Whether you want to admit it or not, the 1968 film Planet of the Apes is one of the top ten greatest science fiction movies of all time. Sure there are lots of cheesy sequels and a par-at-best remake by Tim Burton, but there's something about that first movie that was so totally original. It was exciting, had great make-up, a brilliant script, fun action and a moral message. So it seems strange and very risky to create a prequel 43 years later that explains how it all started. After seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I couldn't be happier that they did!
For anyone who doesn't know the original, it stars Charlton Heston as an astronaut that gets sucked through a wormhole in space and ends up on a planet overrun by talking apes that have replaced humans as the dominant species. You find out at the end that the planet turns out to be Earth and he traveled hundreds of years in the future. I know I should have said "Spoiler Alert" there but you'll need to know that to enjoy this movie and for Christ's sake it came out four decades ago!
This film, which stars James Franco (127 Hours, Milk) and the incredible physical acting of Andy Serkis, who was Gollom in Lord of the Rings and Kong in King Kong, is absolutely brilliant! Serkis plays Caesar, who is a chimp raised by Franco, and although he has (almost) no dialogue, he dazzles and stuns as he brings the chimpanzee to life in, not just a realistic way, but a totally deep, complex character filled with different emotions. Simple facial expressions that he performs are touching one second and disturbingly menacing the next. Ironically, the FX are so good (they were done by the same team that did Avatar) that it makes Oscar-nominated Franco seem like a cardboard cutout.
Besides how well the movie explains the sequence of events that leads up to the original film flawlessly, it does something else that I found unexpected and shocking...it made a movie about apes very human. The catalyst for the story is Franco trying to cure Alzheimer's Disease, which his father who's played by John Lithgow (Dexter, Shrek) is inflicted with. The scenes that play out between them are done tastefully and tragically. Same goes for the scenes when Caesar the Chimp is being abused and tortured by his captives, one of which is played by Tom Felton who was Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series for the last ten years. (Side note: His American accent makes him sound creepily like Steve Buscemi.)
Besides Serkis, the real star of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is director Rupert Wyatt. He came from complete obscurity and produced the best film of the summer, which makes me look forward to his next project with baited breath. For me, his most impressive work is a scene when (spoiler alert) Caesar speaks for the first time. Again, if you know the series, you know they HAVE TO put an ape's first word in the film. So much hinges on that scene. It could easily be too ridiculous and ruin the whole movie, but it isn't. In fact, the scene is so furious, emotional and shot and edited just right that when it happens, it gives you goosebumps.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes may have one of the worst movie titles of the summer, but don't let that fool you. This is a smart, quality science-fiction film that deserves the respect the original was given four decades ago. Maybe, dare I say, even a little more.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A+
I totally agree with your review Gavin. Loved the film. I'm probably one of the biggest fans of the Apes series. I even had the toys from the films growing up. So I was very reluctant when I first saw the trailer. I expected the worse, but I was pleasantly surprised. I found myself really caring for the apes. They had so much personality and they had me thinking that they were real quite a few times. I really hope they make a sequel. I'd like to see how the story turns out. Fine job! One of my favorite movies of the summer.