Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow
What is Rise of the Planet of the Apes about?
As the title promises, this is a true “origins” movie. We all know that in the original 1968 film, astronaut Charlton Heston discovered he was on a post-human Earth. So, how did the rise of the apes happen? This film goes back to the very beginning, where one smart chimp is created in a genetics lab near lovely San Francisco. How this chimp is raised and becomes a leader of his kind is told in the familiar yet ever-inspiring story of the making of a reluctant hero. And, satisfyingly, this movie even hints about what really happened to all the humans.
How believable is Rise (ie, can I really believe in smart apes)?
If you found yourself carried away by blue aliens in Avatar, you will quickly find yourself buying into the CGI motion-capture special effects in this one (it’s led by the same team of computer graphics wizards and their international army of electronic artists, whose names scroll by for minutes in the end credits). But what makes the movie truly believable is the very real and heartbreaking character of Caesar, the young chimpanzee at the center. Both alien and recognizable, he’s a character you care about. Is it believable that a pack of lab and zoo monkeys could take over the world? Well, that’s why we have the phrase “escapist fantasy.”
Is this movie only for fans of the Planet of Apes franchise?
Five Ape movies were made between 1968 and 1973, then there was a TV show and the Tim Burton remake in 2001. Didn’t see them? No problem. This is what’s called a “reboot,” where the filmmakers have essentially created a new story and myth. But be warned: this is a true PG-13 2011 film, not one from the kinder, gentler era of the 1960s. It tackles some thorny ethical issues and is not a cuddly kiddie film.
Who is behind this Planet of the Apes reboot?
20th Century Fox spent $100 million on this production, and I have to give the unknown director (Brit Rupert Wyatt) and writers of this film some props. Although by genre it’s a “sci fi thriller,” it doesn’t wallow in the usual wall-to-wall action scenes with loud blow-ups and roundelays of wisecracks from the characters as they run unscathed through chaos. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes a lot of ground is covered in the laying out the plot, but along the way some emotionally engaging relationships and characters are developed—if you can suspend your disbelief a bit. It’s also fun to watch how the filmmakers sprinkle lots of primate touches throughout the movie—how they move, play, and communicate submission and dominance.
How are the actors in the movie?
The creation of the Caesar we see on screen is apparently a team effort, with actor Andy Serkis (the actor behind the Gollum character in the Lord of the Rings series) providing the wonderful variety of expressions that pass over the intelligent chimp’s face. The rest is CGI magic. James Franco (127 Hours) is rather low-key as the earnest, driven scientist who raises Caesar, and Freida Pinto (the exotic beauty from Slum Dog Millionaire) looks great as always, but is a mere sketch of a love interest. John Lithgow is touching in a small but pivotal role as Franco’s ailing father. Then there are a bunch of stock human villains who are appropriately despicable—apes and moviegoers agree on that.
How scary is Rise?
It definitely has many intense moments, mostly based around the humans’ mistreatment of the primates as lab rats and caged prisoners. Violence hangs over this movie and while it never becomes horrifying (it’s a mainstream Hollywood concoction, after all), animal lovers may find it upsetting. Perhaps it helps to know that—astonishingly—no real apes were actually used in the movie.
How are the special effects?
In some ways, the special effects are low key, meaning no towers blowing up, no alien warships zooming over New York City. But then you realize that every time you’re looking at the main characters—the apes—you’re looking at amazing special effects. It reminded me of the experience of Toy Story a bit—you quickly find yourself investing in the most unlikely of computer-generated supporting characters (goofy Mr. Potato Head in the former; sympathetic gorillas and orangutans in the latter) driven by the engaging personas the filmmakers have created. It’s nice to appreciate a special effect without it blasting you out of your seat.
Is this movie going to be part of a new series?
While this movie is fine as a standalone, there’s no denying that there’s a lot more story to be told. After all, poor Caesar doesn’t even get a love interest in this one, and you know he must have made some smart babies in order to lead eventually to Roddy McDowall’s iconic Cornelius character from the 1968 film.
Will I need tissues?
No, but you will need to stay in your seat at the end, because after the credits start there’s a surprise coda.
My Reel Answers column aims to boil down film reviewing to its essence: answering questions (without divulging key plot points) you might have about a popular movie before plunking down your hard-earned money to see it.
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When not watching and reviewing movies, I run a consulting business helping successful book authors ramp up their online presence via websites, ebooks, and social media at http://laura-e-kelly.com. —Laura