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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

August 5, 2011

Dodge Landon: Keep your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty apes!

Before viewing Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I sat down and watched the 1968 classic that started it all. After I was completely blown away by how profoundly entertaining and brilliant it was, I watched the second. Then the third, then the fourth, then finally, the fifth, and to this date I refuse to watch the crappy Tim Burton/Mark Wahlberg version. Watching these got me pretty pumped for the newest one, and my expectations were exceeded by far. Not only is Rise a fun, special effects laden romp, but it succeeds in being a profoundly brilliant, thought-provoking film that features a one of the best performances from Andy Serkis, who portrays a CGI ape, that is an instant cinematic achievement and already is stirring up Oscar talk. The film has a perfect script, fantastic acting, and brilliant CGI, making this a great summer romp.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
is the story of Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist who is attempting to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease that his father (John Lithgow) suffers from. A test subject of Will goes nuts, and dies, after giving birth to a baby ape named Caesar (Andy Serkis). Will brings baby Caesar home for examination, ending up raising the ape. Fast-forward five years, Caesar is all grown up, and is highly intelligent due to the heightened intelligence used by the mother chimp that has been genetically passed onto him. After a violent attack on a neighbor, Caesar is transferred to a special primate holding center, where he, and his large army of apes plan an all-out attack on the human race, which will eventually become “The Planet of the Apes.”

I’d like to take a moment congratulating Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings Trilogy) for one of the most supreme and oddly profound performances of cinematic history. Caesar is a wonderfully executed character, and is quite a stunning product of special effects, with a brilliant motion capture performance from Serkis, whose last major role was his tremendous performance of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, which was another illustrious performance that was handled with great delicacy. In Apes, Serkis is responsible for everything Caesar does, his movement, his many facial expressions, yet what I cherished most was the fact that the audience was able to notice Caesar’s change of personality as the film progressed, which was a great deal and was very well-executed. I do realize how farfetched this may seem, but the complexity and talent of Serkis and the wildly impressive motion capture technology involved, an ape might be able to rise up and beat a human for the role of best supporting actor!

Having said that, the Academy might as well hand Andy Serkis an Oscar because I had such a pleasurable time viewing this film. I would be quite disappointed if this did not end up with a Best Picture Nominee, but you know how the academy does things: they’ll pick a stuttering king over a man who created one of the most revolutionary social network sites ever (I have ranted about the academy countless times). I don’t know why, but films like this seems to not bid well for the Academy’s choices, despite the fact that a large portion are celebrities themselves, but the individual and unknown members most likely are the votes that count, which explains why films such as The Dark Knight and The Town never got there true dues (and that, is a best picture nominee). 

James Franco was simply there in this movie, not too shabby, certainly doesn’t compare to 127 Hours, not a big deal. It serves as an obviously very underwritten role, and doesn’t provoke any thoughts mainly because the apes play the more important, useful, and exciting role. Meanwhile, Franco serves as a side-story and presents a reason for Caesar’s existence. My biggest problem with Franco’s character was that I simply did not care, simply because his character is underdeveloped, as we aren’t given a reason to why he works at a place where he is forced to do what he hates (that is only done well in Horrible Bosses), which can get plain annoying at times, but thank god his role was short. That being said, I didn’t care for Franco’s performance, there was nothing special or important about it, seemed somewhat lazy, as if it was rushed at certain points of the film, primarily his work at the lab, but it was mildly acceptable for the time he was on screen. Also, Andy Serkis’ name should be on the poster, not Franco. I don’t condone lazy marketing.

We do have a great ensemble of a cast here, which include the superb John Lithgow, who is brilliant as he portrays a father struggling with alzheimer’s, Frieda ‘Slumdog’ Pinto, who gave a great performance, but her character was seriously underdeveloped, Tom ‘Malfoy’ Felton, starring in his first film since his depart from Harry Potter, and a bunch of actors who used motion capture to portray the army of apes, who are given brief moments, and a big bang towards the end. In my opinion, you can’t have a film without performance flaws, and there are very few, but I still appreciated the supporting cast, and eventually accepted Franco, yet still very lazy and somewhat underdeveloped, including his sudden relationship with Pinto’s character which was just too farfetched to accept, but as I previously mentioned, Andy Serkis stole the spotlight from any human that is in the cast.

