Go Ape!

Article Published: Aug. 11, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 29, 2011
Go Ape!

Ten years ago, director Tim Burton unleashed his baffling "reimagining" of the 1968 sci-fi classic, "Planet of the Apes," on humanity, creating a monster in the process.

I'm not referring to a snarling Tim Roth in a chimp costume, but rather the term "reimagining," which spawned a decade of unnecessary remakes, "reboots" and unprecedented prefix abuse.

Instead of developing fresh ideas, Hollywood got lazy, recycling classic film with a modern spin. The low-risk logic is sound - established audience, existing story, name recognition.

Consider this summer's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" a refreshing revolution. Straddling the line between prequel and remake (the story kinda-sorta follows a later entry in the series), "Rise" is nevertheless its own entity, offering a fresh take on an established mythology and one of the most compelling computer-generated characters ever.

In sympathetic simian protagonist Caesar, the visual effects gurus at Weta Digital and motion-capture performer extraordinaire Andy Serkis ("The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers") have brought emotion and depth to a digitally rendered chimpanzee.

The special effects aren't perfect, and it's oftentimes obvious that the leading ape was born from a hard drive, but director Rupert Wyatt ("The Escapist") and writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver ("The Relic") keep the fantastical plot grounded through character and pacing.

Sure, it's a movie about genetically modified apes that eventually stage an uprising, but Wyatt and company don't insult viewers' intelligence. The build-up is superb, the climax spellbinding, and the final product immensely fun.

James Franco ("127 Hours") is Will Rodman, a bio-chemist attempting to develop a cure for Alzheimer's disease. His test subjects are chimps, one of whom exhibits extraordinary intelligence after treatment.

When that particular chimp, Bright Eyes (one of many references to the original 1968 "Planet"), has a child, circumstances force Will to take him - and his work - home, where he lives with his Alzheimer's stricken father, Charles (John Lithgow, TV's "Third Rock from the Sun").

Named Caesar, the young chimp shows unprecedented signs of intelligence and cognitive abilities, rivaling - and eventually surpassing - that of a human counterpart, even communicating fluently through sign language.

While raising Caesar as his own, Will continues his research. But as Caesar grows up, the young ape begins to question his purpose and existence, wondering why he's different than everyone else and growing to resent the fact that he's treated like a pet.

When Charles suffers a delusion that instigates a fight with a neighbor, Caesar immediately comes to his defense, prompting his capture by animal control and a court order that places him in a primate shelter under the cruel watch of director Landon (Brian Cox, "X-Men 2") and his abusive son, Dodge (Tom Felton, "Harry Potter" series).

Meanwhile, Will's continuing research catches the attention of his boss, pharmaceutical executive Jacobs (David Oyelowo, "The Last King of Scotland"), who greenlights more aggressive testing on chimps.

But back at the shelter, Caesar has had enough. Appalled by humans' treatment of apes, the perceptive primate begins planning an intricate escape - one that would wisen up his simian counterparts in the process.

And it's one for the memories. The film's final act is summer movie magic, complete with a showdown of sorts on the Golden Gate Bridge, home to countless movie climaxes but never one quite like this.

"Rise" works as a cautionary tale on several levels - the question of nature versus nurture, the obvious danger of human hubris, and a wise warning to always avoid a gorilla brandishing a parking meter.

Wyatt presents "Rise" in a matter-of-fact sort of light, making the premise seem frighteningly believable, even though Caesar's character arc will have audiences rooting for the apes.

Franco delivers a solid performance, but the film's human characters are two-dimensional at best, especially love interest Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire"). Serkis is the star here, even though we never see his actual face. His motion-capture performance and the digital wizardry of Weta create an emotionally complex and expressive character, one that rises above practically everything this summer movie season has slung our way.

One could say it effectively gives away the twist ending of the original "Planet of the Apes," but pop culture, marketing and countless movie and television references have been doing that for the past four decades.

Tim Burton may have "reimagined" it, but Wyatt, like his protagonist, took the story and let it evolve.
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes," rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 12 or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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