RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Desperate to help his Alzheimer stricken father (John Lithgow) as well as to find a historic and profitable cure, GenSys scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is experimenting with his new Alzheimer drug ALZ 112 on a female chimpanzee which looks promising - but ultimately fails when the chimp has to be killed after a wild attack on handlers. Will then discovers the chimp had just given birth to a baby, which in the absence of options at the GenSys lab he takes home - he thinks temporarily. Calling him Caesar (Andy Serkis) Will cares for him for several years as he charts increased intelligence and communication skills. He also meets primatologist Caroline (Freida Pinto) with whom he begins a relationship. After developing a stronger version of the drug ALZ 113, Will's plans go badly wrong, with Caesar having to be placed in an animal facility for primates, run by John Landon (Brian Cox). But the powerful drug has already had some effect on Caesar, whose mistreatment at the facility triggers a backlash in which his improved new skills are put to use as he leads a primate uprising.
Review by Louise Keller:
Such is the magic of cinema and the wonders of technology that it is easy to cross the bridge of digital wizardry to connect with this extraordinary film that explores the dangers of genetic engineering and playing God. The fantasy world created by the filmmakers seamlessly combines live action with visual effects and performance capture on the instantly recognisable backdrop of San Francisco. As a result, this sci-fi fantasy is a dramatic, oomphy affair that begins with a small thing - the rescue of a baby chimp - and ends.... well, you will need to see the movie.
Not long after we meet James Franco's genetic scientist Will Rodman in the lab, passionately pursuing the authorisation of a newly researched wonder drug ALZ-112, we understand why this is so important to him. His father (John Lithgow) is suffering from Alzheimer's; he sees this as a viable option to save his father. The early scenes when Will brings Caesar the orphaned baby chimp home are as cute as, the house becoming a playground for the active, highly intelligent animal who has inherited his mother's genetic modifications and whose cognitive skills are increasing daily.
But cute little chimps quickly grow into massive strong creatures and Caesar's incarceration into a facility with a cruel handler is a tough moment for both Will and for us, the audience, as we have taken to the chess-playing chimp that has learnt to sign and show affection.
It is in the facility that Caesar's smarts are fully realised and I love the scenes in which he cleverly orchestrates the reversal of roles between captives and handlers. There's a wonderful moment when the chimps wake up with clear insight - which we can see in their eyes.
Highlight is the climactic sequence featuring the chimps' revolt on the Golden Gate bridge - a breathtaking, astonishing moment, by which time we have been totally seduced by the fantasy. Car chaos, a spectacular helicopter crash and a band of liberated apes on the bridge makes for extraordinary visuals and heart pumping action.
Andy Serkis, through amazing performance capture techniques, gives great character and heart to Caesar; the rest of the apes are also fabulous. The human cast does well too - Franco as Caesar's surrogate father, Freida Pinto as Will's primatologist girlfriend and Brian Cox as the facility owner. Tom Felton is easy to loathe as the cruel handler.
Director Rupert Wyatt pulls everything together beautifully and the film looks a treat through the lens of cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. This is what the filmmakers are calling an origin movie - long before The Planet of Apes (1968) takes place.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Taking the classic 'what if' as the mantra for a sci-fi movie, Rise also sticks to the genre code of conduct by using man's 'forbidden' genetic experimenting to create the problem that threatens society. Well meaning as all such experiments are at first glance, we humans do not heed the warnings or learn from the past. Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is too determined to get his results to be cautious. (Note his wilful, stubborn name...) OK, this sci-fi morality lesson is clear and Rise makes its case with bravura filmmaking.
Grabbing us from the start, Rise stimulates our emotions with a feverish sequence of chimps being chased and captured to be taken to the lab for a life of experiments. These scenes, as are all scenes in the film, are superbly shot by Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie of LOTR fame, and they set the mood for a dramatic, tense and edgy work which poses a few moral questions and dilemmas.
The strength of the story is paramount, and it should be noted that this movie has no connection whatever to the original 1968 Planet of the Apes (or the 2001remake). There is one short image of our chimp hero Caesar (Andy Serkis in motion capture mode) playing with a toy Statue of Liberty, though . . . Referred to as an 'origin' movie, or a 'reboot', Rise can be seen as perhaps a prelude to the original, even though it is set in present day San Francisco.
The drug that is meant to relieve Alzheimer's has a short term effect, then regresses the patient, but in Caesar (who acquired elements of the drug while still in the womb) we see how the side effects are increased intelligence - this in the human sense. What we also see as the story unfolds, is that along with intelligence comes a moral code we recognise at the upper end of the human scale.
The technical aspects of the film are truly impressive, from the animatronics to the motion capture to the CGI, all perfectly integrated. You might notice that the chimps have more humanoid eyes than real chimps, and any baby chimp you see will also have been humanified as it were, but these are subtleties we can accept. What's impressive is how these technically created characters are able to communicate their feelings and thoughts to us, without words, using gestures and expressions as well as a bit of sign language.
Performances are also effective in a cross section of characters on display, from GenSys boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelow) through primatologist Caroline (Freida Pinto) to Will's dad (John Lighgow).
The film is far from perfect, overstating here and there, a few small errors of judgement about characters and a perfunctory romantic relationship that has no purpose. But by the time the climactic confrontation between the apes and San Francisco's security forces makes its violent way across the Golden Gate Bridge, those flaws will have be forgotten. And then comes the resolution, which gives rise to thoughts of what's next ...
First published in the Sun-Herald
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RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (M)
CAST: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, Tom Felton, Brian Cox, John Lithgow, Tyler Labine, David Hewlett
PRODUCER: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
DIRECTOR: Rupert Wyatt
SCRIPT: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver (suggested by Pierre Boulle novel)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Lesnie
EDITOR: Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt
MUSIC: Patrick Doyle
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Claude Pare
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 4, 2011