Tuesday, August 9, 2011
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)
Forget the clunky Tim Burton “reimagining” if you can. In this entertaining prequel to the PLANET OF THE APES film series, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) has developed a brain-enhancing drug for Gen-Sys, a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company. After successful results on chimpanzee Bright Eyes, Will pitches the idea of human tests to the corporate board. But his prize subject runs amok, and the project is shut down. Too late Will discovers that Bright Eyes had been protecting her newborn child and that her rampage was not a drug side effect. He adopts the orphaned baby chimp (whom he names Caesar) and raises him in the house he shares with his father Charles (John Lithgow), a concert pianist gradually succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease. Will soon discovers that Caesar (played by a motion-captured Andy Serkis) has inherited his mother’s enhanced cognitive capabilities, and they begin communicating through sign language. But after Caesar violently defends ailing Charles against an antagonistic neighbor, the courts order the grown chimp moved to an animal shelter. There Caesar engages with his simian peers and foments revolt against the oppressive jailers. Unlike prequels of yesteryear (and I’m looking at you STAR WARS: EPISODES 1-3) this film keeps the exposition brisk and the tone surprisingly upbeat. Though we know where the story will lead, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver’s screenplay (suggested by Pierre Boulle’s novel La Planete des Singes) surprises just enough while making clever (and mostly subtle) references to earlier APES movies. And while director Rupert Wyatt displays a canny visual flair, he never lets the CG effects or the action overwhelm the story, deftly balancing scenes both large and small. Franco anchors the film with his steady, irony-free performance, and Lithgow proves that less is more in his welcome return to the big screen. But the movie belongs to the remarkable Serkis, who creates a full-blooded simian character that we believe in as much as, if not more than, its human counterparts.