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Tuesday, August 9, 2011



"Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"
-- Dodge Landon

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a 2011 sci-fi action film directed by Rupert Wyatt that serves as a prequel to the classic 1968 film, Planet of the Apes. When genetic physicist Will Rodman (James Franco) starts to have success with an experimental drug he hopes will cure Alzheimer's, he pleads with his boss, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), to allow him to start human trials. After his prized chimpanzee subject ruins his pitch meeting with the board of supervisors, Will is left with nothing but an infant chimp. Because the company doesn't know of its existence, Will reluctantly takes it home to live with him and his Alzheimer's afflicted father (John Lithgow) in order to save it from being put down; however, he soon learns that the experimental drug that worked in its mother has passed genetically to this offspring, which he affectionately names Caesar. Will secretly starts to observe the animal over the course of a few years, watching it grow and learn and become smarter than he could have ever imagined. However, because Caesar is still a chimpanzee, he still has animalistic impulses that ultimately land him in a rundown ape sanctuary on the outskirts of San Francisco. As Caesar's intelligence continues to grow, he begins to see just how much the humans harm and oppress the apes. He begins to devise a plan to exact revenge...

For those of you who don't know - or haven't already figured out - this film is the next in a long line of films in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Before this, we've seen the original, some sequels, and an often-ridiculed attempt at a remake. We have not, however, seen an attempt at a prequel until this day. I can honestly say that I had my qualms about this film in the past few months. The trailers didn't seem to do the film much justice, and seeing as I didn't find the original film to be overly amazing (it's good, but it's nothing spectacular), I wasn't sure whether this film would be my cup of tea. Add to this the fact that Franco himself came out publicly a few weeks ago saying that he essentially mailed in his performance for this film. After hearing remarks like that, anyone can imagine why I had my doubts heading into opening weekend.

Then something happened. The film started to garner incredibly positive reviews. As of the writing of this post, Rise of the Planet of the Apes holds an 82% approval rating on the online review aggregate, which offers the following critical consensus: "Led by Rupert Wyatt's stylish direction, some impressive special effects, and a mesmerizing performance by Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes breathes unlikely new life into a long-running franchise." Raise your hand if your jaw has dropped as well. Even with that, I had my reservations about the film, but rest assured, ladies and gents - this one's a legitimate flick with a force that should be reckoned. Maybe Franco made those remarks to lower people's expectations...

Now, the screenplay itself isn't necessarily something to rave about. Yeah, it brings up a lot of questions about ethics and the like, but there really isn't anything truly fantastic about the storyline or the plot. It does enough to keep things moving along, but in a way, this is almost a bit of a character-driven film. Strangely enough, however, the "human" actors aren't the characters that make up the driving force.

Yeah, Franco does a decent job as the film's "lead" (if you can call him that), but it does seem like he's mailing in his performance a bit. Still, he does enough to make us care about his character. Some of the supporting cast does a decent job, including Freida Pinto and the always good Brian Cox. Lithgow delivers a few powerful scenes, but I felt like he was a tad bit under-utilized. We even get an legitimate performance from Tom Felton - famous for playing Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise - who has officially been type-cast as the jerk.

However, the real credit has to go to Andy Serkis, who provided the "acting" for Caesar (and maybe some of the other apes, but I'm not entirely sure). Serkis has become the king of motion capture acting, bringing us such iconic characters as Gollum (from The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Kong (from 2005's King Kong). Chalk up Caesar to that list, who might be the most fascinating of them all. When you have a computer-generated character, a lot of their success comes through the eyes. Look at the titular character from 2008's WALL-E: the eyes told everything about the emotions he was having, and he was a robot. In this film, however, so much emotion is conveyed through the eyes of the apes that it's almost as if they were human actors. The CGI was just that fantastic. You garnered such an emotional connection with Caesar and the other apes that it was impossible not to cheer against your fellow humans. You could feel their pain and their slight, and it conveyed beautifully across the screen. Kudos to the special effects guys - they deserve every compliment and accolade that they receive.

Also, if you're a fan of the original 1968 film, be on the lookout for a couple of nods and references, including the quote at the beginning of this post.

Overall, I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Is it going to be a classic, must-see film? Probably not. However, if you've seen the original 1968 film, then you might want to give this one a go. It's an interesting look at how things might have led to the events of that film, and the special effects are breathtakingly beautiful. That alone should drive you to the movie theater.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
2 Thumbs Up

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