Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Apes "Rise" to the occasion

It’s always a bit dangerous to remake or rework a classic movie.  You run the risk of alienating the very audience for whom the film is produced. Just ask Tim Burton, whose “re-imagining” of Planet of the Apes from 2001 is not well-regarded by fans. While the film had impressive special effects, the plot was weak, and the changes made to the original story were not well received.  The current trend is called a “reboot” which updates a film series or character for a new generation ; for example, Batman in 2005’s Batman Begins or James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale.

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, and testing his serum on chimpanzees.  One of his test subjects goes on a rampage, because she believes her baby is in danger.  The mother is killed, and Will takes home the baby, and raises him. Will’s father, Charles (John Lithgow), an Alzheimer’s sufferer, befriends the chimp, and they name him Caesar. Will secretly gives his father the serum, and he begins to improve. Meanwhile, Caesar shows signs of heightened intelligence; his mother has passed on the serum’s improvements genetically.

Unfortunately, the effects of the serum on Will’s father are temporary. When a neighbor (due to a misunderstanding) threatens Charles, Caesar attacks the man, and is confined to a primate facility. The apes there are abused by the owner’s son; Caesar forms a bond with his fellow prisoners, and plots an escape. Meanwhile, Will is working on a more advanced form of the serum, and continuing his tests. However, there may be a dark side effect to his discovery .

As Will and his boss, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) debate ending the research, Caesar and his ape brethren escape the facility, and run wild. Will races to save Caesar’s life, as the apes go on the rampage. The film is well paced and exciting; director Rupert Wyatt takes his time developing the story, and the ape sequences are amazing. The effects work by Weta Digital (Peter Jackson’s company) is fantastic. Motion capture was used to create the ape characters, and Andy Serkis (Gollum from The Lord of the Rings films) is wonderful as Caesar.

Fans will have fun spotting the many references to the original film; visually, in dialogue and in character names. The clever script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver pays homage to the prior “Apes” movies, but creates a new mythology of its own. Franco is effective as Will; Lithgow is excellent as Charles; there are also good supporting performances from Brian Cox, Frida Pinto, Tyler Labine and Tom Felton (who portrayed Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films). If you’re a fan of the “Apes” series, you’ll really enjoy this re-working of the classic saga. If you’re a newcomer to the series, it’s a solid science-fiction film.  20th Century Fox has come up with their 2nd successful reboot of a franchise during this summer movie season (the other being X-Men: First Class). Highly recommended.

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