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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

More often than not, when there is a remake of a classic film or series, it does not compare favorably with the original. The newest awesome Batman and Star Trek reboots are exceptions. Nevertheless, my interest was piqued based on seeing the exciting trailers for the new version of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  The original 1968 film Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston took place in the future with the subsequent four more installments of the franchise (Beneath, Escape, Conquest, and Battle) going back in time to the beginning.

This reboot of the series goes the opposite route, at the start of it all, with how and why the Rise of the Planet of the Apes got set into motion. Under the keen direction of Rupert Wyatt ("The Escapist") from an original, intelligent script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver who take the story to a whole new level with its many extraordinary elements, Rise is by far, this summer's most thrilling and engrossing sci fi blockbuster.

James Franco plays Will Rodman, a genetic scientist at the fictional Gen-Sys, a pharmaceutical company in San Francisco, working on a project to cure alzheimer's, a disease that has taken a devastating toll on his father (delicately, beautifully portrayed by John Lithgow), a former music teacher. Using primates as guinea pigs, Will comes up with a gene therapy called ALZ-112, that when tested on one particular ape, shows signs of an extraordinary breakthrough when she quickly begins to display increased intelligence and the ability to use sign language. But when the chimp breaks out and goes on a destructive rampage at a board meeting, she is shot and killed. Will's boss, the strictly profit minded Jacobs (David Oyelow) reacts by shutting down the experiment and ordering the remaining, captive chimps to be put down. Unbeknownst to Will, Bright Eyes (named for the flecks of green in her eyes) was pregnant.  Feeling compassion for the adorable and helpless baby, Will secretly takes him home and with his veterinarian girlfriend Caroline (Frieda Pinto, a pretty fixture but used primarily to show an element, aka female partner of his own kind, that Ceasar is missing in his life) at his side, Will begins to bond with the little fellow and names him Caesar. As years go by, Caesar shows signs of hyper-intelligence due to the experimental drug that was passed on from his mother.

After a near disaster with the next door neighbor, Ceasar is separated from Will and taken to an animal “sanctuary”  run by John Landon (Brian Cox) that is more like a prison, where he is purposely and viciously abused by his cruel and sadistic son, Dodge (Tom Felton, the evil Draco Malfoy from "Harry Potter”). If this place doesn't demand a call out to PETA, then nothing does.

Displaying feelings of hurt, anger and ultimately revenge, the smart ape begins to mount a plan to free himself and his other imprisoned primates including an orangutan, a gorilla and chimpanzees. And so the uprising begins, taking the action to the streets and leading to a suspenseful, explosive battle between humans and apes atop the Golden Gate Bridge.

The film is effective on two very important levels, drawing you in both visually and emotionally. The technical wizards at WETA studios have achieved something so phenomenal, not only with their seamless special effects, but with their creation of Ceasar, a fully realized CGI character evoking complex emotions, facial expressions and mannerisms.  You can't help but care about and feel sympathy for the poor creature's plight and root for him.  Blended with the motion captured, multi layered performance by Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings) Ceasar could not be more believable and convincing. If only we could convince the Academy voters to consider Serkis in the best supporting actor category come Oscar time.

Fans of the original Planet of the Apes flick will notice several homages and references to the original film. For instance, Caesar's mom Bright Eyes, was the nickname Dr. Zira called Taylor (Charlton Heston). A worker at the animal facility is called away from his TV where he was watching Heston in a scene from the film. The orangutan is named Maurice, a nod to Maurice Evans, the actor who played Dr. Zaius.  Then there is the malicious Dodge, who says, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!  that was spoken by Taylor.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes also touches on many issues, including father and son relationships, oppression, the mistreatment of animals and sacrifice. There are some poignant moments, a few tragic scenes that grabs at your emotions, and yet enough exciting action for those who want an adrenalin thrill.

Given this immensely gripping start up to a new Apes franchise, I can't wait to see what is in store in the follow up. If the next installment is as effective, and well crafted as Rise, audiences have a lot to look forward to. For sure, this one got a “rise” out of me, in a good way, as only the most entertaining films do.

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