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Fox Plans “Rise of the Apes”: Future Biting Social Commentary or Burton-esque Blunder?

Various media outlets have reported that Twentieth Century Fox is planning to produce another installment in the Planet of the Apes series of films. This one is tentatively titled Rise of the Apes which will represent a reworking of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and is set for a June 2011 release.

This announcement brings mixed feelings. One the one hand, I am a huge Planet of the Apes fan and it may be my favorite science fiction film and trend setting franchise of films. For this reason I would love to see a successful new Apes film that has the potential to give birth to a new generation of fans through a rekindled franchise.

On the other hand, I am extremely skeptical of Fox’s ability to deliver the goods where this film is concerned. The Apes films are known for not only taking science fiction seriously as a genre, but also for using it to engage in strong social and cultural commentary. This is especially the case with Conquest of the Planet of the Apes with its treatment of race as commentators like Eric Greene have discussed. I would be very surprised if Fox were willing to address the issue of race as Conquest did, particularly in our present climate which is anything but post-racial. It is more likely that the film will be high on action and special effects and very light on cultural interaction. And concerning special effects, this is another reason for my skepticism. Press reports indicate that Fox is planning on using motion capture computer-generated imagery for the apes rather than makeup prosthetics. It seems that in post-Avatar Hollywood they have forgotten that special effects must be used appropriately in given contexts and that there is no universal form of effects in films. While Cameron demonstrated the great potential for motion capture, makeup effects have come a long way as well, and in my view prosthetics from Rick Baker or Stan Winston Studios would be more appropriate in this film’s context.

While I will hold out hope that Rise of the Apes will be worthwhile, I fear it will be yet another “Burton-esque” blunder such as we saw from Fox in 2001.

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