Saturday, March 31

Rise of the Apes

In other news, I viewed Rise of the Planet of the Apes the other weekend, and was generally impressed. Primatologists are supposed to be supportive of the movie because it did away with any remaining need for ape actors, by demonstrating that CG apes are just as effective. Inaccurate portrayal of these species must be viewed as a lesser evil, in this light.

"Rise" does a number of good things when it comes to showing off primate behavior, but when it goes wrong, it goes wrong. The scene where Caesar "asks permission" was almost offensive. Not only is this open palm gesture not a natural behavior as indicated, but it doesn't make any sense, behaviorally. Chimps do not ask permission, not in any explicit sense. This error betrays a gross misunderstanding of primate cognition.

Yet, the most unrealistic part of the movie was Caesar's appearance. I understand what they were going for: they wanted to make Caesar look more human, and make his emotive gestures jive with human movie-goers. His sclera are white, his snout is short, and his features are generally softened. Unfortunately, this aesthetic decision sent Caesar into the uncanny valley. He doesn't look like a chimp, and he does not look human, either. He looks unnatural. He was still my favorite character, though.

The other ape characters, like Rocket the alpha chimp, looked remarkably real, more real than I was expecting. The days of ape acting are over; anyone still using live apes in film and photo has no excuse other than greed.

Despite some of the things I've sad, the Oscar for Visual Effects should have been awarded to "Rise" - Hugo's gears and flying papers do not stack up. Maybe they were more challenging from an engineering perspective, but the fact is that the psychology of getting people to believe that human-like creatures are real is a far more impressive accomplishment.

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