RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, and Frieda Pinto. Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Rated M (Violence). 105 min.
This American science fiction film returns us to some time before the “The Planet of the Apes” (1968), which was the title of the ground-breaking fiction film that ended with victorious apes leaving humans with the remnants of their civilization. That film was listed by the Library of Congress in the US as being “culturally, (and) historically significant”. This film is a prequel to it, but also relates historically to the series that has followed. However, it has an original tale to tell.
The movie tells the story of a brilliant scientist, Will Rodman (James Franco), who is looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease for his ailing father, Charles Rodman (John Lithgow), and he wants to inject serum into apes to investigate the effect he desires. Will chooses an ape, called Caesar (performed by Andy Serkis), and finds he can miraculously modify Caesar’s behaviour and intelligence with the experimental drug. When he is injected with the drug, Caesar’s intelligence grows exponentially, and Will cannot control him. After being caged for being aggressively over-protective, Caesar sprays the drug around to release his fellow-apes, and they break free and revolt. The prison holding the apes is habited by rejected chimps, and badly treated circus animals, and whatever the reason, the apes that break out are highly aggressive, and capable of very violent behaviour. Soon they are on the rampage, and both apes and humans go to war with each other, and it is a war between cognitively enhanced animals, and very unsuspecting humans.
Rodman and his girl friend (Frieda Pinto) have a special emotional attachment to Caesar. Will has cared for and nurtured Caesar since he was a new-born, and Caesar is now Leader of the Apes. Only Rodman can avert the crisis. The 1968 film seems to tell us how the war turned out, and this film suggests there are more sequels yet to come that will deliver a final end for man-kind.
Past films in this series have used prosthetic make-up to create their effects, but this movie uses state-of-the-art digital technology, built around a process called “motion-capture” performance technology. It is a process that photographs facial and body movements to give an authentic reality-base to animal, non-human or alien-looking, behaviour and emotions. This is almost the perfect movie for attributing human attributes and emotions to animals, and it intriguingly entertains. The film uses the same production company, Web Digital (based in New Zealand), that created the character of Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” series (whom Andy Serkis also performed), and the Na’vi in “Avatar” (2009). Like both those movies, this film breaks down the barrier between visual effect and live action, and like Avatar, especially, its special effects team creates an instantly recognizable visual world.
There has been over the years a discernible shift in orientation for non-human movies of this kind. Instead of focusing on animals that talk a lot and can be seen to emote, this film has something more to say about humans misusing Science in a way that inadvertently creates a master race. In showing humans misunderstanding the nature of science, there are many interesting parallels with the world’s ecology gone wrong, and the film uses high technology to pursue its message. The main message seems to be that human beings should not interfere too greatly with what others (God, included) have provided the world, and argument is made that sometimes it is to the peril of man-kind to attempt to do so.
The film may be about the folly of humans, but, not surprisingly, it is the Apes that steal the show. On screen, Caesar and Andy Serkis perform “motion-capture” magic.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Twentieth Century Fox.
Out August 4, 2011.