US Release Date: 08-05-2011
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
- James Franco, as
- Will Rodman
- Andy Serkis, as
- Freida Pinto, as
- Caroline Aranha
- John Lithgow, as
- Charles Rodman
- Brian Cox, as
- John Landon
- Tom Felton, as
- Dodge Landon
- David Oyelowo, as
- Steven Jacobs
- Tyler Labine, as
- Robert Franklin
- Jamie Harris as
Andy Serkis and James Franco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
With so many remakes, reboots, reimaginations, sequels and prequels of movies from my childhood being made, I'm starting to feel old. I was a bit leery about yet another one, especially after Tim Burton's disappointing attempt to revive the Apes franchise in 2001. Turns out however that for once Hollywood got it right and managed to produce a reboot that honors the original movies while still putting a new and entertaining spin on the concept.
The story is set in modern times and most closely resembles the plot of 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in that it tells the origins of intelligent apes, but for different reasons than in that earlier film and is definitely not a direct remake, nor does it really fit in with the continuity of the earlier series.
James Franco plays Will, a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. A goal motivated by concern for his father (John Lithgow), who is suffering from it. He develops a successful vaccine in the form of a virus that combats the disease that he tests on chimpanzees. When one of the tested chimpanzees becomes violent, the program is shut down, but Will discovers that the reason for her sudden rage was simply that she was protecting her new born chimp baby, whom Will adopts, naming him Caesar.
Caesar has picked up the virus from his mother and grows more intelligent as he grows up. Will is so encouraged by his aptitude that he begins using the virus on his father with great success. However, after a few years, his father's immune system begins to fight back and the effects of Alzheimer's return, forcing Will to work on a stronger version of the virus.
The action in the movie really picks up when Caesar attacks a neighbor to defend Will's father. Caesar is then sent to an animal shelter where he meets other apes for the first time and sees how his "people" are mistreated. He determines to find a way to improve their lot in life.
While it does take a while for the movie to really get going, I was never bored. Franco does a decent job, playing it straight and serious and Lithgow evokes empathy. It is Andy Serkis though who is the real star of the film, as the motion captured Caesar. Serkis is the modern day Lon Chaney. Thanks to the magic of computers, he's the new man with a thousand faces and the go-to-guy when it comes to humanizing computer generated characters.
The filmmakers have cleverly included several references to the original films. One character is watching a Charlton Heston film on television. There's a recurring news story in the background involving a spaceship named Icarus, which was the name of the ship that crashed on the Planet of the Apes in the original. The first chimp to be tested on is nicknamed Bright Eyes, which was the nickname given to Taylor in the original. And there's a direct nod to the original's most famous and most quoted line in a scene that mirrors the first time the apes hear Taylor speak. What's great is that you don't have to recognize these nods, but they make nice Easter Eggs for those in the know.
The ending sets itself up for a sequel and I'll definitely be in line to see it when it happens.
An action scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
I normally loathe remakes but as Scott pointed out this one is more of a reboot than a direct remake. It manages to breathe fresh life into an old movie franchise. In the original movie series intelligent apes from Earth’s future traveled back in time to the 1970s where their progeny grows up and leads the revolt that eventually takes over the planet; thus creating one of those nonsensical circular time-travel plot devices like in The Terminator. Rise of the Planet of the Apes wisely foregoes all such plot gimmicks and there is no twist ending.
I enjoyed the slow build up to the action scenes. You really get to know and care about Caesar watching him growing up from an impossibly cute infant chimp, through his adolescence and finally full adulthood. As Scott wrote he is the real star of the movie and is the best CGI character I’ve seen to date. His face – especially those bright eyes – expresses much emotion and his physical bearing grows more regal and imposing as his intelligence and power grows. You will feel for him as he experiences the anguish of life in a cage after living such a pampered and carefree childhood.
Like Scott I enjoyed the many nods to the original movies. It was fun trying to catch them all. They even named the circus orangutan that Caesar befriends Maurice, presumably after Maurice Evans who played Dr. Zaius the orangutan leader of the apes in the 1968 film. And I must say that seeing and hearing the actor that played Draco Malfoy delivering Charlton Heston’s most famous line creates a strangely fascinating pop culture moment.
Once Caesar forms his army and they escape from the confines of their cruel human zookeepers the movie becomes an action packed thrill ride. The Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay represents this Caesar’s Rubicon. Once he crosses it there is no turning back. Scott, save a spot for me in that line for the sequel.
Even an ape can use a pick-me-up.
The original Planet of the Apes films were very topical and political for their time. The original Planet of the Apes (1968), is a warning of nuclear disaster. It was made during the cold war. The third film, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) contained messages of feminism, "A marriage bed is made for two. But every damn morning, it's the woman who has to make it. We have heads as well as hands. I call upon men to let us use them!" Kim Hunter states at one point, reflecting the mood of such feminists as Gloria Steinem. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) spoke symbolically of social injustice. When justifying the apes revolt Caesar says, "By the slave's right to punish his persecutor." Near the end of the film Caesar gives a speech on freedom, "...I will lead my people from their captivity!" There had recently been many race riots including a very large one in Chicago in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King, who had often spoken of freedom.
This version is as much of its time as were its predecessors. The pharmaceutical company Will works for is all about profit. In 2011, it is considered obscene for an American company to make a profit. President Obama constantly gives speeches about the rich and big businesses needing to pay more taxes, even though they already pay most of the taxes in this country. Will's boss tells Will that because of the new drug, he will get rich and Will will get famous. Wanting to rush the drug into production while showing little concern for the monkeys well being, makes the boss into a villian worthy of being killed?
Rise of the Planet of the Apes has monkeys becoming intelligent through the ingestion of a drug. How many people today are on some kind of medication for something other than physical health? According to Dr Oz, more than 11 million people currently take medication for depression. These monkeys become very modern humans indeed.
Patrick liked the slow build up, but I thought it never fully paid off. It takes great care to show how and why Caesar and Will bond, making their relationship the centerpiece of the movie. However, after the sanitized assault on the bridge (very few humans or apes get killed) we get only a brief reunion between Caesar and Will where the simian speaks his only sentence, "Caesar is home." I was hoping that Will would have told him of his father's death as the monkey had been close to him as well. It would have been a nice concluding moment to their relationship.
The biggest sign of the time is the use of CGI. The original films had actors in masks and makeup playing the monkeys. Here it was computer graphics drawn over an actors movements. Yes, Caesar emotes, but so did the toys in Toy Story. Caesar's animation is convincing when he is alone or with other animated apes. Whenever he shared a scene with a real actor I could not help but be reminded that he was merely a shadow on film. A detailed shadow, but a shadow none-the-less. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was more convincing as those cartoons were never intended to look like living breathing mammals.
Much like I am Legend, another Charlton Heston remake, the use of computer graphics seem more about the convenience of the film makers than the out come of the product. Although the CGI is not a complete waste here as it was in I am Legend, they should have used real monkeys as often as possible. Some scenes, such as the gorilla breaking out of it's cage are obviously animated and look it. Most of the scenes in the cages could have been real monkeys as could the ones running across the bridge. Look at Cheetah from the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies. Now there was a monkey who could act. He could have pulled off the scenes of Caesar playing around the house in his sleep.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a decent film/cartoon but all of the money spent on the computer animation did not help me enjoy it any more than the original. In fact, it too often distracted me. Digital images should be used as back up special effects, and never as substitutes when the real thing is available.
Photos © Copyright 20th Century Fox (2011)