Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) – This article was originally published on 12ftdwende.com on 5 August 2011

I know I’m not very creative with my article titles, but I really had to fight the impulse to just call this one “DAMN DIRTY APES!!!!” because that really is one of my favorite things to shout with little to no provocation. I’ve always been a fan of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone so it’s no surprise that when Serling wrote a movie (based on the novel La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle), I liked that too. Of course that movie, Planet of the Apes, is considered to be one of the all-time science fiction film classics. This is mostly due to the great ending where (43-year-old spoiler) it turns out the planet that the time-dilated Charlton Heston had landed on was in fact Earth, conquered by DAMN DIRTY APES!!!! (I told you, little to no provocation.) There were a bunch of sequels, absolutely none of which I have seen, and a Tim Burton remake that unfortunately I have seen (though the H.R. Giger-esque production design was kind of cool and the prosthetic makeup effects were great) and a musical parody on The Simpsons (“I hate ever ape I see, from chimpan-A to chimpan-Z!” [tried to find a YouTube link but the only one I found oddly enough was partially in Spanish or Portuguese or something…]). I guess the sequels covered it (something about a time loop?) but I always wondered just how the hell apes took over. I mean I got that Earth obviously got blown up (“YOU MANIACS!!!!!!!”) but how exactly did apes become all human-like and take over?

"So... wanna subjugate humanity?"

Apparently I wasn’t the only person who needed this burning question answered (and was also too lazy to go and watch the sequels), not to mention it’s been ten years since 20th Century Fox last milked this franchise, so we now have the reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It was formerly just titled Rise of the Apes, but I guess they felt the franchise connection wasn’t quite strong enough… despite, you know, DAMN DIRTY APES!!!! As opposed to a straight-up prequel, this is going for more of a “reboot” thing, taking elements of the previous series but not slavishly adhering to continuity. There’s nothing that absolutely conflicts with the original Planet of the Apes, although (um, sort of spoiler I guess maybe if you’re extremely spoiler-sensitive) it is somewhat implied that something other than nuclear war brings about mankind’s fall from supremacy.

Oscar-nominated actor/author/director/student/educator/multimedia & conceptual artist James Franco plays Dr. Will Rodman. Will is a research scientist developing a cure for Alzheimer’s. As it happens, Will’s father Charles (John Lithgow) has Alzheimer’s so this time… it’s personal (because in movies no research scientist ever seems to research anything they don’t have a personal connection to). Naturally the drug is being tested on DAMN DIRTY APES!!!! (Oh I will run this right into the ground.) The chimp that has shown the most promise is the one they call Bright Eyes (the nickname Heston’s ape captors give him in the original film). Then one day things go wrong and the company completely puts a halt to the anti-Alzheimer’s drug THAT COULD MAKE THEM MILLIONS based on one (admittedly pretty bad) setback. While Bright Eyes (Terry Notary) is lost to them, she had a baby that Will takes home. That baby is Caesar (who I guess was a character in a couple of the sequels, but as I mentioned I’ve never seen them).

Nine years ago a movie came out. I think some of you may have seen it. It was called The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Many people liked it for many different reasons but the one topic that got brought up more than any other was the character Gollum. Gollum was played by British character actor Andy Serkis (24 Hour Party People, The Prestige). However, Mr. Serkis never appeared onscreen as the character was completely computer-generated. He did more than merely provide the voice. He provided the movement via a motional capture suit, right down to the facial expressions. There was talk about his possibly getting an Oscar nomination. But how much credit goes to Serkis (I’m going to say “a lot”) and how much goes to the magicians at Weta Digital Workshop (also going to say “a lot”)? From playing Gollum alone, Serkis established himself as the uncontested master of motion capture performance. He did it again for Peter Jackson’s King Kong, which was his first time playing a DAMN DIRTY APE!!!! Andy Serkis once again dons a motion capture suit to bring life to the role of Caesar. He is phenomenal as always. Although all the apes are created with motion-captured, Serkis brings the most depth to his role. You can see what Caesar is thinking in his eyes. It’s an amazing performance done mostly without the benefit of dialogue (he has some subtitled sign language lines…) My solution to the Oscar question earlier was a special Oscar, which the Academy has done before to recognize special achievements (usually technological ones). They didn’t do that back in 2003. Now they have another chance. [Edit from 2012: They blew it. Again.]

Anyway, Will notices that Caesar exhibits much of the higher intelligence that his mother Bright Eyes had demonstrated. He raises the chimp as a family member, but over time Caesar comes to realize he is not treated quite the same as people. The lessons of the world are harsh for poor Caesar. A zookeeper named John Landon (Brian Cox) points out that chimps are not human, and raising them as such tends to do them more harm than good. While he is not particularly sympathetic to Will and Caesar’s plight he has a good point. Unfortunately his sensible way of thinking is undercut by his nepotistic employment of his sadistic son Dodge (Tom Felton, who after playing Draco Malfoy is doomed to a life of villainous typecasting) who bullies the apes in Landon’s simian care facility. Three guesses how Dodge fares when the apes get around to the titular rising (also, who names their kid after a type of truck?). Felton, by the way, is an extremely lucky actor (not just because of all the money and fame) because he gets to say a couple of Charlton Heston’s memorable lines from the original film… including “DAMN DIRTY APES!!!!”

Now man’s inhumanity to man is something that bothers me, don’t get me wrong, but animal cruelty really upsets me. That’s in reality. When watching movies, for some reason human-on-human violence leaves me unfazed. In fact, in certain contexts (slasher flicks) I even want more of it. Animal cruelty in movies still bugs me though. Even in decidedly un-serious movies like Grindhouse and Mars Attacks! (both of which feature a dog getting unceremoniously killed) it takes me out of the otherwise campy feel of those movies. Rise of the Planet of the Apes uses that. Oh dear God, does it use that. The PG-13 rating keeps anything too gruesome from happening but the message is clear: humans are dicks. Back about eight years ago I was really into The Matrix, in which the machines were the clear bad guys. Then came The Animatrix and the animated short The Second Renaissance, which detailed the invention of artificial intelligence, the subjugation of said machines, the machines’ attempts to coexist peacefully, the human attack on machines, and the eventual machine uprising that resulted in The Matrix’s grim dystopian world. After that it was kind of hard to root against the machines. Rise of the Planet of the Apes does that for the apes, who it turns out aren’t so damn dirty after all. It should come as no surprise that PETA loves the hell out of this movie. In addition to the CGI assuring that no apes were harmed (or used) in the making of this film, it really emphasizes the cruelties they receive at the hands of the DAMN DIRTY HUMANS!!!!

This movie was clearly thought up as a cash-grab by an industry that seems so frightened to finance anything original that it will happily bleed ever single existing franchise dry. Given that, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a whole lot better than it has any right to be. I did like some references to the plot of the original film (pay attention whenever the TV news is on in the movie). It is not a perfect movie. There’s a plot development towards the climax of the film that works well but then ride at the end they carry it a bit too far for my taste (it should be obvious when you see it). From a storytelling perspective, Freida Pinto’s character (a veterinarian who is Will’s love interest) is entirely unnecessary to the film, but she’s extremely nice to look at so I’m willing to let that one slide. There are characters in this movie (Felton’s Dodge and David Oyelowo’s corporate executive) whose fates are sealed the moment they appear onscreen. This is not a subtle movie. It is a good movie though. In addition to being a lot of fun, it has a level of humanity that elevates it above just being another popcorn flick. Check it out. In closing I would just like to say, for no good reason… DAMN DIRTY APES!!!!

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