I love it when I get more, way more than I bargained for.
I’ve seen and liked the trailer, I’ve heard the buzz, but I was still unprepared for the sweeping epic that is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I hoped to like it but didn’t think it would get a mighty double thumbs up which was a little bit against the odds.
Why against the odds? Had I made my mind up before the screening?
Let me explain. I’ve watched all the Apes movies in sequence for a major Planet of the Apes retrospective I wrote last month for Starburst. This included the Tim Burton remake, which in some ways fared better in this viewing. A few days ago, I watched the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit. To say that I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. In fact, I saw it as such a gross waste of time and talent in my opinion that I was moved to write a blog, which became a co-written debate with my Starburst colleague J.R.Southall which is being submitted for publication. Look out for THAT one at www.starburstmagazine.com.
So, you can understand that walking in to a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which was the fourth in the original sequence and a watermark of the rot beginning to set in - I was just a tiny bit apprehensive. Up to a few weeks ago, the thought of seeing James Franco headline a film would’ve added to that feeling. Let’s face it, he had the warmth and personality of a two by four in the Spider-Man trilogy. But his performance in 127 Hours really changed my mind about him. He carried that film practically alone. It takes a performance and a half to maintain interest in a film where basically a man is stuck in a crevice as the plot. And he did it. Franco pulled it off admirably.
As for the movie - well, it’s pretty amazing looking. It’s a reimagining, in the truest form of the word, of Conquest, and it succeeds in reinventing the conventions laid down in that film, but while reinventing those conventions, it also observes and reinvents them. Thus, all due respect is shown to the source material and while no doubt pleasing the die hard Apes fans happy, it will succeed in attracting a new audience.
I’m not going to bother too much about being spoiler free here because a) this is a remake of a film that’s been around for close to 40 years and b) the plot is given away in the title. Thus we know the apes will end up rioting and gaining some sort of control.
What differs is the means by which the apes gain their intelligence - they are subjected to a drug, in gaseous form, which while in its experimental stage is hoped to cure Alzheimer's. However the cure is short term and can also have a devastating and deadly effect on human, while developing the IQ of apes.
John Lithgow gives an amazing performance as an elderly Alzheimer's sufferer. His pain and frustration at being unable to perform tasks he used to do is all too evident, as is his sudden joy and pride when the disease fades away. The emotional sting in the tale is when the drug wears off and his dementia returns even more severely - his family notice it but he, of course is too confused to know what’s happening to him.
But the story isn’t about Lithgow or Franco’s characters - it’s about Caesar, a chimpanzee with acute intelligence having had the serum via his mother. Being overly protective towards Lithgow’s character and causing havoc, he is sent to a secure primate shelter. Confused, hurt and abused - he begins to plot his escape and plan a rebellion while also scheming to boost the intelligence of his ape cohorts. It struck me how Caesar bears an uncanny resemblance to Tim Roth’s Thade character from Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes. (It was in fact Andy Serkis performing the motion capture)
The rebellion scenes are stunning, with photorealistic CGI apes rioting in the streets - though here is my one, solitary gripe about the film - there seem to be hundreds of different apes in the San Francisco area - enough for a pitched battle on the Golden Gate bridge against the police. Where did they all come from? Surely not all from the Primate Shelter and Zoo?
At the end of the film, we get the hint that the deadly effects of the drug are about to be spread world wide as there are now carriers of the virus, but personally I don’t think that’s exactly where the-as-yet-unannounced-but-inevitable sequel is headed. There’s mention of a manned space probe to Mars, which disappears. That’s a sub plot that goes nowhere.
What’s the betting that the sequel will have those astronauts return to Earth’s future, where humanity has been all but wiped out and the survivors are under ape rule?
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.