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The Rise of the Planet of the Apes

August 6, 2011

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is getting good reviews and, unfortunately, it does not open until next week in Puerto Rico (where I am now). I have seen the trailers and read some reviews and synopses and from what I gather, I am looking forward to seeing it – not because of chimps and gorillas are kicking some interspecies ass and the amazing skills of Andy Serkis and the technological wizardry of motion capture but primarily because it creates a phylogenetically more sensible origin story to the beloved series.


In Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, we are given a mindless story in which a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes or paniscus) is taken through a wormhole and eventually gives rise, over thousands of years of evolution, to intelligent apes that include mountain gorillas (genus Gorilla) and orangutans (genus Pongo) that now rule the (apparently de-evolved) humans.


The problem with this is that current consensus is that the genus Pan is a result of the most recent divergence of the hominids with both gorillas and orangutans being ancestral to the genera Pan and Homo in their divergence. So, in Tim Burton’s universe, evolution reversed itself (not unheard of in evolution) and reversed itself perfectly (rare [perhaps unknown] in evolution), producing a new phylogeny of the apes in which chimps give rise to gorillas and orangutans…and they did it perfectly. I’m not buying it.


In the new origin, the evolution of the major lineages has already happened and it is a human created drug that has transformed an already evolved suite of species into the downfall of the human species.


Much more satisfying for those of us paying attention to evolutionary history while at the cinema. Enjoy!!

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