Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto
Plot: An origin story set in present day San Francisco, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy.
Genre: Action / Drama / Sci-Fi
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Visual Effects
Rating: PG for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Quite frankly, the best 'Planet of the Apes' movie is undoubtedly still the 1968 classic directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring Charlton Heston. Its famous ending has since lost its significance, and now more so with the release of this latest 'Ape' effort, but it remains to be a tremendously enjoyable sci-fi tale with strong Darwinian elements. Its sequels are largely forgettable and Tim Burton’s remake of Schaffner’s film ten years ago should have already rotted in a landfill by now.
So, what is the motivation to make another 'Ape' film when everything points toward a warning sign that says failure? The motivation, I feel, comes from the fact that if given the chance to do right, an 'Ape' film would resonate with us because, like it or not, we share a primal connection with our ancestral cousins. It is the quality of the screen treatment of this primal connection that will pave way for a successful 'Ape' film.
Rupert Wyatt, the director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, understands this. Thus, he has roped in a strong team consisting of cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings, 2001-2003), editors Conrad Buff IV and Mark Goldblatt (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991), and most crucially, Andy Serkis, the man responsible for Gollum in LOTR and the giant gorilla in King Kong (2005), and who is now acting as Caesar, the lead ape, in an outstanding performance shot using motion capture technology.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the apes in the film give better performances than their human counterparts. Character development is given to Caesar by way of detailed facial expression and eye movements because apes can’t talk. This is remarkable considering that Will Rodman, played by an unsurprisingly dull James Franco, is developed thinly when he can apparently speak. I haven’t mentioned about Frieda Pinto’s character, Caroline, whose presence here is virtually not needed at all.
Caesar steals the show, but not without some of the best visual effects I have seen this year. The story sets up nicely and builds up steadily; there is no rush to get to the action scenes. Wyatt knows that and he doesn’t fall into the trap of gratifying audiences early on. When the third act comes, it is a payoff that is thoroughly deserved. It is a spectacle that is enjoyable not only for its entertainment value, but the way the camera skillfully weaves around the dramatic action.
There are tender, emotional moments among apes that are handled beautifully by Wyatt. But it is his focus on the inherent drama that makes this Hollywood blockbuster different from the crappy rest. While it is not particularly a superb effort and remains creatively limited by its strict adherence to the standard three-act structure, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is this year’s surprise package. It is a smart and solid film that never loses its way. Most importantly, the aforementioned “primal connection” is achieved with aplomb.