Recycled ideas are all the rage on the silver screen these days, but every once in a while a remake or an unofficial sequel has clever enough people behind it to get it right. This summer, that movie is “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
Put together as sort of a prequel to the 1968 science fiction classic, “Planet of the Apes,” this 2011 installment centers on scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), a researcher who is working on a cure for Alzheimer’s by testing a virus on chimpanzees. The virus is supposed to repair the brain, and a most recent test subject shows astounding results. So his company, seeing only dollar signs, pushes the experimental drug in front of its board.
Two things happen shortly thereafter. First, Will brings home a baby chimp-one born of the one injected with the experimental drug-and keeps it. He also brings home some of said experimental drug and injects it into his father, Charles (portrayed wonderfully by John Lithgow), who suffers from Alzheimer’s. As a result, Will observes his father improve almost overnight and the chimp, which he names Caesar, develops into an extremely brilliant ape.
While the film’s trailer gives the impression of a film packed with ape versus human action sequences-most of which occur in the last 20 minutes or so-it’s the dynamics of the relationships that create such an intriguing story about the birth of the “Planet of the Apes.”
As Will struggles to find a cure for his father’s dreadful disease, Caesar is driven to rise against man through negative experiences with certain individuals-despite the unconditional love of Will, his surrogate father.
“Am I a pet,” the ape signs at one point in the film. Though Will assures him he is not-the rest of the world doesn’t quite see it the same way.
Andy Serkis, having already played a giant gorilla in Peter Jackson’s “King Kong,” takes on the guise of Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” As Caesar, he without a doubt steals the movie despite never physically showing up on screen. The CGI Caesar is entirely based on capturing the physical performance of Serkis from facial expressions and hand movements to his very own ape trot. Serkis, who originally made his name as the actor behind Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is digitally captured by some of the best CGI to ever hit the big screen. The combination enters the realm of the magnificent.
The sneakiest parts of the movie are some quick televised bits shown in the background of scenes. There is a brief shot of a television showing the launch of a manned mission to Mars-sneaky because of the implications this mission will have beyond the timeline of the film. Another TV later shows Charlton Heston, which is a poetic sort of nod to the original. The obvious, clichéd inclusion of the most famous line from 1968 is more a stretch than anything. “Damned dirty ape” doesn’t work so well in 2011.
However, everything else in this film works quite well. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” builds upon a strong script with solid casting, incredible performance-capture and some of the best CGI out there. The result is a summer movie worth seeing-and worth paying the money to see on the big screen.