Genesis of the ‘Planet of the Apes’
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
James Franco, Andy Serkis
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
They finally really did it!
Ten years after director Tim Burton’s disappointing remake of “Planet of the Apes” crash-landed in theaters — and 38 years after the classic series of five films fizzled out with “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” — a group of filmmakers finally figured out a way to reboot the concept with a fresh, smart and provocative approach that’s wholly engrossing and enormously entertaining.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt from a screenplay written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” not only stands out as one of the best action films of the summer (next to “X-Men: First Class”), but it also reinvents the franchise with a bold, exciting, intense and fun new chapter that does right by the ideals explored in the brilliant 1968 original film while working spectacularly on its own terms.
Oscar-nominee James Franco (“127 Hours”) plays Will Rodman, a genetic scientist in San Francisco who’s committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, the disease from which his father (John Lithgow)suffers. He makes an extraordinary breakthrough with a revolutionary new drug that rebuilds damaged brain tissue, but before he can try it out on a person, he must first try it out on a test subject: a chimpanzee named Bright Eyes.
The results are instantaneous, but the side-effects are disastrous, and the program is terminated — but not before Bright Eyes can give birth to a baby chimp that Will names Caesar. In the years that follow, Caesar develops an incredible level of intelligence that increases geometrically, and it doesn’t take long before he resents his human captors and leads his fellow apes in a revolt for supremacy.
Where the original film that starred Charlton Heston was an epic metaphor for civil rights, racism and nuclear annihilation, the new prequel is more of a straightforward cautionary tale about crossing the boundaries of genetic research. And because it takes place in the present day, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is the most grounded in reality of all the movies in the “Apes” series.
But where the apes in the classic films were played by actors wearing prosthetic makeup (designed by John Chambers, who won a special Oscar for his groundbreaking efforts), the apes in the new prequel are computer-generated by Weta Digital: the New Zealand-based digital effects company behind the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the 2005 remake of “King Kong.” To that extent, it’s no surprise that the motion capture process used to depict Caesar was performed by Andy Serkis, who “played” both Gollum and Kong in those movies. Judging by the results, the special effects process has taken another amazing step forward, as there are only a few times where Caesar looks like the product of computer-generated imagery.
But what truly makes Caesar come to life is Serkis’ expressive and wholly believable performance — most of which is done during scenes where there is little or no dialogue. In fact, Serkis does such an excellent job at making Caesar a real-life protagonist, he winds up being the most sympathetic and fully realized character in the entire film, even over the human roles played by James Franco, Freida Pinto (who plays Caesar’s primatologist) and John Lithgow.
While “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” effectively sets the stage for a whole new series of films, the previous installment that it most closely resembles is the fourth chapter (and the best of the classic sequels): 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.” Both movies depict the treatment of the apes in such a harsh, horrible and inhumane way that you wind up rooting for them when they finally turn against the humans.
Fans of the original film won’t find any scenes that match the powerful and unforgettable impact of seeing a defeated Charlton Heston kneeling before a half-buried Statue of Liberty, but “Rise” is still a fast-paced and exciting 105-minute movie that culminates with a spectacular showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge. Longtime fans will have fun noticing the many references to the original films — some of which are subtle, while others are much more obvious — but more importantly, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is an outstanding film that will not only appeal to moviegoers of all ages; it will also leave them wanting more.
So yes, they finally really did it, and here’s hoping that they do it again real soon.
Verdict: SEE IT!