Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I'm sure everyone is aware that this is a prequel to the landmark 1968 film which starred Charlton Heston. It is vastly superior to the Tim Burton remake of a few years back, and very close to the quality of the original. I do have a few quibbles with it, but nothing that detracts from this being a compelling story, and quite possibly the beginnings of another lucrative branch of the franchise. It garnered world-wide box office receipts totaling about five times its production cost, so another film is probably already in the planning stages.
The highest accolades go to the CGI effects for the apes, and most definitely Andy Serkis' motion capture work on Caesar. There has been talk of him being worthy of an Academy Award nomination, but I doubt he will get one for supporting actor. If he does receive an award it will likely be a special presentation, and possibly also a retroactive one recognizing his similar work for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. His physical movements formed the basis of Caesar's action in the film, but the CGI team has to be credited with the facial expressions and the total look of Caesar and all the other apes, so it is difficult to say how much of his performance is actually seen.
I won't say this is a great film, because there are too many elements that are just good enough, nothing that noteworthy. James Franco is good as the lead researcher, but I never sensed that much emotion from him, certainly not as much as Caesar exhibits. The rest of the cast is competent but lackluster. Even John Lithgow as Franco's father suffering from Alzheimer's didn't elicit the emotional response I know he is capable of projecting. It is quite possible this was a conscious decision by the director and actors, in order for the audience to more closely identify with the apes' plight. The movie's strength is the story which is quite believable in spite of a few illogical occurrences. I'm going to hide my criticisms here due to the fact they will be spoilers. If you're not worried about that you can highlight the blacked-out paragraph.
The first thing that didn't make much sense is that no one realized that Caesar's mother was pregnant when she was brought into the lab, and the baby chimp was not found until a day or two after the birth. Then Franco is able to get the chimp out of the lab past an elaborate security system, then keep Caesar a secret for over five years. Supposedly Caesar's mother received just one dose of the trial drug Franco had produced, and yet that was enough to transmit its properties to her baby, and then later in the film just one dose of a revised formula is all it takes for the other apes to begin exhibiting much higher brain functions.
Those quibbles aside, I enjoyed the film for its dramatic elements and the way the story has been set up for a continuation. Relative newcomer Rupert Wyatt deserves special mention for his direction of this complex production. I guess I should also point out that there are several nods to the original film; one of Heston's most famous lines is recreated, at one point Caesar is seen playing with a model of the Statue of Liberty, and if I'm not mistaken, a toy glimpsed in one of the ape's cages is similar to one found in the cave in the '68 film.
You could do far worse than watch this film, whether just as a rental or a purchase of the DVD or Blu-Ray.
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