Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes Brings New Life To The Apes Series

More than a prequel, more than a remake or even a reboot, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is stunning, moving and cautionary tale of man and his hubris which ultimately causes his downfall.

Strictly speaking the film is a remake of the fourth film of the original Apes series Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and it completely changes the reason why the main character of the chimpanzee called Caesar is intelligent. In the original, for non-fans, the reason for Caesar’s intelligence and ability to speak is because his parents were super intelligent apes who time traveled to the modern era. It makes perfect sense in that film’s logic only it never explains why the other enslaved apes are nearly human in appearance and intelligent.

In this film, the reason for Caesar’s rise is due to genetic engineering and therein lies the movie’s mantra about mankind’s folly and the unexpected consequences of actions both good and bad.

Dr. Will Rodman (played with compassion by James Franco) is a scientist looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. He develops a retrovirus and administers it to a laboratory chimp with exciting results since she quickly shows signs of human-level intelligence. Unfortunately she is killed but not before giving birth to a baby chimp. Unwilling to have the baby infant put to sleep, Rodman sneaks  him home. Soon he discovers that the chimp (that is then named Caesar) has inherited and surpassed his mother’s uncanny intelligence.

Years pass and Rodman is trying to perfect the retrovirus as he raises Caesar and administers the cure to his ailing father (John Lithgow) who also forms his own bond with the ape. Sadly this bond brings out Caesar’s primal and protective nature which causes him to be removed from Rodman’s home and imprisoned in an ape facility. The cruel treatment he and other apes receive from the handlers there hardens Caesar against mankind and foments a simian revolution.

Before long a new version of the retrovirus is developed in Rodman’s company that can be administered as an inhalant. However, while this new strain boosts simian intelligence it turns out to be lethal to humans. At the same time, Caesar builds alliances with the other imprisoned apes (one of which is a sympathetic friendly orangutan called Maurice, who is naturally smart)and is able to escape from the facility. Caesar steals samples of the new virus and uses them to liberate his own kind. The results are one of the most thrilling and rousing uprisings seen on film.

One can’t help but root for the apes while at the same time be taken aback by their brutality and sheer power. Of course, it’s a story that speaks out against the way animals are treated not just by the medical/scientific community but how we as a species view our fellow creatures in zoos, as pets and in the wild.

Kudos should go all around to everyone who made this film possible from the actors (Franco, Lithgow, Frieda Pinto, Tom Felton, etc.) to writers Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver to director Rupert Wyatt (these three have reinvigorated the Apes saga in one fell swoop) to Weta Digital. Yes, you can tell in many scenes that CGI is being used, which makes one wonder if real-life apes could’ve been used in many scenes, but honestly it doesn’t take away from the story. That is a sign of a truly great film. Take the original Planet of the Apes, King Kong or Jaws. We know that the filmmakers in those days used dated f/x to bring their creations to life but the audience doesn’t care since they’re so caught up in the storytelling.

Special accolades go to Andy Serkis for his performance capture of Caesar. As with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings films he really brings his creations to life. He and the filmmakers make Caesar the main protagonist as he is transformed from a gifted child prodigy to a tortured prisoner to finally a heroic liberator and leader who despite his hardships holds onto a sense of decency. Serkis deserves at least a special Oscar for his work in this movie.

Viewers don’t have to be fans of the previous films to enjoy this cinematic triumph, which skillfully throws in many references to the series including a Charlton Heston cameo and his famous line from the original film “Get your stinkin’ paws off me you damn, dirty ape!” The line is followed by one of the most powerful one-word replies heard on screen. There are many ways the story can be continued and this film is peppered with many suggestions of potential sequel ideas.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a must-see for any film lover, it’s not only the best film of the summer but also one of the year’s best.

José Soto

Conquered By The Planet of The Apes

This week marks the premiere of the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the latest entry in the Planet of the Apes series. It’s seen by some as a reboot of the series or a prequel but it’s safest to state that the film is actually a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes from 1972, the fourth film in the series.    

The original film takes place in the 1990s. An off-screen plague has wiped out all the dogs and cats and human now rely on apes as both pets and servants. One thing the film doesn’t elaborate on is how modern apes were transformed into nearly human forms and essentially alike. Remember that real-life gorillas are much larger than other apes, orangutans are aboreal and in this film they both are the same size and shape along with chimps. Also by the time the film opens the apes are no longer portrayed as pets but as lower-class slaves.

The arrival of Caesar, an intelligent ape who can speak and the son of Zira and Cornelius from the earlier films brings about a change to the order of things. With the aid of some human allies, Caesar leads the apes into a bloddy revolt and out of their oppression. After the apes win their freedom, he then tells the conquered humans that this act of rebellion will be repeated all over the world and will signal the birth of “The Planet of the Apes.”

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite films in the series. The premise that apes are mistreated and subjugated by humans and then liberated by an intelligent simian savior was an inspired explanation as to how apes came to dominate the world. The fight sequences between the apes and the police riot squads were very thrilling and effective. Roddy McDowall as Caesar is very convincing, sympathetic and his performance makes Caesar a distinctly different character than Cornelius. Ricardo Montalban as Armando the kind circus owner and Hari Rhodes as McDonald are also excellent as Caesar’s allies.

It will interesting to see if the new film, which star James Franco, can take advantage of the special effects technology and improve upon the source material to provide a modern-day science fiction classic. It seems very promising in that the previews have shown how Caesar was genetically engineered to become intelligent. That’s a plot point that removes any referenes to his time-traveling parents from the original series. At the very least it should make audiences forget the misbegotten film by Tim Burton that came out in 2001. It’s too bad that Burton’s film helped kill any enthusiasm for futher films given how low-key the marketing has been for the new film. Though it’s making its mark now, it pales to the omnipresent marketing push that the 2001 film had. Hopefully if the film delivers, word of mouth may recreate the Ape phenomenon.

Stay tuned

Dr. Botanist