Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review

by Mark R. Leeper (mleeper AT optonline DOT net)
August 23rd, 2011

    (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: The new "Apes" film is not into intelligent
    or even credible social comment but rather the digital
    spectacle of a battle between humans and apes. Human
    dominance of apes turns into violent rebellion when
    ape intelligence becomes widespread. The digital art
    for the apes' faces is, if anything, too expressive.
    But the film has a hackneyed "the-bad-guys-are-us"
    plot on which to hang some interesting special
    effects. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Back from 1968 to 1973 Fox Film did very nicely with their five- film series based on THE PLANET OF THE APES by Pierre Boulle. In addition to the films, there was a live-action and an animated TV series based on the films. After that, the series fell silent until 2001 when Tim Burton did his take on adapting the original novel to the screen. Now Rupert Wyatt directs for the screen a new film, ostensibly another chapter in the original series, though it is really inconsistent with the series and is more as a new millennium tribute to the old series.

Will Rodman (played by James Franco) does research for a large pharmaceutical firm working on a failing project that is looking for a possible cure for Alzheimer's. He is using a drug he is developing on a chimpanzee. His drug has the unexpected side- effect of raising the IQ of the subject. This drug also turns a female chimpanzee savage and she is killed. Franco discovers that she had been pregnant and had a baby chimp. From guilt he agrees to adopt the baby chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis with motion capture). He discovers that Caesar inherited his mother's high intelligence. So while Rodman studies the possible intelligence drug, Caesar develops with the mind of an ape and of a human. The young ape has the intellect of a human, but is treated like an animal. As a result he develops a hatred for human society that gets him in trouble but also puts him in contact with other discontented apes. There is no mystery where all this is going. One merely has to see the title of the film to know the destination of the plot. The interest value is in the route it will take.

There are some notable problems. The film takes place in and around San Francisco but was shot in large part in British Columbia. Somebody should have noticed the radio mentions Tim Horton (the Canadian equivalent of Dunkin Doughnuts). There are some basic problems in the shooting and the script. At one point we are told in a title card that five years have gone by and Caesar looks older yet Franco looks exactly the same. His character Rodman does not know the difference between a monkey and an ape. He is working very closely with a chimp and yet does not know the chimp is pregnant. Later somehow Caesar finds more apes in the San Francisco area than I would have thought possible.
Although there are two good veteran actors, Brian Cox does not have much chance to make his character interesting and John Lithgow has only little more depth in his character, though his character is a little reminiscent of Charley Gordon from FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON.

The original PLANET OF THE APES was a big step forward in fantasy makeup. Rather than looking like a stiff mask like the faces of gorilla suits in the 1940s, the new makeup let the actor actually show some human expression. In the new film the visual effect of the apes is, if anything, too good. Caesar's face is not only expressive, it goes all the way to hammy and in a style that would have been welcome in silent films. And the face is more detailed than the rest of the ape's body giving a bizarre feeling. The face also is closer to human-complected than that of a real chimp. The facial expression is provided via motion-capture by Andy Serkis. Serkis performed a similar function as the title character of KING KONG (2005) as well as Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. By now he must be the most experienced motion caption actor in the film industry.

The script has whimsically worked in several allusions to the original film. The names Caesar and Cornelia (like Cornelius) show up. An orangutan is named Maurice for actor Maurice Evans. A drug project head is named Jacobs for Arthur Jacobs, producer of the original film.

Patrick Doyle delivers an effective score without making it reminiscent of his score for MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.

The idea of another venture into the "Planet of the Apes" with digital effects did not sound promising, particularly after the 2001 Tim Burton remake fiasco. In spite--or perhaps because of-- that one cannot help but feel the virtues of this film outweigh the problems. I rate RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Two notes: 1) Sit through the credits. A very important point about the plot occurs during the closing credits. 2) I rarely get a chance to use my mathematical knowledge in a film review, but nineteen is a very unlikely number of steps in the Four Disk Towers of Hanoi puzzle. The solution comes down to remembering and practicing two simple rules. They determine every move. Caesar would have to follow the two rules for almost the entire solution and still deviate from them in minor ways once or twice. If one knows the solution it should take only fifteen steps, and if not it would probably take a good deal more than nineteen steps.

Film Credits: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1318514/>

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Mark R. Leeper
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Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper

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