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Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

August 5, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – A 20th Century Fox Release

http://www.apeswillrise.com/

Release Date: August 5th, 2011

Rated PG for violence and mature themes

Running time: 105 minutes

Rupert Wyatt (dir.)

Rick Jaffa (writer)

Amanda Silver (writer)

Inspired by the 1968 film, Planet of the Apes

Patrick Doyle (music)

Andy Serkis as Caesar

James Franco as Will Rodman

Freida Pinto as Caroline Aranha

John Lithgow as Charles Rodman

Brian Cox as John Landon

Tom Felton as Dodge Landon

David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs

David Hewlett as Hunsiker

©20th Century Fox.  All Rights Reserved.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Will Rodman (James Franco) in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Our reviews below:

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of 4)

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is both a prequel and reboot of the 1968 sci-fi classic that spawned four needless sequels and a pointless remake, is that it’s actually quite good.  Here is a film that poses some difficult moral and ethical questions about animal testing, as it builds almost beautifully upon these themes towards a thrilling climax.  It certainly provides its fair share of summer entertainment, but most satisfying for thoughtful viewers is that there is also something deeper going on here.

Our story starts with Will Rodman (a fully involved James Franco), a scientist on the brink of discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s disease that could save his ailing father, Charles (heartbreakingly played by John Lithgow).  The drug is being tested in apes, but after a tragedy ensues, the father and son are left to take care of an orphaned newborn.  Named Caesar and raised at their home, the young chimpanzee displays a human-like intelligence as he advances over the years at a rate rivaling that of a person.  But complications with the medication ultimately ensue, advancing Caesar to a point where he is able to team up with his fellow chimps and turn the tables on the humans.

The passage of time in the first act sometimes feels a touch rushed and a few of the human side characters aren’t entirely fleshed out.  But these are only minor flaws.  The apes make up the bulk of the movie and this part of it is often beautifully done.  The animation by WETA is groundbreaking, with motion capture technology giving Andy Serkis the freedom to deliver a performance as Caesar that is nothing short of breathtaking.  This allows the animals to be developed as characters in a way that is undeniably human, yet never anthropomorphic.  The special effects are sure to be the biggest draw for audiences, but somehow I think this deserves to be seen as more than just another summer blockbuster.

I’ll admit that my expectations for the somewhat awkwardly titled Rise of the Planet of the Apes were considerably lowered over the last few weeks with countless advertisements that focused way too much on the action that takes place in the last act.  This is ultimately a visually arresting and important part of the film, but more notable is the thoughtful build up towards the grand finale.  The action sequences are made all the more thrilling due to our investment in the story and the way that the apes are believably brought to life.

The original Planet of the Apes is an undeniably important piece of sci-fi history that still provides quite a bit of entertainment value along with an impressive soundtrack.  But the now cheesy costumes and somewhat exaggerated performances do feel dated.  At a certain point, the film also became a religious satire, where’s this prequel remains an almost eerily believable cautionary tale.  But right through to the delivery of a famous line, there are many wonderful throwbacks to the original film in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, so audiences who see both are sure to gain an even deeper appreciation for both stories.

Sometimes strikingly similar in tone and story, the fascinating and very recent documentary Project Nim would make an excellent double-bill for those interested in the complications that can ensue when a chimp is raised with humans.  Certain audiences will no doubt be skeptical going in, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is refreshingly smart entertainment for mature audiences who want a thought-provoking and often complex story to go along with the impressive action.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review by Erin V.  

***1/2 (out of 4)

Set as a distant prequel to the original 1967 film Planet of the Apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes succeeds in being a contemporary sci-fi film that allows for much discussion afterwards.  In the film, we meet Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist who is trying to develop a new drug called ALZ-112, that could possibly be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  Will is trying to rush the drug through its testing phase on chimps, in order to get to human trials, because he has a personal stake in this – his father (John Lithgow).

