Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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When it comes to sci-fi or fantasy movies, in order to truly enjoy a movie, you have to let yourself believe what you’re seeing on the screen can happen, no matter how ridiculous or fantastical. It’s called suspension of disbelief and without it, we’d just laugh, scowl or scoff at movies like Star Wars and Alien. Some movies call for more disbelieving than others, like in the case of The original Planet of the Apes franchise. The sparse and sometimes comical costumes and effects demanded we accept their legitimacy in order to fully engage ourselves within the film’s imagined environment.

But as technology improves, we begin to see movies that look so realistic that it becomes easier and easier to allow ourselves to trust the stories on the screen could actually happen. This is the case with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The CGI coupled with Andy Serkis and the ability of the motion capture technology to render his subtle emotions and movements seamlessly are so lifelike that it’ll make you think twice next time you’re at the gorilla house at your local zoo.

You’re probably already familiar with the story of The Planet of the Apes: In some distant future apes have taken over the planet. I must admit I haven’t seen any of the original films since I was a kid. I’m no expert but I do remember liking them, but at that age, it wasn’t for philosophical reasons, I just liked seeing monkeys talk.

And my interest in this newest installment wasn’t predicated on thoughts all too different from those of my youth. The trailer had me excited because I wanted to see some CGI monkeys wreak havoc on the city of San Fran and that was about it. It wasn’t until the good reviews started pouring in that I even began to think this movie could actually be “good.”

In the film, Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist struggling to develop a brain-transforming cure for Alzheimer’s. The lab he works in is currently testing one of his prototype serums on a handful of chimps. The results are promising, but when a chimp escapes from the lab and runs wild throughout the office complex, the experiments are shelved and it’s ordered the chimps be put down. But not before one lucky baby chimp is saved by its handler.

Will takes the baby home to learn that its mother, one of the chimps to participate in the trial, has passed the brain-enhancing genes to her child. The baby, Caesar, is displaying signs of enhanced intelligence. Will decides to keep the baby and raise it to study the effects of his serum.

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This plot point is what separated the film from my expectations. The relationship between Franco and the CGI Caesar is so well developed, and the CGI so well done, that we immediately develop a fondness and attachment for Caesar as he grows in intelligence and size.

The relationships between the other characters, such as Will’s father (John Lithgow) and his girlfriend (Freida Pinto), are handled equally as deftly, but I won’t get into those here. The real driving force behind the movie is the emotional connections the CGI monkeys develop with the audience. Andy Serkis must be commended for his low-key yet exquisitely demonstrative motion capture performance, which plays out in Caesar’s facial expressions and body language.

It’s impossible not to feel for Caesar when he’s taken from the house and family and sequestered in a decaying Ape sanctuary.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s not all hugs and monkey kisses. Caesar eventually does recruit his fellow monkey pals to tear it up on the streets of San Francisco. But you’ll be surprised by their motivation and methods. It’s a raucous climax that’ll take you from bleeding heart to racing heart in a matter of minutes.

Apes surprised me; it was more pensive than I envisioned it could or wanted to be. The filmmakers weren’t satisfied to just make a standard CGI action film. They strove for loftier goals and while not perfect, Apes does inspire feelings other than an adrenaline rush and tries to make you think a little. For once, I’m really looking forward to a sequel.

tags: andy serkis, Freida Pinto, james franco, john lithgow, rise of the planet of the apes

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