March 4, 2013

Movie Mondays: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Well… in keeping with the rest of the series… that’s a long title.

Title: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rupert Wyatt
Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Distributed By:
20th Century Fox
Andy Serkis, James Franco, John Lithgow, Frida Pinto, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Brian Cox
Release Date:
August 5, 2011
Rated PG-13

Planet of the Apes is a movie franchise consisting of seven films, including one remake, and the recent reboot, as well as a live-action television series, and even an animated series. The film franchise started with the 1968 film Planet of the Apes, which was based on the 1963 French novel La Planète des singes (Planet of the Apes or Monkey Planet) by Pierre Boulle.  Since that first adaptation, there have been several installments in the franchise, including A LOT of comic books. Among these releases are three Japanese manga books, a series from Marvel comics lasting three years, as well as comic releases from nearly a dozen other publishers, including the current ongoing series from BOOM! Studios.

The original series of films, as well as the remake, involves the inevitable fall of Mankind and its eventual subjugation following the rise in dominance of Ape-kind. In the original film the audience learns that Mankind brought about its own destruction with all of its science and weaponry, and due to a seemingly unexplained sudden evolutionary spike amongst the ape species, apes learn to speak, use weapons, and eventually take over the planet. I won’t be taking the time to explain the plot, contrivances, and paradoxes of the original films because 1) it would take too long, and 2) you should really watch them and enjoy them for yourselves.

The details in the CGI are just staggering!

The new movie does basically the same thing, by combining plot elements from multiple previous Apes films, while leaving out space travel, time travel, and so on. The overall premise is the same, wherein humans bring about their own downfall due to greed, stupidity, naïveté, general evilness, and “SCIENCE!” James Franco plays a scientist trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and in doing so creates a virus that makes apes smarter while proving fatal to humans. Andy Serkis, the star of the film, plays Caesar, the son of the ape being tested on by the scientists, who is saved by Franco’s character. Due to his altered genetics, he is less primitive and growing more intelligent at an exponential rate. He grows to feel a distrust and hatred toward humans, and a sympathy toward his fellow ape, and uses his evolved mental abilities to steal more of the virus, increasing the intelligence of the other apes and leading to an eventual revolution.

Aw! Look at him! Such a cute little baby and eventual savior/rebel leader.

The allegorical aspects of the film are an interesting element to take note of, as well. The story of Caesar closely resembles the story of Moses. The apes are being systematically killed off by their oppressors, when one baby is smuggled away for safe keeping to be raised by foster parents who happen to work for the evil human who runs the laboratory. Caesar comes of age and leads a rebellion and exodus of his kind out of the bonds of persecution toward their new home. One could go into further detail, even comparing the ways in which Pharaoh and the evil CEO are defeated in the end, but that would involve far too many spoilers.

Motion capture dots lining the facial muscles and motion capture body suits catch every aspect of the actor’s performance, breathing life and reality into the apes.

The visual effects in this film are an absolute treat for the eyes. The level of detail, the textures, the cracks in the skin, the individual strands of hair, the lighting reflected in the eyes, all serve to bring an extraordinary level of realism to the apes, which is much needed in order to help the audience suspend disbelief in regard to the action occurring within the story.

The human characters, of which there are just under a dozen, do their jobs adequately enough, portraying rather cookie-cutter representations of good guys and bad guys, with the main three (Franco, Lithgow, and Pinto) being the only characters given any depth. But that’s actually okay, because the humans are not the main characters. The apes are the main characters, and while the audience may have to do some digging to find out all of their names, the main group of Caesar, Rocket, Korba (Chimpanzee), Maurice (Orangutan), and Buck (Gorilla) are all amazing. The combination of motion/performance capture actors and special effects wizardry gives these apes a depth and reality that you simply have to see to believe and understand. It’s simply astonishing how wonderful their performances are.

Such a moving performance. You have to see it to believe it!

If there are any aspects of the film to find fault in, which there are hardly any, it would come from minor elements of the story. What looks like less than two dozen apes that initially escape with Caesar seems to be over three dozen in the very next scene, though this could simply be a matter of not seeing all them on screen at once? Another issue involves the pacing, wherein after the escape Caesar and his crew “recruit” the apes from the science lab/test facility and the local zoo, and they instantly fall in line. Now, obviously apes can communicate, but it’s a matter of pacing, because it just seems that the apes instantly become organized with a fully realized plan in a matter of seconds. But really, with this sort of film, where you’ve already gone along for the ride with scientifically modified apes rebelling against humans, are you really going to let a little thing like a minor plot contrivance get in the way? No, of course you aren’t.

Man, I mean Ape, you guys, I mean apes, sure got organized fast!

One of the best aspects of this movie is how well it works in all the fan-service and nods to the original film. For example, Caesar’s mother is named “Bright Eyes,” the name the ape scientists give Charlton Heston in the original film. Throughout the film there are news reports of a manned space flight to Mars, and the shuttle being lost, another reference to the plot of the first film. Also, there are lots of tiny details that don’t detract from the film or hinder the experience to new viewers in any way, but make it all the more enjoyable for returning fans. For instance, the virus is initially called “112,” which is the run time of the original film, and most of the ape characters are named after the actors playing apes in the past movie. The list just goes on and on.

Caesar continues to “evolve” physically as well as mentally and emotionally, becoming less and less simian as the film progresses.

All in all, this is an absolutely fantastic film. It works wonderfully as a stand-alone film, as well as an almost perfectly executed reboot. And also delivers a tremendous movie experience as a worthy successor to a much beloved film franchise. The movie earns a much deserved 9 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger



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