Aug 8, 2011

[Movies] Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)Remakes are almost always bad. Reboots are tricky. Prequels are almost always a death sentence. At least this has been my general experience, although I admit that there have been exceptions to these "rules" of sorts, but in the movie world they're almost always true. Books fare a wee bit better, of course not counting novelizations of books.

When we first saw the trailer for this movie, we were extremely skeptical of this being a worthwhile piece. In many forums, they started to call this the movie prequel that no one was asking for. I mean, come on right? The original Planet of the Apes remains a classic science fiction movie that is loved by many fans. It may seem a tad campy and dated by modern movie standards, but it does remains to be a great example of the kind of true storytelling we used to see even in the cinemas.

So for them to decide to create a prequel movie felt like yet another step backward by the greedy nature of Hollywood. And yet when the movie started playing over the weekend, the initial reviews were surprisingly good. Despite how lousy the trailer seemed to make the movie appear, people were enjoying it. And not just your average joes alone - even film critics were saying the movie was quite good.

And so we took the plunge and watched it. And man, that was an enjoyable movie.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is partially a prequel but in truth is more of a reboot of the entire Planet of the Apes franchise for modern sensibilities. The movie was directed by Rupert Wyatt with a screenplay written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.

The story initially seems to revolve around Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. His latest gene therapy drug - tagged as ALZ 12, is showing a lot of promise in early animal trials with chimpanzees. But beyond possibly curing the disease, it has an strange side-effect of somehow increasing the intelligence of the test subjects. But before he can get the board to vote for full human trials, an incident with the board kills his chances and thus terminates the research project. One thing lead to another and Will ends up taking home the last chimp from the project - an infant of one of his most promising test subjects that they name Caesar.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) turns out to have inherited the same advanced intelligence that his mother manifested after receiving ALZ 12. Together with his Alzheimer's affected father (John Litgow), the three become an unusual family as Caesar demonstrates rapid mental development exceeding what humans manage given the same relative age. Will then takes the next step and administers ALZ 12 to his father in order to see how it might affect him. The initial results are promising and thus Will continues his research at home while remaining less engaged with other projects at work. But more and more Caesar becomes restless with his domestic confinement and it seems only a matter of time before more and more encounters with the neighbors and his unusual intelligence.

It's hard to disassociate this movie from the original, which is probably something the writers factored in. As much as this is meant as a reboot that does not strictly follow the original continuity, the writers put a lot of effort into seeding the movie with a lot of references. In fact, I still feel that the movie is able to function as a loose explanation for a lot of the things in the original movie, more or less. And that's quite a gem from a writing perspective - one that nicely fulfills a lot of geek expectations when it comes to Easter Eggs and other such tidbits.

Andy Serkis (Albert Einstein)Image via WikipediaThe only acting credit that needs to be discussed here is the fact that Andy Serkis is pretty much amazing as Caesar. I know this is all motion capture, but still the evolution of Caesar's motions from his early manifestations of intelligence to his scarier, more cunning form later on. And to be able to convey so much emotion with mainly gestures and movements is something else - something that deserves to be recognized.

James Franco, despite his Renaissance real world life, is pretty lousy as playing a scientists. He just doesn't convey intelligence very well. The rest of the cast was largely inconsequential since the real acting beyond this was mostly handled by the ape characters. It was nice how they echoed their counterparts in the original film without necessarily needing to be the true proto-forms of those characters, more or less.

The story at times seemed to wobble in the beginning - probably because James Franco discusses scientific theory like how he recited beat poetry in Howl. But once we start to focus more on the apes and their struggle, then the story really became quite gripping and downright moving. And thus it's certainly a movie that I'd recommend to friends, especially those of the geek variety.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the better reboots I've ever seen but more importantly is a highly enjoyable movie. You don't need to have watched the original movie to enjoy this either but given the many, many references, it certainly helps. With how all the diverse elements came together, I give the movie a very strong 4.5 amazing ways they echoed the original movie through scenes, dialog and small touches out of a possible 5.

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