Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" review: a reboot that's brilliant, emotional, and reverent to the original franchise!

Having worked on several broadcast trailers for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" about a month before it's release, I certainly was thankful to have the privilege of seeing the movie, even in it's unfinished form. But what I was really waiting for was to experience this movie on the big screen with all of the music, sound and visual FX complete. I'm very happy to say that it's everything I hoped it would be and more!

The movie is truly brilliant!!! Andy Serkis seriously should get an Oscar nod! The story is perfectly crafted with both spectacle and heartfelt emotion, the VFX are well beyond anything we've seen before, and speaking as an "Apes" purist, I feel only that my beloved franchise has been justly and reverently rebooted! To me, "Rise" is the first domestically produced retool (both movies and TV) that doesn't completely dishonor or rape the original.

The ape characters who inhabit our world in the story are the most perfectly realized living creatures that WETA or any other visual effects house has ever given us. People have always commented on how the eyes of a human character in a CG movie can sometimes be the rise or fall of the entire project. It amazes me how CG artists are able to create so many inadament objects or living beings that look incredibly real, yet human beings can be so hit or miss when it comes to portraying them on screen. WETA has created the most incredibly lifelike eye set for not only Caesar but all the apes in this film.

Even though Caesar isn't a human character, he stills exudes a certain amount of human behavior due to the genetic altering ALZ-112 used by James Franco's character in the movie. That blend of human traits along with a keen recreation of ape personality and habits form an onscreen creature that you immediately begin to accept as a real, living, breathing ape. Andy Serkis, whose become the go-to guy for motion capture characters, is completely on display in the movements, emotion and being that is the intelligent ape who will lead not so much a revolt as much as a spearhead to freedom.

MINOR SPOILER ALERT!!! Stop reading here if you haven't seen the movie yet!!

The trailers and some of the broadcast spots paint the movie as a rebellion against and domination over mankind. I'm glad that turned out not to be the case as I had always wondered how a band of intelligent apes in one major US city could possible cause our society to slide and theirs to take over. When you see the movie, everything will brilliantly make sense as the story logically rolls out in a series of events that connect to present day musings about possible biological contagion. How is mankind supposedly defeated? You'll need to see the movie. I will say that even though what happens with the apes and what happens to mankind are connected but also very separate.

There's a number of really great nods to the original "Planet of the Apes" that are happily recognizable and even perfectly subtle in their humor. I'll let LA Times Hero Complex contributor Rebecca Keegan spill those beans....if you dare to read them! #13 on her list is a BIG spoiler so STAY AWAY if you haven't seen the movie yet!

These tribute moments are just a part of what I love about "Rise of the Planet of the Apes". There's a wonderful acknowledgement of what's come before without offering a rotten carrot (like what JJ Abrams' "Star Trek" did) to fans of the original or even the four films that followed. Of course "Rise" is more a re-imagining of the forth movie in the series, "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes". Caesar (directly named after Roddy McDowell's character in that installment) follows a somewhat similar path; treated well by a human conterpart (Ricardo Montalbán's Armando and Franco's Will) who loves and cares for him, only to find out that everyone else out there can be a bit different, even cruel.

I'm sure by now you've all read a breakdown of the movie's plot, etc. so I won't redundantly repeat that here.

"Harry Potter" alum Tom Felton is great as the catalyst for Caesar discovering exactly how cruel humans can be at times. John Lithgow, as Franco's Alzheimer's disease ridden father, is a welcome familiar face and certainly no stranger to acting in films like these. Even though James Franco is technically the star of the film, it's Andy Serkis who truly rises above everyone else to deliver a wonderfully diverse role. A role where his physical presence is nowhere to be seen, yet his powerful performance is what fuels the brilliantly told story. You absolutely see Serkis digitally in every frame Caesar is onscreen. But like I said, those 1's and 0's fall away quickly to reveal a compelling three dimensional character (story driven, not just visually) as well as an incredible leap in motion picture visual effects.

Completely spoiler-free note: there are a number of sequel options perfectly and sometimes subtly built into this film. There's definitely much more story to tell and I am SERIOUSLY looking forward to the next chapter!


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