ways. It’s a completely different beast to doing a small, independent film where you have the luxury, and you can be selfish enough to be really indulgent – with big films, you can’t. There’re filmmakers out there, such as Christopher Nolan, who’ve proven that there’s a massive audience out there for films that do challenge, that entertain and ask questions, and don’t give all of the answers. I think studios are definitely beginning to see that filmmakers can do that.
Do you worry about people’s hostility to remakes, prequels and franchises?
There’s so many films now that have been completely embraced into culture, for example Tim Burton’s Batman, and I’m sure at the time there was criticism. Whenever you’re rethinking or regenerating an idea – and nothing’s original, everything’s based on myth – as long as you do it in such a way that inspires people, and captivates people, then you’re fine. It’s all about doing that, and bad films and bad reboots are rightly shot down, partly because people are really sad about killing a franchise or killing a wonderful story that was done well the first time. I’m not a fan personally of remakes, unless the film was originally really bad. There are many great ideas that are badly made that are actually ripe for a remake, but with some of these wonderfully made films you have to ask the question, why remake it? This is slightly different in the sense that it is an original script, it’s a rethinking of the origin story, it’s not a remake.
How much has the bile tossed at Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes informed you?
I don’t really know. There’s two reasons people really go at the Tim Burton film and one is the ending, the ending didn’t work – it was a ridiculous ending. Interestingly it was very faithful to the novella, to Pierre Boulle’s novella, so I can understand why they did it, but it just didn’t make sense to a modern audience. The other reason, for me anyway, the beauty and the real feel of this story is that it’s set on our planet – that was the real genius of the first film, that we’re talking about our civilisation becoming dominated by a new species and a revolution rising up from within our world – but obviously the Tim Burton version wasn’t like that, it was set on an alien planet and it was very distant from us. For that reason audiences – us – didn’t engage with it. To be honest I haven’t seen it in so long that I could even begin to judge it for its story or poor acting – all I remember is its fantastic prosthetics, I thought those were quite wonderful. So no, I don’t think it helped or hindered – but if it means our film is doomed to failure, I’d say that’s not a good thing. Either people’s expectations will be threefold for this, incredibly high, or they’ll disregard it, so I don’t think that’s a good thing. I honestly think Planet Of The Apes is a timeless story and it has timeless appeal, and interestingly, when our trailers started to go out, we went from a film that was flying very low under the radar to a film that film that suddenly seemed to be getting a lot of interest – and that’s terrific because I think, yet again, people are fascinated by the idea of humans in conflict with apes.
Vital, really. I think what he proved, and he’s always been a good actor, is that performance capture not to be considered a separate form of performance from acting or theatre acting. It’s exactly the same, it’s just utilising technology, but ultimately it’s all about the acting so beneath the suit or beneath the cameras, is exactly the same mechanics. The way we communicate with each other is the way we communicate on set, and we completely forgot that he had a motion capture camera on his face or those aspects of performance capture. He doesn’t get caught up in the technology, he’s all about the pliancy of the performance.
Did you find yourself correcting people who say ‘monkey’?
[laughs] At the beginning the crew and the team would always call them by their proper names, the orangutangs and gorillas and chimps, and the group of apes, and now we just call them monkeys!
Did you watch a lot of nature documentaries when you started work on this?
We did, yeah. We spend time with a primatologist, and as soon as I started work on this film – and it’s been two years now, living and breathing apes – and every oppourtunity I had, I watched whatever I could and tried to understand their habits, habitat, their day to day life, the way they communicate and the way they teach one another, or not teach one another. Every aspect – the way they sleep, the way they eat. It was really, really important, because when you have actors playing real world chimps and gorillas, it’s absolutely key that you do so in a pronounced and a faithful way. If you or I were to play a chimp or a gorilla, we would do it in a comical way, and with a story like this and the fact that we were dealing with photo-realistic apes, we needed actors that understood, and we would take a great deal of time and patience and research. We had ape camp and ape school and all sorts of different styles of education to get our actors to the place where they could just walk onto set and do so on all fours.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is in cinemas now, for more – see our new issue!