Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis
When I arrived at the cinema to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes I was anticipating having to verbally berate the loud-mouthed little monkeys sitting to the right of me, who insisted on giving the auditorium a preview of the feature presentation with lots of unintelligible, animal-like screeching and shouting. As the lights came down and the trailers rolled I was trying to figure out a way to shoe-horn into my review some clever sentence or other about the primates on screen being more sophisticated than one or two of their supposedly more evolved human counterparts. I guess that was it. Darwin would have been proud.
Genetic experimentation has always been a popular backdrop for science fiction but this time it informs the plot and becomes inseparable from the central character’s journey from regular ape to super-simian. When Caesar is given an experimental serum developed to combat the advance of Alzheimer’s in humans, he becomes highly intelligent. When his life is threatened, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) takes him home and raises him as his own. Caesar forms close bonds with both Will and his ageing father Charles (John Lithgow) who has advanced Alzheimer’s and whom Will hopes to treat with the serum which enables the brain to regenerate itself.
As Caesar matures he gets funny looks from humans his own age as he is dressed in clothes and treated like a member of the family. When he realises that he has more in common with the apes at the local zoo, things get complicated. The inhabitants of San Francisco soon find themselves on the business end of some serious monkey business and Caesar leads his gang of genetically enhanced simians to revolt against their homo sapiens oppressors.
One the most striking elements of Rise is Andy Serkis in the role of Caesar as the motion capture maestro lends humanity to the monkey on a mission. It’s amazing to think that only a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for an actor to be nominated for a prestigious gong like a Golden Globe for a role which requires performing in what is essentially a wet-suit covered in light bulbs. In an interview with Wired Magazine Serkis remembers the reaction he got when he first turned up on the set of LOTR to digitally perform the role of Gollum.
“The crew was like ‘We thought Gollum was going to be animated. Who the hell is this guy who looks like he just walked out of a fetish shop?’”. Motion capture performance is certainly an evolutionary leap forward as far as acting style and technique is concerned. Although the actor’s voice and movement are very much their own, advancing digital technology now allows Hollywood’s tech heads to get away with visual effects that hardly seemed possible a few years ago.
In an interview in 2009, director Rupert Wyatt said, “We’ve incorporated elements from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in terms of how the apes begin to revolt, but this is primarily a prequel to the 1968 film… Caesar is a revolutionary figure who will be talked about by his fellow apes for centuries… This is just the first step in the evolution of the apes, and there’s a lot more stories to tell after this. I imagine the next film will be about the all-out war between the apes and humans.”
Posting on his video blog, responding to the intrigue sparked by the film’s original plot, Wyatt said the fresh approach to the material “is part of the mythology [of the series] and it should be seen as that. It’s not a continuation of the other films; it’s an original story. It does satisfy the people who enjoy those films. The point of this film is to achieve that and to bring that fan base into this film, exactly like Batman Begins.”
Talent and confidence in any art form are a potent mix and in cinema it can have spectacular and surprising results. Rise is the result of the combination of intelligent storytelling with cutting edge visuals, which lend the poignant relationship between man and ape at the heart of the film a convincing authenticity and will ensure the continuation of its impressive box office takings for generations of sequels to come.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes encapsulates everything that is entertaining and challenging about the sci-fi genre and infuses it with a considered and impassioned sensitivity to the ethical concerns about scientific experimentation, reminding us that with new technological advancement comes new responsibility.
Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity .