They knew how to ruin a franchise in 1933; The Song of Kong is, as the title suggests, on a much smaller scale that the original film, with much of Ernest B Schoedsack’s film given over to music hall songs and mild intrigue and the people of Skull Island only get a look in around the midway mark. Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) leads an expedition from New York in search of treasure, only to find Kong’s roly-poly albino offspring and a few dinosaurs lying in wait. Kong’s son Kiko is a friendly little monkey, and does what he can to protect Denham’s bedraggled party from the island’s inhabitants. Complete with a splendid music number performed by monkeys, The Song of Kong is a delightfully silly affair, a light dessert after the dramatic beats of the original monster-on-the-loose movie.
Rupert Wyatt pulled off an accomplished reboot of the popular sci-fi series that wisely takes the franchise back to the start of the ape regime, skipping the absurd melodrama of Tim Burton’s remake. Will Rodman (James Franco) is the scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, with Ceasar (Andy Serkis) the ape who gets treated like a human being when his intellect begins to soar. Mistreated and confined to a cell with his fellow apes, Ceasar begins talking about a revolution, and Wyatt’s film ends with a dynamic revolt, with the apes causing mayhem on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. Likely to be the first in a long line of films about Ceasar’s struggle for power, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an intelligent and astutely written film that considers wider issues of animal and human rights without ever letting Ceasar become a monster; sketching the bedroom window that he misses on the wall of his cell, he’s a empathetic hero in a way that makes Franco’s scientist somewhat dispensable.
Working with Jean-Claude Carriere, the go-to provocateur for everyone from Luis Bunuel to Jonathan Glazer, Nagisa Oshima crafted this truly bizarre one-off drama. Peter Jones (Anthony Higgins) is vexed when his wife Margaret (Charlotte Rampling) appears to have taken a new lover, but his nose is further out of joint when he discovers her new paramour is a chimp called Max. To make matters worse, this isn’t sex but love, Peter’s world crumbles as he realises that he’s been bested by an animal. Max Mon Amour sounds like a comedy, but it’s a deadly serious examination of modern morals and sexual jealousy, played with a straight-face and the serious intention which might be expected from the director of In the Realm of the Senses. Without any real graphic content, Max Mon Amour deconstructs the male psyche with broad, brutal strokes, and looks at a darker side of animalistic machismo than most directors would be prepared to explore.
Following on the back of his Oscar-winning Man On Wire, James Marsh chose to adapt Elisabeth Marsh’s book about the remarkable story of Mim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee raised by BYC academics as a human in the free-thinking 1970’s. Marsh shoots his interviews with an odd flourish, with the camera panning away as contributors finish their story. It’s a neat shorthand for the way in which Nim’s hosts continually let him down; after being raises as a man, the funding for the project was pulled, and poor Nim found himself ghetto-ed in zoo conditions, where he passed the time by teaching other chimps to talk using sign-language. Marsh’s documentary is a heart-rendingly sad story about man’s accidental cruelty to animals, with Nim’s predicament artfully outlined for maximum impact. Project Nim would make a good double bill with Rise of The Planet of the Apes; if Nim had went on to lead a revolution, it would have been no more than mankind deserved on this evidence.