Friday, August 8, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: The Problem with Talking Apes

This week, I finally got around to watching the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which led me to take a rare trip to the cinema where I saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It should be noted that I am going to talk about certain specifics of both films, so here is the obligatory spoiler alert!

I imagine that if you haven't bothered to see the first film in this series yet you won't mind me explaining a bit. If you read the original French sci-fi novel La Planète des Singes or saw the 1968 film Planet of the Apes, then you should know that it tells the story of a whole planet of talking apes.

I was always a fan of the original film (though I'm not as fond of the 2001 remake starring Mark Wahlberg), and I certainly enjoyed the two newest films. However, the major issue I had as a language lover was not the fact that the apes could communicate, but that they could speak.

Could this adorable ape really destroy humanity?
In Rise of the Planet of the Apes the protagonist ape, Caesar (named for the Shakespeare play based on the Roman emperor), was born from a gene-altered ape in a lab and raised by James Franco's character, Dr. Will Rodman. Rodman was attempting to develop a cure for Alzheimer's disease in order to help cure his father. Eventually, his results are promising and in the absence of the disease, the cognitive abilities of the apes are augmented.

This leads to Caesar being smarter than your average ape, becoming a master of chess and learning more sign language than an average ape would. Sadly, the virus that administers the experimental cure turns out to be deadly to humans. Following a mass escape by the intelligent apes, the film ends with the message that the disease is spreading across the globe and killing many humans. At the start of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we find ourselves in a world where humanity has all but disappeared and the small ape civilisation is a thriving peaceful tribe in a forest near San Francisco.

We heard Caesar utter monosyllabic expressions at the end of the first film, which we are to assume he can make due to his heightened intelligence. Even though it is fairly common knowledge that apes lack the anatomy to make such sounds, I let that go since it is a film, after all.

However, the element of the films that really bugged me was the rate of the apes' language acquisition. At the end of the first film, Caesar yelled "no" and referred to himself in the third person, telling Rodman that "Caesar is home". Yet early into the sequel, Caesar confronts the humans and delivers a mission statement to them, declaring in a simplified, and somewhat broken English, that the apes do not wish for war but will defend themselves if the humans set foot near their home.

Despite the events of the film covering a few days, or a week at the most, the rate of language acquisition is astounding, especially given that the apes appeared to have learnt little to no spoken language in the ten years between the events of the two films. All of a sudden, they have started to master the English language within a week.

That said, perhaps the apes' slow development of spoken language was due to the ten-year absence of any human interaction. Using this argument, once they began to interact with humans again, they started picking it up fairly quickly thanks to their intelligence.

What did you think of the film? Is the apes' rate of language acquisition ridiculous, fair, or perfect? Or did it not bother you at all? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.