“What’s so special about Caesar anyway?”
With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes releasing this week I figured (with a little help from my girlfriend) that this would be a good time to look back at one of my favorite movies of the last few years, its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Outside of Godzilla, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the only summer movie I have really been looking forward to this year. Now don’t get me wrong, Winter Soldier was fine and so was Days of Future Past, and even 22 Jump Street and Jersey Boys are worth seeing, but I have a soft spot for giant lizards and intelligent apes apparently.
Now I am going to be honest here; prior to watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes I had never seen any of the Apes films besides the awful Tim Burton remake that was released in 2001. That does not mean however that I was not versed in the mythology. The Planet of the Apes is such a science fiction film benchmark that I was aware of it via parodies of various kinds if for no other reason. The fact that the first one was written by Rod Serling and Michael Wilson was always a draw to me (Serling is easily my favorite television writer of all time) but for whatever reason I never got around to checking it out, and like most film series the sequels were considered to offer diminishing returns.
To say I didn’t like the 2001 version is probably a bit of an understatement. I thought at the time, and more than likely still would, that it was an incredibly boring and listless movie filled with uninspiring performances and weak direction from Tim Burton. At the time I was a huge Burton fan so it was a double let-down to me. The “twist” ending only served to give a big middle finger to the audience and I accepted it and never attempted to visit any of the other Planet of the Apes movies…until 2011 that is.
When I watched the first trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes I was surprised. It looked really good but I was extremely cautious. A trailer can be very different from the actual movie it is advertising and I had already been fooled once by an Apes movie ten years earlier. As more trailers started to come out for it I started thinking that this one might actually be good. It wasn’t doing the lame thing that Burton’s did in trying to be a remake and a reimagining at the same time, it was simply starting at the beginning.
Now I am still confused if Rise should be considered a reboot or a prequel. Some seem to think it is a prequel and I stand more on the reboot side of things, although my guess is that it will end up being whatever the studio wants it to be (I do think it was originally intended as a prequel). If the movies in this series continue to be successful my guess is there will be another Planet of the Apes at some point (although possibly with a different title), and if the series runs out of steam they will have been prequels all along.
Prequel or reboot, Rise is a fantastic summer movie, and a great movie in general. It has spectacle aplenty but it also has very human moments, and a lot of those human moments are with the apes, believe it or not. Rise doesn’t really have an agenda. It does seem to posit the idea that humans in a lot of regards are much worse than animals but it doesn’t harp on this point and it is really inconsequential to someone’s enjoyment of the movie. Written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and directed by Rupert Wyatt, the plot revolves around scientist Will Rodman (played by James Franco), who is working on an Alzheimer’s cure. He has been testing the drug on apes and one of the test subjects, Bright Eyes, gives birth to Caesar (played by Andy Serkis in probably the best motion capture performance ever filmed), before being shot for becoming violent while protecting her newborn. Will adopts Caesar and the rise begins. I’m not going to spoil the rest for anyone who hasn’t watched but really, what are you waiting on? Go on! I’ll wait.
Now for fans of Marky Mark and/or the Funky Bunch, neither appear in Rise. The Funky Bunch could not be reached for comment as to why but my guess is that they just didn’t feel it, feel it. There are however some wonderful supporting performances in Rise as well. John Lithgow is great as always as Will’s dad Charles who is suffering from dementia, and Will’s reason for doing the research in the first place. Brian Cox is greasy as always playing the loathsome ape wrangler as is Tom Felton who plays one of the guards at the primate shelter, and Freida Pinto does a good job as Will’s fellow scientist/love interest, Caroline Aranha.
No matter how good the humans are, this movie belongs to the apes. I can’t begin to stress how good the effects are in this movie and not just Andy Serkis. As far as I know no real apes were used in the movie but you can’t tell the difference, and that is pretty astonishing. Everyone talked so much about Avatar when it came out because of its effects but Rise blows it out of the water to me. The same effects studio did it so it makes sense that the effects would have advanced since Avatar and Rise is a sight to behold. It stands as a benchmark for all digital effects from here on as far as I’m concerned.
“It’s always darkest before the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
I’m going to be honest again; I still haven’t watched the entire original Planet of the Apes series of movies, but I have watched the first movie and Beneath the Planet of the Apes which most people say are the best two of the series. Based on these two movies though, I can definitely understand why they Apes films have endured. The effects in Planet and Beneath are incredible for the time period. Yes they have men and women in ape suits, but the facial expressions are quite astonishing in their realism, and with Planet I have a distinct fondness because of Rod Serling and Michael Wilson’s screenplay, It might have been based on a book originally but certain aspects are very similar to the Twilight Zone formula, specifically the “twist” at the end. In all seriousness the main concept behind Planet of the Apes wouldn’t be out of place as an episode of the Twilight Zone.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a very strange sequel for its time. It’s very dark and nihilistic. I’m not going to get into it here because I don’t want to give away too much for people who haven’t watched but it has one of the darkest endings of any mainstream sci-fi movie I’ve ever witnessed. It is definitely well worth your time though so seek it out.
With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes coming out it might be time for me to catch up on the other three movies in the original series. There is also a short-lived television series and an animated series to check out. So I might be busy with Apes in the ensuing weeks. There are definitely worse ways to spend my time so I won’t complain.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite movies of the last five years and it is easily my favorite movie of 2011, and it is still great after multiple re-watches. You owe it to yourself to check it out if you have any interest in it at all. Watch it for the awesome effects. Watch it for Andy Serkis’ amazing motion capture performance. Watch it for the spectacle of apes running rampant in San Francisco. Watch it because the Funky Bunch isn’t in it, but most of all, watch it because it’s the type of movie you don’t get very often anymore; a summer movie that isn’t dumb and doesn’t insult the audience (I’m looking directly at you Transformers franchise). Go watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes right now! And go see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes this weekend! Feel it, feel it!