As I mentioned, a decent portion of the film is very special effects laden, primarily during all of the ape scenes, which makes for probably 3/4 of the film. These impressively, well-made, and downright phenomenal effects were made possible by WETA Digital, who were responsible for the CGI motion capture of the ‘Na’vi’, the blue creatures in James Cameron’s epic Avatar. Now they teamed up with Andy Serkis, and with a lot of hard work, loads of technology, plus a great motion capture machine, they were able to make Caesar, along with an army of apes, who can be seen causing large amounts of destruction to the Golden Gate Bridge during the most pivotal scene in the film, both from a digital standpoint, and from an B-movie action fan’s standpoint.

I’m going to go on a rant here, but I was really pleased with how WETA handled, with great dexterity, the look of Caesar. It is handled with such realism and great depth that if you put a picture of a real ape next to a picture of Caesar, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two. Meanwhile, they WETA was busy making an army of 180-something apes, that, as I mentioned, would eventually rampage the Golden Gate bridge, in a big [budgeted] human vs. apes sequence that leaves the film open for the possibility of a sequel. This is definitely the most memorable, as well as the most exciting scene, not just of the movie, but of the summer, which sums up my feelings of this movie as a whole. 

The film was directed by Rupert Wyatt, who directed an indie film a few years back that was critically slammed, but hasn’t necessarily had his big moment of triumph… until now. Wyatt has a distinct, powerful, provocative, and very unique directing style; he handles Rise with such delicacy, and with that, he makes a great film. Throughout the film, Wyatt clearly had a perfect image for how complex he wanted Serkis to act, which is basically Caesar being calm and collected to brilliant and rebellious, making it fun to watch this one individual’s transformation. While watching the HBO First Look at Rise a few weeks back, Rupert talks about his directing styles, and we are able to catch short, yet very strong and intriguing look at how he managed to create a world surrounded by the progressing life and mind, understanding exactly what he wants Caesar’s emotion to be like and has great chemistry, communication with the whole cast, and was the perfect choice for director. 

The film was written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who have had no important projects that are very memorable in the past, aside from a couple of poorly reviewed, unsuccessful straight-to-DVD horror flicks. Rise will be a game-changer for them both, and I’m very impressed by their impeccably brilliant work. The script is very solid, well-written, and has a stupendous, yet short role, for the great John Lithgow. They are also responsible for the well-executed character development, while still having the story progress quickly without boring one bit. I found the most interesting point in this was easily their sequence writing, which, in a nutshell, is the breakout scene at the ape-control center. For better or worse, this scene is a very complex-based scene, and they duo made a perfect transformation sequence for Caesar, which is easily one of the most entertaining parts in the film. Ultimately, the writers and directors did a very solid job bringing back apes to the silver screen.

Many things have been said about Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Probably not in as much detail as me, but you can not deny that Rise is an extremely solid film, packed with outstanding performances, stammering action sequences, and a performance from the great Andy Serkis that is both unforgettable and a pure win as a great cinematic achievement. We are additionally treated with brilliant direction from the unknown, but soon-to-be famous Rupert Wyatt, and a scorchingly great script by Jaffa and Silver. All-in-all, Rise of the Planet of the Apes ranks up there with the original, and is destined to become a cult classic that I highly recommend.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes = 4 ½ out of 5

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dante permalink
    August 6, 2011 4:00 pm

    Wow. That is a very long review. Good one!

  2. August 6, 2011 4:04 pm

    Thanks, vacation gives you a lot of time to expand your thoughts. My original review was 900 words. I was unpleased, so I changed it, and my revised review is about 1700 words.

    • Benjamin Smolen permalink
      August 14, 2011 3:40 pm

      Did you see the end of the credits?

      • August 14, 2011 5:20 pm

        Yes, it gives a perfect explanation as to how *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* all the humans die.

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