When things go tragically wrong with one of the chimp test subjects, the program is temporarily shut down, and Will finds himself having to take care of an orphaned baby chimp, which he dubs Caesar (Andy Serkis).  Besides allowing him to continue his research at home, Will finds himself and his father growing attached to Caesar (who possesses extreme intelligence), and by the time he is a young adult chimp, he is a genuine part of their family.  But outside forces eventually come in and tear them apart, leading Caesar to have to try to find out who he is and what he wants on his own…

Caesar is truly the main character here, and the character development they manage through his signed and wordless exchanges, both with the humans, and perhaps even more importantly with the other chimps, is stunning.  Some of the best parts of the movie come from these scenes.

I didn’t know too much of the plot going in, and I’m trying not to give away too much here, because ultimately, I think that’s the best way to see this one.  It’s one of those films that will let you think one thing then sway your opinion like a pendulum throughout.  The character’s motives are always believable, and even if we don’t agree, we at least understand.

Earlier this year, I saw the great documentary Project Nim, about a family that raised and taught a young chimp to sign.  That whole film, and in particular the latter half, makes a great companion to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, allowing us to see just how much (other than the drug for increased mental capacity) of the chimp/human interactions and sequence of events were grounded in reality.  I think it made this film all the better for me, having that background of real chimp behaviour in a similar situation.  There were scenes here where the emotion in Caesar’s eyes was gotten so heartbreakingly right.

With a lot more character moments than action, for adults and older teens looking for an interesting sci-fi drama, this is one well-worth seeing in theatres.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Loosely inspired by the classic Planet of the Apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes provokes important questions about animal welfare.  The film begins when a gang of poachers capture chimpanzees to sell as laboratory animals.  A pharmaceutical company called Gen-Sys is testing a gene therapy drug, ALZ-112, on chimps, in order to treat Alzheimer’s disease.  When a chimp named Bright Eyes is tragically killed by police after escaping her cage, a baby is left behind.  Will (James Franco), a young researcher, takes the little baby chimp home to raise with his dad (John Lithgow), who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Will names the chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis), raising him as if he is his own child.  It turns out that Caesar has inherited his mother’s enhanced genetics, which allow him to draw, play with puzzles and communicate through sign language.  Will decides that, since the drug enhanced Caesar, perhaps it could help his own dad.  But a series of events lead Caesar into an unscrupulous chimp “Sanctuary” that keeps the animals in small cages, with a bully (Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame) as a cruel handler.  But as Caesar grows smarter, he leads the chimps into a revolution that could liberate apes from human captivity forever.

As an animal lover, I found certain scenes heartbreaking.  But for this same reason, I found this movie compelling, moving and thought-provoking as well.  This film questions the ethics and validity of animal testing.  It shows us the reasoning behind it, but also the suffering, both human and animal, that such invasive research can cause.  The movie speaks out against the notion of animals as human property that can be experimented on, put on display for entertainment, or disposed of.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes manages to develop the apes as real characters, with breathtaking computer animation that captures the emotion of the animals perfectly.  Without using words, one can tell what Caesar and his ape friends are communicating.  The human characters are also developed well.  One can see the complexities and ethical dilemmas that Will faces in regard to his lab research.  His girlfriend, zoo veterinarian Caroline (Frieda Pinto) sees animals as beings that need care and respect.

Everything in this film leads up to a climax that begins in chaos, but ends in sheer beauty.  If you love animals, and are interested in bioethics, the humane treatment of animals and species conservation, then Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a must see.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review by Maureen

*** (out of 4)

No matter what your position on the subject, Rise of the Planet of the Apes offers a suspense and action filled, thought-provoking drama about the use of animals in lab experiments.

In this prequel to the original Planet of the Apes movie, the story is centered around a young researcher, Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) working at a pharmaceutical company called Gen-Sys.  Dr. Will’s research is focused on finding a treatment and /or cure for Alzheimer’s.  His motivation is the rapid deterioration of his father, Charles Rodman (John Lithgow) from Alzheimer’s.  The drug ALZ-112 isn’t quite ready for human trials.  Chimpanzees are the lab animals of choice for testing.

