Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I never quite understood the original Planet of the Apes movies. Perhaps I was too young when I first watched them, so the cautionary tales against nuclear war my have been lost on me. Or perhaps the morality tales confronting the social issues of the 70s were too complex for the younger version of Nic. Either way, I never considered myself a fan of the movies.

However, the concept intrigued me. It compelled me to re-watch the original series. It made me excited at the idea of Tim Burton working his magic with the mythology surrounding the Apes, but was disappointed by how Burton mangled the ending of 2001's iteration.

With that in mind, I approached this new reboot with cautious optimism.

My fears were unwarranted. The new Apes delivers a satisfying story that pays homage to the original movies, yet stands as it's own entity.

This isn't a sequel and not exactly a prequel. Where Charlton Heston's 1968 Apes played into that generation's fear of a nuclear holocaust, the new Apes capitalizes on bio-engineering and genetic mutation.

The film's protagonist, Will Rodman (Franco) is a genetic neuroscientist researching a cure for Alzheimer's disease with personal interest in hopes to save his father (Lithgow) who is battling Alzheimer's.

After a workplace accident, Will reluctantly becomes the guardian of a baby chimp - the offspring of a genetically altered test subject.

If you've seen the previews - or possess any understanding of the themes of the Apes movies, you know that this baby grows up to be an intelligent chimpanzee.

There is much in this movie to praise. The motion capture work with Andy Serkis (the man who brought LOTR's Gollum to life) is extraordinary. Lithgow's performance is convincing and tragic. The screenwriters created apt reason to feel empathy for the apes and provided enough foreshadowing to understand their motivation. And while Franco's role as a groundbreaking scientist is dubious, the relationship between him and Caesar the chimp makes the movie worthwhile.

Pay attention to the names given to the apes - many of them honor characters, cast members, or crew of the original series. For example, Caesar was the baby chimp born at the end of Escape and the main ape in Conquest.

Icarus - the spaceship that delivered Charlton Heston to the original planet - makes a cameo through broadcast and print news (hinting at a possible sequel). And the Statue of Liberty makes a creative appearance.

Fans of the original movies will find other familiar bits. A few lines of dialog were borrowed from the originals including the notorious "damn dirty apes" quip.

While entertaining and wholly satisfactory, Rise is not a perfect movie. Aside from casting Franco as a scientist, I have a few other complaints about the film. There were a couple prominent clips from the preview that did not make the final cut - a major pet peeve of mine. And some of the action sequences were blurry and/or dizzying.

Minor squabbles aside, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a fantastic way to end the weekend. I give it nine angry monkeys out of ten.

(and yes, I know, they're apes, not monkeys)

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