Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Dir. Rupert Wyatt (Blu-ray)


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I’m not too familiar with the mythology of Planet of the Apes. dimly remember watching it a few years ago, or seeing some of it at least. I’m most familiar with it thanks to a combination of the end of Spaceballs and the Simpsons’ musical version. Oh, and the unmemorable remake made a long way back by Tim Burton. I think there might have been a TV series at one point, reshown while BBC were doing Thunderbirds repeats on Channel 4 back in the 1990s. But overall, I couldn’t really give a monkeys (sorry, sorry) about Planet of the Apes as a franchise.

So what’s so special about this incarnation? Which is, worst of all, a prequel! Well, riding the current slew of prequels really should count against it’. as the worst thing prequels seem to be doing is  ‘over-explaining-shit’ to needlessly fill in the gaps between original films and the imagination of the viewers, also ruining the surprises of the original movies. But that’s another subject (and rant!) for another time.

My feeling about this bold prequel to the Planet of the Apes series is that many modern viewers will have relatively little exposure to the 1960s original. It’s iconic, but many may have forgotten exactly why. So I’m able to let that aspect of the prequel go. providing it’s a strong movie on its own. In fact, the original series had alread disappeared up their own retellings and sequels, and ‘Rise…’ is partly based on an earlier Planet of the Apes movie, but with significant changes. It makes some sensible updates, keeping it real and not too cheesy. It’s also saved by a decent story and some well defined characters. They’ve also managed to create the most effective CGI character since Gollum.

This character is Caesar (Andy Serkis). He’s a chimp who gets adopted by James Franco’s scientist character. Starting off teeny and cute, he grows into a fully fledged CGI creation, human sized and fully capable of reason and emotional understanding. This is done so well I was soon rooting for Caeser and his survival. The effects feel flawless, this is a great leap in the technology, fine tuned even since Peter Jackson’s King Kong in 2004.

The Apes really are incredible to watch, pulling us into the story with a full gmaut of emotions. The human actors don’t do a bad job, either. James Franco is continuing to reveal his strengths as an actor who chooses roles in interesting movies. In this film there are echoes of Deep Blue Sea, as his scientist character attempts to cure Altzheimer’s Disease by making a serum that improves cognitive faculties. This cause is personal as his father, played by the always endearing John Lithgow, is suffering worsening stages of the disease. I have a hunch that John Lithgow was also cast due to starring in the Harry and the Hendersons movie, or it could just be a happy coincidence!

Franco’s scientist experiments on apes as he works on this cure, but when the first demonstration goes badly wrong he’s banned from trying further tests. All the affected apes til then are destroyed. It turns out that there was  baby ape, however, and so our hero ends up with infant Caeser. The little ape soon becomes part of the family, and it’s only as Caeser ages that he starts to realise the difference between himself and the humans who raised him. The big question is, which side will he pick?

Well, I ended up rooting for the apes as, through a sequence of fairly fluid storytelling, the inevitable rebellion begins to happen. It’s a shame that apart from the humans directly involved with James Franco, every other person we meet is a bit of an asshole or outright hate-worthy. This works as a spur to Caeser, but it’s a pity the ‘baddies’ couldn’t have been a little more shaded.

I also hope that the film isn’t really suggesting that humanity could do with wiping out, although I like the concept of accidentally arranging our own destruction. It would have also been nice if the female chimp-expert-cum-love-interest, played by Frieda Pinto, hadn’t been in the background quite so much. But at least she didn’t require rescuing at any point and served a good purpose in the story itself.

The story was strong, not too much leaped out as illogical, the action was seamless and a helicopter is attached by a silverback gorrilla. Yes, I think I got exactly what I wanted out of this movie, and if they want to do a sequel, done right, I’d probably be happy to see that, too. By then we might be watching a CGI James Franco, too! (Sorry, Franco)

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