Rise of the Planet of the Apes

It occurred to me while at the theatre that probably a good proportion of the people there had never seen the original Planet of the Apes. They work in one of the most ultra-famous lines from the original at one point, and aside from me, only about five people reacted. This is probably not the reaction the filmmakers might have hoped for, but really, you don't have to know the first film very well. If you know that one day, astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) wakes up to discover himself on a world run by chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas, and that the Statue of Liberty takes on huge significance, you're all set.

While it's technically a remake of something called Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which I've never seen, I'm guessing that the original didn't mention any multi-billion- dollar companies involved in genetic engineering. This one has Gen-Sys, run by Steven Jacobs, played by David Oyelowo of the Last King of Scotland. His star scientist is Will Rodman, played by James Franco, also known as Harry Osborn from the Spider-Man franchise, who is here trying to take over the world in a slightly different fashion. Okay, he isn't trying to take over the world at all, really, but I think Jacobs might be trying to. He certainly wouldn't mind taking over all the world's money. So when Will says that he's found the cure for Alzheimer's and all sorts of other dread neurological diseases, you can just about see the dollar signs in his boss' eyes.

Will has a very specific reason for wanting a cure to Alzheimer's: namely, his father, Charles, played by John Lithgow. He thinks his son is still in high school and can no longer manage to play "Clair de Lune" on the piano, even though he once taught music. Will thinks that ALZ-112 will get him his father back -- but of course there's a catch. There always is. Will unceremoniously has the funding yanked out from under him after a certain incident in the lab, and is told he has to go back to the molecular drawing board. But the good news -- at least mostly good news -- is Caesar.

Andy Serkis, who was King Kong in the 2005 remake of the movie of that name, here plays Caesar, at least the grown-up Caesar. They did some very cool stuff with motion capture of the actors playing the various apes, to give them all a more realistic look, and it is mighty realistic. I shudder to think of all the money and effort that cost, but the overall effect is excellent.

Caesar is raised much like a regular kid, albeit a kid that isn't allowed to go outside and play with the other kids because of overprotective parents or some health problem or something. But he's happy enough inside, since he has a fair amount of room to romp -- at least for the first few years. When growing pains hit, Will introduces Caesar to the redwood forests of California -- the movie's set in San Francisco. Caesar also introduces Will, albeit inadvertently, to pretty veterinarian Caroline (Freida Pinto). Apparently a chimpanzee is a great way to pick up girls. Well, not literally pick up, hopefully, though chimps are strong, as we shall see.

Everything goes along mostly all right, until a confrontation with nasty neighbor Hunsiker, played by David Hewlett of Splice, and apparently the most hated man in the Stargate series, or rather his character is. Then Caesar ends up in prison -- I mean, in the San Diego Primate Shelter -- and is subjected to the tender mercies of the Landons, father and son, who run the place. Dad John Landon is played by Brian Cox, most recently in Red, while Tom Felton, aka Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter franchise plays son Dodge Landon. This is a tip of the hat to the characters Dodge and Landon, who were Charlton Heston's fellow astronauts in the original flick, so there's your official fun MCND trivia for the day.

Anyway, things just go from bad to worse after that. Caesar at least makes friends, like Maurice, a former circus orangutan played by Karin Konoval of 2012, which we won't hold against her. Maurice is named after Maurice Evans, the actor who played the orangutan Dr. Zaius in the original flick. That's official trivia; unofficially, I think the chimp Cornelia was named after Cornelius, the character Roddy McDowall played.

I've gotten so caught up in talking about the apes I've neglected the humans, and that's pretty much how the movie goes, too. James Franco does a good job, but any actor would be bound to be overshadowed. Never work with animals, kids, or outrageously good special effects, I guess. The apes are just like people, for better or for worse -- some of them are really cool and you feel sorry for them, but some are just as rotten as nasty neighbor Hunsiker... though even so, you kind of feel sorry for them. You're also never bored or dwelling on the fact that you're looking at special effects. For a lot of the film, you are, but you don't notice.

It's pretty easy to notice, though, that you're also looking at the start of a new franchise for the Apes movies, and I think the timing on this is probably just about perfect. Technology has caught up with the idea and can now present it believably, so I think they're on to something here. Four and a quarter out of five. I think Charlton Heston might have liked it.

Commuter traffic is enough to make anyone go ape.


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Great blog.

Great blog.

I picked up far fewer of the

I picked up far fewer of the call-outs to the original movies than you did. Actually, I don't think you needed to catch any, to really enjoy this movie for itself.

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