The film opens with a group of apes being chased out of their natural habitat and into nets and boxes for transport back to the lab.  When one of the lab chimps, Bright Eyes, who shows promise from the drug becomes aggressive, the program is shut down.  Dr. Will ends up caring for a young chimp who his father names Caesar.  Through Caesar, Will meets Caroline (Frieda Pinto) a pretty young veterinarian who becomes part of the family circle.

A good part of the story focuses on Caesar growing up under the loving care of Will and his dad.  There are some really touching moments that develop in the relationship between Will, dad Charles and Caesar that show the reality of Alzheimer’s.

What works in Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the development of Caesar (Andy Serkis) as a character.  It is amazing how much emotion is displayed in Caesar’s body language and facial expression.  When a difficult situation causes Caesar to be placed with other apes, the personalities and characters that develop among the other apes is also remarkable to see.

Much of the film’s action comes from Caesar’s response to the conditions at the primate facility and particularly the treatment by an animal handler played by Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter).  Having Caesar torn between his loyalty to his human family and his fellow apes is powerful.  Once the action in the film gets amped up, it’s hard not to side with the apes.  The violence and emotions feel real from both sides.  The tension remains strong right until the end of the film.

There are some genuinely touching moments in this movie.  The performances by James Franco, Frieda Pinto and John Lithgow are all really good.  However the star performance comes from Andy Serkis as Caesar.  With incredible special effects, thrilling action sequences and a thought-provoking story line, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is worth seeing.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review by Tony

*** (out of 4)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes begins in a lab where a chimp demonstrates human-like intelligence after being given an experimental drug that builds brain cells to overcome dementia, developed by Will Rodman (James Franco). However, the program is shut down when the chimp becomes aggressive, but Will brings its baby, named Caesar, home with him, and also steals some of the drug to treat the Alzheimer symptoms of his father Charles (John Lithgow), with remarkable results. Caesar has inherited his mother’s intelligence, and over the next few years becomes part of the family, communicating by sign language. Veterinarian Caroline (Freida Pinto) is also welcomed into the family.

Unfortunately, the medication’s effectiveness starts to wear off, and Charles starts to wander. When a neighbour challenges Charles, Caesar attacks him so he is seized and taken to a primate shelter run by John Landon (Brian Cox). Though Landon is well-meaning, his son Dodge (Tom Felton) is cruel and the other apes are also aggressive toward Caesar at first. Meanwhile, while trying to have Caesar released, Will goes back to his boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) for approval of a more potent strain of the drug’s virus delivery system. While Jacobs cuts corners to maximize profit, Caesar has figured out how to escape the shelter and the other apes join him in an attack on the drug company and a showdown with law enforcement. The final credits provide a clue to the future dominance of the apes.

I finally sat through Planet of the Apes (1968) but not its pre/sequels or the 2001 remake. Though still an amusing satire on fundamentalism replacing apes for humans, the film is seriously dated, except for an awesome musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. Special effects resemble the original Star Trek of the period, where every planet looks like Earth with breathable air and English-speaking inhabitants, in this case pompous characters with ridiculous ape masks. Charlton Heston was still considered a great actor, enjoying a reputation in films comparable to Jon Vickers in opera, but after lampoons by Phil Hartman and others and Heston’s later role fronting the NRA I can no longer take him seriously.

By contrast, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a contemporary science fiction thriller that is in broad terms consistent with the message of the original film, though rather than a satire on fundamentalism it is more a cautionary tale on the dangers of pandemics and big pharma. I liked the way plot points were revealed in a subtle and intelligent way, with a few references to the original film, including the “damn dirty ape” line. With a fine cast, the human characters are well-developed, particularly the relationship between Will and his father. The CGI apes are completely believable as apes, looking and moving naturally and gesturing rather than speaking, with Caesar (Andy Serkis) and other character apes rendered by motion capture processed by WETA. Beautifully shot with tight editing and a percussive score, Rise of the Planet of the Apes maintains a good level of tension and suspense over a reasonable running time of 105 minutes.

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Consensus: Both a prequel and reboot of the 1968 classic sci-fi film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes boasts breathtaking special effects and believable character development of the chimps, as it builds towards a thrilling climax with a thoughtful screenplay that raises some difficult moral and ethical questions.  ***1/2 (Out of 4)

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