Review: 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' is a Milestone in CG Filmmaking
by Jeremy Kirk
August 5, 2011
The love Rupert Wyatt, and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, the director and co-writers of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, have for the 1968 original is clear. The admiration doesn't just bleed through - it swings in on a low-hanging vine, lets out a shriek that you feel in your gut, and smashes you directly in the face. It's the kind of esteem that could come off as corny or even monotonous if the movie weren't so damned, dirty entertaining. Marrying intriguing and captivating story-telling with confident direction and arguably the the best CG creations ever put to film, Rise —yeah, we'll go with that from now on—is precisely what a prequel should be, telling a story we think we know but blending the perfect amount of originality with a known cinematic universe to make any fan of the original love it just as much.
Set in present day San Francisco, the film centers on Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's. His lab tests their latest drug on apes, but all of that changes when Caesar comes into his care. Caesar was the son of Rodman's last failed attempt at perfecting the drug, but some interesting side effects have been passed down from mother to baby chimp. As Caesar grows, he shows more and more intelligence, but the human world can be cruel. Needless to say, things don't go swimmingly for anyone.
What must be mentioned in Rise's favor first and foremost is the creation of Caesar. Using Weta Digital and motion capture technology to capture actor Andy Serkis' performance, the character is a marvel. It isn't entirely photo realistic through and through. When Caesar is seen full body and moving about Rodman's home or the nearby redwood forest, it isn't bad CG. It's just obvious CG. However, when Caesar is sitting still, it's near impossible to tell if it's an actual ape or a string of 1s and 0s. More importantly, the performance, the looks on Caesar's face, the personality that comes through is impeccable.
He ends up becoming more real than the human characters found in the film, a flaw to be sure, but it isn't due to poor performances by those humans. Not every character is written flawlessly. Brian Cox and Freida Pinto have what should be key roles, but neither gets any time to develop what they're given. All that time goes back to Caesar and the relationship built between he, Franco, and John Lithgow who plays Rodman's Alzheimer stricken father. The three carry every scene with superb emotion, very nearly to the point that you start to forget you're watching a film about a forthcoming ape revolution.
And sure, Caesar ends up being locked away, he comes across other apes who have been locked up by humans, and he ends up leading them against us. But that doesn't stop Caesar from being the main character of this film nor does it stop Wyatt from treating him as such. Perhaps that's where the real power in Rise lies. It isn't about humans trying to survive during a massive attack by warring apes. It's about one ape in particular and his rise to rule over his own species. For that to work, for that to even be believable Caesar has to work as a character. That clearly isn't a problem with Serkis and Weta in charge.
Once the revolution begins, the movie loses bit of steam, but only a bit. The emotional impact of seeing Caesar move, lead, and interact with both apes and humans is still there, but now the real precursor to the 1968 film begins. Wyatt and the screenwriters involved douse the film with their nostalgic love, throwing in tidbits here and there the keen eye and ear will be able to pick up. News reports, character names, lines of dialogue - minus a few that are too corny for this film's own good - are all thrown in to serve the film as both a true prequel and a candy store for like-minded Planet of the Apes lovers. You begin to remember how the apes acted in that film and to see these present-day apes begin to learn how to lead makes the film all the more entertaining.
Rise also goes to certain levels to change how you view the original films. A subplot runs through that seems to be going nowhere, doesn't even feel like it belongs until the end of the film. That's when the people behind Rise truly turn on the connective magic and show you something in the series you didn't know was there to begin with. Without giving away too much, it's safe to say Rise doesn't end with the Statue of Liberty on the beach, but it points in a certain direction. Whether there's a follow-up continuing the ape revolution or not doesn't matter. With what we're given, the audience is able to fill in the gaps for ourselves, make the jump between this film and the original, and not feel like we've missed anything.
That's truly what makes this the ideal prequel. Even though we know where it's headed, even though we know apes will eventually rule the planet in this series, the story in Rise is compelling and equivocal enough that you don't lose interest. What's more, it's a highly engaging film about the connection man has with ape and a suspenseful look at how all of that can turn to nothing thanks to the cruel nature of humankind.
Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a triumphant entry into a long-dormant series and an incredibly entertaining summer blockbuster that you don't have to turn your brain off for. Thanks to the immaculate work by Weta Digital and the faultless performance by Andy Serkis, Rise also delivers a milestone in computer animated imagery. Caesar isn't real, but when crafted by such a perfect joint effort, he seems real enough to bow down before. All other CG creations should do just that.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10