Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

D: Rupert Wyatt. DP: Andrew Lesnie. W: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (Inspired by Pierre Boulle’s novel “La planete des singes”). Starring: Andy Serkis/James Franco/John Lithgow/Freida Pinto/Tom Felton/Brian Cox/David Oyelowo/Tyler Labine/Jamie Harris.

Another prequel enters the cinema cannon this month as Rise of the Planet of the Apes attempts to tell the story of how the apes eventually take over the planet. The film follows the classic (and a little campy) 1968 Planet of the Apes, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, and Kim Hunter. And the disastrous 2001 Tim Burton film of the same name, that starred Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Without delving into the two previous films, it is safe to say that The Rise of the Planet of the Apes has a few issues of its own. Set in a modern scientific context, the film’s main issue is the human performances. Thankfully, James Franco was given a role that actually required him to look under nourished, over-worked and distracted. His Will is adequate, but doesn’t truly have a single memorable scene. His girlfriend, because I guess he HAS to have one, is played by Freida Pinto and she, quite literally, has nothing to do, but smile, pat Franco and maybe look thoughtful for a moment. Franco’s dad is played by John Lithgow who is able, in his few scenes, to play his Alzheimers’ ridden character well, and he is given a few moments with his surrogate grandson that are sweet.

However, regardless of their poorer performed human counterparts, the apes, gorillas, and other monkeys of the film truly steal the show. Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar simply and utterly steals the film. Filled with nuance, small moments and tremendous range, Serkis’ Caesar grows up right before your eyes. Without words or human acting tricks, Serkis encapsulates the eventual leader of the apes with such believable movement and sound all audiences will soon realize they are watching him the entire film and that he harbors the true heart of the script. A script that although not in its entirety is strong, it is strong enough to capture the ape story and build an impressive character and a few epic sequences.  My only hope is that the Academy will not “deem him ineligible for an award” since his character is computer generated. Because, let’s face it, ultimately every roar, glint, and moment from Ceasar was Serkis’, no make-up required.

Not enough can be said about the ground-breaking CGI and motion capture this film utilizes. Much of this technology has to be credited to last year’s Avatar. Avatar pushed the boundaries and progressed the synthesis between technology and performance.  That being said, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a testament to where films can now go given this technology and the realistic worlds and creatures it can create. In this film, the apes are within a modern context and setting. So one of the basic challenges of the story was to ensure that the completely digital apes looked believable amid locations and other settings. I would have to say, not only was this a success, but the best part of the film and ultimately what allowed Serkis’ performance to center and steal the film.

Compounded with a good score from Patrick Doyle and excellently edited rising action sequences, Rise of the Planet of the Apes just might surprise and steal a few audiences this summer.

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