Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Tom Felton, John Lithgow
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Chris’ Take: I was hesitant to see this film, and I almost went and saw The Change Up instead. When I saw the trailer earlier this year it looked like a quick cash grab, grasping at straws to find a familiar brand to the average moviegoer. I thought that it was a weak idea because there didn’t seem to be many people excited about it and I thought it was going to fall flat on its face.
I came out of this film realizing that I severely underestimated this film.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes remakes the previous prequel to Plant of the Apes and simultaneously reboots it. Will Rodman (James Franco) is testing a new Alzheimer cure on chimpanzees and has a successful test subject, but when the chimp goes on a rampage while he is trying to get funding for human testing, he is forced to abandon the project and put down all the chimps. However, his successfully tested chimp had a baby which Will saves and takes home when he sees that it maintains the residual effects of his Alzheimer’s cure. As the chimp, that Will and his father name Caesar (Andy Serkis), grows, they notice that his intelligence is far beyond that of a human counterpart. When Will’s company, Gen-Sys, discovers the chimp they force him to run riskier tests on other chimps which turns out to have dire consequences for mankind.
The film starts out on very familiar science fiction territory. You have the failed science experiment, the cocky scientist, the money grubbing boss, and the protagonist makes the decision to bring testing just a bit too close to home. I kind of sighed at these elements, thinking that this film would bring nothing new to the table, but it quickly took some turns after that.
Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar can take a lot of the credit for that. His CGI work, just as he did with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, took on a life and character of its own. Halfway through the film, James Franco really became a non-factor and Caesar really carried the story. In most cases, it would be hard to build a story around a silent and computer-generated character, but the viewer really begins to feel attached to him and sympathizes with his plight to some degree. Also, in doing this, the writer puts himself in a tough spot, reconciling the viewer’s growing fondness of Caesar, the tragedy of that awaits mankind, and the bond that Caesar and Will have that divides them, but they handled it in a dramatic and satisfying fashion. It’s kind of hard to describe the way this played out without bringing in too many spoilers, so all I can say is that you have to see it in order to appreciate it.
There was little artistry in the film outside of the writing and the characters. The camera work was decent for a summer blockbuster and I was very happy to see that they didn’t resort to 3D, although it seems that could’ve fallen prey to that fad easily. To me, the most impressive aspect was the effective use of CGI and making the realistic looking apes blend well with environment around them. Rarely did I feel aware that I was watching computer generated characters.
One of the challenges I saw for the film was how they would make it seem believable. I mean come on, how do apes take over the world? They obviously explain it in the first Planet of the Apes, but it would still be hard to convincingly watch that develop. I could see them running rampant in a city, in this case San Francisco, and wreaking some havoc, but you would think a large military force would immediately come wipe them out. I thought that the writers and director handled this well, addressing those questions with tact and bringing a new concept to the apes’ destruction and how the world came to be ruled by them. Some might disagree, but I was very impressed with how it was handled. Again, it is hard to describe without spoilers.
Suffice to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It was not the deepest film, nor some amazing feat of cinema, but it impressed me more than just about any blockbuster to come out this summer. It contained some of the spirit of the originals, bringing with it the comfortability of something familiar, while mixing in a fresh take that gave it its own pleasantly unique flavor.
Pac’s Take: I recently heard the original Planet of the Apes described as a overacheiving B-Movie, an analysis that poignantly describes the film. It’s a wonder how this overacheiving B-Movie has been able to captivate pop culture for so long that it has evolved into multiple sequels, remakes, and reboots. Planet of the Apes has had such a cultural impact in american cinema since its release that you’d be hard pressed to find a person (even one who hasn’t seen the films) who didn’t know the film’s general premise – or couldn’t recognize the famous beach scene. All that being said, it was hard to have high expectations for a film that was seemingly trying to capitalize on a 43 year old franchise that hasn’t produced a hit film in about… 43 years.
Perhaps it was the surprise of the unexpected, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a pleasure to behold from start to finish. As expected with any summer blockbuster, especially those that are constrained by the parameters of an already established franchise, the film has some initial stumbles. Chris adequately described those as the tropes of a science fiction film above. However, it doesn’t take long for the film to go beyond these tropes into to the real heart of the film – the relationship between Caesar and Will (James Franco), as well as Will’s father (John Lithgow). Make no mistake the star of this film is Caesar, played by Andy Serkis. I emphasize the “played by Andy Serkis” part because it seems like a great challenge to humanize the Caesar character without going too over-the-top to where the film reaches the B movie status of its predecessors (not to say the effects team(s) don’t deserve credit for this as well). One of the things I found most endearing and most engaging about this film is that I felt for the plight of Caesar despite knowing he was probably going to be the catalyst of the fate of the human race. This, coupled with the relationship between Caesar and Will, crafted a conflicted emotion in my mind as the film unfolded.
There were plot holes in the film, but none that bothered during the viewing, and none that diluted the quality of the film for me in retrospect. This is a summer blockbuster and science fiction film, plot holes and a certain suspension of disbelief are to be expected. In terms of what I was expecting to know coming out of the theater, the film covered all of its bases; making it, as far as prequels go, one of the tightest screenplays I’ve seen in a while. For a film that I didn’t really desire to see in the first place, it didn’t really leave much to be desired upon its completion. I can’t say that it is the best film of the year so far, and I don’t think I can call it the best summer movie either, but I do think that Rise of the Planet of the Apes will end up on my top 10 list for 2011 at the end of the year.