There are plenty of prequels being churned out in Hollywood right now; most of them are bad. Rise of the Planet of the Apes however, is a wonderful film because it sets up the original story so perfectly.
The original Planet of the Apes is one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. It was groundbreaking for many reasons when it was released in 1968, namely the make-up and costumes of the apes that ruled the planet and the many (not so) subtextual comments on our society at the time. Now, we have Rise of the Planet of the Apes which does justice to the original film and is groundbreaking in its own right for similar reasons.
There are plenty of prequels being churned out in Hollywood right now; most of them are bad. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, however, is a wonderful film because it sets up the original story so perfectly. The basis of the original (that in the future, planet Earth is ruled by apes and that humans are their slaves/pets) is ludicrous, but in an intriguing way, a feature all sci-fi films should strive for. In Rise, we find out how our planet got to that point—and it’s a very interesting and conceivable explanation.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist who is attempting to find a cure for Alzheimer’s through a brain enhancement therapy that he has (he believes) perfected. His father, Charles (John Lithgow), suffers from the disease, so the results are very personal to him. One of the apes which has received the treatment while pregnant gives birth and passes on her increased intellectual ability and cognitive processes. After a serious setback in the lab, Will finds himself in charge of the baby chimp, Caesar (Andy Serkis), who quickly shows off the intelligence he’s inherited.
Will and his father raise Caesar like a human and track his growth and capabilities. After he attacks a neighbor while trying to protect Charles, Caesar is sent to a primate facility where he feels abandoned by Will and left to observe the worst in humans. It is here that Caesar takes charge of the apes and sets in motion a series of events that can’t be stopped.
The script, written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, is well thought out and smart, something that is rather shocking coming from a summer Hollywood tent pole movie. Jaffa and Silver are extremely adept at setting up the story so that not only is the plot plausible, but, in fact, likely were this ever a possibility. The film portrays humans as intentionally cruel, an emotion that Caesar and the other apes do not understand. It is no wonder, then, that the apes have the desire to rise up and overtake the humans which have imprisoned and tortured them.
The real marvel of Rise is the visual effects work done by Weta Digital (the company who worked with James Cameron on Avatar) and the brilliant performance by Serkis. Every ape in the film was shot using actors in motion capture suits and then digitally altered to give texture to the physical performance. The result is a magnificent blend of the real and CGI which is unbelievably effective. No other team could have done what Weta has done with the characters in Rise.
Serkis, for his part, is not only the most exciting part of the film, but also its heart and moral compass. His work in films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy has been excellent, but here he finally has a fully developed character and his performance is absolutely wonderful.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes will likely surprise audiences who are expecting a mindless summer blockbuster. The film is heavy on action and grand in scale, no doubt. At its core, though, Rise is a very small film that in many ways holds a mirror up to our society and who we really are. | Matthew Newlin