I caught the early show of The Rise of the Planet of the Apes today. This is the latest iteration – the producers are calling it an origin story which might mean prequel as in source, rather than remake – of the Planet of the Apes franchise. When author Pierre Boulle first conceived of the idea nearly 50 years ago years ago, and penned the novel, it was an idea that caught everyone’s imagination. From the time that Charlton Heston, as an astronaut who crashed landed on an ‘unknown’ planet that was not only inhabited by apes, but apes were the dominant species, until now – the idea remains fascinating.
The major plus is that over the same period of time since the Boulle novel, the technology available to film makers has become marvelous to say the least. The creators of that first P.O.T.A. film back in 1968 had to resort to costumes and make-up. And that my friends is in the history books. You could look it up.
A brief description of the new film tells us: Man’s experiments with genetic engineering leads to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy.
Because “Rise” is able to utilize the vastly superior technology available today, and because it has an excellent script, is easily the most advanced, but is also and easily the best of the POTA films ever. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, the film just flows along so smoothly that you doesn’t notice the passage of time. There are no dead-spots at all. The action is not only fast and sometimes furious, but seems so well integrated with the intelligent script. You’re going to think that neither the violence or action was created as the basis for a film with a story written around the action, nor was the purpose just to give you a break from a so-so script.
As the film begins we are deep in a forest. We become aware of the presence of apes in the wild. Only they are being hunted. Not to be killed as in sporting game, but to be captured alive, because they’re going to be sold to a giant pharmacology company, Gen-Sys, who needs the primates for research purposes and for the testing of experimental drugs. From the rainforest, fast forward to present day San Francisco, to the campus of Gen-Sys. James Franco plays Will Rodman who heads up the research on ALZ-112 – a still under development or experimental drug that is still being tested. This drug will enable the brain to create new cells in order to cure itself. This wonder drug, if they can get it right, could be the cure for Alzheimer’s.
Things spiral out of control quite quickly. While Will Rodman is making the pitch about his ‘wonder drug’ to the Gen-Sys Board of Directors, back in the testing center, Bright Eyes – the chimp used for the testing, goes berserk. She destroys a good bit of the lab – and finally has to be shot and killed. The research has to be shut down – the board would not want to get behind a drug that could cause such a reaction. Only it wasn’t the drug that caused this reaction. Instead it was just Bright Eyes being a protective mother.
Rodman takes the new born chimp home and raises it. They call this chimp Caesar, and he will grow into an ape with vastly superior intelligence that is not only surprising but almost frightening.
All of this is shown through the remarkable technology which will take the actions and expressions of actor Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, and translate it onto the CGI created chimp that we see. These actions and expressions of not only Caesar, but in the dozens of other apes that we get close to, is nothing short of a technological marvel.
The story progresses with Caesar doing so very well in closing the gap between apes and humans – until there’s an altercation between a neighbor and Rodman’s father, played by John Lithgow. Caesar, to protect the elderly and ill father, attacks the neighbor. Because of this violence, Caesar is deemed unsafe and unmanagable. Rodman has to give up Caesar to an ape sanctuary. But it was more like a prison than a sanctuary. At first, Caesar, the new ape in town, is maltreated by both the handlers, as well as the other apes.
Of course this place has the evil boss/warden played by Brian Cox who was actually very good doing his turn at a Rip Torn style character. The handler of the apes was his son and was played by Tom Felton, whom we all hated as Malfoy in the Harry Potter films. You’re going to hate him here as well.
Freida Pinto comes on board as Rodman’s love interest, and as a local veterinarian. Her role is woefully underwritten and she becomes kind of a one-note character. Her mantra to Rodman is – This isn’t right. Some things you’re trying to control, are not meant to be controlled.
I thought the film was great. Not perfect – but great. It has enough thrills and action, enough intelligence, and despite a few stock villains – the Gen-Sys CFO Steve Jacobs, played by David Oyelowo,
the abusive neighbor, as well as Cox and Felton as the father son combo at the sanctuary, they don’t really detract from the films excellence; and all of them will get their come-up-ence at the hands of Caesar and his cohorts.
As a homage to the original, this film has an unexpected ‘twist’ coda inserted in mid-final credits. I see ‘box office smash hit’ written all over this film.